Bible Study: Finishing the Race

Since the end of school, I’ve been thinking of  this verse, and I thought kids could use some encouragement to finish the race strong.  When you come near the finish line, a good runner will push his body harder rather than ease up and coast across the line.  The same should be true in life including nearing the end of a school year.

So, I think studying races and sports analogies in the Bible was very fitting and encouraging.  A great place to start is Hebrews 12:1-2:

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,  Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

These are some of the thoughts I had on this verse:

Cloud of Witnesses

Remember that Paul just finished in the previous chapter talking about the faith of the Bible characters.  Many times we refer to Hebrews 11 as the “Hall of Faith”.  I think Paul is painting the picture of all these people sitting in the stands watching us run a race.  They are all cheering for us to finish and win.

Stadium (Reminding us of stands of witnesses)
CC by Julienna Savage

In all fairness, I am not sure whether or not those in heaven can actually look down on us.  I couldn’t find another place in the Bible where it specifically talks about people in heaven watching the events on the either.  When I looked up the Greek definition, it mentioned witnesses as in a court witness.  These testify that faith is worthwhile and gives us the ability to run the race.  They are proof that we can run the race and win if we follow their example.

One of the most encouraging things about these characters is that the Bible says that these people are nothing special.  They aren’t superheros; they are just regular human-beings just like you and me.

After God used Paul to heal a crippled man in the cities of Lycaonia, the people began to worship him and treat him as a god.  Paul responded in this verse:

Acts 14:15  And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein:

James, in speaking of the power of prayer, mentions Elijah.  The point is that it is not anything about the person that makes a difference, it is the prayer and the God to whom the prayer goes.

James 5:17 Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.

Reducing the Weight

cc by Thomas Faivre-Duboz on Flickr via Wikipedia

One thing that you’ll notice about track runners is that their outfit and gear are as light as possible.  They don’t wear stylish shorts that show off the team’s color and logo.  Instead they wear things that will not impede their movement.  Track shoes are also especially designed for running on the track.  They are light as a feather, and they have spikes that dig in and grip the rubber track.

In our Christian race, we need to do the same.  First, sin will weigh us down and prevent us from running our race effectively.  God is a holy God that cannot stand sin.  Therefore, sin in our life tears down our relationship with Him.  Since God is our strength, running without that relationship is worthless.

On top of that, we may have things in our life that are not wrong, but they impede us.  It may be something that causes us to be tempted to sin.  Or, it may be something that distracts us from doing things for God that we should.  For example, a hobby may cause us to constantly skip church.  The hobby may not be wrong, but it can become a weight that slows us in our race.

So, we need to even get rid of good things that could lead to bad.  We can follow the example of runners the way they sometimes go the extreme in choosing light-weight gear.  Jesus speaks of the seriousness of avoiding hindrances in Mark:

Mark 9:47  And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire:

Patience

CC Rodrigo Moraes via Wikipedia

These pictures aren’t exactly made for judging technique, but notice the difference between the two in the height over the hurdles.  When running hurdles, you don’t want to “jump”.  When you jump, you float through the air and the coasting slows you down.  The technique of hurdling gets you back to the ground as fast as possible so that you can propel your body one more step.

CC starryeyez024 via Photopedia

The tough part about hurdling is when you get to the end of a race.  It’s particularly true on the 300m or 400m hurdles because it is a much longer sprint.  That last hurdle is hardest one.  Notice how much the runner has to stretch to get his legs over the hurdle at minimum height.  That takes some patience and endurance to push your body to do that when your muscles are screaming at the end of a sprint.

In my mind, that’s the form of patience that God is calling us to in this passage.  When the going gets tough, keep your eye on the finish line and stretch for it!

To, see the importance that patience plays in our race, take a look at Romans 2:6-7.  Now, keep in mind that, if we were solely judged on our works or anything we could do, we would be hopeless.  Yet, as Paul discusses judgement, I think you can see God’s value system.  Patience is one of those things he values:

Romans 2:6-7 Who will render to every man according to his deeds:  To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:

If it is so important, how do we strengthen our patience muscle?  The Bible suggests tribulation.  The struggles we go through are designed to help us grow more patient through the race.

Romans 5:3-4 And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;  And patience, experience; and experience, hope:

James 1:3-4  Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.  But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

So, it is a hurdle race.  We should stretch out and give our best to each hurdle.  Ironically, in God’s race, this hurdle will give us the strength and patience to cross the next.

Another source of patience is the Bible.  As we read what God did in the past, we can have the patience to trust that God will do those sames things as we run our race.

Romans 15:4-5  For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.  Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus:

I was amazed at the number of times that patience and faith go together.  Even in this passage, as Paul is talking about patience here, he is clearly building on a chapter of faith.  Here is a list of other verses that put the two together: I Thessalonians 1:3, II Thessalonians 1:4, I Timothy 6:11, II Timothy 3:10, Titus 2:2, Hebrews 6:12, James 1:3, Revelation 2:19, Revelation 13:10, and Revelation 14:12.  So, I think the point is that faith and patience go hand-in-hand.  You can be patient and wait because you have put your trust in God to take care of everything.

In the long run, it’s just a short time.  The finish line is in sight.

II Corinthians 4:17  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;

It’s a Race with a Prize

CC Tety via Wikipedia

We’re not just running for the sake of running.  We are racing toward a finish line, and there is a prize at the end.  So, we should be striving to do our best.

I Corinthians 9:24-27  Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.   And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.   I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:   But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

We have to be careful about our works that they count toward that prize.  Some of the things we do are worthless, and do not amount to anything.  A runner watches his movements that they all aid toward getting him to that finish line.  You don’t see a runner flailing his arms or itching his neck.  No, each movement works toward aiding the body to run to the finish.

I Corinthians 3:12-15  Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;  Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.  If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.  If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

If you look at the letters to the 7 churches, you’ll find that Jesus mentions their patience as one of the attributes He is proud of.  For Ephesus, look in Revelation 2:2-3.  For Thyatira, look in Revelation 2:19.  For Philadelphia, look in Revelation 3:10, and you’ll see the common theme of patience used in combating temptation.

Jesus is our inspiration

CC by Walter Baxter

I think the picture painted in our passage is that Jesus is waiting at the finish line cheering and encouraging us toward Him.

First, Jesus is described as the author of our race.  Remember, that Jesus is the creator, and not only did He create everything we know in this word, but He also holds it together.

Colossians 1:16 – 17  For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:   And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

In addition to creating the world, He created our plan of salvation.  He bought us by laying down His life on the cross and paying our punishment.  Without that sacrifice, we would not be able to run this race at all.

Matthew 28:20  Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many

Secondly, Jesus is described as the finisher.  He’s been through it before:

Hebrews 4:14-16  Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.  For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

To, tie it all together, John describes the patience of Jesus Christ.  That patience we talked about earlier was modeled by Jesus.

Revelation 1:9 I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Run

cc by ChunkySoup via Wikipedia

So, we’ve explored many parts of this passage, but we’re leaving out the most important part.  The Bible says run, but how do I run?  Am I supposed to buy stock in a running shoe company and keep wearing out pair after pair of shoes running around?

I thought I knew what it was talking about, but the challenge was finding a verse that explained it.  I want to let the Bible interpret itself.  This passage is what stood out to me:

I Timothy 6:11-14  But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.  Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.  I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession;  That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Like our main passage, this one exhorts us “until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ”.  Yet, instead of running, the challenge is to “keep this commandment”.  I would like to suggest that maybe the two passages are talking about the same thing and that we run by keeping “this commandment”.

So, what is “this commandment”.  My first thought was the command was from verse 11: to “flee these things” and to “follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, pateience, and meekness”.  That, in and of itself, is a big enough task to take a lifetime.

In reading some commentaries, I found that maybe “this commandment” refers to the Bible as a whole or at least Paul was referring to the current letter he was writing: I Timothy.  That makes sense, and I am not sure it is that different from what I thought anyway.  Much of the Bible exhorts us to do the things of verse 11.

Therefore, if we could boil it down to just a couple of verses, we would have to choose these:

Matthew 22:35-40  Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,  Master, which is the great commandment in the law?  Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.   This is the first and great commandment.   And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.   On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

That would take a lifetime to accomplish: a race worth running.

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