An Exploration of Galatians: Paul is Perplexed
Galatians 4:17-20; Matthew 10:16 - We are to be as shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves when legalism sneaks into our spiritual lives.
”They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them. But it is good always to be eagerly sought in a commendable manner, and not only when I am present with you. My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you— but I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.“
Galatians 4:17-20 NASB1995
Paul continues this passage talking about how the Judaizers eagerly seek the Galatians, but not in a commendable way. He essentially compares the legalists to a cult and the techniques that cults use to lure people; this comparison comes from some of the commentary that I read to prepare this and it makes sense in many ways. Here are some salient points about cults from Gotquestions.org:
There are specific criteria used to identify a cult. In Combatting Cult Mind Control, deprogrammer Steven Hassan singles out what he refers to as “destructive cults,” which he defines as “a pyramid-shaped authoritarian regime with a person or group of people that have dictatorial control. It uses deception in recruiting new members (e.g. people are NOT told up front what the group is, what the group actually believes and what will be expected of them if they become members).” Hassan also correctly points out that cults are not only religious; they may also be commercial or secular in nature.
Hassan developed the BITE acronym, which describes the components employed by destructive cults using mind control. BITE covers the following areas of control:
Behavior Control: An individual’s associations, living arrangements, food, clothing, sleeping habits, finances, etc., are strictly controlled.
Information Control: Cult leaders deliberately withhold or distort information, lie, propagandize, and limit access to other sources of information.
Thought Control: Cult leaders use loaded words and language, discourage critical thinking, bar any speech critical of cult leaders or policies, and teach an “us vs. them” doctrine.
Emotional Control: Leaders manipulate their followers via fear (including the fear of losing salvation, fear of shunning, etc.), guilt, and indoctrination.
Fascinating! As we know from Galatians so far, the Judaizers probably started out enticing the Gentile believers with minor legalisms like feast days and fasting days, but were now asking for a harder thing: circumcision. Paul knows that all of the legalistic baggage would eventually be levied on those whom they would seek to control. A lot of these cult behaviors and descriptions could really describe the practices of the Pharisees and also how they viewed Jesus, who was shaking the foundation of their closed and closed-minded group. Paul knew those practices and was zealous about them before his transformation. Now he is zealous about making sure those practices are NOT forced on those who believe in Christ as their savior.
Here’s more on this from Enduring Word:
They zealously court you, but for no good: Paul will admit that the legalists zealously court the Galatians; and legalism often comes wrapped in a cloak of “love.” But the end result is for no good.
Many cults use a technique informally known as “love bombing.” They overwhelm a prospective member with attention, support, and affection. Yet it isn’t really a sincere love for the prospect; it is really just a technique to gain another member. Christians can use the same technique in some way or another.
They want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them: Paul’s legalistic opponents wanted to draw the Galatian Christians away into their own divisive group. They actually wanted to exclude the Galatians from other Christians and to bring them into the “super-spiritual” group of the legalists.
The zeal cultivated by legalism is often more a zeal for the group itself than for Jesus Christ. Though they name the name of Jesus, in practice the group itself is exalted as the main focus, and usually exalted as the last refuge of the true “super-Christians.”
Exclude: This literally means to “lock you up.” For now, the legalists are courting the Galatians, but once they have alienated them from Jesus and from Paul, the legalists will demand that the Galatians serve them. Legalism is almost always associated with some kind of religious bondage.
“The Judaizers had pursued the adroit course of presenting to them only part of the requirements of the Mosaic law, those parts which might be least repulsive to them as Gentiles. Having gotten them to adopt the festivals and perhaps the fast days, the Judaizers were now urging them to adopt circumcision.” (Kenneth Wuest)
People who spend time AND pay attention on social media know all about those “love bombs” that are disguises for criminal activities, cults, and other nefarious activities. How many of us have commented on a public page and had a reply from someone we don’t know with extremely flattering language and a request to become friends? How many have received the nice email from someone claiming that you can receive a fortune for helping them?
Also, religious and pseudo-science cults are alive and well, as we know from observation; my picture at the beginning of this article shows the innocent way Scientologists rope people into their cult, by promising a “free” personality test. When I was in college, there was a Scientology recruiting center near the campus and many classmates fell for the “free” test, then they were harassed incessantly (at that time through dozens of phone calls) to learn more or return for new indoctrination. Some Christian groups can use those “love bombs” to entice members and then lock the members away through societal exclusions and warnings (like the friends I knew that were in the Messianic Jew movement or the sad example of the David Koresh cult). Jesus warned His disciples in Matthew 10:16 as He prepares to send them out, two by two, about the traps in the world and their response:
”“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.“
Matthew 10:16 NASB1995
Paul says that eagerness (or zealotry in some translations) is good when it is for commendable things, like the fruits of the Spirit that will be analyzed in Galatians 5. He addresses the Galatians as his children (or little children, in some translations) and says that he is in labor again for them to be truly reborn in Christ. He wants to be with them in person to change his tone, but he lets them know he is perplexed (other translations use “doubt”). Here is some more great commentary from Enduring Word on Galatians 4:12-20:
My little children: Paul rightly considers himself to be a father to the Galatians. Yet this challenge has made him feel as if he must bring them to Jesus all over again (for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you). Paul knew that his work of forming Christ in them was not complete until they stayed in a place of trusting Jesus.
The idea of Christ is formed in you is similar to the idea of Romans 8:29: For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.
It would be wrong for Paul to seek to form himself in the Galatians. That is never to be the job of the pastor. He was right to seek to form Christ in them.
My little children: Through this section, Paul masterfully mixed metaphors to give a powerful picture.
Paul likens himself to a “mother” who gave spiritual “birth” to the Galatians (my little children).
Something unnatural has happened – the Galatians are drifting away from Jesus and to the law. So Paul has to labor in birth again, and this is unnatural to have labor pains a second time.
Paul has the labor pains, but Christ is formed in them. Paul will keep laboring until it is Christmas for the Galatians, and Jesus is formed in them.
This is a pattern found in all Biblical ministry. “The Word of God falling from the lips of the apostle or minister enters into the heart of the hearer. The Holy Ghost impregnates the Word so that it brings forth the fruit of faith. In this manner every Christian pastor is a spiritual father who forms Christ in the hearts of his hearers.” (Martin Luther)
“He likens his pain to the pangs of childbirth. He had been in labour over them previously at the time of their conversion, when they were brought to birth; now their backsliding has caused him another confinement. He is in labour again. The first time there had been a miscarriage; this time he longs that Christ will be truly formed in them.” (John Stott)
I would like to be present with you now and change my tone: Paul wished two things. First, that he could be present with the Galatians. But he also wished that he did not need to speak to them in such strong words, that he could change his tone. Yet their danger of leaving the true gospel has made such strong words necessary and has made Paul’s doubts [perplexity] necessary to address.
This section, Galatians 4:12-20, shows us principles for the attitude for people in the church toward their pastor.
Their attitude must not be determined by his personal appearance or personality.
Their attitude must not be determined by their own theological whims.
Their attitude should be determined by his loyalty to the apostolic message in the Bible.
This section, Galatians 4:12-20, shows us principles for the attitude for the pastor towards the people in his church.
He must be willing to serve and sacrifice for his people.
He must tell them the truth.
He must love his people deeply; never for a selfish motive.
He must desire to see more than mere excitement, but zeal for good things.
He must desire to form Jesus in them, not himself in them.
If you get anything out of this commentary, make sure you concentrate on the principles that David Guzik identifies in the last paragraphs for Galatians 4:12-20 (the attitude of the people in the church and for the pastor towards his people).
My next devotional examines Galatians 4:21-23, Bondage and Freedom.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord - Help me to be wary of the wolves in this world and to be someone who supports a pastor who carries a good apostolic Biblical message to the people. Amen.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
Gotquestions.org was accessed on 12/19/2023 to answer the question about cults.
Commentary from Enduring Word by David Guzik is used with written permission.