The Law Hinders Growth - Page 1 (series: Lessons on Galatians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

December 14, 2013

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians
Tom Lowe


Chapter IV.A.4: The Law Hinders Growth (5:7-10)


Galatians 5:7-10 (KJV)

7 Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?
8 This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.
9 A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.
10 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.

Commentary

7 Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?

Ye did run well
The Christian life is often represented as a race. For example, in 1 Corinthians 9:24-26, Paul pictures life as if he was describing an Olympic competition: “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means , when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”

The first Olympic Games were the sole property of the Greeks, and they featured competitions in leaping, running, throwing the quoit (a flattened ring of iron or circle of rope), darting (this may have been the Javelin throw), and wrestling. Sometimes other exercises were included, such as chariots races, and horse races, etc.

Running was one of the principal contests at the games. Speediness or swiftness was regarded as an extraordinary virtue, and great pains were taken in order to excel in this. History records that they regarded it so highly that those who prepared themselves for this race would actually burn their spleen, because it was believed to be an impediment to them, and to hinder them in the race. Homer tells us that swiftness was one of the most excellent endowments with which a man can be blessed—"No greater honor e'er has been attain'd, Than what strong hands or nimble feet have gain'd." The competitors prepared themselves for these races through a long period of self-discipline and exercise; and nothing was left undone that might contribute to securing the victory.

"One reason" why this was believed to be so valuable an achievement among the Greeks, was, that it prepared people both physically and mentally for war as it was conducted at that time in history. It enabled them to make a sudden and unexpected attack, or a rapid retreat. Hence, the attribute which Homer constantly gives of Achilles is that he was swift of foot. And David, in his poetical lamentations over Saul and Jonathan as they prepare for war, points out in 2 Samuel 1:23 that "They were swifter than eagles, Stronger than lions."

Paul uses the example of the athlete because it was something his readers were familiar with, and the idea he wants to convey to them here is that they began the Christian life with dedication and enthusiasm. That is the kind of zeal he speaks of in Galatians 4:15: “Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.” The life of a Christian is a race, in which he must run and not hold back or lose his focus, if he is to obtain the prize. It is not enough that we profess Christianity, but we must run well, by living up to that profession.

Who did hinder you
The Greek word used here (ἀνακόπτω anakoptō) means to beat or drive back. Hence, it means to hinder, curb, impede, delay, or retard. Dr. Doddridge remarks that this is "an Olympic expression, and properly signifies ‘coming across the course’ while a person is running in it, in such a manner as to jostle, and throw him out of the way." Paul asks, with emphasis, who it could have been that retarded them in their Christian course (development,

progress, growth), implying that it could not have been done with their own knowledge and consent, and that there was really no good reason why they could not have continued as they began. In this question the apostle does not ask who the person was that had put a stop to them; but he expresses his surprise and grief at their being stopped.

Paul knows that the false teaching comes from a person (who hindered you); but it didn’t come from Jesus. At the root of it all, the Galatians were leaving Jesus to pursue the false and empty teachings of man, in this case legalism. Lightfoot described hinder similar to Doddridge, but uses a “metaphor” derived from military operations. To him the word signifies ‘to break up a road’ . . . so as to render it impassable, and is therefore the opposite of . . . ‘to clear a way.’” The Galatians were doing well until someone broke up the road they ran on!

That ye should not obey the truth
Paul had taught them the true system of justification by faith in the Redeemer. Since they knew the truth, what was it that caused them to turn aside, and embrace the dangerous errors connected to the necessity of obeying the laws of Moses? Faith in Christ liberates the believer from Jewish rites and ceremonies, called the yoke of bondage by the apostle; and also provides liberty from the power and guilt of sin, which nothing but the grace of Christ can take away.

"Some of the Galatians had stopped obeying the truth, as taught by Paul and the other apostles, perhaps neglecting to observe the Lord's Supper and failing to do other things which have been characteristics of the Christian life in all ages. The clause here shows that this disobedience was a prime concern of the apostle's. Note, particularly, that it is not said that they had stopped "believing in Christ," and there is no evidence that such was the case. Salvation by "faith only" was as important for them as it is for us today. By their participating in Jewish observances, they were neglecting and had stopped obeying the teachings of Christ.

8 This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.
Simply stated, the meaning is that "their disobedience of Christ's teachings, due to fooling around with Judaism, did not come from anything that Christ, who had called them through the gospel, had taught them." They had been making rapid progress in the right direction, but they had suddenly and mysteriously gone off course. Legalism and internal dissensions—“But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Galatians 5:15)—had got in among them. You were running well, and the hope was that you could reach the goal and win the prize.

Paul explains how those who had been deceived by false teachers may be restored to spiritual health. The false apostles were probably likeable men. They may even exceeded Paul in learning and godliness. The Galatians were easily deceived by outward appearances. They may even supposed they were being taught by Christ Himself. Paul proved to them that their new doctrine was not of Christ, but of the devil. In this way he succeeded in recovering many of them. Friend, we also, if it is God’s will, may win back many from the errors into which they were seduced by showing them that their beliefs are imaginary, wicked, and contrary to the Word of God.

The devil is a cunning persuader. He knows how to enlarge the smallest sin into a mountain until we think we have committed the worst crime ever committed on earth. Satan will circumvent the Gospel and talk about Christ in this his own diabolical way: "Certainly Christ is meek, gentle, and merciful, but only to those who are holy and righteous. If you are a sinner you don’t stand a chance. Didn’t Christ say that unbelievers are already damned? And didn’t Christ perform many good deeds, and suffer many evils patiently while asking us to follow His example? Surely, you do not mean to say that your life is in accord with Christ's teachings or example? You are a sinner. You are no good at all."



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