Life Without The Law
by Edgar Andrews
'Brethren', pleads the apostle, 'I urge you to become as I am, for I am as you are' (4:12). The italicized words are not present in the original, having been inserted by the translators to provide the sense. In this case, however, the added words may actually confuse the meaning of the verse. A better rendering is given by Hendriksen: 'I urge you to become as I am, for I became as you were [that is, without law].' We cannot be dogmatic, but Paul seems to be saying something along the following lines:
I plead with you to become like me, one who has died to the law of Moses so that I might live to Christ (2:19). Follow me, not the Judaizers. Look to Christ, not to Moses, for your acceptance with God. Remember that when I came among you preaching the gospel of Christ, I became like you Gentiles, setting aside the law. 'For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more... To those who are without law [I became] as without law ... that I might win those who are without law ... that I might by all means save some' (1 Con 9:19-23). Why, then, should it be too much to ask, that you now reject this fruitless pursuit of righteousness through the law, and follow my example?
In making this plea, Paul puts his reputation on the line. In effect, he tells the Galatians that they must choose between himself and the Judaizers. This takes pastoral courage, for what happens if they make the wrong choice? Yet Paul is so clear about the importance of this issue that he is willing to burn his boats and compel the Galatians to make an irrevocable choice.
To encourage the correct choice, however, he adds, 'You have not injured me at all' (4:12). This statement has given rise to endless speculation as to its interpretation. Many regard it as having nothing to do with the earlier part of the verse. Paul is so distressed, they suggest, that his thoughts become disjointed at this point in the epistle. I cannot agree with this view. The apostle has exhibited distress and frustration earlier in Galatians without losing his train of thought. To seek a better understanding of this admittedly obscure statement, let us again paraphrase what Paul may be saying here:
When, for your sake, I became like you Gentiles, setting aside the law of Moses in order to win you to Christ, did that do me any harm? Not at all. You were not the cause of any injury to me, for I have no need of the law for righteousness or godly living. As a follower of Christ, I have the law of God written in my heart (Heb. 10:16) and outward conformity to Moses is redundant, having neither value nor significance (Phil. 3:4-9). Likewise, you will suffer no harm if you jettison this foolish notion that the law will do you good. Quite the reverse, for harm will come from it.
This interpretation has the advantage of continuity of thought, and of cogency. Paul's plea does not trail off into meaningless words. Rather it is reinforced by his firm declaration that the law has no power over the one who rests from his works in Christ (Heb. 4:10).