v13 – Paul didn’t plan to preach to the Galatians. His plans were interrupted, but he kept serving during that interruption, and God used it to bring the Galatians into his kingdom.
I’m sure we’ve all made plans and then not been able to carry them out. Maybe even plans that we thought were going to advance the cause of the gospel. None of us would’ve planned on being without a pastor for 5 years and having a church split. Like Paul’s bodily ailment, it’s painful, and not a good thing in itself, but Paul kept preaching the gospel, kept serving God as best he knew how, and so should we. Although, the fact that Paul saw fruit from his preaching to the Galatians during his ailment doesn’t mean God will reward us for continuing to serve him in times of difficulty. He will ultimately use the situation for the good of those who love him, but we should be prepared for the possibility that we might not see how any good has come of it this side of heaven.
v14 – It’s not known what Paul’s bodily ailment was, but the Galatians were aware of it, and it caused them some difficulty. In their culture it would’ve indicated the displeasure of the gods, which to begin with would’ve made the Galatians less inclined to listen to the message he was preaching, and would also have caused problems for them among other people in their communities as they associated with this apparently cursed man. But the gospel overcame those difficulties. God doesn’t need impressive preachers to attract converts, he just needs people to faithfully preach the gospel of grace, and if he’s chosen the hearers to be his heirs, he’ll give them ears to hear that message, and faith comes by hearing. I’m reminded of the parable of the sower; some hear the gospel and a plant springs up, but it hasn’t taken root properly so when it’s tested by opposition it dies off. Paul’s ailment caused the Galatians difficulty, but the gospel had taken root.
In v16 Paul obviously hoped the Galatians didn’t see him as their enemy because he told them the truth. We know that a lot of people in our secular culture don’t like to hear the truth that they’re sinners and they can’t save themselves and they need Jesus. But I do think there is an application for us as well. If we try to put ourselves in the Galatians’ position, we’re familiar with the instruction Paul gave the Ephesians to speak the truth in love, and sometimes people might tell us the truth in an unloving way, but sometimes it might be that the truth is painful, and it’s not that the person telling us is trying to be mean, but they want the best for us, and that has required them to tell us something we don’t want to hear, and as with the Galatians receiving this letter from Paul, there could be serious consequences if we dismissed the truth because it didn’t feel loving to us.