The Bible often likens living the Christian life to that of a race or some other athletic competition. Paul wrote, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain” (I Cor. 9:24). To Timothy, he wrote, “And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully” (II Tim. 2:5). And, the Hebrew writer says, “…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).
In both cases, athletic competition and striving for eternal life, there is a prize to be won; a corruptible one for the athletic competition, an incorruptible one for the Christian life. Paul wrote, “Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible” (I Cor. 9:25). The material prizes of this life will all come to an end, they are temporal, the crown of life is eternal (II Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; I Pet. 5:4).
In both cases there are certain factors that must be taken into consideration if one plans to compete. First, it must be understood that not all will win. In the athletic realm, there may well be more than one winner, as in team events, yet no one expects everyone to win. It is understood that some win and some lose. Jesus said, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:24). Secondly, all are aware that one must “play by the rules” in order to be declared a winner. Paul told Timothy, “yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully” (II Tim. 2:5). There are rule books and manuals for every sport. All involved in any specific competition, must be playing by the same rule book. So it is with the race of life, the rule book is the gospel of Christ, for by it we will be judged in the last day (John 12:48; Rom. 2:16). There are other important aspects of competing in such a way as to be declared a winner, but for the remainder of this article, let us zero in on three words that will help us to be a winner once we have secured and learned the rules by which to play.
Our three words will come from a statement by the apostle Paul concerning how he planned to receive the prize. Paul wrote, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).
Our first word is “forget”. Paul said that he forgot those things that were past. Just forget the past failures and the past successes. There used to be an old saying something like, “a mill doesn’t grind with the water that has already flowed through”. What one has or has not done in the past has no bearing on what they will do in the future, unless they spend too much time looking back. One cannot be a winner if they let distractions take their mind from their goal. Therefore, forget the audience, the pain and all other distractions. When competing for the eternal crown of life, don’t let the “stuff” of this life distract you from your efforts to reach your goal. On the sidelines: riches will call for you, pleasure will beckon and friends will tempt you to turn their way. Just forget those things of the past. And this brings us to our second word.
After forgetting those past things, let us “focus” on the goal. Paul said, “this one thing I do” (Phil. 3:13). Paul was focused on just one thing, pleasing the Lord. The one who has won a race is often heard to say that they just focused on the finish line, never taking their eyes off it. So must we do, if we want to receive the prize of life. The Hebrew writer said, “…let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:1-2). Peter was a winner as he walked on the waters of the Sea of Galilee (Matt. 14:29). However, when he allowed himself to be distracted and took his eyes off the Lord, he began to lose (Matt. 14:30). Not only should we keep our eyes on the Lord, the captain of our salvation (Heb. 2:10), but also on the horizon which glows with the brightness of the crystal city of God, heaven. The Hebrew writer said, “Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil” (Heb. 6:19).
Our final word is “finish”. One will never be a winner if he is a quitter. The old saying goes, “winners never quit and quitters never win. Peter wrote, “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world though the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning” (II Pet. 2:20). Paul said that we are to “continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel…” (Col. 1:23). Just keep on keeping on and the finish line will come. You know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord (I Cor. 15:58). Be not “weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Gal. 6:9).
Feel free to use these three words in any future attempts to win in some athletic competition if you like. However, it would serve you much better to use them in an endeavor to win the prize of the high calling of God.
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