I’m in frozen Bismarck, North Dakota (see my picture from the airplane), where I’m enjoying being with my friends at Child Evangelism Fellowship for a series of banquets in the evenings. During the day, I’m holed up in my (warm) room, working on sermons for TDF. I wanted to post an excerpt from last week’s message from Galatians 4, because verse 13 was a great encouragement for me as I studied it. Perhaps it’ll be helpful to you too?
Can God use us when we’re sick—even better than when we’re well? In Galatians 4:13, the apostle Paul said, “As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the Gospel to you.”
The Galatians were probably evangelized on Paul’s first missionary journey in Acts 13 and 14, and there is no record there of Paul’s being sick. Scholars have developed four theories as to the nature of the illness that he refers to in Galatians 4.
- Some believe it’s the same illness Paul later wrote about in 2 Corinthians 12, referring to it as his “thorn in the flesh.” If so, this was a chronic illness. Galatians was likely written about AD 43; and 2 Corinthians about AD 56. So that’s thirteen years later.
- Other believe it was an eye disease, since Paul said the Galatians would have torn out their eyes and given them to him (v. 15). But that phrase was an idiom, like our saying, “You would have cut off your hand for me” or “given me the shirt of your back.” It does not necessarily mean Paul was suffering eye problems.
- Some speculate Paul suffered from epilepsy, since he said in verse 14 that the Galatians did not treat him with contempt, a phrase that in the Greek could have implications about demon possession or epilepsy.
- The most likely opinion, it seems to me, is the one advanced by biblical scholar William Ramsay, who wondered why an illness would take Paul to the Galatian region. We might have expected Paul to follow the roads along the sea until he came to Ephesus. Instead we find him up in the mountains, in the interior of Asia Minor, in Galatia. But the lower elevations were notorious for their swamps and mosquitos. Perhaps Paul and/or Barnabas contracted malaria. This might be why John Mark returned home at this point in the journey (Acts 13:13). They all got sick and had to leave the coastal areas and climb up into the higher elevations, into healthier air, away from the marshes and mosquitoes. And this is what brought Paul into the Galatian cities, which he then evangelized at 3600 feet above sea level.
Had it not been for Paul’s illness, we wouldn’t have:
- Galatians 2:20: I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live yet not I but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God who loves me and gave Himself for me.
- Galatians 5:16: So I say walk in the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
- Galatians 5:22: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.
- Galatians 6:14: God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of Christ my Lord, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Illness and heretical teachers—both caused Paul great anxiety and discomfort. But God overrode the circuitry of circumstances to evangelize the Galatian region and to give us the letter to the Galatians. In ministry and in life, even when things seem to be going wrong they are going right for those who love the Lord.
Don’t let anything slow you down!