Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be. And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased I would they were even cut off which trouble you.
A1.1 The race
One of the pictures the NT gives us of the Christian life is that of running a race. In this passage Paul talks about someone hindering the Galatians in that race.
Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
In ancient Greece the Games were very prestigious, and racing in particular was highly regarded. One reason was that racing fitted the men for warfare as it was then known, and here Paul uses the race as a metaphor for the Christian life. In order to succeed the athletes would have had to train hard and live a well disciplined life. They would put aside all that hindered them in order to achieve their design and not allow anything to divert them from their goal.
No wonder Paul uses this picture, for it aptly describes the Christian life indeed. Firstly the athlete would give themselves over wholly to the race, to all that it entailed, it was a serious life commitment. Secondly, The athlete would keep his eyes fixed on the prize, and not allow other things to distract or divert him from his aim. Thirdly the athlete would discard all that would hinder him, even the legitimate things of life, in order to achieve the goal. Even today many men and women spend many years of their lives in order to gain medals at the Olympic games. And for what ? A few moments of glory and a medal made from some metal. Perhaps the words of Jesus can be applied here:
And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.
These things are highly esteemed amongst men, but to God they are an abomination, they are works of the flesh and are carnal; they are of no eternal value. But the Christian race is different its end results are eternal and of greater value in God’s eyes. As the worldling gives himself wholly over to gain the earthly crown, how much are God’s people to give themselves to the heavenly race? If the unsaved sacrifice so much for their cause, how much more those who profess the Lord?
A1.2 set before us
The writer to the Hebrews takes up the theme of the race after considering the ‘heroes of faith’ in the 11th chapter. Having given a list of some of those of whom the world was not worthy, the writer then says the following (bearing in mind that there was no chapter division originally)
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience [=endurance] the race that is set before us, looking [off ] unto Jesus the author [=captain] and finisher [=perfecter] of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.
The encouragement is look off these men and women of faith and turn our eyes onto Jesus, for it is He who is the author and perfecter of our faith. The writer encourages us to lay aside the sin that bests (surrounds us) us and to lay aside the weights that may burden us in the race.
What we have here is a clear picture that can be tied in with our thoughts in Galatians. In this race our goal is Jesus Himself, and we are not to allow anything, or anyone else to divert our attention from that goal. It is Jesus who began us in the race and the one who will perfect us, if we endure to the end. We didn’t start this race by the efforts of the flesh, and we won’t continue it nor finish it by works of the flesh either. We are not even to allow the great heroes of faith to be a distraction – there may be lessons to learn from them, but they must not be allowed take the place of Jesus. Just as Jesus patiently endured the cross under the most difficult of circumstances so we too are encouraged to run with patience this race, whatever is thrown up against us, and let us remember the following promise that God has made good to us.
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
The only way to run the race and endure is by looking unto Jesus and considering only Him, not men, nor pet doctrines nor anything else that would get in the way.
A1.3 The hindrance
The Greek word used for hindrance by Paul means ‘ a breaking up of the road’ or ‘ placing an obstacle in the path in order to detain ‘. The Galatians were in the race but these false teachers put something in their path that hindered them. They had gone away from the truth, they allowed the obstacle set up by these Judaisers to take them away from their obedience to it. They were not responsible for the obstacle, but they were for how they reacted. An athlete in a race, if confronted with a sudden obstacle, could either stop, play about and complain, or just avoid it and continue in the race. It seemed that these Galatians had allowed the obstacles placed by these Judaisers to stop them in their tracts. It was their response that was the problem; they allowed this evil influence to halt their progress. Hence the strong words found in this letter. Gal.1:6; 3:1; 4:9; 5:1
The language is clear: false teachers come and go and we have the choice as to how we react. A false teacher may come along and may say we should do this, or other, and we may follow on for the sake of what we call Christian love, yet it may be just the hindrance that stops us in the race set before us. It may be a small thing, seemingly insignificant, at first, but nonetheless it is just the obstacle that does the trick.
There are so many things that surround us that could easily divert and be a hindrance to us. The context in Galatians is clearly the false teachers who insist on other things added to the simple message of the gospel. Adding to the gospel of faith is to burden men and women with weights that would hinder the believer in the race, and sometimes weights that they themselves refuse to bare! Mtt.23:4 These weights are ever surrounding us all the time, trying to ensnare the believer to take them up and lose sight of Jesus. The fact that they are there is not the problem, rather it is how we react: do we take them up or go round them in order to continue the race?
Even in these days there are those who, for example, would seek to bring believers into Jewish bondage by insisting on partaking of the Passover, and almost accuse those who refuse as being anti-Semitic, or something worse. They clearly do not have a sound understanding of what we have considered in this letter, but be that as it may, we must ensure that we do not get caught up in it at all, but just run the race that is set before us looking only unto Jesus.
The hindrance in the context of the epistle is doing the works of the flesh in trying to live the Christian life. Someone comes along saying that such and such is a good idea to be spiritual and the legal framework then set up, if followed, stops the believer in his or her tracks, with all the consequences that we have previously mentioned. Once in the flesh nothing but trouble ensues and it naturally increases.