Writers know that a provocative title can entice people to read what they have written. However, the ploy cannot be overused because it will soon lose its effectiveness. I am writing this because I have been inspired by the words of Paul to the Galatians. “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” Galatians 4:19 (NIV). Paul used the illustration of childbirth to convey the seriousness and determination that he had to see the life and character of Christ developed and formed in the lives of those who were in the church at Galatia.
In the interest of full disclosure, I do not know what it feels like to give birth. Even being present during the birth of our four children does not enable me to comprehend the experience, but I do know that it is intense and serious. I understand that the closer a mother is to giving birth, the more intense the pain and travail becomes. There are experiences in life that people face, not by choice, which are difficult and painful because of sin in this fallen world. However, there are other painful experiences such as childbirth, which are embraced willingly because of the anticipation of what is to come. Paul likened his experience with the Galatians to giving birth because he believed that when the life of Christ was formed in them, that the pain would be forgotten and only the joy would remain.
The Galatians were not making things easy on Paul, in fact, in many ways they were fighting against him on every front. They had begun well, but then they began to listen to teachers who were trying to persuade them that the grace of God was not enough and that the circumcision of the body was necessary instead of the circumcision of the heart. We can see from the tone of this letter that Paul was frustrated, but he gave no indication that he would not see them all the way through. Even though they made the birth process very painful for him, he did not give up and terminate the pregnancy.
As pastors, leaders and parents, are we willing to endure the pain and frustration of nurturing those who have been placed in our care until Christ is fully formed in them? Is that even our goal or are we merely content to produce followers who do not cause us too much trouble? Discipleship is hard and discipling is even harder, but anything short of that goal will not produce men and women who will be in a position to produce disciples of their own. It is less troubling to have lower expectations and the temptation will be strong to settle for less, but the pain will be quickly forgotten in light of the joy of seeing Christ fully formed in a life.
When giving birth, either natural or spiritual, it is essential to be able to look beyond the pain, sorrow and suffering. We can take heart because that is what Jesus did for us and he is our example. “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” Hebrews 12:2 (NLT)