Life-Study of Galatians, Chapter 23


Verse 17 says, “They are zealous of you, not rightly, but they desire to shut you out, that you may be zealous of them.” The Greek word rendered zealous in this verse means to be jealously courting someone. The Judaizers were jealously courting the Galatians so that the Galatians might jealously court them in return. To court a person is to pursue that person in love with the aim of gaining his love. The Judaizers pursued the Galatian believers in this way, actually courting them. This indicates how serious, how zealous, the Judaizers were. However, as Paul says, the Judaizers jealously courted them, not rightly, but with the desire to shut them out. They did not pursue them in an honorable, commendable way. Their aim was to exclude them from the proper preaching of the gospel of grace. They wanted to exclude them from God’s New Testament economy, from the enjoyment of Christ, and from the all-inclusive life-giving Spirit. The principle is the same with dissenting ones today. Their goal is to shut out the church people from the enjoyment of Christ and to cause the ones they have deceived to zealously follow them.

In verse 18 Paul continues, “But it is good always to be zealous in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you.” It is good to jealously court someone in a good thing, in the proper preaching of the gospel. This should be the case not only when Paul is present. By this word Paul indicates that he is not narrow, keeping other preachers of the gospel away from the Galatians. Rather, he rejoices in the preaching of others (Phil. 1:18). Paul was in favor of the proper preaching of others, but he was not in favor of that kind of jealous courting of the believers.


Verse 19 says, “My children, of whom I am again in travail until Christ is formed in you.” Here Paul considers himself the begetting father, and the Galatian believers his children begotten of him in Christ (see 1 Cor. 4:15; Philem. 10). This also was an appeal to their affection.

Paul told the Galatian believers that he was again travailing on their behalf. Travail refers to painful labor in childbirth. In this metaphor Paul likens himself to a mother who gives birth to a child. He labored in this way for the regeneration of the Galatians when he first preached the gospel to them. Because they had deviated from the gospel he preached to them, he labors again in travail until Christ is formed in them. In this verse Paul likens himself both to a begetting father and a travailing mother. Was he, then, a father or a mother? He was both, depending on the situation. On one occasion he was a begetting father; on another, a travailing mother.

Paul was in travail that Christ might be formed in the Galatians. Christ, a living Person, is the focus of Paul’s gospel. His preaching is to bring forth Christ, the Son of the living God, in the believers. This differs greatly from the teaching of the law in letters. Hence, the book of Galatians is emphatically Christ-centered. Christ was crucified (3:1) to redeem us out of the curse of the law (3:13) and rescue us out of the evil religious course of the world (1:4); and He was resurrected from among the dead (1:1) that He might live in us (2:20). We were baptized into Him, identified with Him, and have put on Him, have clothed ourselves with Him (3:27). Thus, we are in Him (3:28) and have become His (3:29; 5:24). On the other hand, He has been revealed in us (1:16), He is now living in us (2:20), and He will be formed in us (4:19). It is to Him the law has conducted us (3:24), and in Him we are all sons of God (3:26). It is in Him that we inherit God’s promised blessing and enjoy the all-inclusive Spirit (3:14). It is also in Him that we are all one (3:28). We should not be deprived of all profit from Him and so be severed from Him (5:4). We need Him to supply us with His grace in our spirit (6:18) that we may live Him.

Christ was born into the Galatian believers, but not formed in them, when they were regenerated through Paul’s preaching the gospel to them the first time. Now the apostle travails again that Christ might be formed in them. To have Christ formed in us is to have Christ grown in us in full. First Christ was born into us at our conversion, then He lives in us in our Christian life (2:20), and He will be formed in us at our maturity. This is needed that we may be sons of full age, heirs to inherit God’s promised blessing, and mature in the divine sonship.


As we have indicated, verse 19 points out that Paul’s burden was not to carry on a Christian work, but was to have Christ formed in the believers. Through Paul’s preaching, Christ had entered into the Galatians. But because they had been deceived, Christ had not yet grown in them and had not been formed in them. Therefore, Paul labored again, like a mother laboring in giving birth, that Christ would be formed in the believers. Paul wrote out of the burden to minister Christ into the saints. He was burdened that Christ would be established, built up, in them. Galatians tells us that Christ is revealed in us and that He lives in us. Now we see that Christ must also be formed in us.

Ministering Christ to others is not accomplished easily. It often requires suffering and struggle. Ministering Christ is much more difficult than carrying on an ordinary Christian work. If you would bear the burden, with a sincere heart, to minister Christ to others, you will discover what labor and suffering it requires. You will need to labor like a mother giving birth to a child.

The goal of our service in the church or in the ministry must be to minister Christ into others. It is not adequate simply to say that we preach the gospel, for it is possible to preach the gospel without ministering Christ to others. Our burden must be the ministering of Christ. Once again I say that this requires labor and suffering. It demands prayer, patience, and love. According to our experience, such a ministry is a battle, a wrestling. The subtle one, the enemy of God, is active to bring in frustration or distraction. We do not know from what direction he will attack next. Hence, we must learn from Paul to be burdened to minister Christ and also to appeal to the saints’ affection that their hearts may be touched.


In verse 20 Paul says, “And I wished to be present with you now and to change my tone, because I am perplexed about you.” The apostle wanted to change his tone from severity to affection, as a mother speaking lovingly to her children. Paul was puzzled in dealing with the Galatians. He was searching for the best way to recover them from their deviation from Christ.

Verse 20 indicates that Paul felt that what he had written to the Galatian believers was not adequate. He wanted to visit them and stay with them because he knew that his presence would accomplish more than his writing. Paul was perplexed about the Galatians; he did not know how to deal with them, how to handle their case. On the one hand, he addressed them as “foolish Galatians”; on the other hand, he appealed to them as “beloved brothers.” This indicates that Paul was perplexed.


In writing chapter four Paul was very affectionate and appealed to the affection of the Galatian believers. It is very difficult to appeal to others’ personal affection in a proper way. To do this requires that our motive be pure. If we are not pure in our motive, we should be careful of our affection for the saints. There is a great need of affectionate contact with the saints; there is also the need to appeal to the affection of others. However, we must recognize that such an appeal is difficult, for it is easy for the natural love, the “honey,” to be present. It is not easy to be pure as Paul was in Galatians 4. Paul was a person who had been “salted.” This was the reason that he could appeal to the Galatians’ personal affection in such a pure way. He could even rebuke them and condemn the Judaizers with a pure intent. If we try to practice this, we shall discover how difficult it is. In rebuking others we need a pure motive. In appealing to others’ personal affection, we need to be even more pure in our motive. In many situations we shall not be able to minister Christ to others, to travail to have Christ formed in them, if we are not able to appeal to their affection.

As we consider all these points, we see that chapter four is as important as chapter three. I thank the Lord that Paul wrote this chapter. Otherwise, we might have the impression that in writing to the Galatians he was legal, but not personal or affectionate. In chapter four Paul could be affectionate and appeal to the love of the saints for the purpose of ministering Christ to them.




Scripture Reading: Gal. 4:21-31; 2:20a; 6:12-13, 15

In the previous message we pointed out that in 4:19 Paul says, “My children, of whom I am again in travail until Christ is formed in you.” If we consider this verse in its context, we see that it is necessary for the heirs of the promise to have Christ formed in them. Those who are sons of Abraham through faith are the heirs of the promise, those who inherit the blessing. These heirs need to be filled, occupied, and saturated with Christ. They need to have Christ formed in them.


If we would know what it means for Christ to be formed in us, we need to consider not only the entire book of Galatians, but also the books of Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. The book of Galatians indicates that God’s intention is for Christ to be wrought into His chosen people that they may become sons of God. In order to be God’s sons, we need to be permeated and saturated with Christ. Christ must occupy our entire being. The Galatians, however, were distracted from Christ to the law. Hence, Paul told them repeatedly that it was altogether wrong to leave Christ and return to the law. The believers should come back to Christ, who is both the seed who fulfills God’s promise to Abraham and also the good land, the all-inclusive Spirit to be our enjoyment. As believers, we need the full enjoyment of this blessing, the full enjoyment of the life-giving Spirit. We need to be permeated, saturated, possessed, and fully taken over by this Spirit and with this Spirit. According to the context of the book of Galatians, to have Christ formed in us is to allow Him to permeate our being and to saturate our inward parts. When Christ occupies our inner being in this way, He is formed in us.


In order to have Christ formed in us, we need to drop everything other than Christ Himself, no matter how good these things may be. Even things which come from God and are scriptural may not be Christ Himself. Although the law was given by God, it must be set aside so that all the ground in our being may be given over to Christ. We need to allow Him to saturate every part of our inner being. He must occupy us and saturate our mind, emotion, and will. To have Christ possess our entire being is to have Him formed in us.

In Ephesians 3:17 we see that Paul prayed that “Christ may make His home in your hearts.” We know that the heart includes the mind, the will, the emotion, and the conscience. To let Christ make His home in our hearts means that He makes His home in all these parts of our inner being. If Christ is to make home in our hearts, He needs to be able to settle down within us. Once again, this is to have Christ formed in us.

To have Christ formed in us is to allow the all-inclusive Spirit to occupy every part of our inner being. The law should not have any room in our mind, emotion, or will. All the ground within us must be for Christ. We need to allow Christ to occupy us fully. He should not only spread into our mind, emotion, and will; He should actually become our mind, emotion, and will. Let Christ be your thought, decision, and love. Let Him be everything to you. This is to have Christ formed in you. Everything other than Christ must diminish, and Christ must become everything to us in our experience.


Christ today is the life-giving Spirit as the blessing of the gospel, the blessing promised by God. To have the full enjoyment of this blessing is to let Christ be formed in us. This means that if we would have the full enjoyment of the blessing of the gospel, we need to have Christ formed in us. If Christ is not yet fully formed in us, then our enjoyment of the blessing of the New Testament is not yet full. Although we have enjoyed the blessing in part, we need to go on to allow Christ to occupy us wholly, to take us over and saturate every part of our being with Himself. To do this is to enjoy the blessing of the gospel to the uttermost. This was Paul’s goal in writing to the Galatian believers. As He appealed to their personal affection in 4:8-20, Paul had this goal clearly in mind. He appealed to the believers’ affection so that Christ might be formed in them for the fulfillment of God’s goal.

Galatians 4:21 says, “Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law?” The book of Galatians deals strongly with deviation from Christ by coming back under the law. Such deviation shuts the believers out from the enjoyment of Christ as their life and their everything.

Read full text of this book