Posted by: Brad Beaman | August 2, 2008

The Gospel: Preaching with Compassion, Galatians 4:8-20

Whales are one of the most impressive creatures on earth. It’s amazing even to watch a film of them swimming in the ocean. They are an inspiration with their strength, majesty and freedom. 


But tragically with their immense size they become trapped when they have come too close to shore. For the beached whale the strength and freedom they had in the open water is gone. A beached wale is a horrible sight and the freedom the whale enjoyed in the open water vanished as the whale becomes enslaved by the sandbar.

There was a situation where beached whales were rescued. Teams of people kept the whales wet while others worked to get the whales free from the sandbar that would cause their certain death if something were not done to help them. Once they became free they could return to the open water.

The rescue worked, now free the whales returned again to the deep water to enjoy their freedom. But for some unknown reason one wale turned around and headed back for the sandbar and became beached again. Why? No one knows why this whale would return to the sandbar and be enslaved again as a beached whale.

In the book of Galatians we find that Paul is perplexed. He loves the Galatian believers and they have done something as perplexing as the whale that was freed from the sandbar then would return to the sandbar again as a beached whale.

The Galatians were living in spiritual bondage. But by the grace of God Paul visited the region and told them about salvation in Christ. Paul ministered in Galatia in all three of his missionary journeys. They responded to the gospel, grew in their faith and had a close relationship with Paul. For some unknown reason after receiving their freedom in Christ they took a turn back to bondage. They started following the regulations of the law. They came to Christ by grace but they were deceived to think they must continue by works and merit.

Their relationship with Paul was fractured, their joy was lost and they found themselves back in spiritual bondage, like a whale headed back to the sandbar. Paul pleads with them not to continue in spiritual bondage.

Why turn back?

Why would whales with freedom turn back to the sandbar and get themselves beached again? Why would a butterfly with the freedom of flight want to return to crawling around as a caterpillar again?

Paul has been tough with the Galatians. He started his letter by calling them foolish. He has been scholarly too; reasoning with them in a deeply theological way. Now he becomes tender. We see his pastoral heart here. He reminisces about their formally close relationship and calls them back to living in spiritual freedom. We see him express his deep compassion in these verses.

Galatians 4:8-11
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! 11I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.

In the Old Testament we read and wonder why Israel would get freedom from Egypt and want to return to slavery again. Why would the Galatians of the first century with freedom in Christ want to turn back to the regulations of the law? Why would a Christian today saved by grace return to the bondage of sin?

It is perplexing. It makes no sense. Paul is perplexed because what they have done is so foolish.

Formally the Galatians lived as slaves in spiritual bondage. The Galatians worshipped false gods. In Acts 14:8-20 we read that Paul healed a crippled man in this region. It attracted a crowd and the Galatians mistakenly thought that Paul was a god who had come down in human form. They called Barnabas Zeus and they thought Paul was the god Hermes. The crowds wanted to offer sacrifices to them. But Paul called them to turn from these worthless things to the living God (Acts 14:15).

They were saved and he told them Galatians 3:9 now you know God. They experienced a relationship with the living God. Paul rephrases his statement to be more technically correct and says; rather now you are known by God. This better describes their relationship with God. Not to allow the impression that they earned their salvation or merited it.

Your salvation is God’s initiative. You did worship dead idols in the past but now you worship the living and true God. Why turn back?

How can we understand it when someone who responds to God, gives evidence of repentance and faith, then is baptized as a testimony and then turns back. It is Perplexing!

Paul knew the weight of ministry. He was anguished over his own people who were lost. He was anguished for those he ministered to and who were now shipwrecked in there faith.

We know this anguish all to well. Where is so and so? They are not in church. They turned back to swim into the sandbar and beached themselves. They have exchanged freedom for slavery. It hurts when this happens.

Don’t ask me to explain why this happens and don’t ask me to take it lightly. What Paul is displaying here is the Pastor’s heart. Part of being a Christian leader is to know anguish. When you saw someone who knew the joy and freedom in Christ turn back to spiritual slavery.

Sometimes in ministry you find yourself emotionally down and perplexed. This comes with the territory of having compassion. If people do not respond to Christ it can tear you up. When people turn back to spiritual slavery it is agonizing. It is not right to get bitter about it, but it is not wrong not to be anguished over spiritual casualties.

The Galatians were in Bondage to the Old Testament law. They started observing special days and months and seasons and years! Today some Christians return to bondage of the world system. It is returning to spiritual slavery.

Paul just felt like everything he had done there had become wasted efforts if they remained under the influence of the Judaizers. Maybe he had in mind the time he laid there on the ground in Galatia after people threw rocks at him until they finally left him for dead, that effort now seemed in vain. It is exciting to see Galatia ministry expand and heart wrenching to see it slipping away.

The Compassionate Plea

Paul leaves deep theology behind. It is like you have been talking to a friend who wrecked their life by a foolish decision.

Galatians 4:12-16
I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you. You have done me no wrong. 13As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. 14Even 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. 15What 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. 16Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?

He pleaded with them. He has laid out the logical arguments why they should not go back to a system of works and now he pleads with them, don’t do it. I care too much for you to sit by and see you do this. Become like me with freedom in Christ. Paul spoke of identity. He became like them, he became all things to all men, to make them like him, having freedom in Christ.

Paul also reminds them of the relationship they previously had. They would in the past do anything for him. I can testify ha says that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.

Those who are back in bondage, no longer feel close to those walking closely with Christ. The truth becomes offensive. Paul asks them, what happened to your joy? They have lost that spring in their step. There is no longer a song in their heart. They made the great exchange originally trading their bondage for freedom. Now how could they exchange back for the bondage? Why go back to spiritual slavery?

Zeal Needs the right Purpose

Paul talks about religious zeal. It can be good or it can be bad depending on the purpose. Paul himself is a very zealous man. He is extremely fervent for his faith. Zeal is good with the right direction and for a good purpose. Some people can have a misguided zeal. The Judaizers who shipwrecked the Galatians were misguided like that.

Galatians 4:17-20
Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them. 18It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you. 19My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!

Paul spoke to the believers in Galatia who had strayed as; my dear children. Paul compares his anguish for them to a delivering mothers labor pains to bring forth a child. For a mother the child is born and she forgets the pain. He went through much pain to take the gospel to them. He could not forget the pain, it was again a time of emotional pain as he writes to exhort them back to the right spiritual path. But if he could see them get right in their walk with the Lord again all the pain would all be worth it.

Spiritual leader, like Paul you may have to deal with those who turn back. It is all too common. Paul’s example was to use appeal on to them with several different approaches. He was tough, called them foolish. He was deeply theological and explained in detail their error. In this passage he makes a passionate appeal. He preaches the gospel with deep heartfelt compassion. We need this kind of concern for the lost and for those who leave the freedom of Christ and return to a yoke of slavery.

Christian, keep the faith and don’t turn back. You have known spiritual liberty, walk in it live in it.



  1. The Evangelicals are not fooling many people for they will be Preaching with Compassion, when they start to support the poor people in their own churches firstly even not stealing the tithe from them now too…and stop living high on the hog now too..

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