In contrast to the selfish motive of the rival teachers, Paul expresses his own deep, heartfelt concern for his dear children. He portrays himself as a pregnant mother, again in the pains of childbirth. This rather shocking maternal image captures the extent of Paul's identification with these Christians. In his love for them, he has had to go through labor pains for them twice: when he preached the gospel to them the first time, and now again as he seeks to bring them back to the true gospel. This is more than any mother must go through for her child. But Paul tells his children in the faith that he is willing to endure labor pains for them not just twice but until Christ is formed in you.
Actually, there is a sudden shift of images here. Paul views himself as a pregnant mother delivering her children, but now he views the Galatians themselves as pregnant people bearing Christ as an unformed fetus in their wombs. Paul is enduring the pains of childbirth for them until Christ is fully formed within them. From a scientific point of view this may seem like a very strange conjunction of images, but Paul's point is clear: because he loves his converts with a sacrificial love, he will endure any pain until the full image of Christ is seen in them.
The contrast between Paul and the rival teachers is striking. Their selfish motive is to attach the Galatians to themselves so that they will be the center of attention; Paul labors to attach them to Christ so that the full moral character of Christ will be expressed in them. Paul's personal appeal, become like me, must be interpreted in the light of this contrast. It is not simply a demand for personal attachment to Paul. It expresses his longing for the Galatians to be able to declare wholeheartedly with him, "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me!"
It is not surprising that the image of Paul's maternal love for his children is followed by an expression of his wish to be with them and change his tone (v. 20). If he were with them, he would want to change from his tone of rebuke for their past foolishness and give them parental counsel for their future conduct. In fact, he does that in his letter, which is a substitute for his personal visit. Up to this point in his letter, his dominant tone has been one of rebuke. But now that he has called for a renewal of their friendship in this paragraph (vv. 12-20), he turns his attention to instructions. Yet still he has a heavy heart, for he is perplexed about them (v. 20). What will their foolishness lead them to do? What will be the outcome of their confusion? Such questions move Paul to give clear directions in the rest of his letter, to guide his readers out of their slavery to false teaching into the freedom of the true gospel of Christ.
We cannot help but be moved by Paul's passion for his people. He feels their pain; he identifies with their struggle. He has the heart of a good mother caring for her newborn. May God raise up evangelists and pastors like him in our generation.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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