Some of you may recall that I have mentioned once or twice some of my experiences running track in college back in the day. I always enjoy reading Paul's letters because he also often used comparisons to running a race to illustrate the Christian life. I began running at an early age and experienced some success in the shorter, sprinting length races, but as I moved into college it became apparent I was not fast enough to compete with the elite. My coach at the time decided that I might have better success if I tried to run in a longer race such as the quarter mile and combined my sprinter speed with endurance.
Unfortunately this decision was made on the spur of the moment at an invitational meet in Las Vegas when the anchor man on our mile relay team pulled a hamstring muscle while warming up. It was unfortunate because no one likes to make a fool of himself in public, much less in front of a stadium full of people. I received the baton trailing the leaders by 15 yards or so and immediately did what I had always done and used my speed to catch and then pass those leaders. Believe me, running down the backstretch leading the race and hearing the crowd screaming was really giving me an adrenaline rush. Unfortunately however, that rush only lasted until I met the bear.
Now as a sprinter that never ran more than 200 yards at a time, I had never met Mr. Bear, and it wasn't something I was prepared for either. As I entered the last corner in a blaze of glory I suddenly felt like a massive weight had suddenly fallen on my shoulders and slowly but surely I began to slow down. My legs got heavy, my arms got weak, and it was a struggle to catch my breath. How quickly I went from leading the race to finishing dead last was as embarrassing as anything I ever experienced, and what words of encouragement did I receive from my coach and teammates? Say hello to Mr. Bear!
While you may have heard the expression “hitting the wall” to refer to this phenomenon, on our team it was called meeting Mr. Bear. As my career progressed, most of my efforts were about finding ways to avoid him so as to not be embarrassed like that again and with the help of my coaches I began to learn how to do just that. In his letter to Timothy, you can certainly see that Paul is “coaching” Timothy on how to run the race that Paul himself is close to finishing. Paul draws on his personal experiences to prepare Timothy for what he will experience, and to help him avoid the pitfalls that will certainly appear in his way. In the passage above I see at least three points Paul makes to Timothy which to me looks like advice on how to avoid the bear.
1. Stay committed to the Word of God. Paul says “I charge you...preach the Word.” The word for charge is diamartyromai in the Greek which means to “earnestly” and “solemnly” testify in such a way as to cause it to be believed. I learned that there was a certain strategy to running a longer race, and you had to commit to that strategy and not let others dictate how you ran your race. Here Paul tells Timothy that the first and most important thing to remember is to commit to the Word of God and not allow someone else to talk you into changing or ignoring what it says. Paul states clearly that the time will come where believers will listen to teachers who change or ignore what the Bible says because they want to hear what sounds good to them rather than what God has said.
All Scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV
2. Stay committed to the Work of God. Paul also says “fulfill your ministry”. Do you know what yours is? The Bible tells us that all believers have been given a spiritual gift to use in service for God and to further His kingdom. All believers should seek to know and use their spiritual gift whenever the opportunity presents itself. Paul also warns us that it will not be popular because he tells Timothy to “endure”. The word translated endure means to suffer or be afflicted with hardships and troubles. I'm sure many of us can relate to these words right now for I hear daily of believers who are suffering in one way or another, or being persecuted for what they believe. You prepare for that by focusing on the work you have to do and not be distracted by it's unpopularity with those who choose to reject.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, [which is] your reasonable service. Romans 12:1 NKJV
3. The reward is guaranteed. Standing on the top of the victory stand is something few people have an opportunity to experience in this life. Anybody who has will tell you that their first thought is that standing there getting your medal and hearing the applause of the crowd makes all the pain and struggles of training worthwhile. Yet while there can be only one winner in our earthly races, in the Heavenly race, all can win. Paul says that his race is almost over yet he knows his reward is waiting for him in heaven. What we as believers are running for is a “crown of righteousness” which the Lord will give to us when we stand before Him, and Paul says clearly that it is available to all. We don't have to worry if we will lose out to someone else, for in this race, all who run will win.
And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23-24 NKJV
Paul often compares the life of believers to running a race. When you run a long race it is a certainty that at some point you will meet the bear and he will jump on your back and try to weigh you down. One of the ways we were taught to defeat the bear was to focus our eyes on the finish line. I can tell you from experience that seeing the finish line and focusing on running through that tape can give you the boost you need to make it to the end. Paul wrote these words as he was approaching his finish line so it stands to reason that he knew what he was talking about when it comes to advice on how to run the race. Paul simply says we need to be committed to know the Word of God, do the Work of God, and be assured we will receive our reward from the Lord Himself on that day. We have God's Word on that!