The book of Galatians is a Pauline epistle that is important for how Paul defends (or verifies) his apostleship and defends the gospel of Christ, in which we are justified by faith and thus are free from sin and the law. Such sentiments are not uncommon in the other Pauline epistles (as he had many detractors), but probably clearest in the book of Galatians. The Church of Galatia faced a number of Judaizing teachers, who preach for Gentiles to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses, and in order to gain credibility, they spoke against the credibility of Paul as an apostle, and his way of the Christian life. The most famous verse in this book is perhaps 5:22-23, on the 9 fruits of the Spirit, but even that verse was said to form a contrast against the acts of sins [Gal 5:19-21] and to counter the law – against such things there is no law. Galatians 3-4 depicts Paul‘s defense of the gospel, and in the first few verses of Galatians 3 Paul questions if they have turned their backs to the gospel.
Have you suffered so much – Church-planting and following the Christian walk of life of the apostles in those early Church days meant a road of suffering and persecution. It was to be expected – when Jesus asked for people who truly wished to follow him to deny themselves and pick up the cross daily and follow him [Luke 9:23|Article], it was a warning that the path of Christianity was not one of pink and roses. Paul advocates again and again that the gospel is worthy of us suffering for it – So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God [2 Tim 1:8], and that we should be patient [Rom 12:12|Article] and rejoice in our sufferings [Rom 5:3].
for nothing – Yet having gone through so much to get till where you are, are you turning your backs to the gospel of Christ and rendering those sufferings to be in vain? I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel [Gal 1:6] – the false teachers are trying to introduce the Law of Moses to the Gentiles, which basically means turning from the cross (grace) to the law (working hard to keep the law so that they may be saved) for salvation – Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? [Gal 3:3]
if it really was for nothing – 2 ways to read this, though the second would be most likely. Firstly, Paul adds this phrase almost as an afterthought to question the credibility of their suffering. Did they really suffer for Christ, if their faith was weak enough that they wavered so easily? The more I read it the more I don’t think this is valid, sentence structure or tone-wise, although this was my first impression without having cross-read other versions. Secondly, it was more likely that Paul expresses a hope that they have yet fully turned back against the gospel – they may be in doubts, but they are not yet lost to the gospel. Thus, if they can still return, then they wouldn’t have suffered for nothing. By expressing such a hope, Paul is also reminding the Galatians to rethink about what they are doing – why are they giving up something they’ve worked so hard to build? Their faith, their Church, their Christian lifestyles? And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? [1 Cor 15:30] Remember why you chose to suffer for the Lord in the first place! Remember that faith, and remember that the Lord is worthy!
Do you remember a period of time when you genuinely suffered for the cause of the gospel of Christ? Perhaps you were at missions; perhaps you were persecuted by unbelieving friends or family. Try applying this verse to your own life. Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing? Perhaps our sufferings today cannot be compared to those of the early Church days – yet I strongly believe that suffering is suffering – there is no measure for it, and it certainly cannot be compared. Were those days for nothing? Have we fallen into a routine so comfortable for us that our spiritual life has stagnated and where we once sought God‘s strength, we now depend on human efforts? Or perhaps you are still in the midst of suffering for the cause of Christianity. Then there’s really only one thing you can get out of this verse:
If you don’t give up, suffering for Christ is never for naught.