Galatians 4:12-20: Labor Pains

As I write this post, our Rachel is ready to deliver our third grandchild.  I mean ready.

Any of you who have given birth know the feeling.  She’s beyond uncomfortable.  The baby has “dropped” and is now sitting firmly on her bladder, shifting occasionally to pinch a nerve.  Walking gave way to waddling which has now been replaced by settling down into whatever soft surface is available.  Sleep departed some weeks ago.  That baby needs to come out–now!

Although labor seemed scary a month ago, at this point it feels like deliverance. Bring it on! Nothing could be worse than being pregnant forever.  Labor is the doorway to birth.  Labor is the last step in the hard work of being pregnant.

Labor is also the first step in a lifetime of mothering.  The work has just begun.

An unlikely mother. In our passage this week Paul commandeers a shocking analogy to describe his relationship to the Galatian Christians.  He says that he is “again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!”  This isn’t the labor of conversion.  They had already experienced the new birth.  This is the labor of transformation.  Paul’s job of spiritual parenting wasn’t finished when he brought them the gospel and saw them believe.  No, it had just started.

Why would the apostle describe himself as a pregnant woman? It’s a picture that’s meant to encourage us all.  Spiritual parenting gives purpose to our Christian lives.  It is a high calling to pour our lives into another person so that Christ may be born in them and then formed in them. And it’s a privilege available to each of us who knows the Savior.  Married or single, parent or childless, old or young, working or unemployed, God has called each of us to go and bear fruit.  His plan is to make us fruitful, not barren.

It’s hard work, as we shall see, but worth it.  Let’s dig in and find out more.

This week’s questions.


1. Paul pours out his heart in Galatians 4:12-16, using “I” and “you” frequently.  What details describe his original relationship with the Galatians?  How has it changed according to these verses?

2. Who is the “they” of 4:17?  How have they acted?  What are their motives?

3. Contrast the purpose of the false teachers with Paul’s.  What is the goal of each?  What is the method used by each?

4. Why do you think Paul chose the analogy of childbirth to describe his relationship with the Galatians?  What words in this passage point to the anguish of labor pains?


5. How is Jesus seen as the “True Messenger” in Galatians 4:14?  See also Genesis 16:7 and Matthew 10:40.  How does this title help you to see him more clearly in the Old Testament?  How does it help you to recognize him in your daily life?

6. How is Jesus also the goal of the Christian life?  See 4:19 as well as 2 Corinthians 3:18 and Romans 8:29.  What does the word “until” imply?


7. How does this section give me a good purpose for my own children? for my spiritual children?

8. How does this section give me patience for the labor (and messiness!) involved in spiritual parenting?

Parenting is wonderful…and exasperating.  Paul’s anguish, so openly expressed, can encourage us to keep on.  It’s a good purpose!

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