Monday, August 5, 2013

Appeals from the Heart by Martin Wiles

Have you ever stopped to think of the many appeals that are made on any given day? There is the appeal from the pastor to his flock for greater commitment to God's work. He appeals to his leadership for more excitement about their work. There is the appeal from the employer to his employees to pay more attention to quality, to do more in less time and to do their best. There is the appeal from the law enforcement officers for people to drive safely, to wear their safety belts and to live in accordance with the laws of the land. There is the appeal from the lawyer to find the person guilty or innocent as the case may be. There is the appeal from politicians to their constituents to get out and vote. There is the appeal from our President to make America a better place to live. There is the appeal from leaders of various countries to live in peace. There is the appeal of the parent of the rebellious child to be obedient. There is the appeal from God to his people to be whom he calls them to be. All over our land, appeals go up on every hand.

Paul does some appealing in these verses. Up to this point, he has been confrontational and impersonal with his readers, but now that changes. He now positions himself as the lawyer in the courtroom and gives a dispassionate presentation to them. He has reminded them that their salvation has come by God's grace alone and not their works. He has questioned them as to why they are backpeddaling by trying to earn what they never could in the first place. Now he moves to the personal level and in essence says to them; “I care about you more than I can say. I love you dearly just as you have loved me dearly. Please listen to what I'm saying, because it's so vitally essential.” He moves from stern to gentle. It is a reminder that in our appeals to others, we too must take on this quality of gentleness. So often God's people do not do as they should. We are called upon to rebuke but we must do it with a spirit of gentleness less we cut our throats in what we try to accomplish.

If they were to live an example before others, they needed to live in the spiritual freedom that was theirs as a child of God. Paul has already warned them about returning to the slavery of trying to live under the law. No one could ever hope to obey God's laws perfectly. A person does not have the strength to do this. We must trust in the one who was born to redeem those who labored under this curse of the law; namely Jesus Christ himself.

Paul begged them to become as he was. In other words, he was an example to them. Now what kind of example was he? He was an example that salvation came through God's grace. If anyone had attempted to live under God's law to find salvation, Paul was that person. On the Damascus Road, he found through meeting the risen Lord that this was impossible. It was in that experience that he trusted the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. He let go of his legalistic attempts to please God. He now counted as loss all those things he once trusted in for God's approval.

The Galatians accepted this message that Paul taught but were now, through the deception of the Judaizers, backtracking onto the previous ground of trying to earn their salvation. Many of them, like Paul, paid a dear price when they turned from Judaism to Christianity. Some had their families ostracize them and were ostracized from the synagogue. Others were treated as dead. Paul was bewildered  that many of them were turning back to this dead end religion and now appealed to them to live as he did. They must enjoy their freedom found in Jesus Christ and not bind themselves by the traditions and ceremonies they once trusted in for salvation.

Let us never forget that our lives are an open book before others. Others are looking for examples to follow, and as Christians we must provide that example of right living for them. In a world where wrong is prevalent, there needs to be examples of right and moral living. We need examples of ethical behavior. Above all people, the Christian must provide this. We are the salt and light of the world. It is our duty to permeate the world with good. It is our job to provide light for those living in the darkness of sin. We need to do as the song says; “Let others see Jesus in you.”

Paul was a good spiritual model to the Galatians. In spite of his bodily illness, he preached the message of God's grace to them and lived out his belief in their presence. Many of them were now forsaking his good model and turning to those unworthy models, the Judaizers.

Paul reminds them how rich their personal relationship was. They did him no wrong. They openly and lovingly received him despite his extremely adverse personal circumstances. When Paul first came to Galatia, many of the Jews turned against him when they realized his message was for Gentiles as well. God used him in spite of the circumstances, and many of the Galatians turned to God. They accepted the message of Paul despite a serious illness that affected him.

Paul visited Galatia on his first missionary journey. He either became seriously ill while there or went there to recuperate from the illness. Some suggest that he contracted malaria and went to Galatia to recooperate. Whatever the illness, the Galatians accepted him in spite of it. His bodily condition was such that it would have normally repulsed them, but they accepted him. He was not treated with contempt. It was not uncommon for an illness to put one in such a predicament. There was no medical technology in ancient times as we have now. It was also common for Jews to reject someone in such a condition seeing the illness as judgment from God.

In Paul's case, they did not react this way. They accepted him as an angel of God. He says they received him as even Jesus himself. They did not question how he looked but accepted him as a messenger from God. They were grateful for the spiritual life they now had because of his ministry there. They would have even plucked out their eyes and gave them to him. This causes some scholars to believe Paul's thorn in the flesh was a problem with his eyes.

As Paul was a good spiritual model to them, so we need to find and be good spiritual models to others. It is important that we find good spiritual models in the church or other places and pattern our lives after them. They provide inspiration for us. They give us goal to reach for in our Christian life. In like manner, we need to be good spiritual models. Our behavior is very important. Others should see an example of love in us. Our service to Christ should be such that others would want to pattern their lives after it. When others look at you, what kind of model do they see?

Paul asks the question; “Have I therefore become your enemy by telling you the truth?” In the beginning they were happy with the message Paul preached. They accepted it with great joy, but many of them were now turning back to Judaism. They were trying to earn what God must freely give. They were trying to do what they could never hope to attain in their own strength: live in perfect obedience to God's laws.

The implication is that by Paul's second trip to Galatia, some of the Galatians had turned to the teachings of the Judaizers. They were doubting the truth of salvation by faith alone. They felt they needed to add their good works. The gospel of legalism became more attractive. The man Paul, who was once their dearest friend, had become as an enemy to them. He was their enemy because he was confronting them with the truth.

How true that many people appreciate the teacher or preacher who says only what they want to hear, but as soon as he or she begins to confront them with the truth of God's word they become enemies. Paul faced this situation. It is vitally important that we are steadfast and immovable in our faith. Let us always remember that our salvation is a gift from God. Let us involve ourselves in those things that would bring about spiritual growth and maturity. Let us live out our faith before others. Let us remember that if we are not going forward in our work for God we are digressing. There is no place where we can stand still.

Paul warns them about the Judaizers. They wanted to shut the Galatians out of God's grace. He is not their real enemy, the Judaizers are. Paul says they eagerly seek the Galatians. This carries the idea of taking serious interest in someone and was often used of a man courting a woman.

The interest of the Judaizers in the Galatians was to entrap them in legalism again. They were like the scribes and Pharisees of whom Jesus said; “You travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” (Matthew 23:15) The Judaizers wanted recognition for themselves.

Paul also sought the Galatians but for a very different reason. He wanted to introduce them to God's grace and deliver them from the bonds of legalism. He wanted to show them that their good works would not bring God's acceptance. 

We too must avoid those who would damage us spiritually. It is not to say that we must separate ourselves from the world as a monk or nun would do. We must infiltrate the world with the things of God, but we must be careful that we do not allow the world to influence us. We must avoid anyone or anything that would drag us down spiritually.

This was Paul's desire. He considered them his children in the faith, and they were. He wanted to labor among them until Christ was formed in them. Though perplexed over their behavior, he still concerned himself with their spiritual nourishment. He was speaking like a mother or a parent pleading with a wayward child. Paul accused them of acting like infants who refused to be born.

Paul says he is again in labor with them. He had been instrumental in birthing them into Christianity in the first place, but now he says it is as if he is having to do it all over again. He felt like a mother who had to birth the same baby twice. Their spiritual condition was tragic, but he would not forsake them. He would labor with them until they returned to the right path.

We must be in the business of spiritually nourishing believers. As leaders in God's church, it is our responsibility not only to grow spiritually ourselves but also to see that others in the church do as well. A part of our great commission is to disciple people. That so many people leave churches and fall away is evidence that we are not doing a good job. We must be concerned about the spiritual development of other Christians and do all in our power to enhance that process.

As we hear the appeals of others to us, so let us hear the appeals from God's word to live an example before others, to find good spiritual models, to be steadfast in our faith, to avoid those persons and things that would drag us down spiritually and to have a desire to nourish others spiritually.

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