In several of his New Testament letters, the Apostle Paul compares the walk of faith to organized sports. For example, when writing to the church in Corinth, the host city for the ancient Olympics (Isthmian Games), he parallels spiritual warfare to boxing (1 Cor. 9:26). Throughout his epistles there are references to other athletic competitions. But repeatedly, Paul comes back to the analogy between our faith walk and running a race. Towards the end of his life, he says to his young son-in-the-faith Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).
I used to be a runner way back when I was on my high school cross country team. Although I was one of the slower guys of the bunch, I still managed to run a 5k in under twenty minutes. During some of our practices, we did some fairly long runs—ten miles or so. I remember often wanting to stop to take a break on some of those lengthy runs, but because I was running with better, more disciplined runners than myself, I was motivated (just to save face) to keep up with them and press onward.
Subsequently, after high school, I remember going on runs with friends that were slower and even more unmotivated than I was. Unlike in my cross country practice days, the reverse effect was true on these runs. The people that I ran with didn’t encourage me to keep going, but rather, to slow down, or even stop running; their presence hindered me instead of helping me.
Who you run with has a great deal to do with how well you run.
Paul makes an interesting observation to the church in Galatia and then asks them a very thought-provoking question, “You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?” (Gal. 5:7).
It’s fascinating to me that Paul doesn’t ask what hindered them from running well and obeying the truth but who hindered them. As we run this race called the Christian life, it’s so common that someone, not something, gets us off track. We wake up one day and realize that our fellowship with Jesus is so strained and we feel so far from God and usually, we can look back and point to a person who hindered, side tracked, us along the way.
Maybe it’s someone with a critical, negative spirit that we constantly allow to speak into our lives. Without realizing it, the association with this type of person and their influence over us stifles and stymies our faith and the call of God we've been given.
Or maybe it’s a friend or family member that maintains values and ideals completely contrary to yours. Instead of standing firm in your convictions, your alliance with them has actually sidetracked you from God’s best for you and has compromised your integrity.
Maybe you’re just jealous of what your friends or neighbors have. Their possessions, relationships, status. You're not able to focus on your own race because you're so busy looking over your shoulder at their stamina, their progress. The classic “coveting your neighbor” dilemma (Exodus 20:17).
The bottom line is that people can hinder us from “running the race” well. Along the way we must consistently re-evaluate who we’re running with. Who’s encouraging us and who’s dragging us down? As painstakingly difficult as it may be, there are times in life where relationships must be altered or even severed so that we can run our race with excellence. And we can only do this as we keep our eyes focused on Jesus:
“Let us strip off everything that slows us down, especially the sin that trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT).