READY, SET, GO!
The Christian life is often compared with a running race. I have an idea that the Apostle Paul liked racing since he referred to it often in his writings. Personally I have never been much of a runner. Being a slow runner, as well as a chubby kid, whenever I was forced to race against my classmates in a gym class I was always left in the dust. Frankly, it was embarrassing! When I played baseball I could hit the ball pretty far, but since there were no fences, and I was a slow runner, they always managed to run down the ball and get it back into the infield in time to keep me from a home run. One time, one of my classmates wanted to embarrass me when were playing ball at recess, so he ran the ball into the infield himself and tagged me out just before I crossed home-plate!
In a similar manner to the fable of the Tortuous and the Hare, the Christian life is not about speed, rather it is about slow and steady perseverance. It is not about who finishes the race first, but about finishing the race well.
Please turn in your Bible to . As we go through this passage we will see that these bewitched believers in Galatia had started the race well, but that they had been hindered by obstacles which were causing them to lose their proper focus. Finally we will see that the true gospel itself is a stumbling block, not for believers, but for non-believers.
Let’s read our passage together.
THE GOOD START
THE GOOD START
Paul begins this paragraph by stating that the Galatians had gotten off to a good start in the race called the Christian life. They had a great coach who got them started right.
In an actual race the coach cannot run with the racer. He or she can only observe from the sidelines. Once the race is started the coach trusts that his or her trainee will remember everything they were taught and practiced. The movie CHARIOTS OF FIRE gives us a glimpse of what this might be like. For months Harold Abrahams of Great Britain trained with a personal coach for the 1924 Olympics. This coach emphasized the discipline of racing in all it facets. He taught Abrahams to discipline the length of his stride, to keep his focus on the finish line, and so on. Then on race day the coach had to trust that his student would instinctively follow everything he had been taught while he watched from the stands.
Fortunately in the Christian life our coaches are often able to run along side of us — that is because they are not only a coach but a racer as well. In Paul’s case he had got the Galatians started in the race. And he must have spent enough time with them to train them in the Hebrew Bible since he used so many allusions to it. Then he trusted that they would run the race well. Unfortunately they were hindered by an obstacle.
HINDERED BY OBSTACLES
HINDERED BY OBSTACLES
Look at verse 7 once again. After noting the Galatians good beginning he asked rhetorically “who hindered you from obeying the truth?” Boice wrote:
The verb enkoptō—a military term—refers primarily to setting up an obstacle or breaking up a road. In this context, it probably refers to the illegal interference of a runner who cuts in ahead of another and thereby disadvantages him.
Hence the NIV’s translation: “Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?”
I’m not a fan of car races — neither NASCAR nor INDY races. But I was told once upon a time that certain racers were notorious for interfering with the cars from other teams so that their teammates would have a better chance of winning the race. Apparently the same type of thing was common among the Olympic runners of Paul’s day.
Paul does not identify the one who is troubling his beloved churches. Rather he states things in such allusive language that it seems intends he for the churches to identify for themselves the ones who are leading them astray and impairing their spiritual growth. The thing that the Galatians were being hindered from doing was stated as obeying the truth. This same truth was referred to as the truth of the gospel earlier in the letter.
But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you.
But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?
The term translated obeying has the idea of being persuaded to obey something. Thus the CSB translates this phrase like this: Who prevented you from being persuaded regarding the truth?
Paul and Barnabas had previously persuaded the Galatians regarding the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Which is that God is the Creator of all things and mankind has rebelled against Him. Man’s relationship with God is irreconcilable as far as man is concerned. But God put forward the means for man to be reconciled to Him by offering up Jesus as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of His people. Jesus died as our substitute on the cross. He absorbed God’s wrath on our behalf. He did not stay in the grave but rose again from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God. And those who place their faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ are justified by faith alone.
Unfortunately, after Paul and Barnabas moved on, someone came along seeking to unpersuade these churches regarding the truth of the gospel.
Though Paul doesn’t name the person or persons responsible for hindering the Galatian churches, He does imply who it was that did not hinder them. Notice verse 8. This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you.
This persuasion refers back to the question at the end of verse 7 — Who prevented you from being persuaded regarding the truth? The Judaizers were seeking to persuade the people against the truth of the gospel of which they had previously been persuaded. God is not the author of this unpersuasion.
In theology there something that is referred to as the effectual call of Christ. Christ, the Good Shepherd, calls His sheep to Himself. And His sheep respond to His irresistible call. Jesus noted in the that those who do not respond to His voice are not His sheep.
Using what must have been a common proverb Paul illustrates what he is trying to say: A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. When I first read this I thought to myself “what a random statement.” But of course it is anything but random. Unless you are seeking to make unleavened bread such as we use when we celebrate the communion service, if you are making bread you have to use leaven or yeast to make it rise. But it only takes a small amount of it to make the whole batch of dough leavened. In the same way it only takes a little bit of false teaching to ruin an entire church body. Add or take away a little bit of the gospel and you ruin its life-saving message.
Though leaven is often used in Scripture to represent sin (and that is the reason why we use unleavened bread when celebrating the Lord’s Table), it is also used in regards to gospel growth. The point is that it only takes a small amount of a powerful agent to have a huge influence on all around. Either the influence will be on behalf of the gospel or else it will be contrary to the true gospel. There is only one true gospel. There is no other gospel!
Notice the first part of verse 10 for a moment: I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view. The term translated confidence is the same basic term translated as obeying in verse 7 and persuasion in verse 8. The CSB puts it like this: I myself am persuaded in the Lord you will not accept any other view.
Paul firmly believed that once these churches had seen his argument they would return to the sound teaching by which they were established. They would recognize the false teaching for what it was — false. They would stand behind the truth of the gospel. Why was Paul so confident? His confidence wasn’t in the Galatians, per se, but in the Lord! When we place our confidence in man it is a bit of a crap shoot. They may or may not live up to our expectations. But the Lord will never let us down. As the psalmist wrote:
It is better to trust in the Lord Than to put confidence in man.
Notice in the last half of verse 10 that Paul states that the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is. Could it be that it was just one influential person who was wreaking such a great havoc among them? Certainly it could. Contrary to the Osmand Brother’s hit song from 1970 where they stated that “one bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl,” the truth is that one rotten apple can spoil an entire bushel of fruit!
Regardless of whether it was a single individual or a small group that was troubling the Galatians with a “different gospel” they will bear their judgment. When will they be judged you might ask. Of course they may find judgement during this present life. But they will certainly be called to task on the Day of Judgment. If the false teachers were true believers in Jesus Christ then that day of judgment will be at what is often referred to as the Bema Seat Judgment of Christ. It is at this judgment that believers are adjudicated before God. If the false teachers were not true believers then their day of judgment will happen at the White Throne Judgment.
Before moving on we might want to reflect on the things that may hinder our own spiritual growth. Certainly false teachers can. They are still present today in so many ways. But there are other obstacles that hinder us as well. Sometimes good things can become obstacles if we allow them to take our focus away from Christ. As the write of Hebrews admonished, we need to lay aside not only the sin that entangles us, but also the good things that may weight us down as well. After laying these things aside, then we can focus on Jesus, the author and finisher of the race.
PERSECUTED BY FALSE RELIGION
PERSECUTED BY FALSE RELIGION
The sad truth is that throughout history false religion has always been the most aggressive and dominant persecutor of the church. Consider a few biblical examples:
Jezebel and the prophets of Baal
Nebuchadnezzar and Shadrach, etc
Paul and company
John on the Isle of Patmos
Of course persecution of believers is not limited to biblical times. Think of the many things that Islam has done against Christianity. For that matter, think about what the Roman Catholic Church did during the early years of the Protestant movement — killing men like Jon Huss, William Tyndale, etc; not to mention things like the Spanish Inquisition.
In verse 11 of our text we see Paul refer to the charge that he himself had preached circumcision. Obviously, before he came to faith in Christ he did preach circumcision — he was a Hebrew of Hebrews. He was advancing in the ranks of the Pharisees. He was a strict adherent to the Law of Moses. But in this passage it seems that Paul is answering a charge that has been brought against him in his present situation. Perhaps the false teacher or teachers were saying something to the effect that Paul had been corrected in his doctrine and is now preaching the same gospel (which is not a gospel) that the Judaizers were now preaching to the Galatians. Paul argues that if he was preaching this false gospel then there would be no reason for him to be persecuted the way he is. The fact that he continues to be persecuted demonstrates that he is continuing to preach the true message of the gospel. He continues to preach the message of the cross and the empty tomb which an offense to those who are outside of Christ.
OFFENDED BY THE CROSS
OFFENDED BY THE CROSS
I have often wondered why it is that some people are offended by the cross of Christ. Because I came to Christ as a young child, and I grew up in a Christian home I haven’t had the experience that some of you may have had before coming to faith in Christ. Though we who are believers, in present times, cherish the old rugged cross, in the first century the cross carried far different connotations.
The term translated offense or stumbling block in our English Bible is skandalon from which we get the English word scandal. And perhaps that would be a good word to use in the context — the scandal of the cross. The thought that the death of a criminal would save the people of God was a scandalous thought for the unregenerate mind. The thought that man does not participate in his own salvation is still a scandalous thought to many in our age. Many seek to deny or redefine the biblical teaching on election these days. Writing to the Corinthians Paul said this:
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
The simple fact is that the unregenerate mind cannot understand the things of God.
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
Finally Paul closes this section with a very strong statement in verse 12 — I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves. This is similar to what Jesus had to say about those who cause others to stumble — that it would be better for them to have a millstone tied around their neck and cast into the deepest part of the sea. Paul basically wished that these men who were preaching this false doctrine would castrate themselves. This shocking statement compares the ancient rite of Jewish circumcision with the pagan practice of castration to their pagan deity. It also could be a way of disbarring someone from fellowship with the faith community.
I want to close this morning by asking if the message that we preach, or share with others on a personal level, is offensive to the world? If it is then we are doing our job. I do not mean that we should go out of our way to be offensive to people. In actuality we should seek to be loving and gentle. But if we are offending people with the truth the issue isn’t with us but with those who cannot handle the truth.
“No one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.
If we aren’t offending people with the truth it could mean that we are not sharing the message of the cross and the empty tomb as we should be.
Closing Song: No. 321
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross