My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! Galatians 4:19-20 (NIV).
On the day after Mother’s Day, I’ll admit that Paul’s hyperbole (“I am again in the pains of childbirth”) seems a bit much. During any discussion regarding our kids or our commitment as parents, my wife (like many women) will gladly throw the trump card of childbirth: I, as a man, can’t physically ever know the excruciating pain of giving birth. That’s true. Any time we compare pain, or what we went through in order to parent, if we’re in good spirits, I can count on hearing the “you didn’t give birth” line and know that she’s “gone there” to a place where I have no hope of prevailing.
And yet, Paul uses that kind of comparison to make a point to his friends in Galatia. Paul, who likely never married nor fathered his own children, wanted his friends (and us) to think that what he endured as their spiritual parent was equal to the torturous pains of labor and delivery. Yep: you can tell from that claim that Paul was never married.
…And yet, what he said has merit. Look at the larger context of the chapter. Go ahead and read all of Galatians 4, and you see that Paul is in desperate concern for his friends. It’s likely that, having spent much time with them and having seen the depth of their faith during those times, Paul understood ‘where they were’ spiritually. He understood that their faith was thin, that more mature voices were not prevailing but that his own might. He understood that the Galatians were in danger of jettisoning basic beliefs about Christ’s salvation by embracing outdated practices. Paul knew that it would be easy to call into question what they believed if these simple heresies were allowed to stand. Parental-like concern was in order, even if it was hyperbolic.
Tell me: if Paul knew you or me, would he have similar concerns? What about our lives, our professions of faith, our practice of Christian life through what we say and do, would give a deeply caring but deeply strenuous man like Paul of Tarsus concern about our hold on faith? Would he think we’re doing just fine, or would he be in agony, as if in the pains of childbirth, over us, anguishing that we were exchanging the good of Christ for the tawdriness of everything else?
What would your mother say, especially right after Mother’s Day? Maybe she was familiar with the words of “Mother Paul.”
For further reading: Romans 8:29, Ephesians 4:13, 1 Thessalonians 2:11, Galatians 4:21
Father, thank You so much for giving me people like Paul, who care for my well-being.
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