The  Commentary
on the Book of Galatians

By Brother Given O. Blakely.



Gal 4:19 “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, 20 I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.”. . . . . . .(Gal 4:19-20)


Those who embark on the life of faith are, in a sense, like people setting out on a turbulent sea, with aggressive pirates all about them. As a ship in a sea whose boundaries are not always visible, they can lose their bearings, and end up off-course. This is not to be interpreted as entering newness of life fraught with jeopardy and with no certainty. Faith is fully adequate for this situation, and fully capable of overcoming all obstacles, and eventually bringing one to the intended destination. But all of this strictly relies upon maintaining fellowship with the “Captain of our salvation.” That is where the parallel breaks down. Our safety does not ultimately depend upon our assessment of our situation, but on our proximity and sensitivity to Christ. A common trait of all false teaching, regardless of its seeming minuscule nature, is its ability to drive a wedge between the people and Christ. That is the reason faith wanes, and eventually is shipwrecked. If the connection with Christ Jesus is secure, faith will be maintained. What happened at Galatia was that the doctrine perpetrated by spiritual “dogs” (Phil 3:2) pulled the people away from Christ, teaching them to rely on their own achievements. Now Paul has picked up the tone of his voice. He is going to tell the churches in Galatia that he questions their status. The labor required to recover them is akin to that which is involved in one’s original new birth. Such people have come under the influence of the adversary, and must therefore be again delivered – like crossing the Red Sea after having been delivered from Pharaoh and enslavement to his causes. This passage is most arresting, and reveals more clearly what is involved in recovering fallen souls. It will involve infinitely more than changing a few habits, or being in the right place at the right time. On the night of Jesus’ betrayal, Judas was in the right place at the right time, and heard the right Teacher. But it did him no good. This is not meant to cause caring soul to despair when attempting to restore the fallen. It is rather intended to clarify the extreme jeopardy of accepting lies as though they were truth. It simply is not possible to be free without knowing the truth – not knowing it intellectually, but perceiving it, acquiescing with it, and submitting wholeheartedly to it.

Gal 4:19 “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.” Other versions read, “My children,” NASB and “My dear children.” NIV

The person who is co-laboring with God in His field (1 Cor 3:9) is affected by deficiency in the flock of God, particularly in those among whom he has labored. This concern is what has prompted Paul to write to the Galatians. He considers the situation urgent, and is not willing to wait until he can see them face to face. Indeed, he may never have such an opportunity./

WHEN BEING “LITTLE CHILDREN” IS NOT RIGHT. “My little children.” Paul does not address the Galatians simply as “children” or “little children.” Rather, he claims them as his own “little children” who, like the Corinthians, he had “begotten through the Gospel” (1 Cor 4:15).

The word used here – “little children” – means “an infant.” THAYER/STRONG’S John also employs the expression, applying it to younger converts, distinguishing them from “young men” and “fathers” (1 John 2:12-13). He also uses the term in a different way, taken from a different word (1 John 2:18). There, it has to do with being in a state where they had to be reminded of the dangers of “antichrists.” Under all conditions, the saints are told that in understanding they are not to be children (1 Cor 14:20).

SPIRITUAL TRAVAIL FOR OTHERS. “I travail in birth.” Other versions read, “I labor in birth,” NKJV “the pains of childbirth,” NIV “suffering the pains of giving birth,” BBE and “the anguish of childbirth.” ESV

Paul expressed something similar in his letter to the Colossians and Laodiceans: “For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea” (Col 2:1). Other versions read, “how great a struggle,” NASB “I am struggling for you.” NIV Some of the most intense pain is associated with childbirth. When sin entered into the world, one of the results was the pain that is associated with birthing new life. There is a certain inward pain associated with laboring for the souls of men. This reflects the degree to which the laborer is working together with God. Such tender souls cannot accommodate the flesh, or wait endlessly while men linger in the flesh. Travail does not exist until the birth is about to take place.

THE “AGAIN” FACTOR. “I travail in birth again.” Other versions read, “I am again in labor.” NIV The “again” has to do with recovering from spiritual setback – the result of embracing “another gospel.” Recovery from setback and a reversion to juvenileness is not easy. It involves the same effort and travail that was exerted in one’s initial deliverance from sin, the devil, and the world. What happens when a person adopts overly simplistic views, and often outright corruptions, is that they become rooted in ths world once again. Because such retrogression involves leaving the One who called us into the grace of Christ, all of the power of sin is once again activated, the devil again gains the advantage, and a distance is formed between the individual and God. Mind you, at this point we are not speaking of a lapse into immorality. That kind of condition follows a departure from the Lord.

One of the great corruptions in “Babylon the Great” is that it leaves the people dull concerning a departure from God. Men are taught to wait too long to deal with sin, thinking that when it is overtly expressed is the time to deal with it. Thus, while insensitive souls wait, trying their best to be optimistic, Satan is gaining the upper hand, and sin is slowly choking the life out of the ones who are departing from the One who called them into the grace of Christ. In this text, Paul has seen the departure taking place, and therefore addresses it before it has gotten completely out of hand. Even at that point, there is a most uncomfortable travail.

TRAVAILING “UNTIL.” “ . . . unto Christ be formed in you.” Other versions read, “until the Messiah takes shape in you,” CJB “until Christ is fully developed,” NLT “until Christ is fashioned in you,” PNT and “until Christ is completely and permanently formed (molded) within you.” AMPLIFIED

It has been revealed that God’s intention is that we be collectively “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom 8:29). This will not be fully accomplished until our bodies are redeemed (Rom 8:23; Eph 1:14). However, this is to take place within while we remain in these vile bodies. Men must be brought to think like Christ and assess like Christ. They are to love what He loves, and hate what He hates. They are to “have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). This is a description of growing up into Christ “in all things” (Eph 4:15).

As long as professing Christians are at a variance with Jesus in their thinking, ambitions, and affections, they are in unspeakable danger. First, spiritual life is calculated to increase, steadily conforming the believer to the image of the Son. If this is not taking place, the person is going backwards, and must be delivered from that dreadful stance. This is why lukewarmness is lethal, and seeking to justified by the Law involves falling from grace. For those who have been caught in the downward spiral, they can only be rescued with great effort and discomfort. The deeper into the quagmire they sink, the more apt they are to commit sin, and the more apt they are to commit sin, the less likelihood that they may be recovered. If men do not have this view, they will not be able to labor in travail again when the signs of retrogression and withdrawal occur.

4:19 EXTENDED “ . . . until Christ be formed in you . . .”

I do not believe the necessity of spiritual maturity is perceived by the masses of professing Christians. The caliber of preaching and teaching that is popular, together with the growing prevalence of erroneous views of God, Christ, and salvation, confirm this to be the case. The casting of aspersions upon the faith, and the near-total absence of repentance for such things testify to the glaring absence of spiritual maturity and going on to perfection – perfection referring to a state of spiritual adulthood.

THE FORMATION OF CHRIST IN YOU. There are two perspectives here – that of the group, and that of the individual. The immediate context of this admonition is the group: “the churches of Galatia” (Gal 1:2). In the Greek, the word “you” is in the plural. STRONG’S Paul spoke of maturity in this collective sense when expounding the Divine objective for the church. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph 4:13). The phrase, “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” refers to Christ as Himself the standard of measurement. Since the church is “His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all” (Eph 1:23), any given assembly is to be measured by holding it next to the Lord Jesus Himself. If some trait or traits of Jesus are missing in that body, it is not where it ought to be, for God has populated the body in order to the reflection and ministry of Christ in the world. It is most unfortunate that such an assembly is rarely found in our society. Multitudes have, to this very day, never witnessed such an assembly. The reason is that churches have been diverted by erroneous gospels.

The whole body cannot be mature until each of its members are themselves matured. The difference is that the individual is a member of the body, and not the body itself. He has been placed where God desires (1 Cor 12:18), and is to advance to adulthood in that capacity, thereby contributing to the whole. No person in Christ can afford to sit back and let all of the other members minister to him, while he himself is recalcitrant in the development of his own ability.

No child of God is intended to be only a receiver! Like a river he must have an outlet as well as an inlet. The Sea of Galilee, for example, receives water in its northern part, and deposits its water into the river of Jordan in its southern part – the same river that is its source. By comparison, the Dead Sea receives its water from the River Jordan, but has no outlet. Consequently, the waters stagnate, and “It contains no living creature, neither fish, shells, nor seaplants, and when fishes from the Jordan get into it they die and float upon the surface.” McCLINTOK/STRONG So it is with those who only receive and, because of their lack of maturity, never give. Further, because the parts are not mature, the body itself remains immature.

THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF STABILITY WITHOUT MATURITY. We are told that there is a desired result realized when we “grow up.” Therefore, the objective of God for the church is stated in this manner: “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ” (Eph 4:14-15). Those who remain children in their understanding will be easily swayed, tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. They will not be stable, just as a little child wanders into zones of danger because it does not understand.

When it comes to the people of God, the objective of the devil is to get them into a childish state, for there they become vulnerable to his devices. That is precisely what happened among the churches in Galatia. First an emphasis was presented that centered in men, not Christ. Once that was accomplished, defection was not possible to avoid.

THE AIM OF ALL THE SPIRITUAL GIFTS. All spiritual gifts, regardless of their ranking, are for the benefit of the whole body. “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal,” “for the profit of all,” NKJV, or “for the common good” NASB(1 Cor 12:7). The maturity of the body depends upon the maturing and expression of those gifts. Invariably, false doctrine will produce a non-contributing people, and thus causes a retrogressing church.

THE ERROR OF AN EVANGELISTIC THRUST. Even though there is not so much as a syllable in any letter to the churches concerning what men call “evangelism,” yet men have chosen to make this their emphasis. The absence of such teaching in the epistles is owing to the spreading nature of the truth. Once it is embraced, it is not possible to successfully suppress its expression. A city set on a hill CANNOT be hid (Matt 5:14).

In contradistinction to the body edifying itself in love (Eph 4:16), the thrust of the attention is this turned to the outsider. In that process growth is impeded, deterioration sets in, and a departure from the One who called us into the grace of Christ commences. Outreach is not legitimate if the church is in a state of retrogression, or is failing to grow up into Christ in all things. The reason for this is that converts are “added to the church” (Acts 2:47). If the church is not a suitable environment for growth, outreach is destined to be dashed on the rocks of futility.

4:20 "I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.”

THE DESIRE TO BE “PRESENT.” Paul had rather be with the Galatians in person. However, not able to come to them immediately, he sends a letter to them, for their situation forbade a retarded response from him. Too much was at stake!

Paul’s posture with the Galatians was much the same as the one he had toward the Corinthians. If he could be with them personally, he would soon find out the power of the teachers who had subverted them, like finding out the power of false teachers, as in Corinth. “But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power. For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power” (1 Cor 4:19-20). Later, in his second epistle, he threatened the use of spiritual weaponry against the subverting teachers at Corinth (2 Cor 10:1-6). He would fight against them.
CHANGING THE VOICE. “ . . . and to change my voice.” Other versions read, “change my tone,” NKJV “find the right way of talking to you,” NJB “be more gentle with you,” NLT and “could coax you vocally.” AMPLIFIED

Paul will explain the reason for this expression in the next clause. The idea is that he did not know precisely how to frame his words, and yet desired to frame them as appropriately as possible. Being with them personally, he would be able to more fully comprehend their state – as he did when in the synagogue of Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:46,51), or during one occasion at Corinth (Acts 18:6), or when he confronted certain disciples in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-5). In the first two instances, he detected hostility. Similarly, when Stephen confronted the Sanhedrin, and witnessing and hearing the antagonism of the group, he “changed his voice,” and spoke more sternly to them. In the third instance, Paul was able to lead the Ephesian disciples into the apprehension of the truth as it is in Jesus.

Jesus changed His tone to one of harsh rebuke when addressing the Pharisees (Matt 23). Yet, he was gentle with the woman at the well of Samaria (John 4). In a single event, He was harsh to those who brought a woman taken in adultery to Him (John 8:6-9), while He was gentle toward her (John 8:10-11). On the one hand, He spoke graciously to Peter when He confessed He was the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matt 16:17-19), yet spoke in a rebuking manner to him a little later when he balked at the thought of Jesus being “killed” (Matt 16:22-23).

People who are hostile and speak reproachfully of Christ and His people should not expect gentle and loving words to be addressed to them. On the other hand, those who are of tender heart should not be addressed harshly, as though they had no genuine interest in the Lord. This is an area of activity that cannot be governed by routine. It is something requiring discernment.

STANDING IN DOUBT OF PEOPLE. Other versions read, “I have doubts about you,” NKJV I am perplexed about you,” NASB “I am troubled about you,” BBE “I don’t know what to do with you,” CSB “I am ashamed for you,” DOUAY “I am completely puzzled by what you’ve done” GWN “I am astonished at you,” MRD “I am quite at a loss with you,” NJB “at this distance I don't know how else to help you,” NLT “frankly, I don’t know what to do,” LIVING “I am completely baffled by you,” ISV and “I am fearful and perplexed about you!” AMPLIFIED

You can see from the various translations that there is serious confusion concerning what Paul is saying. Some present him as saying he did not know what to do – which is not at all what the text is saying. Paul is not describing confusion about what he ought to do, but is expressing his uncertainty about where they stood. He was not sure about them, and where they stood in relation to Christ and His great salvation. Their posture contradicted that which is produced by the Gospel. Their approach to being accepted by God betrayed their current ignorance of the means of approach to Him. Their ready acceptance of “another Gospel,” controverted the faith that comes through the appointed means of hearing the Gospel of Christ (Rom 10:14-17).

When professed Christians flounder about perpetually in the sea of mediocrity and childishness, they cause doubts concerning where they stand. If they give no evidence of living by faith and walking in the Spirit, precisely how can it be established that they are, in fact, doing those things? If people gravitate to the earth and the things that are in it, exactly how can it be established that they have fled to Jesus for refuge? If they continually lack the ability to “comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height” (Eph 3:18), what evidence do men have that they are even among “the saints?” That whole matter is thrown into question because of their spiritual condition – even though they may have, like the Galatians, had a legitimate beginning.

Paul will not be forced into a conclusion concerning the Galatians by some sectarian means. The people must have the evidence of life before they can be known to be alive to God. It is not enough to be called a Christian, or to be identified with a given church. Both individuals and churches must produce the evidence that confirms they are what they claim.