I’ve talked about testing, sifting, and having a solid foundation when the storms come. The Christian walk is often compared to a race. This is a steady, ongoing journey down the path of life. Testing and sifting and storms can and will come, but these are often just interruptions to the race, obstacles that have to be overcome and worked through. But people leave or quit the race during quiet, peaceful, “normal” times, too. When things seem to be going so well.
Let’s start by looking at someone who was victorious in the running of his race, the Apostle Paul. As we read, I’m going to make notes about what his race looked like and the obstacles he had to deal with. Take note of all the places along the way he could have chosen to quit or leave the path. Read Acts 20:17-27
Look at verses 26 & 27. What is he getting at here? “innocent of the blood of all men” and “the whole will of God.” Read Ezekiel 3:16-21. This goes back to Acts 20:21 “repentance” and “faith in our Lord Jesus.” Paul was preaching a balanced gospel, the gospel of judgment and love.
To run a successful race, we have to preach (and live) a balanced gospel. We have to call people to acknowledge their sin and come to repentance. Then we can tell them the good news that Christ’s sacrifice covered our sin and that our debt to God is paid through Jesus’ blood. Without repentance Christ’s sacrifice is meaningless and without Christ’s sacrifice confessing one’s sin is pointless, as we can not pay the debt ourselves. It just makes one depressed and without hope, if you think you have to pay this debt by yourself.
Think about what it would be like trying to run, or even walk, a race with a backpack or book bag on one shoulder, like many school kids do. You’ll drift off to one side or at least have difficulty staying on the path. If you are going to carry a backpack, you need to have it evenly distributed.
As we read on in Acts 20, we see him warning the elders of the church of Ephesus of obstacles that they will have to face in their race as a church, and as individuals. Read Acts 20:28-32. Their race includes watching over the sheep and protecting them from wolves. Paul even said that there were going to be elders that were going to distort the truth.
Here we will have two groups of people leaving the race at this point. 1) the ungodly elder will distort the truth and leave the race. Why? Because he or she will be tempted by pride, fame, and maybe even greed over the hard path of obeying God in all things and submitting to the authorities of those over him/her. He or she will want to lead and have people following THEM. 2) the ignorant, unschooled, fleshly, and lazy sheep will leave the path, the race, because they like the look of this “new” leader over the boring, convicting, or uncomfortable truths being preached in the “old” Ephesus church.
Paul warns Timothy to expect to have to deal with this second group in ministry. Read 2 Timothy 4:1-5. Look at verse 2 here: “correct, rebuke, and encourage” It is very balanced, dealing with the negative & the positive, in both what is said and in how it is said. I wish God would grant me 2 Timothy 4:5 “keep my head in ALL situations.”
In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he also warned the younger man about how some people will be enticed to leave the race. In Acts he called these kinds of people wolves. Look at how he describes them in 1 Timothy 4:1-5. What is one way we can prevent being deceived by wolves and hypocritical liars? Know the Word of God so well that when someone preaches anything otherwise you are immediately on alert. You have to know the real in order to recognize the counterfeit.
Let’s go back to Acts 20. As we read further, Paul makes more comments about how to run a successful race. Read Acts 20:33-35. As a side note, “it is better to give than receive” is a rare example of a quote from Jesus that is not included in the four Gospels. What are some ways we can help stay on the path and in the race? 1) Do not covet money or things 2) Work 3) Help the weak 4) Be a generous giver
Philippians 3 contains another good “race” passage. Paul gives the Philippians instructions about to win the race. Read Philippians 3:1. “Rejoice in the Lord”
Read Philippians 3:2-6. Another way that people are lured into leaving the path/race is through “confidence in the flesh.” That is “legalistic righteousness.” How do we stay on the path when we find ourselves wanting to be confident in the flesh. Read Philippians 3:7-9. You need to recognize that it is all rubbish! Give it all up. Discard it, recognize it has no importance.
What is of the utmost importance to Paul and keeps him from straying from the path? Knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Read Philippians 3:10-11. Paul makes 5 points here we should talk about at least briefly:
1. Know Christ
2. Power of his resurrection
3. Fellowship of sharing in His sufferings
4. Become like Him in His death
5. Attain resurrection from the dead
The next three verses in Philippians are essential for all runners of the Race to understand. Read Philippians 3:12-14. You have to recognize that you ALWAYS keep running the race to the point of death. You do not ever stop. You never obtain perfection in this life or ever say “enough”, “I’m done” or “I get to stop now.” There is always more to learn about Christ, more to press on toward, you never get to rest on your laurels. If the Apostle Paul believed this, how much more true for us! (There are no successful “retired” runners in this race.)
If we jump down to Philippians 3:17 we find Paul encouraging the Philippians to travel with those who want to stay on the path, you also want to run the race.
Then he talks about those who have left the race or have never chosen to run it. As we go through life it seems they are running right next to us, parallel, but their road is profoundly different, as is their destination. Read Philippians 3:18-19.
If we stay in God’s race and on the path, our destination is Heaven. In fact, as long as we continue to run the race, we have citizenship in Heaven, even though we haven’t arrived there yet. Read Philippians 3:20-21
Look at all these passages in Hebrews that talk about the race and how people quit and how they can win. Hebrews 2:1, 3:7-11, 6:1-6, 10:35-39, 12:1-3
Women’s Devotional Bible. New International Version