7Ἐτρέχετε καλῶς· τίς ὑμᾶς ἐνέκοψεν [τῇ] ἀληθείᾳ μὴ πείθεσθαι; 8ἡ πεισμονὴ οὐκ ἐκ τοῦ καλοῦντος ὑμᾶς.
“You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.” (NIV)
“You were running beautifully. Who cut in on you so that you were not won over by the truth? This sort of “winning over” is not from the one who calls you.” (My translation)
Preamble: One of the aims behind doing a Masters in Biblical Studies is to give me greater confidence when preparing the occasional homily or devotion. I’ve been meditating on Galatians 5 this week and have been writing a short piece each day in homily style. This one especially welled up within me so thought I’d share it on here…
Galatians 5 is a real purple patch in the apostle’s writings; I feel they show him at his finest. In these verses, Paul uses the image of a running race. The people to whom Paul is writing (Gentiles in Galatia) appear to have been progressing well in their newfound faith in Christ, but just as they are getting going, it is as if an external force, a sort of competitor, cuts them up so that they begin to stumble. More precisely, the original context is probably that this competitor represents zealous Jews who demand that these new converts be circumcised, which Paul spends much of the letter saying is unnecessary.
The verb “cut in” (enkopto) is surely a pun on the act of being circumcised, literally from the Latin meaning “cut around”. Here, the Jews have cut in on these Gentiles in Galatia and diverted them from the truth of the Christian message. Here, we can see a continuation of the race-competition analogy. The verb peitho is generally translated as “obey” or “persuade” but it seems that the idea of competition is worth keeping and it is at the forefront of the apostle’s mind. The tragedy of the situation is that these Gentiles have been won over by something now false rather than someone true who is calling them into freedom (see Galatians 5:1), and who makes that possible.
Such is the present predicament on show in these verses for the Galatians, how does this bit of Scripture speak to us today?
As a keen distance runner who has spent a considerable amount of the last few years injured, it is difficult not to see the beginnings of a literal significance in these verses. There was a time when I was running well and aspiring to further breakthroughs in the sport, but injuries rather put paid to such aspirations of national stage running. This was disappointing at the time and it is not wrong to be angry with injury: injury is a reminder that the Kingdom has not yet come, but that those who believe in Christ can look forward to eternal life in a resurrection body. Nevertheless, some good things have come out of being injured: I appreciate any running I can do now to a greater degree; I have more time to look out for other’s performances and celebrate them as well as sympathising with those who are injured; it has freed up time to do things I might not otherwise have done – e.g. learning enough New Testament Greek to get onto a Masters course in Biblical Studies.
Yet, moving beyond injuries a good question we might ask ourselves is what is it that has cut – or is cutting – us up?
On one level, we are cut up because of our humanity – because we are imperfect. We are capable of running and walking in the paths that God has set before us – it’s what we were created for! – but sometimes we are led astray by other voices. In many cases, however, I think we need to be encouraged and comforted that it is not always our fault that we feel cut up. We can be cut up by external influences: it might be an injury or illness, an unexpected time of hardship of suffering, for which we are not responsible. We need not beat ourselves up. In these verses, Paul is not haranguing the Galatians as such – he is haranguing the zealous Jews who are quite literally attempting to cut in and lead the Galatians away from Christ. God practically never harangues us directly and he sympathises so much with us in our suffering and frustration. The cross shows as much.
There are times, however, where we might be in wrong and need to turn around, and make a fresh start. This is often done more easily than we think. These verses encourage us to be called back and to look back to the truth: Jesus Christ, the one who is calling us into relationship with him and others, and who wants us to run beautifully in the paths of freedom that he has set for us. Very often, all we need to do is to say: “God, I’m sorry and I need you.”
The summary of this is that if we’re currently in a place where we are flying in faith, let us give thanks for that, keep running and listening to Christ’s call. If we’re in a place where we’re trudging, let us ask ourselves what is cutting us up, and bring that before Jesus – in prayer, mindful that he is on our side and is not haranguing us. It may also help to talk it through with someone we trust.
We can be confident that Jesus represents the truth and sees things far more clearly, impartially, and lovingly than we ever can, and wants us to run in the ways of freedom.
 “Not Infallible Version” (S. Ponsonby)