“My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you, I would like to be present with you now and to change my tone; for I have doubts about you” (Galatians 4:19-20).
Two characteristics distinguished Paul the Apostle’s relationship with the members of the Galatian churches. The first was his deep affection for them and the second was his concern for their personal well-being. From Paul’s perspective, their relationship was much like the relationship that exists between a parent and a child. This is reflected in his reference to the Galatians as “my little children.”
However, Paul took that analogy one step further by comparing his experience with the Galatian churches to that of a mother who was about to give birth: “I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again” (NLT). Although Paul used similar parental imagery in his letters to the churches at Corinth and Thessalonica, this is the only place in Paul’s Biblical writings where he spoke to his audience in such intimate terms.
In fact, Paul’s terminology indicates that he had gone through a similar labor process with the Galatians once before. That experience undoubtedly took place when he first brought the gospel to that area. Now Paul was in labor once again as he worked to bring forth Christ-like character in the Galatians and protect them from the false teachers who had risen among them.
Once source offers the following insight into Paul’s commitment to work “…until Christ is formed in you” (HCSB)…
“The word formed is from morphoo which refers to the act of giving outward expression of one’s inner nature. We use the English word form in that way sometimes. For instance, ‘I went to the tennis match yesterday. The winning player’s form was excellent.’ We mean by that, that the outward expression which he gave of his inward ability to play tennis, was excellent.” (1)
In addition, this passage tells us that Paul faced a familiar issue in this letter to the Galatians- the challenge of communicating effectively through the written word. You see, there are many non-verbal cues that occur in face to face communication. Those non-verbal cues may include our tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, and other indicators that add to the context of our message.
The problem is that it is difficult to replicate those cues in a text, post, email, or letter. This is why we must often resort to emoticons to help avoid misunderstandings in our correspondence with others. It also serves to explain Paul’s lament in Galatians 4:20: “I would like to be with you right now and change my tone of voice, because I don’t know what to do about you” (HCSB).
(1) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament (Galatians 4:18-19) Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.