Online Bible Commentary
They Want to Exclude You
Galatians 4:17 They zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them. 18 But it is good to be zealous in a good thing always, and not only when I am present with you. 19 My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you, 20 I would like to be present with you now and to change my tone; for I have doubts about you. (NKJV)
The Apostle Paul is writing to believers in southern Galatia likely from his home city of Antioch, Syria in 49 A.D, prior to attending the Jerusalem Council meeting which occurred that same year. Paul has just completed his first missionary journey in which he and Barnabas planted churches in southern Galatia at Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. This letter is the first of Paul’s letters.
The new believers in Galatia, influenced by Judaizers, have already turned from Paul’s Gospel to a false gospel of a mix of works and grace instead of grace alone. Judaizers claimed that Christians must also follow the Old Testament law, including circumcision. So Paul is writing to the Galatian believers to direct them back to the true Gospel of salvation by grace and not a combination of grace and works.
In this passage, Paul tells the Galatian believers that the Judaizers are “courting” them for “no good” (v. 17a). In other words they are causing harm to the believers by their false teaching. The new Christians are believing this false teaching and are turning away from the true Gospel.
The motives of the Judaizers are bad. They are only concerned with increasing the numbers of their followers. They are not concerned with the spiritual well being of the Galatian believers. They want to “exclude” them from the body of believers and make them “zealous” for the beliefs of the Judaizers (v. 17b).
The primary difference in the beliefs of the Judaizers and the body of believers was the Judaizers’ requirement for Gentile believers to be circumcised. This issue of circumcision was settled by the Jerusalem Council in 49 A.D. shortly after Paul wrote this letter to the Galatians. The Jerusalem Council made it clear that circumcision would not be required of Gentile believers.
Next, Paul reprimands the Galatian believers. He writes that they should “always” be “zealous in a good thing”, not just when he is “present” with them (v. 18). Unfortunately, as soon as Paul left Galatia and returned home he heard that they had already departed from his teachings. He was naturally frustrated by this news.
Paul then addresses the new believers as “my little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you” (v. 19). Paul and Barnabas initially brought the Gospel to these baby Christians. Through their “labor” they were in the process of making these baby Christians into mature Christians. Through their ongoing efforts at discipleship, and the work of the Holy Spirit, the goal was for these baby Christians to become Christlike.
Paul concludes this passage by writing “I would like to be present with you now and to change my tone” (v. 20a). He wishes he was there with them and that he could change his tone from a reprimand to nursing them back to his teachings.
Unfortunately, he needs the strong tone of this letter to convince them of the seriousness of the situation since he is not physically there to do so. The baby believers are being enticed to believe a false gospel that salvation is by a combination of grace and works and not grace only. He is concerned for them, which is the cause of the seriousness of his tone (v. 20b).
The Judaizers wanted to “exclude” the new believers in Galatia from believing the truth of the Gospel by their false teaching. This is always the motive of false teachers. Their motives are to build a following for themselves.
The false teachers of today have the same motives. They will “zealously court you, but for no good.” They “want to exclude you” from the truth of the Bible. Christians should make themselves familiar with the teachings of the Bible as a way to protect themselves from the ravages of false teachers.