My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! (Galatians 4:19-20 NIV)
I can hear the voices of a thousand mothers saying: “Yea right!”
What did Paul know about childbirth?
Probably more than we think. He lived before modern maternity wards, ultrasounds and epidurals. While I feel certain there were attempts in Paul’s day to keep the process of childbirth modest, it certainly wasn’t pain-free. And it didn’t occur behind block walls and glass. My guess is, when someone was having a baby, you didn’t need to text the neighbors to let them know it was time. They would hear it was time!
This isn’t the only time Paul used the metaphor of childbirth. In Romans 8, where he was discussing suffering and the expectation of the Son of God, he wrote, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Romans 8:22 NIV)
I don’t think Paul was fixated on childbirth. I merely believe the whole experience was more transparent to his culture.
Let’s return to Paul’s point. He wanted Christ to be formed in the Galatians, which meant he wanted them to “conform” to the image of Christ. If the Galatians could find maturity in Christ, they could put their cultural and historical differences in perspective. They could also fully embrace the life of grace and put more distance between themselves and the oppressive excesses of the legalists.
When Paul heard there were those who were beginning to revert to a life of self-righteous acts, instead of putting on the righteousness of Christ, he groaned. Like a mother in labor he groaned. “Ok, Paul, count, 1, 2, 3, breathe. That’s good Paul. That’s good. Now push!!!”
But could they? The pains of labor had gone on much too long and the church in Galatia was in distress. Her blood pressure was dropping and something needed to be done. If Paul was there he could intervene, but as it was, he was communicating by parchment, coaching them along…telling them what to do next.
We may not be in the church of Galatia, but all of us need to pay attention to the formation of Christ in our lives. A good work has begun in us, but God didn’t design us to struggle in labor for the rest of our lives, or to cause others to labor while they wait for something to happen.
If I might borrow from Paul’s metaphor: “Where does Christ need to be born in your life?” Let what is formed be born!
Everyone is waiting.
Dear God, bear with me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.