Galatians 4:18 and “Being Made Much Of”

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I have been asked about Galatians 4:18. In the ESV it seems to be in tension with what I have said about “being made much of.” I often ask,

Do you feel more loved by God because he makes much of you, or because, at great cost to himself, he frees you to enjoy making much of him forever?

The point of that question is to expose the deepest foundation of our happiness—whether it is ourselves or God.

  • Is the deepest basis of our joy God’s greatness or our greatness?
  • Am I more satisfied praising him or being praised?
  • Am I God-centered because of his surpassing value, or am I God-centered because he highlights my surpassing value?
  • Would it be heaven to me to see God or to be God?

In Galatians 4:17-18, Paul is warning the church that the Judaizers are seeking to win them over in subtle ways. He says,

They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you. (ESV)

I am not happy with this translation of Galatians 4:17-18 (even though I am very happy with the overall translation of the ESV). “Make much of” is not a close rendering of the Greek word zeloō, which usually carries the sense of “desire” or “long for” in a fairly strong way, either positively (zeal) or negatively (jealousy). For example:

  • Bad desire: jealousy, envy, or covetousness

    And the patriarchs, jealous (zēlōsantes) of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him. (Acts 7:9)

    Love does not envy (zēloi) or boast. (1 Corinthians 13:4)

    You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet (zēloute)  and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. (James 4:2)

  • Good desire: longing for or proper jealousy, like God’s

    Earnestly desire (zēloute) the higher gifts. (1 Corinthians 12:31)

    For I am jealous (zēlō) for you with the jealousy of God (theou zelō), for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:2)

In view of this meaning, the NASB has a better translation of Galatians 4:17-18:

They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them. But it is good always to be eagerly sought in a commendable manner, and not only when I am present with you.

So the point of verse 18 is not that we should seek to be “made much of” but that we should act in such a way that our behavior is admirable. It is a good thing when people want to be around us or to imitate us because we follow Christ. “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

The aim is not to be made much of but to draw people into our passion for making much of Christ.