Running the race in the last days Bible Study
The Hinderers and Prize Defrauders: Don't let them take your reward
by I Gordon
“You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?”
As we have seen, the Bible uses the analogy of running a race to describe the Christian life. Now it’s certainly not the only physical or movement related metaphor that it uses. As Christians we sit… in our heavenly position in Christ; we stand… against the tricks and ways of the enemy; we walk… through this world in a way that is worthy of the calling we have received. And one day, soon I hope, we shall fly. Now unless there is any confusion, I’m talking about the Rapture! Gravity, the pull of this earth, will be overcome by a far greater power and we shall rise and meet HIM in the air. No words can be written or expressed to even begin to touch on the wonder of that day!
Until the day that we fly and there is nothing but space under our feet, we are to sit, we are to stand, we are to walk and, as I have looked at in this series, we are to run. Run the race. Now when we hear of ‘running the race’ it is easy for our minds to think of this picture to the right:
That is, we think of flat ground, good grip, well defined lanes, short course, sun shining, crowds cheering us on.
Whereas, often, it is more like this picture on the left - trail and mountain running with rocks, obstacles, potential trip ups, ankle twists, not always sure the best way forward.
So far we’ve looked at the finish line, the coach, the entanglement, the acceleration and the refreshment. Today is the hinderers and the prize defrauders. It was never meant to be an easy race and as mentioned previously, it has been prophesied to get harder as the day of Jesus’ return approaches. When asked about signs of His return, three times Jesus spoke about deception and told us not to be deceived. In this study we will look at:
1. The Hinderers (and hindrances)
2. The Smooth Talkers
3. The Prize defrauders
4. The curious case of the aged sandwiches (who got old before their time!)
Let’s look at the main passage
Gal 5:1-9 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. (2) Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. (3) And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. (4) You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. (5) For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. (6) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. (7) You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? (8) This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. (9) A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.
The key verse for my message in this passage is obviously verse 7 – ‘You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?’ This word translated ‘hindered’ here is ‘engkopto’ and literally means ‘to cut in’ which is why the NIV translates it ‘who cut in on you’? When used in a figurative sense as it is here it means to impede, detain, trip, hinder’. It is a strange race indeed where, as you run, there may be some trying to trip you up, grab hold of you, slow you down or lead you onto a different course. But welcome to the Christian race! This is what each of the churches faced in the days of Paul. Every time Paul left a body of believers, such as happened here with the Galatians, false teachers would come in and impede and hinder the believers. And it hasn’t gotten any better. There are lots of hindrances and hinderers in this Christian life.
As I pondered this, I couldn’t help think about how John Bunyan described this in Pilgrims Progress. On his journey from the city of destruction to the celestial city, Christian met up with countless hinderers and hindrances. Here are four of them.
Atheist : Christian met Atheist who just laughed and mocked Christian saying there was no place as the Celestial City and tried to persuade him to give up his journey.
: Or the Flatterer, a man of dark countenance who wore a white robe and had
smooth words. He led Christian off the true path onto an adjoining path
that just turned in small degrees until, without knowing it, Christian and
Hopeful were walking in the opposite direction away from the Celestial
Demas: Then there was Demas. As Christian and Hopeful came to a short plain called Ease, Demas called out from the Hill Lucre saying ‘Turn aside and I will show you something. I can make you rich’. He had a silver mine with which he tempted Christian to turn from the way.
Mr Worldly Wiseman : One final example, which is similar to what we read here in Galatians, is that of Mr Worldly Wise-man. Evangelist had told Christian that to remove this great burden on his back, Christian must journey to and go through the narrow sheep gate. But while going there, the going got tough and Christian met with Mr. Worldly Wise-man who attended church in the town of Morality. He advised Christian that Evangelist had given him shameful advice because the way he had instructed Christian to go was difficult and his burden could be removed so much easier if he simply sort out Mr Legality in the town of Morality. And so Christian turned from the path. So many traps. So many hindrances. So many hinderers. The enemy always does his best to trip us up in one way or another.
Back to Galatians...
Let’s look at the context of this Galatians passage. Paul had taught the Galatians salvation by grace through faith but after he left the Judaisers and legalists came in. “Oh you believe in the Lord” they would say. “Well that’s not enough. No one can be truly acceptable to the Lord if they don’t have the great sign given by God Himself – Circumcision. And while you are there, if you want to be right with God then don’t forget the Sabbath, the Jewish Feasts, and what is taught in the Law of Moses.” Paul’s response? It is full on as we can see in this passage:
‘Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. (3) And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. (4) You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.’
The Bible Believers Commentary (William MacDonald) quotes ‘Jack Hunter on this passage who writes:
‘In the Galatian situation, circumcision to Paul was not a surgical operation, nor merely a religious observance. It represented a system of salvation by good works. It declared a gospel of human effort apart from divine grace. It was law supplanting grace; Moses supplanting Christ; for to add to Christ was to take from Christ. Christ supplemented was Christ supplanted ; Christ is the only Savior —solitary and exclusive. Circumcision would mean excision from Christ.’ 2
Earlier in Galatians Paul said ‘Oh foolish Galatians. Who has bewitched you? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Every hinderer and hindrance is designed to take your eyes off the Lord Jesus and onto something else. He is our victory. He is our wisdom from God. As it says in 1 Cor 1:30:
1Co 1:30-31 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (31) Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."
But the wisdom of this age, present in many religious circles, finds “something” else that it has to add to Christ. People, even believers, are so easily side tracked onto things that just don’t mean anything in the long run.
(6) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. (7) You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? (8) This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. (9) A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.
I have people write into the website with their must have, all important, sure thing solution to the Christian life that just don’t mean anything. People argue black and blue over the exact spelling and pronunciation of Jesus’ or God’s name in the Hebrew and turn this molehill into a mountain. Many in our day, like the Galatians, are going back to matters of the Jewish law and frown upon those who simply find their identity in Christ Jesus. I had a lady write in saying that you must keep the feasts of Israel, the Sabbath and holy days and you must find what Jewish tribe you are from. These things are simply shadows of the real truth as we shall see.
Rom 16:17-18 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. (18) For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.
Now some deceptions and deceivers are obvious. While not a religious example, I read about a man who was suing a bus company for damages to his arm caused by a negligent bus driver. The Lawyer representing the bus company asked the man “Will you please show us how high you can lift your arm now?” The young man gingerly raised his arm to shoulder level, his face distorted with pain. “Thank you,” the lawyer said. “And now, could you show us how high you could lift it before the accident?” The young man eagerly shot his arm up above his head. He lost the case.
The Christian world is full of tricksters. The Huffington Post ran a story about an African “Prophet” who was selling “anointed pens”. These pens apparently gave those using them the ability to pass exams, if operated by faith, and the more you paid for the pens, the better the grade you got. Brilliant. Who needs to study anymore?3 People fall for anything these days. What made me further shake my head about this article was the first name of the “Prophet” selling these pens. The guy’s name is ‘Sham’. The definition of ‘sham’ is ‘Something that is not what it is purported to be.’ Or ‘to falsely present something as the truth.’
The scripture in Romans before us though speaks of those that cause hindrances ‘and by their smooth and flattering speech, deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.’ Here again is the flatterer... the smooth talker. As Christians we want to see the best in people. We want to trust and believe people. We try to live by the golden rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. And we like to think that others run with this motto as well. But the reality is... some don’t. When Jesus sent the disciples out He said:
Mat 10:16 "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.
And He also told us that we know people by the fruits, not their words. This Romans passage also uses the word ‘hindrances’ (sometimes translated obstacles, offenses). It is an interesting word. The Greek word is ‘skándalon’ from which we take the word ‘scandal’. But looking further into the Greek meaning gives a very interesting word picture. It was used for ‘ The trigger of a trap on which the bait is placed, and which, when touched by the animal, springs and causes it to close causing entrapment.’ Beware of the hinderers, who sound so good, but lead you away from the truth of God's word. It could well be the 'trigger of a trap'.
Col 2:13-19 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, (14) having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (15) When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. (16) Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-- (17) things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. (18) Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels , taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, (19) and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.
Here again we see that the defrauding, the hindering, is always about getting your eyes off Jesus and onto ‘something’ else. In this way, the scripture tells us that we can be defrauded of our prize. This has implications for this current life and the next. Christ is our prize and He will reward us for the race which we run. The enemy would like you focused on the shadows and his deception – ‘false humility, worship of angels, fleshly visions causing inflated pride…’ These things never die. They defraud you of your prize. They take your eyes off Christ in the current age and defraud you of your rewards in the next. Run well people. Hold fast to the head who is Christ and glory in what He has done and does in you! Stick to the person of Jesus Christ. Not the shadows, not the false humility masking pride and self focus. Hold fast the head!
Let's look at an Old Testament example where God's people were deceived by a tricky cunning enemy. It is an example that shows us how important it is to stay alert and always bring the events of our life before the Lord.
Old Testament Example: The curious case of the rapidly aged sandwiches
Jos 9:3-18 “When the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, (4) they also acted craftily and set out as envoys, and took worn-out sacks on their donkeys, and wineskins worn-out and torn and mended, (5) and worn-out and patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes on themselves; and all the bread of their provision was dry and had become crumbled. (6) They went to Joshua to the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the men of Israel, "We have come from a far country; now therefore, make a covenant with us." (7) The men of Israel said to the Hivites, "Perhaps you are living within our land; how then shall we make a covenant with you?" (8) But they said to Joshua, "We are your servants." Then Joshua said to them, "Who are you and where do you come from?" (9) They said to him, "Your servants have come from a very far country because of the fame of the LORD your God; for we have heard the report of Him and all that He did in Egypt, (10) and all that He did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon king of Heshbon and to Og king of Bashan who was at Ashtaroth. (11) "So our elders and all the inhabitants of our country spoke to us, saying, 'Take provisions in your hand for the journey, and go to meet them and say to them, "We are your servants; now then, make a covenant with us."' (12) "This our bread was warm when we took it for our provisions out of our houses on the day that we left to come to you; but now behold, it is dry and has become crumbled. (13) "These wineskins which we filled were new, and behold, they are torn; and these our clothes and our sandals are worn out because of the very long journey." (14) So the men of Israel took some of their provisions, and did not ask for the counsel of the LORD. (15) Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live; and the leaders of the congregation swore an oath to them. (16) It came about at the end of three days after they had made a covenant with them, that they heard that they were neighbors and that they were living within their land. (17) Then the sons of Israel set out and came to their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon and Chephirah and Beeroth and Kiriath-jearim. (18) The sons of Israel did not strike them because the leaders of the congregation had sworn to them by the LORD the God of Israel. And the whole congregation grumbled against the leaders.”
The Gibeonites were, you could say, beautiful liars. They had it down pat. Though living about 10 Km north of Jerusalem, they made it look like they had come a distant country far far away. Crafty! They had the right words saying that they came from a long way away because of the fame of the Lord. Perfect. Perfect words. They sound so good! They had the tatty and torn wineskins and old looking sandwiches. Clever. It all looked and sounded so good. Except it was one lie built upon another.
These things recorded in the book of Joshua stand as types for us. They are recorded for our instruction. The Israelites had previously defeated Jericho, a type of the world. But now they have been tricked by the wiles and craftiness of the Gibeonites, a type of the enemy we face. The Bible says that even Satan, and his ministers, transform themselves into Angels of light.
So where did it go wrong? Well, for Joshua and the leaders of Israel, this was an easy one. “Yes, we needed the Lord to defeat Jericho, but we can work this one out.” “Yes we needed to be right with the Lord to claim victory over Ai, but this is cut and dried… Right?” So they went with their own thoughts, their own wisdom, and in the most telling of verses, ‘did not ask the counsel of the Lord.’ How many alliances do Christians enter into because they look and sound good without asking the Lord? How many believers are ripped off and lead astray by false teachers and religious rackets because God’s people don’t go back to His word to test all things? This is a very important story for us all.
So we have seen that running the race is full of obstacles.
There are many hindrances and hinderers.
The enemy is crafty.
He has smooth talkers… but they are prize defrauders.
Don’t be defrauded of your prize. Stay Jesus focused. Make good use of the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. Test all things. Be as innocent as doves yet as wise as serpents!
I asked my Mother whether she had any experience with a Flatterer, a smooth talker. And she said that once got involved in a group that discussed ‘spiritual’ truth and followed a man called Joel Goldsmith. It initially sounded really good but it was actually just New Age teaching, before the New Age became a known issue within Christian circles. And slowly but surely she became like Christian in Pilgrims Progress following the Flatterer on a path that turned slowly by degrees away from the path to the Celestial City. So much so that the Lord gave her a dream and in her dream, mum saw herself walking on one side of the road and she saw the Lord on the other side of the road. But he was walking in the opposite direction. And she thought to herself, “why is He on the opposite side of the road and walking the other direction to where I’m going?” Not long after a friend asked Mum a lot of questions and at the suggested that Mum reads a book she had just got called ‘The beautiful side of evil’. Mum declined. The next day, a close friend said to her ‘Look at this book I’ve got’ and it was the same one – ‘The beautiful side of evil’. So she read, realized that she had subtly been lead into the New Age, repented, and walked on the right path ever since. Beware the smooth talkers that slowly move you off the true path! ↩
In like manner, Hogg and Vine write: 'Christ must be everything or nothing to a man; no limited trust or divided allegiance is acceptable to Him. The man who is justified by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is a Christian; the man who seeks to be justified by the works of the law is not. ↩
Just wish they were around earlier... My brother would have bought a box load of these during his College days! ↩