Sermon: “Cruciform Discipleship” (Galatians 4:12-20)
In one of the most personal appeals in Galatians thus far, Paul continues to parse the theological issue in the churches of Galatia, who are turning to another gospel that insists on circumcision rather than Christ alone. But now, rather than speaking directly to the errors of what they’re believing, Paul exposes the error in who they’re believing. When Paul previously labored among these churches in person (cf. Acts 13-14), they received him even as he proclaimed the message of salvation while suffering as an Apostle (Gal. 4:13). Paul was willing and ready to invest in these churches despite his debilitating condition, whatever that may have been, and these churches were at one time willing to suffer themselves for the gospel too (Gal. 4:14-15). But in the wake of Paul’s departure the churches in Galatia have begun to embrace a group of ‘leaders’ who weren’t magnifying Christ at all nor were they invested in these churches for their flourishing in Christ (Gal. 4:17). Paul’s appeal, then, exposes the serious problems of listening to and investing in these new leaders who have infiltrated the church.
We learn from this passage that Spiritual leadership is a gift from God that must pivot around the gospel and must be rooted in the gospel. A leader’s life and ministry must be rooted in the gospel, and those who are called to follow spiritual leaders must also follow gospel-rooted leaders. God forms disciples who exalt Christ by giving His church leaders who magnify Christ. This text offers us a portrait of discipleship by exploring the relationship between Paul and the churches of Galatia. We learn from this text that discipleship must be invested. Paul was invested in these churches, even when he suffered, and the churches were at one time invested in Paul’s gospel leadership because of the message he brought. They were even willing and ready to suffer for it themselves! Discipleship is also attentive to the truth (Gal. 4:16). The word of God is the well-spring of discipleship, and Jesus Christ is the focus of all our discipleship. And discipleship also endures in the life-long process of formation through the power of the Spirit (Gal. 4:19). In this passage, which reveals Paul’s pastoral concern for these churches, we see a picture of how discipleship should function and flourish in Jesus’ church.