“I have run the race to the finish.”—2 Timothy 4:7
[From ws 04/20 p.26 June 29 – July 5 2020]
According to the preview, the focus of the article is how all of us can win the race for life, even if we suffer the effects of advancing age or a debilitating illness.
The first paragraph starts out by asking whether anyone would like to run a race that is difficult, especially when feeling sick or tired. Well, the answer to that really depends on what is at stake. If we are talking about the Olympics which only takes part every 4 years, then a world champion would likely want to participate in that race even when feeling sick (In your own time search for Emil Zatopek in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics). For most of us though, we would not want to run a difficult race unless something important was at stake. Is something important at stake? Yes, definitely, we are in the race for life.
What was the context of Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 4:7?
Paul was about to be executed as a Martyr while imprisoned in Rome:
“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” – 1 Timothy 4:6-8 (New International Version)
What had helped the Apostle Paul to be able to show such great zeal and strength? Let us examine whether we can find the answer to this question in this week’s study.
Paragraph 2 correctly says that the apostle Paul said that all true Christians are in a race. Hebrews 12:1 is cited. But let us read verses 1 to 3.
“So, then, because we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also throw off every weight and the sin that easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 as we look intently at the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus. For the joy that was set before him he endured a torture stake, despising shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Indeed, consider closely the one who has endured such hostile speech from sinners against their own interests, so that you may not get tired and give up”
What would we say are the important points in Paul’s words above when talking to Christians about being in a race?
- We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses
- We should throw off every weight and the sin the easily entangle us
- We should run the race with endurance
- We should look intently [bold ours] at the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus
- For the joy that was set before him, he endured a torture stake
- Consider closely the one who has endured such hostile speech from sinners against their own interests, so that you may not get tired and give up
This scripture is so powerful when considering this specific topic and we will come back to each aspect at the end of this review.
WHAT IS THE RACE?
Paragraph 3 states the following:
“Paul sometimes used features from the games held in ancient Greece to teach important lessons. (1 Cor. 9:25-27; 2 Tim. 2:5) On a number of occasions, he used running as in a footrace to illustrate the Christian course of life. (1 Cor. 9:24; Gal. 2:2; Phil. 2:16) A person enters this “race” when he dedicates himself to Jehovah and gets baptized (1 Pet. 3:21) He crosses the finish line when Jehovah grants him the prize of everlasting life.” [Bold ours]
A review of 1 Peter 3:21 shows that it does not support the statement regarding dedication and baptism that is made in paragraph 3.
The scripture simply states that baptism which is the pledge of a clear conscience to God saves us as Christians. Paul did not state that we needed to dedicate ourselves and get baptized before we enter this race. Since dedication is a private matter the race really begins when we make the decision to be Christ’s disciples.
|After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God – 1 Peter 3:19-21 (New International Version)
For a more detailed discussion on baptism see the following articles
Paragraph 4 outlines three similarities between running a long-distance race and living a Christian life.
- We need to follow the right course
- We must focus on the finish line
- We have to overcome challenges along the way
The next few paragraphs then examine each of three points in detail.
FOLLOW THE RIGHT COURSE
Paragraph 5 says that runners must follow the course laid out by the organizers of the event. Similarly, we must follow the Christian course to receive the prize of everlasting life.
The paragraph then cites two scriptures to support that statement:
“Nevertheless, I do not consider my own life of any importance to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear thorough witness to the good news of the undeserved kindness of God”. – Acts 20:24
“In fact, to this course you were called, because even Christ suffered for you, leaving a model for you to follow his steps closely.” – 1 Peter 2:21
Both scriptures are relevant to this discussion. Perhaps 1 Peter 2:21 is even more so. This is very similar to the words in Hebrews 12:2 which we considered at the beginning of this review.
What about the words in Acts? This scripture is also appropriate because Jesus centered his life around his ministry and therefore that would be a commendable course for us to follow. However, while we cannot say this with absolute certainty, it seems like another subtle attempt to focus Witnesses on the door to door work, particularly when you consider paragraph 16 later in this review.
There are many other scriptures that are relevant to this discussion not cited in this Watchtower article. For instance think of James 1:27 which says “The form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself without spot from the world.” Did Jesus look after widows and orphans? Without doubt. What a fine example Jesus really was to all of us.
STAY FOCUSED AND AVOID STUMBLING
Paragraph 8 to 11 provide good counsel on not allowing our mistakes or the mistakes of others to stumble us but rather for us to focus and keep the prize clearly in mind.
KEEP RUNNING DESPITE CHALLENGES
Paragraph 14 also brings out a good point: “Paul had to deal with many challenges. In addition to being insulted and persecuted by others, he at times felt weak and he had to cope with what he called “a thorn in the flesh.” (2 Cor. 12:7) But rather than view those challenges as a reason for giving up, he saw them as an opportunity to rely on Jehovah.” If we focus on examples such as Paul and other servants of God who form part of “the great cloud of witnesses” we will be able to imitate Paul and endure trials.
Paragraph 16 says:
“Many older and infirm ones are running on the road to life. They cannot do this work in their own power. Instead, they draw on Jehovah’s strength by listening to Christian meetings over a telephone tie-line or watching meetings through video streaming. And they engage in the disciple-making work by witnessing to doctors, nurses, and relatives.”
While there is nothing wrong with watching meetings with video streaming and preaching to doctors and nurses, would that have been Jesus’ focus when encountering the sick and the lame? No. He of all people understood the importance of the ministry, but whenever he met the poor, the sick, or the lame, he would feed them, heal them, and give them hope. In fact, his actions resulted in praise for Jehovah (See Matthew 15: 30-31). We would provide a more powerful witness if we showed care and concern for the elderly and infirm rather than expecting them to preach. Those of us with strength and good health would be able to seize the opportunity to show others how Jehovah’s wonderful qualities are evident in our own actions and tell them about the promises for the future when we visit those in need. Then, when others see how our faith moves us to do good works, they would in turn praise Jehovah (John 13:35).
Paragraphs 17 to 20 also provides some good counsel with regards to dealing with physical limitations, anxiety, or depression.
Overall, the article provides some good advice. But we need to be careful of the Organizational slant in Paragraph 16.
Expanding on Hebrews 12:1-3 would have added greater depth to the article.
Paul explains what we need to do run the race with endurance:
- Focus on the great cloud of witnesses. Long-distance runners always run in groups to help them set the pace. We can benefit from imitating the faith “pace” of other Christian “runners” in the race for life.
- We should throw off every weight and the sin that easily entangles us. Marathon runners usually wear very light clothing to avoid anything weighing them down. We should avoid anything that would deter or slow us down in our Christian course.
- Look intently at the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus. Jesus is the best runner there ever was in the race for life. His example is worthy of consideration and imitation. When we see how he was able to deal with ridicule and persecution to the point of death, and still show the love he showed for humankind, we will be able to endure.