“You were running well;
who hindered you from obeying the truth?”
In an NFL football game on Thanksgiving Day, 2013, a strange event happened that would go down as one of the most bizarre plays in NFL history. The Pittsburgh Steelers were playing the Baltimore Ravens in the Thanksgiving Day evening game. It was midway through the third quarter and the Steelers trailed 13-6. Pittsburgh kicked off to the Ravens and the Ravens kickoff return specialist Jacoby Jones fielded the kick, slipped a couple of tackles and then began to sprint down the sideline on the Pittsburgh side of the field. When he approached midfield he encountered Steeler’s head coach Mike Tomlin who was standing with his feet just inside the out of bounds line facing away from the play.
Just before Jones reached him Coach Tomlin appeared so see Jones out of the corner of his eye and attempted to jump out of the way, putting his right foot in the field of play. The effect of this move caused Jones to alter his path back into the middle of the field allowing him to be caught by one of the pursuing Steeler players. Subsequent replays of the video showed clearly that Tomlin’s action interfered with the play. The NFL eventually fined Tomlin $100,000 for obstructing the play on the field. There was much debate on whether or not Coach Tomlin interfered with the play on purpose or if he was just watching the play on the Jumbo Tron at the end of the field and didn’t realize how close the play was to him. Regardless, later in a press conference, the coach took responsibility for disrupting the play and paid his fine to the NFL.
The Apostle Paul was fond of using running metaphors to help emphasize the Christian life. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he writes about an athletic running contest and encourages the members of the church to “Run in such a way that you may win”( I Cor. 9:24). Previously in chapter 2 of Galatians, he writes in regards to meeting the Apostles after his conversion, “…for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain.” Here in Chapter 5, we see Paul using yet another running example by asking the members of the church in Galatia who had ‘hindered’ their running. If you read the entire chapter, you quickly come to understand the issue driving Paul’s question is the false teachings of the Jewish people who told the members of the new church they needed to keep the law in order to be holy. Of course, Paul destroys this false teaching by showing the impossibility of perfectly keeping the law and that the entire law could be summed up in loving their neighbor as they loved themselves.
It is possible to read through this portion of Galatians 5 and discount it as an example of weak Christians in the church who were not very well grounded in truth. However, I believe there is a message for Christians today here as well. Having pastored and served as an Elder in two different churches previous to coming to TCC, I have had the unenviable position of watching someone’s race become hindered very much like Coach Tomlin’s actions hindered the kickoff running-back, Jacoby Jacobs. I remember one time when a man who gave his life over to the Lord at the front of the church after a sermon on repentance. I had the opportunity to baptize him and even conduct his wedding. He was running the Christian race well until something hindered him. Despite many cautions from me and another pastor in the church regarding watching Sunday morning ‘Christian’ television he came to believe a false teaching and a false doctrine which directly contradicted scripture. No amount of discussion or scripture could convince him otherwise. This habit ‘hindered’ his running with the Lord. It pulled him away from the body of Christ, with an end-result that he became a defiant ‘believer’ who eventually even refused to speak with us about the subject. He quit attending church and became a ‘Sunday Morning TV Disciple’ allowing all kinds of false doctrine to pull him wherever they went. A truly, sad story.
Becoming hindered in our race is something that can happen in subtle ways and it isn’t always false doctrine that is at the core of our faltering. Often times it can be offense, secret sins or un-repented of sins or something like unforgiveness. Any or all of these things can hinder our walk and cause us to veer into Satan’s path, much like Coach Tomlin’s action did to the Ravens’ Jacoby Jacobs on that kick-off return.
So where do we go from here? How do we avoid being hindered in our Christian race? Here are three key things we can do to help us stay on the straight path:
- Make time for God every day by reading His word and prayer.
- Stay connected to other trusted believers who love us enough to speak truth to us and keep us accountable.
- Prove and trust the doctrine preached by the Elders in the church and be watchful for those teachers outside our trusted circle who claim special knowledge or understanding.
May God bless each one of us and may He give us the strength to help us to run unhindered the race He has set before us.