When Paul first travelled through Galatia on his gospel-preaching, church-planting journey he came across the pagan cultures of the ancient world. We read of Paul’s original excursion into Galatia in Acts 13 and 14, and discover that there were some serious idol worshippers, so apt to worship pagan deities that when Paul and Barnabas came through they were mistaken for Zeus and Hermes, two of the most popular Greek gods. Paul resisted their desire to worship him, and as a result he was savagely beaten and left for dead by these superstitious people.
By God’s grace, Paul recovered and continued on proclaiming the gospel, eventually seeing a number of converts place their faith in the saving work of Jesus, turning from their dangerous, pagan idolatry. Eventually, trained young men came and pastored the churches in the region. Over time, however, the Judaizers followed and perverted the gospel that had originally been preached to the Galatians. Making a plea for truth and sound doctrine in chapter 4, Paul reminds the Galatian believers that when he had arrived they had been idol worshippers.
It was only after hearing the gospel, that they had turned from their idolatry to worship the true God. Now, even though they had been remade as the very children of God, they were now departing from the joy and peace of son-ship for captivity not unlike the bondage in which Paul had originally found them. Just as they had lived lives of slavery to their false gods, they turned from their relationship with God and back to the old method of spiritual enslavement. They had taken off the bright robes of the favored child and replaced them with the dingy garments of a house slave.
Paul’s indictment demonstrated how they had done this. They had begun following the religious calendars. Perhaps they had returned to Sabbath keeping as a means of earning God’s favor. Or perhaps they went back to the Jewish calendar and dug up the endless list of feasts and fasts and tightened the shackle screws of fastidiousness on themselves. They had been saved from slavery to become sons, but now as they dwelt in their Father’s estate with its rich blessings they were wandering back to the field forgetting their inheritance.
Paul finally speaks from a broken and fearful heart. “I am fearful over you.” Paul spent of himself, hazarded his own life, and endured serious persecution so that the Galatians could receive the true gospel message that God would forgive them and offer them His blessing as a Father. Now, these believers were deserting that blood-shed, pain-earned message of Paul for the heresy of the Judaizers that was not the gospel.
One thing we must recognize is that Paul was incredibly patient through this entire endeavor. From the earliest stages of his interaction with the Galatians, where they tried to kill him, Paul was determined to see the grace of God convert those who were God’s own. But why? Why not give up when people tried to kill you? I imagine that everytime a group of people tried to kill Paul, his mind could remember his former life. For years, his sole employment was to kill the messengers of God. But one day, the irresistible grace of God had come into his life and the gospel of Jesus Christ had converted him. Even in those moments of his own persecution, he could press on with confidence knowing that the there is none too wicked and no enemy too vengeful that God’s grace cannot save.
Food For Thought: Why could Paul continue to declare the gospel to those who sought to kill him?