“You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. What then was the blessing you enjoyed? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me” (Galatians 4:13-15).
The Apostle Paul referenced his struggle with an unspecified physical infirmity in this portion of his letter to the Galatians. Many Biblical commentators see a connection between the ailment Paul mentioned here and something he wrote in his second Biblical letter to the church at Corinth…
“Because of the surpassing greatness and extraordinary nature of the revelations [which I received from God], for this reason, to keep me from thinking of myself as important, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan, to torment and harass me—to keep me from exalting myself!” (2 Corinthians 12:7 AMP).
What was the “thorn in the flesh” that Paul mentioned in this passage? Although its difficult to say with certainty, its possible that this phrase referred to some sort of physical affliction. For instance, Paul may have contracted a disease like malaria or perhaps he may have suffered from epilepsy, chronic pain, or some other type of debilitating condition.
However, it is widely believed that Paul suffered from some kind of eye disease. In fact, some feel Paul’s condition was so severe that he may have been legally blind. This would help explain the comment we see in the passage quoted above: “If you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me” (Galatians 4:15 NIV). It would also help to explain the personal message we find at the end of this letter: “Notice what large letters I use as I write these closing words in my own handwriting” (Galatians 6:11 NLT).
Despite this condition (whatever it was), it did not stop the Galatians from welcoming Paul or accepting his message of salvation in Christ. In fact, the Galatians welcomed Paul as if he was an angel of God, at least from his perspective. Thus, we see the damage that had been inflicted upon the Galatian churches by the false teachers of that era. Under their influence, the Galatians had moved from a position of respect and appreciation for Paul (as evidenced by their willingness to become organ donors on his behalf) to an attitude of separation from him and the true gospel message.
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