We know “infirmity” (4:13) can mean any kind of affliction, for the Lord healed all kinds of things (Lu.5:15). We think Paul’s infirmity was an eye disease, for the only way he’d call Galatians a “large” epistle (Gal.6:11) is if he had to use large letters to write it. Paul calls his infirmity a temptation (4:14) because tempt can mean test (Rev.3:10). Infirmities test to see if we’ll receive them as Paul did (IICor.12:8-10).
The Galatians didn’t reject Paul for his infirmity (Gal.4:14), even though his eyes were probably gooey, and the Greeks despised “weak” bodies (IICor.10:10). Their willingness to give Paul their eyes (Gal.4:15) gives more proof he had eye trouble. When he didn’t scold them, it proves organ trans-plants and blood transfusions are okay, for eyes have blood.
Paul calls that joyful spirit of giving a “blessedness” (v.15) because the Lord said it is “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). God is the most joyful person in all creation because He is the biggest giver. He gives us life, and eternal life by grace when we believe. That made the Galatians want to be givers like God. Grace always does!
But we know the law robbed them of that blessedness, for Paul had to tell them to pay their pastors (6:6). They went from wanting to repay Paul with their eyes for teaching them how to be saved, to not wanting to pay teachers anything for teaching them the Bible. Grace makes us want to be givers like God after we learn all He’s given us, but if you think you’re under the law, you’re going to wonder why God isn’t giving you the health and wealth He gave the Jews under the law. That made the Galatians not want to give to others.
The Galatians didn’t like being called out about their legalism, so they considered Paul their enemy (Gal.4:16). But they thought of the legalizers as friends, so Paul explained why they affected the Galatians in verse 17. That word means to desire. They desired the Galatians, “but not well,” i.e., not for a good purpose. They did it to make themselves look like successful leaders (cf. 6:12,13). They excluded them, knowing it would make them want to be part of their group even more. They did it to make the Galatians desire them. There’s nothing wrong with being zealous (Gal.4:18) in good things, things like good works (Tit.2:13), praying for others (Col.4:12,13) and giving (IICor.9:2). If you’re not a giving Christian, you’re acting like a child, so Paul calls them “children” (Gal.4:19). But they were his children, because he led them to Christ (cf.ICor.4:15).
But if he fathered them, why does he say he “travailed” in birth for them? That’s the mother’s part! It is because Paul played both parts in their conversion, having to labor to bring them to Christ. He feared having to go through the labor of teaching them the basics of salvation by grace again now that they believed the legalizers who said they had to keep the law to be saved (Acts 15:1,5). If you believe that, Christ will never be formed in you, which was God’s goal in giving birth to you (Rom.8:29). But that only comes from growing in grace, and they were growing in the law instead.
Christ came to earth in “the form of a servant” (Phil.2:5,7), and if He is formed in you, you’ll act like a servant too. We know the Galatians weren’t, because Paul had to tell them to bear one another’s burdens (Gal.6:2). They were so far gone in legalism, Paul knew it would take so much work to bring them back to grace that he wished he could be there to do it in person (Gal.4:20). If he was there, he says he would change the tone of his “voice” from the kind and patient tone he used to lead them to Christ and make them God’s children, to something more stern and fatherly now that they were God’s children, but were misbehaving. Not because he doubted their salvation, for he calls these Gentiles “brethren” 11 times in this epistle. He “stood in doubt” of their understanding of salvation, and that was affecting their joy, and their ability to share salvation.
A video of this sermon is available on YouTube: The Apostle Paul’s Infirmity – Galatians 4:13-20