I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you. You have done me no wrong. As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. 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. What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. (Galatians 4:12-15)
First… a word about the opening phrase, “become like me”. Paul had proclaimed his freedom from the Law, based on his faith in Jesus. He was not obligated to participate in ceremonial regulations regarding the Old Testament sacrificial system since Jesus had offered Himself as the final sacrifice on Calvary. He hoped the Galatians could feel the freedom he had: once a Pharisee, but now a true child of Abraham by faith in Jesus.
Now onto this interesting description of Paul’s condition when he first preached to the Galatians. There has been much speculation about the nature and cause of his illness. Some have even suggested it wasn’t an illness at all, but perhaps his recovery from the hardships of persecution, and even a near death stoning experience with an angry mob.
The most popular theories are that Paul had a fever, or an eye disease that flared up during his visit to Galatia. The eye disease theory is sometimes supported by his statement that the Galatians would have torn out their eyes for him had they been able. Later, Paul referred to a “thorn in the flesh” in his life that he prayed for God to remove, and some have speculated that the “thorn” must have been an eye disease, as indicated here.
We really don’t know for sure, but it is important to know this passage is one that enters into the debate of physical healing as it relates to God’s servants. The logic goes like this: if Paul, who was a great servant, prayed for God to remove an eye disease, which He did not remove, then we should not be surprised when we pray with great faith and God doesn’t heal us. I personally think this is a good principle to keep in mind since God chooses to heal whom He wishes. However, this is a difficult logic for some to accept, and could explain why some reject the idea that Paul’s eye problem here, or his thorn in the flesh were physical diseases.
This important subject aside, I think the biggest takeaway from our passage is the relationship Paul was able to develop with the Galatians as a result of his circumstances. His illness brought them closer, and endeared him to his listeners. It forced Paul to let others care for him, which deepened his appreciation for those who helped him.
Throughout the years I have discovered the most meaningful relationships emerge through ministry to one another. People who merely serve together, but don’t need each other operate on a shallow level. They coordinate and sometimes collaborate, but aren’t necessarily concerned about building one another up.
God can certainly accomplish His mission without deeper relationships among His people, but it doesn’t represent the fullness of His design for His church. And without this, the work isn’t as effective. Don’t be afraid to share your needs with others, and stand ready to meet the needs of others. You may just be setting the stage for a greater work of God.
Dear God, help me to serve with vulnerability. In Jesus’ name, Amen.