Paul did not preach his message of Grace from a position of strength. Those who preach the necessity of keeping the law always do so from a position of perceived strength. When I first became a believer at age 31 in 1978, we immediately fell under the influence of legalists. They seemed so much more spiritual than the average person and it was compelling to want to live up 21 despicable meto their standards. We threw out of TV, Kathy stopped using make-up, I dressed the part, and we adopted the religious language of our group. We denounced other “professing believers” as deceived and diluted because they did not practice the same standards that we did. This gave me strength. I preached from a “better than you” position for several years. Legalists always present their message from a platform of strength.

Paul reminds the Galatians that he preached his message of grace from the bed of sickness, weakness. In Galatians 4:13-14 he writes, “You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.” We don’t know what the sickness was but there is no lack of suggestions by the commentators; bruises and broken bones from his beatings, malaria, some kind of blindness, epileptic seizures, and many others. Most people in the world, Jews included, looked on sicknesses as God’s punishment for sin. Those under the law were outcasts and “unclean” with respect to the religious system, but as Christ ignored the “uncleanness” created by the law in sick people, so too did the Galatians ignore Paul’s sickness and just as Christ received the infirm, they had received him.

The Greek term for “scorn” that Paul uses here literally means “to spit out.” It was customary for religious leaders to spit when affronted by unclean, sick people. It was a way of warding off any contagion as well as an expression of contempt for the sinner who was receiving just punishment from God. Paul also says that they didn’t despise him. I expect that much like today leaders are expected to have an impressive appearance. The tall, handsome ones always get a better hearing than the less attractive ones. According to the Acts of Paul and Thecla, (a text from the 2nd century), Paul is described as, “…small, short, bow-legged, with eyebrows knit together and an upturned nose.” To the Greek way of thinking his appearance would have been repulsive. To the Jew his infirmity made him unclean. To the Gentile his appearance should have cause them to reject him. Jesus accepted the sick; lepers, blind, lame, etc. Jesus loved the deformed (Zacchaeus). Grace receives the weak! Law spits and ridicules. Paul and Jesus love the despicable; even me!