Pastors love their people. I know I do. I am a pastor. Yet encouragement for pastors is absolutely necessary. Paul also loved his people. This is a common feeling for those who are shepherds to God’s people. Have you ever felt frustrated because people you love seem to go backward? In spite of all your help, all you counsel, all your giving to them, all your care, all your prayers, they go backward. That’s frustrating. Maybe you are trying to help a fellow believer and they just keep messing up. Maybe it’s one of your kids and your trying to get them down life’s road, but it seems like they go backwards.
Most of us can handle two steps forward and one step backward, because at least progress is being made. But when we see two steps backward and only one baby step forward. We start saying, Really? Are you serious? Are you kidding me? If they are people we love, there is a lot of pain that can be associated when people take the wrong road. Is there anyone reading this who would say, I have hurt, cried tears, felt frustrated in a situation like that? One of the beautiful things within the body of Christ, I think, are the relationships that we have with our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are real. Those relationships are as real to me as a relationship with my family. And many of us know what it feels like when we people start going backwards in life.
This is what we know about Paul. He was frustrated because the churches in Galatia were going backwards. When he started out writing this letter, he was really upset. In fact, some say he was fighting mad. He was coming on strong in this letter to defend the most important truth that God had ever entrusted to him. He was coming to defend the Gospel. He was defending justification by faith alone. He had heard of what was happening to people he loved and cared for. Some Judaizers from Jerusalem had come in and added something to the gospel. He was frustrated because they were destroying the gospel.
It would be like when my wife makes spaghetti and I would come in and taste the sauce which is perfect and complete, and say, that sauce isn’t gonna cut it, I need to add to it. How many of you think if I start putting shrimp and ham and cilantro and Captain Crunch in she is going to be frustrated? That is what was happening. They were adding the works of the law to the Gospel. Paul was frustrated. Even though he loved the people in Galatia, he couldn’t let this go on.
It is my understanding that Paul preached in Galatia on all three of his missionary journeys. He had given his love to these people. And they had loved him back. And so, he writes the letter that we now call Galatians. He cares enough to confront them. He sets out the gospel for them in plain and uncertain terms. He is fighting for the truth of it. In the proceeding verses we have read his theological arguments that he has given. They are based on logic and proper understanding of scripture. They are biblically correct, theologically right and he is laying them out like an expert theologian. But at this point in the letter the love that he feels for the people come rushing to the top. Paul isn’t writing to people he doesn’t know.
He knows their names. He has eaten with them, laughed with them, cried with them. But I think all of a sudden, this valiant theologian, this armor bearing defender of the faith gets teary eyed. Something wells up in him. It’s love. It’s tenderness. It’s care. In this passage we hear the tenderness of the man I want to call today Pastor Paul. I see seven questions that arise from the text that many Pastors sense and feel. By the way, this is not just about me as a pastor. This is about anybody who loves and cares for people spiritually.
ENCOURAGEMENT FOR PASTORS INCLUDES MANY
- This is for parents.
- This is for brothers and sisters in Christ who are close.
- This is for teachers who care for students.
- This is for small group leaders.
The first question that arises from this text is….
- HOW CAN YOU GO BACK INTO BONDAGE?
Paul literally is concerned for their souls. There are different levels of care people receive. You go to the doctor and they care about your health. You go to your personal trainer and they care about your fitness. Your financial planner cares about how much money is in your 401k. But when have that spiritual call upon your life, you care about people at a level that is different than all of that. You care for their souls. You want them to be right with God.
And many times, if you are brother in Christ or pastor. You know their story. I think it is a good thing if people know your story. I think it is good that your church family knows your story. I have had people leave the church because their story got out. They say, “I don’t want anybody to know. I want to keep it secret and hidden.” That is crazy. In the kingdom, it is not your past that defines you. It is Christ. You were slaves, but now made sons, and adopted into the family. Besides, you can tell your story and find that people love you anyway!
Paul knew the bondage that God had brought these people out of. Listen to what he says, Galatians 4:8-10 “But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods. But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God,” Paul knew their story. The Galatians worshipped false gods. In Acts 14:8-20 we read that God healed a crippled man in this region through the apostle. 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.
I have news for you Zeus and Hermes are not gods! Paul said, you served those which by nature are not gods. Not even with a small g. But Paul called them to turn from these worthless things to the living God. Many of them did. They believed in Christ. They by faith entered into a relationship with the one true God! Paul says, you have known God or rather God has known you. That speaks to a real relationship with God.
They experienced a relationship with the living God. We as believers like the Galatians we don’t just study the Bible and know all about God. God knows us. He knows our concerns, our weaknesses, our struggles, our victories. Nothing is more precious than knowing God and Him knowing you! Galatians 4:9-10 he says, you had this wonderful relationship with God, “how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years.”
Paul is saying for years, you tried to do things that would please your so-called gods, that aren’t even gods. But now you experienced something far better. You experienced relationship with God in reality. You experienced God knowing who you and loving you. You left the rules and regulations of trying to please Zeus and Hermes. How are you going back to that? You are trying to find life in the Old Testament holidays. You are observing days and months and seasons. You want to go back under the law. Why? You are free in Christ. He is saying, Why would you go back to be underneath the law? When you have experienced the grace of God? When you have experienced the power of the Spirit of God living in you? Why are you going backwards?
If you love people like Paul. If you are someone’s shepherd. You can expect that sometime in your life, people will turn back. They probably won’t try to live like a Jew and follow the law. They turn back. They turn back to the old way of living. This is the most difficult heartbreaking, heart wrenching thing to bear when you love someone. This is when encouragement for pastors needs to be given.
But what did Paul do? He didn’t throw in the towel. He fought for them. He wrote them a letter. If he would have lived today, he would have texted them. He would have emailed them. The one thing he didn’t do was give up on them. Even if they break off the relationship, they can’t stop your prayers. They can’t stop the Holy Spirit dealing with them.
The second question that arises from this passage is.
- AM I WASTING MY ENERGIES AND EFFORTS?
Paul had spent countless hours in prayer form them. Paul had labored among them preaching the gospel in Asia. He had reasoned with the Jews from the scripture convincing them of the gospel. At one point he was even beaten and left for dead. He had suffered physically. Paul raises the question. Am I wasting my energies and efforts? Galatians 4:11 “I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.”
I don’t care who you are, we all like to feel like we have something we have gained from our efforts. When people decide to go backward. When people decide to stop coming to church. When people say, I don’t think I really need God right now. It hurts because you feel like you have labored in vain. You feel like the farmer who with the sweat of his brow, put his crop in, but the drought came and there is no harvest. You feel like the doctor who did his best, and the patient died anyway. You feel like the business owner who put all of him money and his energy. And then the business fails. Did you labor in vain?
I want to speak to every parent today who feels like, I have prayed and prayed. I want to speak to every shepherd here who has extended themselves for others, and you don’t see the fruit you wanted. I want to speak to those who have seen people spiritually going downhill and backwards.
Let me take you to another one of Paul’s letters and give some encouragement for pastors. 1 Corinthians 15:58 “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” I want you to know it’s not over till it’s over. What you do matters. What you say has impact. Be steadfast. Always abound. You might think, “Well, I tried, I worked, I prayed, and it didn’t work out like I thought it would.” Do not let it move you! You labor in the Lord is not in vain!
Not only does God see what you do and is blessed by it, but you are also told to not be weary in well doing, because there is coming a harvest in due season. There is coming a day, when you will see the answer to your prayers. Don’t give up.
And then the third question that is raised in this text is.
- DON’T YOU SEE WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER?
Paul being a Jew had been underneath the law. For many years Paul who was then named Saul had been zealous for the law. He was a Pharisee of Pharisees. Zealous against Christians. Zealous in trying to gain righteousness by the law. But he had an experience with Jesus on the Damascus road that changed his life. God revealed the gospel to Him. He left the law, to trust in Christ alone. Galatians 4:12 “ Brethren, I urge you to become like me, for I became like you. You have not injured me at all.”
What is he saying? Paul was saying, I BECAME LIKE YOU! I left all of the laws, the rules, the regulations, the prohibitions of what I eat. The washing of hands. The wearing of phylacteries. The garb of the Pharisees. All of the esteem that I was getting from being a Pharisee of Pharisees. He was saying, at one point in my mind, I thought I was righteous because I had obeyed the law. But he said, I became like you.
What were they? All of the Galatians were ordinary people who needed to have a relationship with Jesus. Paul was saying, I became like you, in need of Jesus. I had no righteousness from the law. Paul said, I left it all. I counted it all as loss. I counted it as dung so that I could have the knowledge of Jesus. I became like you. I am not a man that under the law. I am not bar mitzvah. I am not a son of the law. I became like you…in need of Christ.
Now you are under the same thing I was under. The weight of the law. He says, I left all that. He says, “I urge you to become like me!” A man who left trying to please God through the law who found freedom in Christ. Please become like me. He was saying, can’t you see we are in this together.
The fourth question that arises from this text is…
- WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LOVING RELATIONSHIP WE ONCE HAD?
I want you to understand that sometimes life as a pastor can be kind of brutal. You can pour your life into someone, build a relationship with them. Work hard for years….and then all of a sudden…things go south. And rather than to work it out, they choose to have distancing and cut off. When you have a loving relationship with people, it feels like your arm is cut off. Paul says what happened to the loving relationship we had?
Galatians 4:13-15 “You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. What then was the blessing you enjoyed? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me.”
Paul apparently had some problems with his eyes. He had a physical infirmity. In those days, if someone’s were infected or had drainage or real physical difficulties. People would naturally stay away from a person like that. This was before medical science. But Paul said, you didn’t reject me. Paul said, you didn’t despise me. You received me like an angel, like I was Jesus. And I know you loved me enough that if you could have you would plucked your own eyes out and given them to me.
He was saying…you loved me. We had a deep relationship. I brought you the truth of the gospel, you got saved. I loved you, you loved me. And now you just go with these guys who are bringing you into bondage. Going with the very men who were saying, “Paul isn’t right. He is not even an apostle. He is a fraud.” Paul says, You know me! You know I am real with you. What happened to that love we had?
I am a pastor that believes in building relationships with people. Doing that can be devastating when people chose to distance themselves from you, or cut you off completely. I have sat at the end of the hall and wept. Because it hurts. I have talked to the Lord, and I have always prayed, don’t let my heart become so wounded that it gets crusted over, and that it gets hard, and that I get where I don’t care. Is there any one else here who can identify with what Paul is saying? He saying, I loved you, and you loved me. We fought the devil together, and now you just go with these false teachers? Really? If that has happened, there is only one solution. You come back to Jesus, and let him fill you up.
The next question that text raises is found actually as a question.
AM I YOUR ENEMY BECAUSE I TELL YOU THE TRUTH?
If you are a pastor. If you are a shepherd and if you really love people you tell them the truth. This is not talking about a mean-spirited Christian that walks around thinking they are the Holy Spirit. Sometime mean people get a hold of a verse like this and they think it gives them the right to scold people they don’t even have a relationship with. Paul had a relationship with these people. You don’t have the right to be a truth teller, unless you have first worked toward having a relationship that is deeper than just, well, I know your name.
But Paul says in Galatians 4:16 “Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?”
This verse explains why so many Christians, especially pastors are often hated and maligned by others, oftentimes even by others within the church that profess to be believers. You see, all of us as Christians have two options. We can be ambassadors for Jesus Christ and proclaim His Word or we can cowardly avoid the truth and keep quiet or just tell people what they want to hear. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a guy that likes to take the truth and beat people over the head with it. We can do things with sensitivity and timing.
Avoid the truth and you will often be well-received. You will provide very little help, of maybe even in the long-term damage to that person’s relationship with God. Speak the truth and you are often resented. But if you speak the truth you glorify God and will provide the most useful and most loving information a person needs to receive.
Maybe as you are reading this that person popped into your mind. You were once close. But you told them the truth, and now they view you as an enemy. You are left saying, Really? Don’t you know I love you? Don’t you know I care? All I can say is that you are in good company. The same thing happened to Jeremiah, and they threw him in a cistern. He told them the word of the Lord, and he became the hated one, the enemy. Jesus himself spoke the truth. He said, I am the way, the truth, and the life. And he became the enemy. The sought him out at night, gave him a mock trial, beat him, mocked him, and finally hung him on the cross.
It’s okay! If it happened to Jesus and it happened to you, just tell yourself, I now only know him in the power of his resurrection, but also in the fellowship of his sufferings. This is the heart of a pastor being unveiled. Is it any wonder encouragement for pastors in necessary?
And yet another question arises from this text…
- DON’T YOU SEE WHO THEY ARE?
Paul recognizes these guys. They are legalist. They are Judaizers. They are perverting the gospel. They are leading people backwards. They are destroying lives by their false doctrine. He says this: Galatians 4:17-18 “They zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them. But it is good to be zealous in a good thing always, and not only when I am present with you.”
Can’t you hear the cry from Paul’s heart. He says, they zealously court you, but it is not to help you. Sure, they take you for dinner. Sure, they spend time talking to you. Sure, they act like they are trying to help. But it is for their good, not yours. They want you to be zealous for them. Then Paul says something interesting. They are trying to exclude you. Paul is saying hold on! You are part of the kingdom right now. By trusting in Christ they became a part of the body of Christ. They were fully in. They were accepted in the beloved. They were members of the body. They were living stones being made into a habitation for God.
Paul says, don’t you see? They are trying to exclude you if you don’t follow their ways. It is good to be zealous. But be zealous in the right way! The underlying message is, please be zealous for the gospel just like I was there present with you!
And then the final question
- DON’T YOU REALIZE I AM LABORING FOR YOUR BENEFIT?
The tough apostle Paul, the one who argues from theology, the one who zealously defends the gospel puts on the tone of a mother and uses an analogy of himself as a woman. He sounds like a mother here. Paul views these people as his kids. Galatians 4:19 “My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you,”
He is saying, you guys are my kids. I am laboring in birth. It is difficult and hard. But I am fighting for you! Why? So that Christ can be formed in you. Galatians 4:20 “I would like to be present with you now and to change my tone; for I have doubts about you.” He was saying, I know I have sounded tough in this letter, I want to just be with you so you could hear the tone in my voice. The love that I have for you. What is the underlying truth in this passage that Paul is teaching us? People are worth fighting for. Keep fighting even though it hurts my friend.
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