Life is a journey, not a destination, the joy is in the travels and experiences.
Apparently, racing has been around for a very long time. The first literary reference can be found in Homer’s Iliad; the earliest documented competitive races were the Ancient Greek Olympics of 776 BC. Anyone who has seen the movie Ben Hur is familiar with Roman chariot races during the reigns of Julius and Augustus Caesar.
There were undoubtedly many types of races throughout human history that have been lost to antiquity, most likely in connection with military training. The Peloponnesian and Punic Wars, along with expansion of the Assyrian, Persian and Roman empires, certainly did not take place with soldiers who could not run. Modern society has all kinds of races:
Human sprints, marathons and swim meets; skiing; chariots, automobiles, snowmobiles, trucks; motorcycles, bicycles, unicycles; sailboats, long boats, yachts, jet skis; aircraft; horses, ostriches (!), dogs, camels, pigeons, snails, cockroaches; the space race, etc. etc… You name it, somebody has tried to race it. This is our fast-paced, race-crazed society, which has inadvertently created the worst race of all: the so-called ‘rat race” (which this article is not about).
Also apparently, the concept of a “prize” or “crown” for the one who wins the race has been around for a long time. In the ancient Greek Olympics the winner was awarded an olive branch, which may seem to us a measly reward, but the real prize was fame and celebrity in their hometowns, along with being granted substantial sums of money, sculptors creating statues, poets writing songs … starting to sound a little like modern athletes/celebrities?
The apostle Paul mentions “race” and “prize” and “crown” no less than eleven times in his epistles. Apparently, he was quite a racing enthusiast himself. Paul’s race to salvation is the subject of this letter. He was not talking of running a competitive race where there is only one winner, but a race of perseverance to win the imperishable prize: the crown of salvation and eternal life given by Jesus Christ. This is a race where everyone who participates can be a winner, simply by focusing their lives on Christ and persevering to the goal.
No one puts forth the effort to run a race unless there is a tangible goal with an attainable prize:
“I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but [only] one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. Everyone who competes is temperate [Greek egkrateúetai] in all things. Now they [the ignorant and unbelievers] do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we [believers in Christ] for an imperishable crown” (Philippians 3:14; 1 Corinthians 9:24-25).
Of particular note here is the keyword egkrateúetai, the literal translation is “to exercise self-restraint.” The Oxford New American Dictionary defines ‘temperance’ as “to show moderation and self-restraint.” However, there seems to be quite a bit of disagreement as to how to translate egkrateúetai in this context.
I also find it quite interesting that Paul says those who compete are temperate in all things, not just racing. This not only means moderation in the everyday activities of life, but even the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:1-11) can be abused. To accept His gifts we must also accept the Holy Spirit’s guidance, allowing Him to show us the way to use them properly.
Without going into the reasons why, I prefer some translations over others. I believe the true meaning here of egkrateúetai, in relation to the race to salvation, is both self-control and discipline. These are characteristics required to train and prepare for a race, as well as being successful in almost any other activity or project. Success always comes at a price, and that is usually having to do things you don’t want and/or don’t like to do.
This is where perseverance comes into play, to carry us through difficult and troubled times, when God allows us to experience struggles that strengthen our spiritual lives. Steve Arterburn, in his book Healing Is a Choice, defines perseverance as “holding on for just one more day.” Another theological definition puts it this way: “Continuance in a state of grace leading finally to a state of glory” (Oxford Companion to Christian Thought).
Without self-control and perseverance, we are no better than the foolish in Psalm 49:12: “Nevertheless man, though in honor, does not understand; he is like the beasts that perish.”
To persevere, you must unload all the excess emotional baggage you may be dragging around. “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. For you have need of endurance, so … [you] are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul” (Hebrews 12:1-2; 10:36, 39) .
Paul also instructed us: “We glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit Who was given to us” (Romans 5:3-5). (See also 2 Peter 1:2-7.)
No matter how great your calling, your talent, your craving for the prize, without perseverance you will never reach the finish line.
Paul’s race was not a fleeting sprint, to be repeated in many heats, but a one-time lifelong marathon. Before we have the hope that we can persevere to win, we must have the faith that we will win. For without faith there can be no hope.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Hebrews 11:1; Romans 5:1-2).
But like any race, this one has rules. Paul says, “if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5). As for the rules of this race towards salvation, they are quite simple. Jesus summed them up like this:
“‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’” This is the first commandment.
And the second, like it, is this: “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31) .
“And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 4:21; 5:2-3).
So much for competition, for if we love our brother, how can we also compete with him?
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might … The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong” (Ecclesiastes 9:10-11) .
With that said, for you brethren in Christ, it’s time to start running if you have not done so already. But beware of the dangers, and don’t get this race confused with the stubbornness and rebellion of running from God (1 Samuel 15:23). Although anyone and everyone can run the race to God & salvation, there will always be temptations along the way:
“Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord. Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” [For] the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations” (James 5:11; 1:12; 2 Peter 2:9a).
Paul said in trepidation (or lack thereof), “now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:22-24).
As to what happens when we are about to cross that finish line, once again, Paul said it best: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 3:7-8)
And finally, Jesus’ promise to all those who finish the race:
“For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer … Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (John 5:22-23; Revelation 3:10-11; 2:10)
And our prize:
“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah). 61:10).