The book of Proverbs offers timeless wisdom about friendship: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity” (17:17). “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (27:6). “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (27:17).
From this perspective, Paul was a true friend to the Galatian believers. He cared enough to tell them the truth! His strong and emotional language in this epistle was a result of their close, Christ-centered relationship. Apparently his original stop in the region had been health-related (v. 13). Despite the circumstances, which he admitted were a “trial” to them, they had responded generously to both Paul and his message. Far from treating him badly, they had welcomed him as if he were an angel or even Christ Himself. They would have ripped out their eyes for him, a hyperbole that some think might indicate the nature of Paul’s illness. They should have enough history of mutual care and support to know that when he rebuked them, his motivation was the love at the root of their friendship.
By comparison, the Judaizers were jealous of Paul’s ministry and relation- ship with the Galatians (v. 17). They wanted to drive a wedge between them and to redirect the zeal of these new believers to their own way of living. Zeal was not the problem, as eagerness for righteousness is a good thing (v. 18). But the legalists had zeal for the Law apart from Christ.
Paul felt like a father disciplining his children. Even more, he felt like a mother “in the pains of childbirth,” so passionate was he for their growth in Christ (vv. 19–20). He knew it was hard for them to hear his scolding, and he wished he could be there in person.
Apply the Word
Paul provided an excellent example of “speaking the truth in love” (see Eph. 4:14–16). This is a difficult skill to cultivate, but an important one. It helps us stand firm against deceit and to grow toward Christian maturity. It’s something we must do within the body of Christ. Are we willing to both speak and listen in this spirit?