Galatians – A Call to Freedom –
11. The Marks of Gospel Friendship
Galatians 4:12-20New International Version (NIV)
12 I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you. You did me no wrong. 13 As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, 14 and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. 15 Where, then, is your blessing of me now? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?
17 Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. 18 It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you.19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20 how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!
Tonight, we are shifting gears majorly in terms of our study. For the past several weeks we have gone into great depth over the implications of the gospel; what it really means to know the gospel; we have identified the issues of idolatry, we have looked the enemies of the gospel; and what the gospel truly is which is faith in Jesus atoning sacrifice for us.
Essentially to boil it down to a sentence; the gospel is the fact that we are more evil that we first believed and yet more loved than we can ever imagine; if we get this we will stop in our striving to be better and trust in His goodness.
Now the problem with all this is its great as a philosophical framework on which to base our life; however, you might have had a thought through this – so far 11-week study – how does this actually look like day to day.
If I get the gospel; this radical notion of God’s love at the expense of His wrath on Jesus on my behalf; how does this affect me day to day.
Now there is not the time; and the passage we have read doesn’t give us the scope to do this; however, tonight we will see in the writings of Paul and his letter to the Galatians; how the Gospel changes my friendships my interaction with people.
This will hopefully encourage us to create Gospel marked friendships and relationships in the future.
So essentially; we are moving from the purely theoretical reality of the gospel to how does the gospel change my day to day living; and as we move you will see deeply and profoundly how impactful the gospel is.
So, let’s dive in; Paul in his plea to the Galatians to not forsake the gospel now turns to the relationship that he had with the Galatians; and what I find interesting is that we can see in this passage that it is more than simply a Pastor congregation relationship; it is deep and intimate. How, is this relationship developed, well through the ministry of the gospel, but also through Paul living out the realities of the gospel in his relationships with the Galatians
So how does he do this? Well firstly;
1. The Gospel honours our differences(vs 12)
We have a tendency of making friends with people like us. Paul goes against this. Paul says; become like me because I became like you…
This sounds on some level disingenuous. Think about it; have you ever met someone who is profoundly different from one social interaction to another; we would call that person two faced.
How can Paul state this as virtue; become like me because I became like you?
Well the gospel is the source of great engagement with people who are unlike us. Why because the gospel engages us with its truth without destroying who we are.
The interesting reality of the gospel; is that for the first time in human religion; a movement went out that changed cultures without the demand for proselytization.
This means that; and is the main point of Paul’s argument in Galatians; you could become a Christian and not have to abandon your culture to become it.
So, unlike Judaism or Islam, or Hinduism, or even Buddhism; there is no culture adaptation that took place for the Greek Christians to go through in order for them to become part of the faith. They adopted the faith, which changed their moral outlook and moral demands, but their Greek culture was kept.
Other religions there is a cultural adaptation; you would have to learn a new language; adopt a different dress code; learn the cultural norms and practices; and once you have been enculturated you would be accepted as a member of that faith.
In Christianity, it took cultures and strained them through the standards of Scripture without destroying what made that culture unique; so it highlighted the good in that culture and caused its follows to abandon their negatives.
The gospel honours our diversity without compromising on basic truth. The gospel makes our relationships better because we are not trying to make everyone like us.
How does it do this; well through what the gospel declares about us; we are all sinners (therefore all broken in our own way) yet the gospel exposes my desperate state; so I no longer am looking for ways to justify myself and see myself as better than others; because the gospel exposes my needy state.
I am no longer trying to show others that I am better (this destroys my tribalism (the idea that people like me are inherently better) or my arrogance (I am inherently better).
This allows me to in Pauls words “become like you” to see the beauty in others without compromising on the truth of what really matters.
The next thing the gospel does to change our personal interactions and create better friendships is;
2. The Gospel makes us truly care
Paul goes on to recount how the Galatian Church, on hearing the gospel The Galatian Church cared for Paul as if Paul was Christ Himself; Paul says they would have given their own eyes had it been possible.
We must ask what does the gospel do that enables that level of selfless care of others?
Tim Keller calls this philanthropic love. A love that gives without expecting return. It is love that has no way of receiving; how can we possibly love in that way?
Well the only way a person can become a philanthropist is to have enough money that they can give it away without it bankrupting them. It is the same way with gospel love.
We can give without any compensation only when we have and eternal and unending and external source of that love.
Where can we possibly get that? In the love of God in Christ Jesus!
Church; I need to suggest this is the kind of love that the world is looking for a love that seeks others, a care that does not count the cost.
And the only way we can do this is if we are leaning on the love of God in Christ Jesus. If we are giving not because of how it will make us feel, or because it’s the right thing to do, but because it is needed and we are overflowing with the love of Christ.
The next thing that the gospel does to change our personal interactions and create better friendships is
3.The Gospel helps us speak (truth and love)
Paul says in verse 16
16 Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?
And then ends this section by saying in verse 19
19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you,
The mix of tenderness and truth here in Pauls language is truly beautiful.
The whole letter is a loving demand of truthfulness. We tend to because of our brokenness make our love sentimental or our truth harsh.
We speak the truth to win; to be right, not because it flows from love.
I mean Paul uses a beautiful metaphor here; I am again in the pains of childbirth for you until Christ is formed in you.
We get a glimpse into his heart for the Galatian Church. How his heart is pained by the predicament of the church because he lovingly knows the danger they are in. So, he cries out to them the truth but take the tone of the letter it is not done in an augmentative way; it is not done to prove his point to be right; every demand of truth is done out of desperate love for this church?
How can we ever possibly approach this? How can we ever get this right? Surely this is an ideal that is simply a utopia; a dream that will never be truly achieved.
Well, the way the gospel does this is that it takes truth (and love) away from us; and puts it in the person of Christ.
You see if you get the gospel – or should I say the gospel gets you – your identity is bound in a truth that is external to you.
You didn’t save yourself by your intelligence; or brilliance or ability to follow the rules or your ability to be moral; you were saved undeservingly by God’s grace. This makes you softer with it without compromising its truth.
The way I see it; is the gospel frees you to be truly free and that allows you to see truth without it becoming extreme or persecuting in that truth. We can listen to people because we are not trying to push our truth or agenda; we are engaging them in a truth that is not ours; it is external to us.
Paul even justifies this reality in the passage; it is good to be zealous; or in other words; it is good to be passionate about something; as long as that passion is good.
The truth we hold in the gospel is a declaration of what Christ has done it is “Good news” there is a gentle goodness that we can be passionate about.
And it is this very ideal that has made “Christian” countries set up principles of inclusion and tolerance.
Our tolerance is not a sentimental one that says it doesn’t matter what you believe; it is a truth bound one. However, it recognizes that it is God’s Spirit who is one who gives you power to believe and change.
The Gospel says you believe and then God changes you, therefor how can we demand of other (who have no Spirit) to be like us. They do not have the Spirit to change them. Therefore, in love we tell them the hope of Change the Atoning love of Christ on the Cross; the gospel.
Our truth is not brutal or persecuting because it assumes that that person, like we were; is lost; deceived and hopeless in their deception. Therefore, in love we desire that they see the truth, that the Spirit makes that truth real and that He, through the power of the Gospel enables change.
Do you see how the Gospel brings a powerful and gentle way to speak; by the very virtue of what it is?
The Gospel changes us; it changes the way we see the world and therefore changes the way we interact with it.
So church; I would encourage you; in the endless love of Christ; let the gospel reform your interactions. Let the Gospel help you make relationships that are real; diverse; sacrificially caring and truthful drenched in love.
May God through His Spirit make this real to you.