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The Race Set Before Us

 

Have you ever run a race? Maybe for school sports or even professionally? Today, there are many different types of races which people compete in, either for fun or professionally, from drag races to Olympic sports like swimming or triathlons and everything in between. But what does that have to do with the Bible? 

Scripture actually likens being a follower of Jesus Christ to running a race:

Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, 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,

Hebrews 12:2, 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 has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The Greek word for race, Agon, is defined in the Word Study Dictionary as: strife, contention, contest for victory, or mastery such as was used in the Greek games of running, boxing, wrestling, and so forth. (1)

These Greek/Isthmian games, which were the Olympic sports of that time, are referenced a few times in Scripture by the Apostle Paul. He used these terms to convey a message to the people of that time, explaining the journey in this life as a Christian. These references were very fitting considering Jesus also used parables to teach (ref Mat 13).

The Church of Corinth was located in Ancient Greece, and people of that culture would have understood the references very well, and very likely have watched the games themselves. Therefore, likening the Isthmian games to being a Christian would have been a very easy concept for them to grasp. But, why is our journey on this earth likened to running a race? The Apostle Paul once again explains the purpose of our race on this earth as Christians:

1 Corinthians 9:24, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.

1 Corinthians 9:25, And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.

1 Corinthians 9:26, Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.

1 Corinthians 9:27, But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”

The athletes of these games would have had to have undergone and endured vigorous and intense training to have been crowned the victor. However, the glory and praise they received was only temporary on earth. Apostle Paul was using this as a metaphor, encouraging everyone to run after an imperishable crown, figuratively mentioned as a symbol of the reward of eternal life (2Ti 4:8; Jas 1:12; 1Pe 5:4; Rev 2:10; Rev 3:11). (2)

The prize for running the race set before us is eternal life with God. Jesus, Himself, said that it would be those who endure to the end that would be saved (ref Mat 24:13). Endurance being a keyword within this passage of Scripture:

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, 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,” (Hebrews 12:1). 

Endurance is the Greek word Hupomonē, and is associated with hope (ref 1Th 1:3). It refers to that quality of character which does not allow one to surrender to circumstances or succumb under trial. (3) 

One who has endurance is someone who doesn’t give up, no matter how much pressure they are under, or how much they want to surrender. Trials and tribulation are something that should come as no surprise to Christians. In the parable of the seed and the sower, Jesus said they would come for the sake of the Word:

Matthew 13:20, “But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy;

Matthew 13:21, yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.”

The Apostle Paul understood the importance of being patient and enduring tribulation as did the Apostle James who said to count it all joy when entering into trials. Both men understood the purpose of preserving and enduring through tribulation was to produce the character of Christ, or the fruit of the Spirit in us:

Romans 5:3, “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance;

Romans 5:4, And perseverance, character, and character, hope.”

James 1:2, “Consider it nothing but joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you fall into various trials.

James 1:3, Be assured that the testing of your faith [through experience] produces endurance [leading to spiritual maturity, and inner peace].

James 1:4, And let endurance have its perfect result and do a thorough work, so that you may be perfect and completely developed [in your faith], lacking in nothing.” (AMP)

Jesus is the example we looked towards as the author and finisher of our faith (ref Heb 12:2); who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross (ref Heb 12:2). Apostle Paul, who went through many hardships including: imprisonments, shipwrecks and stonings, as well as many years of enduring, also completed his race saying:

2 Timothy 4:5, “But be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:6, For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.

2 Timothy 4:7, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

2 Timothy 4:8, 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.”

This race set before us is no short sprint; but in fact, more like a marathon! We are called to let go of the weight of sin and choose to keep running, even if we want to give up. We must allow the Lord to heal our souls by removing and purifying sin from our lives. Don’t give up saints, finish out what God has started in your life, for your reward is waiting!

References:

  1. Race: agṓn Strongs number: G73 (Word Study dictionary) 
  2. Athletics: athléō, Strong’s number G118 (Word Study dictionary)
  3. Crown: ​​stéphanos, Strong’s number G4735 (Word Study dictionary)
  4. Endurance: hupomonē, Strong’s Number G5281 (Word Study dictionary)


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