At this point in Galatians, I believe Paul comes to a heart-to-heart part of his message. He expresses his personal sadness over how the Galatians have acted. He began by recalling how they had treated him while he was with them during his first missionary journey. Paul had been attacked, but not by them. He was attacked by his own countrymen—the Jews of the Diaspora who lived in the cities of Galatia. At one point Paul was left for dead. He was stoned, and, though Luke is not clear on the matter in Acts 14:19-20, Paul was probably dead. Yet, whether dead or near death, God performed a miracle, and Paul rose up as though unharmed. Nevertheless, according to his letter to the Galatians, he recalled his wounds and how they affected his preaching the Gospel to them.
Apparently, Paul’s wounds affected his physical ability to minister to the Galatians, as an apostle of God. Yet, they received him. They didn’t turn away from him but acted like Christ, himself. He bore them witness that they would have given him their own eyes, if that were possible, implying that the stoning had affected his eyesight. Paul then asked the Galatians: “Where, now, is that honor you had toward me when I was with you” (Galatians 4:15)?
What does Paul mean with this question? Well, if the Galatians had embraced circumcision, by law they could not take Paul in and tend to his wounds and still remain ceremonially pure for their ministry to God (cp. Luke 10:30-32). Nevertheless, this was not what had occurred in the beginning, for Paul bore them witness that they did not despise him for his wounds sake, but received him as though they were the Angel of God, which is Christ himself (Galatians 4:14; cp. Luke 10:33-34).
What a picture Paul paints here of the love the Galatian Christians had for him when he was wounded for the sake of Christ! What happened? How did they change? Paul began to expose the subtlety of Jews of the circumcision (cp. Galatians 2:12). Pretending to be brethren and expressing great warmth towards the gentile Christians, they (those of the circumcision) would separate from the gentile Christians in their common assemblies. Though they overtly expressed their friendship, they ate in a group by themselves, away from the gentiles, implying the gentile Christians were unclean in some manner through their own traditions. This subtle behavior caused the gentile Christians to want to be like those of the circumcision, so they could be with them and be as pure as they of the circumcision implied they were, through their exclusive behavior.
This type of conduct is seen today no matter where one goes. You have exclusive clubs, cliques, neighborhoods etc. All kinds of bigotry are based upon this exclusive philosophy. It is used in commercial advertisements to sell products like automobiles, homes and home products etc. It is a subtle manner that draws people in by creating a “need” or a “tempting ideal” for the one toward whom the behavior is directed.
Paul claimed those of the circumcision acted in this manner so the Galatian Christians would zealously desire to be like them—i.e. become circumcised and obey the laws of Moses. Paul says it is good to be zealously affected by others if it is for good purpose, namely friendship, accepting one another as we are etc. However, though they acted this way toward him when he was with them and wounded, they quickly turned their affection toward others in a manner that would exclude Paul at the time of his writing this letter to them. He said: “Be as I am, because I am as you are (Galatians 4:12), reminding the Galatians that he behaved himself as a gentile, when he was among them. He showed himself as one of their own people. They didn’t have to change for him. He didn’t expect that. Rather, he changed his behavior for them—to be their friend. How, then, is he to act when he returns, if they have changed from what they were?