Sunday, September 28, 2014

Finish the Race

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 4:7-8  NKJV

Something I remember from when I was very young was just how excited my father would get on the weekends getting ready to watch “Saturday Night Fights” on the television.  I think at the time I wondered a bit as to why watching two people fight was something to look forward to, but as I got older I began to realize that it was a sporting event, and not a disagreement between two people.  I eventually even became a fan of boxing, and followed the sport closely.  One thing which always impressed me, however, was the size and enthusiasm of the crowds which gathered to watch a championship fight between two contenders for the heavyweight crown.

When I read this passage from Paul, the reference to a “fight” couldn’t help but catch my attention so I decided to look closer at the language to better understand what Paul might be trying to say.  Imagine my surprise to find that the Greek word for fight used here is “agon” which when translated not only means a fight, but any struggle or contest.   Interestingly, it was also was used to refer to an assembly or gathering, especially one to witness the fight.  We know from history that the Greek culture was the origin of our Olympic Games, and this word would be used at that time to refer to not only those national games, but the place of assembly to watch them.

Obviously from the context, we understand that Paul is talking about his life as a believer, and the struggles he has endured as he tried to share the gospel on his many journeys.  He chooses to describe his life in terms that anyone at that time would understand, but also makes the point that the believer also receives a crown as a reward just as the participants of the Greek games did.  Life as a believer is a struggle against the powers of Satan, and all the clever ways he knows to deceive, manipulate, and lead us away from the path we have chosen.  

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.                                     Ephesians 6:12  NKJV

The race Paul is referring to is of course the Christian life, which is lived much like a race in that just as when running we take steps towards a goal, life itself is a series of steps which eventually lead to the finish.  The question is, or the fight that we have, is do we take those steps in the power of the Spirit, our new life, or do we stumble along in the flesh, trying to live according to our old ways of thinking?  One thing that I believe Paul is telling us here which may often be overlooked is that by his choice to use the word “agon”, he is also letting us know our struggle is very public and we are being watched just as runners in a race are watched.

Notice too, that Paul wants to make the point that he has finished the race and arrived at the finish line.  When I first began competing in long distance races, I was surprised at how many participants begin the race, but for one reason or another drop out and fail to finish.  I began to understand that although everyone begins the race full of energy and strength, as the race progresses some find that their strength begins to fail them.  I have never seen anyone drop out at the start of a race, but it’s only as the race gets long and difficult that people begin to fail. Since Paul makes the point that it is important to finish the race, where do we as believers get the strength to carry on when we begin to tire?

Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart,      Luke 18:1 NKJV

The word uses here for the phrase “losing heart” is “ekkakeo” which means “to be wearied out, exhausted, or spiritless”.  What Jesus is telling His listeners is that by praying we can avoid being weary, exhausted, and lose our spirit for serving Him as we run the race.  The older I get, the more I find myself using the rest stops along the way whenever I travel a long distance over a long period of time.  Unfortunately, I can also remember a time when I was young and those stops were not necessary.  As I see it, Jesus is telling us here that by continual prayer we can always be refreshed with what we need to continue our race without becoming tired and discouraged.

“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. “Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.                         Revelation 3:10-11  NKJV

These words from Jesus to the church at Philadelphia contain the promise we all are looking for, especially at this time in this world’s history and that is the promise of the rapture of the Church.  As the events leading up to this event, and especially the time after begin to unfold before our eyes, how easy is it to begin to get weary and discouraged just before the end of our race.  This is the time that all of us as believers should be taking Paul’s advice and be praying continually for the strength we need to finish the race and obtain the prize He has set before us.  When Paul talks about the crown he will receive, I believe He is talking about the crown of righteousness that Jesus will award to all those who have longed for His appearing.

There is no doubt in my mind that what we are seeing today can best be described as our finish line.  As we struggle to arrive there, the attacks we must endure will grow stronger and probably more frequent.  The possibility of discouragement will probably never be greater, so the question is, are you going to give up with the finish line in sight, or will you pray continually for the strength you need to finish the race and obtain the crown?  Jesus is coming quickly, don’t give up.

Keep watching.