Yesterday we began to discuss the Scripture, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7). To fight the good fight, we must realize that we first must determine if a fight is worth fighting. If we abide in the Lord and go to Him first, we will know if we are to fight. And if we are to fight, then we must put on all of God’s armor because, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12).
In the 1st century, the Romans celebrated both the Olympic Games and the Isthmian Games. Competitors would spend up to ten months in arduous physical training. Because the Corinthians would understand his analogy, he used the comparison for a believer’s life of faithfulness. “Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable crown.” (1 Cor 9:24-25).
Paul’s exhortation is that believers should be as focused and dedicated as those ancient runners in the games. Our motivation in serving Christ is much higher; we “run” not for a temporary crown, but for an eternal one. In his letter to Timothy near the end of his life, Paul is not commending himself for having “run the full distance” (TEV); rather, he is simply describing what the grace of God had enabled him to do.
In the book of Acts, Paul says these powerful words: “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). So, by declaring “I have finished the race,” Paul is telling Timothy that he had put every effort into the work of proclaiming to all the gospel of salvation. He had completed the course set before him; he had left nothing undone. He was ready to cross the finish line into heaven.
In a race, only one runner wins. However, in the Christian “race,” everyone who pays the price of vigilant training for the cause of Christ can win. We are not competing against one other, as in athletic games, but against the struggles, physical and spiritual, that stand in the way of our reaching the prize. “I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:14)
Every believer runs his own race (1 Cor 9:24). Each of us is enabled to be a winner. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) Paul exhorts us to “run in such a way as to get the prize,” and to do this we must “lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith.” (Heb 12:1-2a). May we be diligent in our “race,” may we keep our eyes on the goal, and may we, like Paul, finish strong.