Sabbath School Lesson for August 19-25, 2017
Paul is often seen as someone who loves a theological debate. His line of defense usually includes logical, intellectual arguments for the gospel, delivered in a rather commanding, deliberate way.
But the passage we look at this week allows us to see a very warm, tender version of Paul, as he appeals passionately to the believers in Galatia. The more personable side of Paul shines through his heartfelt appeal.
We are naturally drawn into Paul’s desire to keep his flock safe from gospel predators, who have infiltrated their ranks. Correct doctrine is important, according to Paul, especially when the true message of the gospel is threatened… the truth that we are saved by grace alone, and not by our own works of righteousness.
Paul therefore leaves nothing unsaid in trying to win them back from forces that threaten to undo all his good work among them.
Memory Text: “Friends, I beg you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are.” Galatians 4:12 NRSV
What is striking about this verse is that Paul doesn’t appeal to them to do as he does, but to be what he is. This is a stark reminder that our salvation doesn’t depend on what we “do” as much as who we “are”. Actions, no matter how correct, are without value unless they come from a heart filled with love toward God and our neighbors.
Paul makes it clear that his letter to them is not only an attempt to correct this new theology that has appeared, but to minister to loved ones he has helped “birth” into the church. This is a very personal appeal that hits them where it matters, in their hearts, not just their minds.
Sunday: The Heart of Paul
In order to reach hearts, one must sometimes put his or her own heart on the line. Paul does this by expressing his desire that they become like him and reminding them of his labors for them in the past.
He introduces this appeal (Galatians 4:12) with the urgent words “I beseech you”. The Greek word used here has a desperate nature. It could be translated, “I urge you”, “I plead with you”, “I implore you”…even “I beg you”. We immediately get the impression that Paul frantically wants them to listen and consider the seriousness of his message.
He ends his appeal in verse 19 by referring to their new “birth”, when Christ first came into their lives. He ties himself with this process by calling them “my little children”, with whom he personally suffered the labor of childbirth. They are reminded of Paul’s contribution in helping form the church of God in Galatia. He, no doubt, had a personal tie to many of their conversions.
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 4:12, 2 Corinthians 5:20, 8:4, 10:12. Why does Paul feel so strongly about his churches? What causes him to be so passionately concerned about them?
Read Galatians 4:12 again. Wouldn’t it be better to remind them to be like Christ, instead of himself? Would they have understood his message as well if he had? Why?
Read Galatians 4:19. How does this verse reveal that being a follower of Christ means more than just a profession of faith, but a transformation of our character?
Monday: The Challenge to Become
Paul’s challenge to become like him was not given just to the Galatians. Repeatedly in Paul’s letters to the churches he reminds them to follow his example. For instance…
- “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1
- “Brethren, join in following my example…” Philippians 3:17
- “…to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us.” 2 Thessalonians 3:9
- “…become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.” Acts 26:29
Paul had received so much from Christ, it appears he wanted everyone to have the same glorious experience he enjoyed. He wanted them to have the ultimate joy that being a true Christian can bring. It wasn’t so much that they should follow his actions, but become a faithful servant of Christ, as he had become.
Discussion Questions: Read 1 Corinthians 11:1, Ephesians 5:1, 2, and Philippians 3:17. Why does loving make us more like God? What benefit is there in imitating loving behavior from other persons we know? How is this sometimes easier than following the example of God, or even Jesus?
Read Acts 26:27-29. In appealing to King Agrippa, what did Paul mean by wanting him to become like he was?
Read Philippians 3:5-9. How was this most likely the reason Paul asked the Galatians to follow his example? Would it be easy or hard to follow Paul’s example?
Tuesday: I Have Become as You Are
The second part of our memory verse this week talked about Paul becoming like they were. What did he mean by this? We find in various passages from his letters that Paul made an honest attempt to become closely allied with fellow believers by working on their level, both on an intellectual and a practical basis. He worked side by side with them during the week, and also tailored his teachings to their current needs.
This has become known as contextualization, or communicating the gospel in a way that fits the context of the people who are listening and learning how to follow Christ.
Jesus Himself used this method. We find in Luke 15:2 that He received sinners and ate with them, to the extent that the Pharisees and scribes complained about it. But in every contact Jesus had with people we find Him meeting them just where they were and encouraging them to rise above their difficulties.
Of course, there are limitations on how far we go to contextualize our message. We naturally don’t want to compromise our integrity by advocating or participating in an unlawful lifestyle. But we would reach more people by joining their activities and interests, whenever it seems safe and prudent to do so.
Keep in mind that Paul, like Jesus, had many enemies, who were keeping a watchful eye on his activities. He must be always mindful of his personal code of conduct, living his life as free from reproach as possible. We, too, must be careful how our actions will be perceived by others.
Discussion Questions: Read 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. For what purpose did Paul use the method of contextualization described here?
Read Luke 15:1-10. Why did Jesus tell this story of the lost sheep to the scribes and Pharisees? How far should we go to retrieve lost sinners?
Read Galatians 2:11-13. How far should we go not to offend others, and yet avoid being called a hypocrite? What boundaries should we set for ourselves, when witnessing to others? How can we make our abstinence from some activities less offensive to others?
Wednesday: Then and Now
Part of Paul’s pastoral appeal referred to a time when he had suffered some kind of “physical infirmity” when he first preached to the Galatians.
“You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first.” Galatians 4:13 NKJV
Although we aren’t sure of the exact nature of this infirmity, it must have been enough of a trial that his witness and missionary efforts could have been diminished. Evidently, the people in Galatia were so forgiving and understanding about his condition that they did not allow it to alter their decisions for Christ.
Paul was reminding the Galatians of their tender ties from the beginning. When adversity was at the door, at least personally for Paul, they were ready to enfold him in their love and help him over an obviously rough time. No wonder Paul felt a special bond with this body of believers.
Their shared experience drew them closer together, and Paul was hopeful that it would happen again with this new challenge in the church.
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 4:13, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, and Matthew 26:42-44. Why do you think the Lord asks us to pray repeatedly for release from our trials, and even then the answer we desire doesn’t always come?
Read 2 Corinthians 12:9. How is our strength made perfect in weakness?
Read John 9:1, 2 and Luke 13:1-4. Why do people naturally believe that our trials reflect our misdeeds and sinful living? How do we still tend to assume that people are to blame for their misfortunes? Give examples. How were the Galatians then able to look beyond Paul’s physical condition, when he first started laboring for them?
Thursday: Speaking the Truth
“Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?” Galatians 4:16 NKJV
Isn’t this the worry most of us have when we feel compelled to approach a friend with something he or she doesn’t want to hear? Even if it’s the truth, we can be misunderstood and denounced as their enemy.
But true friends don’t go away with important things unsaid. It’s our duty to speak the truth, but always in as loving and kind way as possible. This is what Paul is attempting to do with the Galatians. He has reminded them of their long-standing friendship, but he must risk that for the sake of the gospel. This task obviously weighs heavy on his heart.
In the following verses, Paul boldly states the motive for the opposition. His opponents’ goal is to exclude them, until they concede to circumcision. This is not true friendship, Paul contends. God has already redeemed them. They need not conform to outdated Jewish customs and traditions, in order to be accepted by God.
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 4:16, John 3:19-21, and Matthew 26:64, 65. Why do people hate the truth about themselves?
Read Galatians 6:9, 10. How do these words and others in Paul’s letter express his love for those he must warn, despite the fact that it is a disagreeable responsibility for him?
Read Galatians 4:17-20. What else is Paul challenging besides their theology? Why are motives so important in the choices we make?
Several points were derived from Paul’s pastoral appeal in Galatians 4:12-20. These principles can and should be incorporated in some fashion into our pastoral and personal witnessing appeals today…
- It came from Paul’s heart–“I URGE you”, v. 12 (Sun.)
- He wanted them “to become like” him, v. 12–free from a works-oriented religion (Mon.)
- Paul tailored, or contextualized, his message to fit their needs–“I became like you”, v. 12 (Tue.)
- He caused them to think of the trials of their shared past–“I preached the gospel to you at the first”, v. 13 (Wed.)
- Speaking the truth can hurt, “have I therefore become your enemy?” v. 16 (Thu.)
- It’s been said that the gospel we preach should be the gospel we live. We must be careful to include both a theological and a personal appeal when witnessing to our friends and neighbors.
- What boundaries have you set for yourself in presenting the gospel to others? How close will you come to where they are in their experience, in order to draw them to the Lord?
- Think about your personal code of conduct…is it flexible enough to reach out to those who need God in their lives, without compromising your own values?
- Take the time to appeal to hearts and minds this week. It’s a great way to preach the gospel.
Next Week: The Two Covenants
To read the Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly or see more resources for its study, go to https://www.absg.adventist.org/
All Outlook blogposts by Teresa Thompson, are at http://outlookmag.org/author/teresathompson/