Upon hearing of the passing of a professor and former vice president of the seminary I attended many years ago, I was touched by the words his wife shared when speaking of his final hours before his death. She described a scene in which his family gathered at his bedside. Those present expressed love and appreciation to him. She noted his desire to encourage others in their faith and assure them of his love for them and his Lord Jesus Christ. He spoke of how he eagerly looked forward to seeing Christ and thanking Him for sacrificing Himself for him.
As I reflected on the man’s service at the seminary, in the Church, and on the mission field, I was impressed by his eagerness to see and personally thank Christ for all He had done on his behalf.
What a wonderful example of both the life and death of one who was truly committed to running the race set before him in a manner truly pleasing to the Lord.
While contemplating the man’s life, the thought came to mind, “He ran the good race and wasn’t merely an also-ran.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines an “also-ran” as “A loser in a race or other contest, especially by a large margin.”
In long-distance road running events, it is common to see an aerial view of hundreds of runners spread out and far behind the leaders. As impressive as their personal effort may be, those to the rear of the race are far from winning or influencing the outcome of the race and thus, by definition also-rans.
As someone who competed and won at a high level in various athletic events, I disdained being an “also-ran.” In fact, winning meant little to me if I failed to couple it with a good, solid effort as well.
Undoubtedly, there are many who can relate to these sentiments when in relation to athletics, education, work, and the like. But what about our performance in regards to serving Christ? Do we approach it with the same level of zeal as when striving to attain earthly trophies?
As we contemplate the race we run with and for Christ, it is essential we consider the essentials noted in the Bible.
In the book of 1 Corinthians chapter 9 verses 24 through 27 the apostle Paul says, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
Clearly, the apostle had no intentions on being an “also-ran” when it came to running of Christ’s behalf. In verse 24 Paul challenges us to “Run in such a way that you may win.”
The winning Paul refers to is not based on man’s understanding, but God’s. From man’s perspective, winning is merely the act of outdoing one’s earthly peers. From Christ’s perspective, how we run every step of the race is of greater significance than simply outperforming someone else. Likewise, Christ’s standard of measurement is contrary to man’s.
This becomes evident when we see in Matthew chapter 20 verse 21 the mother of James and John requested Jesus grant her sons places of honor in His kingdom. The Lord took her request and turned it into an opportunity to educate His followers as to the nature of spiritual success. In verse 25 He says, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26 It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
The quality and nature of how one runs the Christian race is as important as “winning” it.
Paul emphasizes personal intention, intensity, and consistency. Jesus emphasizes humility and servitude. All are essential components of the Christian race.
The Christian race demands us to engage with the proper intention. Thus, we must ask ourselves, why are we running in this race. What does winning look like? What is the substance of winning? Is winning quantified by amassing funds or numbers?
In the gospel of Luke chapter 21 verses 1 through 4, Jesus paints a picture of winning the Christian race in the form of a poor widow. There it says, “And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. 2 And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins. 3 And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; 4 for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.”
Jesus made it perfectly clear that one’s intention for doing what they are doing as a Christian runner is of utmost importance. Those looking for the place of honor must validate it through humble acts of servitude. And those looking for standards of giving must not look to the wealthy offering up a portion of their riches, but the poor who gave hardly anything, but what they gave was all that they had.
Notice, in 1 Corinthians 9:27 the apostle Paul shares a sobering insight when he says, “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
How in the world might someone who sacrificed everything for Christ be disqualified— wrong or poor intentions!
Christ makes this perfectly clear when He unveils the future in Matthew chapter 7 verses 21 through 23. There he says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”
Notice, there will be some who performed incredible things like prophecy, casting out demons, and many miracles. These people performed some incredible things, or at least are claiming to have done so, but regardless of their legitimacy, the Lord says in verse 23, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”
Depart from Me. On what basis? Poor intentions. Christ knew their hearts and knew that whatever had transpired, they did not glorify Him, but themselves.
When Paul said, “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified,” he’s essentially saying, I discipline my intentions, desires, and cravings, because I know that failure to do so, may twist and warp any good I have done and validate not that I have run a good race, but a race consisting of self, not Savior.
Not only is one’s intentions important when running the Christian race, but one’s intensity is as well. Paul underscores this in 1 Corinthians 9:24 when he says, “Run in such a way that you may win.” Winning such a race demands personal intensity. An intensity that delivers not an “also-ran” result, but that of a winner!
Why is intensity important? Because intensity indicates where our heart lies. Are we truly seeking to seek and serve Christ? Or are we merely going through the motions?
In the book of Revelations chapter 3 verses 14 through 22 the Lord calls out the church of Laodicea saying, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.”
What is the Lord troubled by? The people’s lukewarm attitude. The lukewarmness spoken of here indicates a lack of intensity on the part of the people of that church. Because of their wealth, they have opted to kick back and take it easy, rather than engage and run the Christian race vigorously.
The Lord is not attempting to scare these people. Rather, He’s giving them a wake-up call—not because He hates them, but because He loves them. If He didn’t love them, He would not have warned them of their sorry state.
In verse 19 He says, ”Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.” What does repent mean? It means to turn away from the fruitless direction one is going and return to the Lord. How do they validate their intention to do so? By turning from their luke-warm behavior and embracing a level of intensity worthy of the Lord.
Lastly, the race demands personal consistency as well.
We see such a consistency noted by Paul in 2 Timothy chapter 4 verses 6 through 8, there Paul says, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8 in the future there is laid up 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 loved His appearing.”
Notice in verse 7 Paul says, “I have finished the course.” Finishing the course demands consistency. To finish demands that one does things in such a way as to be able to finish. If one is lukewarm and not engaged, they may find themselves stepping into a pothole and thereby taken out of the race.
Personal consistency demands maintaining one’s focus.
In Hebrews chapter 12 verse 1, the writer says, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
The author of Hebrews rightly points out that in this race the sure way to maintaining consistency is by “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.”
Jesus has already successfully completed the race. He perfectly fulfilled the wishes of His Father. And now seeks to help us to do likewise as the perfecter of faith.
We do not run this race alone. As Hebrews says, there is a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us and cheering us on. And more importantly, there is our Lord, Jesus Christ, who is lovingly and patiently perfecting our faith in such a way as we successfully run the entire race to completion and thereby receive the crown of glory.
The Lord has called His true children to run the good race with right intention, with fullness of intensity, and God-centered consistency.
If you have fallen to the wayside or grown weary of the race, remember, just as the Lord waited patiently for the Laodiceans to reengage; He wants each of us to reengage as well. It is never too late to get back into the race of races! The Lord has called us to be much more than “also-rans.”