If you caught this yesterday, my sermon text for Sunday is Galatians 4:8-20. A text that reveals Paul’s heart for the Galatian house churches and his perplexity (v. 20) over why the Gentile Galatians would even consider adopting—even more so, getting circumcised and identifying with--the Law and, thus, old age, living in exile, under the covenant curse Israel current position before God?
Breaks his heart (as this text reveals).
In this section, Paul also tells the Galatian house churches what his goal is. This is found in verse: “my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (V. 19).
Most English readers take the “you” as “you individuality,” assuming Paul means “I desire to see each Christian looking like, acting like Jesus.” While this is a good thing of course—and would be if that’s what Paul meant here. But it begs the question: What does looking like and acting like Jesus look like? And, is Paul referring to the individual Christian?
Here in this text, not only is the “you” plural, it is a part of a prepositional phrase: ἐν ὑμῖν (“among you,” i.e., among you, the house churches in Galatia). So, Paul is saying, “My little children [those whom I led to Christian among the house churches in Galatia], for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Messiah is formed among you.” It is so much more preferable to take the “in” (of most English translations] as “among,” a perfectly reasonable rendering of what Paul wrote.
Now we should ask what does Paul mean by formed “among” the house churches in Galatia? The apostle has already told us in chapter 3. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (vv. 27-28).
Since the Law has fulfilled its purpose (which is why it was temporary and why it is so perplexing you--Galatian, Gentile Christians--would even consider circumcising yourselves to this Law), additionally, you all have been baptized into Christ, listen, and now there is neither Jew nor Gentile; there is neither slave nor free; there is neither male nor female—you all are in Christ and you all are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise [given to Abraham].”
This is what is means to have Christ formed among them, namely churches that present “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female” (3:28); house churches where “you are all one in Christ Jesus” (v. 28d).
This observation makes me think that when our churches are majority peer-like congregations, I wonder if we are then returning to the elementary principles that govern the world—or, as Paul says in our text, we have returned to idol-worship.
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.