Activity and Life versus Inactivity and Death
“Contend for victory in the right contest of the faith.”—1 Tim. 6:12, NW.
1. How did the ancient Greeks regard and react to their athletic events and heroes?
DO YOU want to see a packed stadium, jammed with excited people? Then just turn your mind back to ancient Corinth, and to its huge athletic stadium. Every two years that city—largest, richest and most festive of all Greece—was the scene of the nationally famous Isthmian athletic contest. For many days the contest held the spotlight for all Greece. The games were not mere sports. They had a religious background. Moreover, the people regarded athletes as symbols of military preparedness. Every soldier must be a highly trained athlete. Sports commanded national attention even more than today. During the games no more seats could be had; all standing room was crowded. Now the athletes march onto the field, about twice the size of the playing field at Yankee Stadium in New York city! The crowd is charged with excitement as it appraises the contestants. As the intensely contested events begin, every neck in the vast throng is stretched in order not to miss a single detail. Shouts of encouragement ring out for laboring champions. Mighty groans of despair betray losing favorites. Deafening applause greets the victor who finally prevails! Afterward the great throng floods the streets of Corinth, talking of nothing but these events for days. The winner is more highly honored than any other person on the entire isthmus. Idolized as a national hero, he possesses the crown of ivy leaves or, in later times, of pine leaves. Gifts are poured upon him and the city gives him a large pension for life. Cicero said that a Greek city celebrated its athletic winner more than Rome feted its greatest general on his return from conquering a nation.
2. Why was Paul’s reference to the Greek games so apt?
2 Knowing all about the games at Corinth, Paul compared the activity of the early Christians, Jehovah’s people, to athletic contests. By referring to runners, wrestlers and boxers in athletic contests he sharply illustrated the rewards of activity and the danger of inactivity. The Christians to whom he wrote knew the games well. Some at one time or another had undoubtedly been among the shouting crowds at the stadium. They could not avoid knowing about the games, for they were the topic of conversation everywhere they went. The requirements of the contestants produced powerful examples which apply to Christians today. The modern Olympic games, named for the ancient Olympic contests of Greece, forcefully remind us of the applicability today of Paul’s words about the ancient games.—1 Cor. 9:24-27; Phil. 3:13, 14.
3. In what ways did a victorious athlete’s life cut out a fitting pattern for us, and in respect to what issue?
3 Paul saw each Christian as a contestant in a giant stadium, as a ‘spectacle before men and angels.’ Satan the Devil had challenged Almighty God that men on earth could not maintain integrity to Jehovah. Paul remembered that Jehovah had entered faithful Abel and many after him onto his side of the contest. He showed that Jehovah was the founder of the Christian team captained by Christ Jesus. (1 Cor. 4:9; Heb. 11:4; 12:1, 2, NW) The Corinthian Christians knew well how aspiring athletes dedicated their whole lives to gaining the prize. Before they came to the stadium they regularly performed feats as difficult as those in the contest. They did not get their beauty of body, grace of performance, power and endurance from just a few weeks’ preparation. For the athlete to be sufficiently prepared required years of hard work by his actually doing the things performed in the games. He was required to lead a very strict life, with proper habits. The carefree life of dissipation indulged in by many Corinthians must be avoided. In many ways, as all Corinthian Christians could understand, the life of the victorious athlete cut out an appropriate pattern for the Christian to follow.
4-6. How was the importance of keeping the rules shown back there, and how does this apply to Christians?
4 The importance of keeping team rules and training rigorously had to be permanently impressed on the mind of the successful contestant. Each took a vow to adhere strictly to all rules and training requirements. His restricted life was devoted wholly to practice sessions and training. A criminal or spotted life disqualified one. The failure to obey rules kept one out of the contest. So too we must comply with all rules. An athlete might be first to reach the goal, yet if he had not complied with all the rules he would forfeit the prize. Even though we ran to the end we might lose the prize by not keeping the rules. Paul emphasized this when he said: “For fear that somehow I was running or had run in vain.”—Gal. 2:2, NW.
5 Sworn judges enforced rules of the ancient contest. They lived with the contestants day and night, from beginning of training, to ensure against cheating. They enforced rigorous training. The requirements of training prompted Paul to use it to illustrate points in his letters. Could one participate in the event before he had faithfully trained? No! Such training for us Paul emphasized, saying: “On the other hand, be training yourself with godly devotion as your aim. For bodily training is beneficial for a little, but godly devotion is beneficial for all things, as it holds promise of the life now and that which is to come.”—1 Tim. 4:7, 8, NW.
6 The theocratic organization, like a team, keeps the rules of Jehovah. It comes off with the crown of triumph. But will every participant be winner? Entrants number thousands. Not all of them win. Some lose because they do not obey the rules. In the field of contest what do we see? Many disobey the rules by not training or not running. Can they win without following the rules? Paul answered: “Moreover, if anyone contends even in the games, he is not crowned unless he has contended according to the rules.” (2 Tim. 2:5, NW) Disobedience by inactivity makes them quit the contest.—Matt. 10:22, NW.
7. Before we can obey the rules we must first have what?
7 But you must know the rules before you can obey them. How can you qualify unless you know what the rules are? They are easy for all to know, because they are in your Bible. Jehovah’s organization makes it easy for you to know the rules by publishing theocratic aids. The rules may be learned at congregation meetings, at service centers and in personal study.
8. How does one get his name on Jehovah’s list of contestants?
8 First, one must enter his name on the list of contestants. The sponsor of the event, Jehovah God, must know him to be a contender. You must recognize our team leader, Jesus Christ. (John 6:44, NW) You must follow in Jesus’ steps. What did Jesus first do? He dedicated himself to do his Father’s will. He said: “I am come to do your will.” (Heb. 10:7-9, NW; Ps. 40:8) So you must be dedicated, then be baptized. Are you? If not, you are not in the contest. So first get your name on the list of Jehovah’s contestants!—Isa. 55:6, AS.
9. What are the essential rules, and what causes some to fall out?
9 The essential rules are: Get knowledge and wisdom and also obey them. Wisdom cannot be obtained without knowledge. Knowledge and wisdom are a defense. (Eccl. 7:12) This means study. You may not gain a perfect knowledge of all the finer details of many revealed truths. But you can and must understand, however, the main features of the truth to enter the contest. You must be able to preach the fundamentals of the truth at any time called upon and to act as a teacher of others. (1 Pet. 3:15; 2 Tim. 2:2, NW) Knowledge and wisdom will prevent your following your own way. “Trust in [Jehovah] with all your heart, and rely not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Prov. 3:5, 6, AT) Many fall out of the running path. They try to solve problems according to the wisdom of this world and lose out in the race. (1 Cor. 3:19) King Saul thought he was right when he did his own will. (Prov. 14:12; 16:25) Samuel reproved him for not relying on God: “To obey is better than a sacrifice.” (1 Sam. 15:22, NW) So be obedient. Do Jehovah’s work in Jehovah’s way. It is the way Jehovah has marked out through his organization. That alone counts!
10, 11. (a) How do ancient diet rules apply to us? (b) Why should we abundantly feed on spiritual provisions now?
10 Another rule governs eating. Ancient contestants had to follow a strict diet. The theocratic contestant must eat only at Jehovah’s table. (1 Cor. 10:21, NW; Mal. 1:12, AS) Meeting attendance must be regular. To be prepared one must eat Jehovah’s “food at the proper time.” (Matt. 24:45, NW; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17) He must fix his attention on what is said in God’s Word. Participation in the study meetings is necessary to digest the food thoroughly. Without it one will not become strong for the contest, and he needs solid, not liquid, food. Paul said to immature Christians: “Although you ought to be teachers in view of the time, . . . you have become such as need milk, not solid food. . . . But solid food belongs to mature people, to those who through use have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.”—Heb. 5:12-14, NW.
11 You need to eat the meat on the theocratic training table. Eat elsewhere or nowhere, and you have no power. The time may come when you will not have The Watchtower available. The Bible may be your only available weapon. Unless you have fed abundantly on The Watchtower you may not be able to wield the “sword of the spirit,” therefore not able to win the contest. You may not be able to wield it because you failed to store up spiritual strength in your mind by studying The Watchtower. Do not wait until the final contest to get a tight grip on the “sword of the spirit.” Paul said that if you get a tight grip you will “not run in vain or work hard in vain.” (Phil. 2:16, NW) You should fill your mind with God’s Word. You can then draw on Jehovah’s strength to keep alive in the final contest. “For the word of God is alive.”—Heb. 4:12, NW.
12, 13. (a) Until when shall we need to train for and run in the race? (b) What tactics do Satan’s agents use, and how does the theocratic organization counteract these?
12 Jehovah has made no exception to this rule: Stick to training. No contestant—runner, wrestler or boxer—can avoid training and expect to win. Not only will he have sore muscles from lack of training but he will lose. Jehovah’s team of righteous contenders started with Abel. The contest with the wicked spirit forces in heavenly places does not end until Armageddon. The theocratic team is like a modern Olympic team. It does not wind up at the end of the first contest. Many other contests follow year after year. Also, a football team trains and then has a contest, trains and then another contest, until the end of the season. Would it not be a tragedy for the team if, when the contest began, the players had no endurance and gave out at the start of the game from lack of training? So we must train until the end of the season at Armageddon. This we keep up by regularity in meeting attendance, by being out in the service several times each week or every day and by personal study.
13 Now let us get the picture clear. The theocratic organization does not meet just one event. But rather it is a continuous series of events. Mark you, it is only immediately before Armageddon that world pressure will be upon the whole, worldwide organization, everywhere at one time. Before then, however, pressure comes on the organization in one country, yet in another there is none. In each country there is a division of the theocratic team. When some divisions are, so to speak, running or hurling the discus, other divisions are in the boxing or wrestling contest. While some are under pressure, others are getting ready to meet it later. But all divisions of the team are always in a state of readiness for the contest. We are no sooner through one contest than we are getting ready for another. For Jehovah’s organization in this world there is always a contest somewhere, and there is training going on in the organization in some part of the world.
14. What victories have been won, yet what does this not mean?
14 Many triumphs there are in different parts of the world; for example, look at our brothers in concentration camps in Germany. They came through World War II victoriously. In the United States, Canada and elsewhere there have been jail sentences by the thousands, mob action, bans and proscriptions and, by Jehovah’s undeserved kindness, his witnesses have come through victoriously. But triumph in one contest in one country does not mean that we have won out finally and the team is ready to disband.
15, 16. What course by some highlights what Scriptural warning?
15 Many, successful in the contest during persecution years, have since violated the rule of continuous training. They are now out of the race and off the team. Many suffered loss of jobs and separation from families because they were willing to endure all things to win Jehovah’s approval. In that contest some who went to prison or concentration camps thought the race was over when they were released. They left the field of contest and quit training. They ran, not the marathon race, but only the dash or sprint, and then dropped out. There is nothing more heart-rending than to see a runner fall out of a race because of lack of training. We have been warned through God’s Word that trouble everywhere in the earth is near. Remember, we were told the attack will come from Gog and from “the north.” Training is essential to endure beyond the crucial point of the race or contest.
16 Formerly all of us looked for the return of the faithful witnesses of old as princes. Jehovah later revealed that those who are princes—servants of his organization—are now here among us. Some then lost their enthusiasm about seeing the resurrected “princes.” Does not this show what Jesus said would happen, that the love of many “will cool off”? (Matt. 24:12, NW) Many contestants who went to prison during the hard time of persecution solemnly vowed to Jehovah that, when released, they would fight and run in the contest with all they had. But when they got free and were able to carry it out they forgot their solemn promise to give all to Jehovah God.
17. What effect upon Christians does persecution often have?
17 When a section or division of the theocratic organization has a great contest of persecution in a country there are proportionately more active participants on the team there than in time of training. The impetus of that division of the team increases. They bubble over with zeal. They throw everything they have, including life itself, into the contest. They see activity is what counts and so they are very active. The latest news of theocratic battle is anxiously awaited. There is no time for indifference, for negligence or for personal misunderstanding. The contest is on with them. Jobs and property hold none back. Every weight that makes the contest more difficult is shed. All are willing to do anything to win, even to live in tents and endure hard times. They brace up their minds for activity. (1 Pet. 1:13, NW) There are more volunteers for full-time service; Bethel service has a long waiting list. Then there are many entrants; they want to get into the contest and help win.
18. What opportunities do peacetime conditions bring, but what course do many pursue?
18 The danger to many is, not the contest of persecution, but the peacetime training. What does this contrast mean? Do we ask Jehovah to bring more persecution? Certainly not. This contrast is made to emphasize that always we must prepare for other contests ahead. At this time in some countries we have opportunity to get ready for a real contest. But many take it easy. They soft-pedal on training. With marvelous opportunities in the full-time service we see the team short of pioneers, a slowdown in congregation publishers and the Bethel service begging for volunteers! Few respond. Can we not see that this period of apparent peace in different countries is no time for such conduct? Why, it is suicide, is it not?
19, 20. What should be the nature of peacetime training, why, and how was this illustrated?
19 Know for sure, your peacetime training should be extremely severe. It must be as hard as the final contest itself. The harder the preparation the easier will be the victory. Look back at the training for the ancient games at Corinth. Runners put weights on their feet in training. Boxers wore heavy uniforms and practiced on sandbags. For the contest runners took the weights off and stripped themselves. Observing this Paul said we should “put off every weight and the sin that easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Heb. 12:1, NW) Train for future contests with trials, dangers and obstacles. You win or lose, depending on how you train for the contest. So peacetime training before persecution starts for you means greater activity for you, regularity in service, attendance at all meetings, thorough personal study. It is fatal to take it as a time to slacken your hands.—Zeph. 3:16.
20 Consider a recent modern race. A well-known British runner ran the mile race in less than four minutes. A world record! Do you think he could have done it had he not trained regularly, not sparing himself but giving everything in practice for the contest? Of course not. Do you realize that many in that race did not make it? They lacked the endurance. One man collapsed on the track. If we win in the final contest we must thoroughly train now.
21. Where and how can we train for severer future contests?
21 Some shun training today by active and regular witnessing from door to door and regular group study because the world does not look with favor on such training. They dream of proving their integrity when the future test comes in prison or concentration camp. They will be beaten, defeated, because they did not train for the strenuous contest. Training now by studying and preaching regularly and building up one’s ability in the ministry is a major part of the contest itself. Jehovah’s witness work today is being done primarily outside prison. The time may come for the doing of the witness work everywhere underground or in prison. But this may be an immediate prelude to the end at Armageddon. (Isa. 43:10, 12, AS; Rev. 2:10, NW) Why wait until the dictator, the concentration camp or the prison bars of the Devil surround you? Can you wait until the witness work by his people is over to do it? No, a thousand times no! Get into the contest now before Jehovah’s “strange act” at Armageddon!—Isa. 28:21, AS.
22. What is another fixed rule of training as shown by what words of Jeremiah, Jesus and others?
22 A fixed rule of training is that the word of Jehovah must be preached. All the prophets of old did not put off preaching until tomorrow. Jeremiah said that the word of God was like a fire burning within his bones and he could not keep it in; he had to get it out—to preach! (Jer. 20:9) Jesus, who started this race for us, was anointed by Jehovah to preach. (Luke 4:18) We must follow in his footsteps and preach. Our main job, like his, should be the ministry. (1 Pet. 2:21) Paul said: “I am ruined if I do not preach.” (1 Cor. 9:16, AT) Fail to preach now and the wicked ones’ loss of life will be charged up against you. Preach now and you will not be responsible for their death. (Ezek. 33:8, 9) Once we enter, we cannot be absent at training time. And training time is now, brothers, not tomorrow. Inactivity means we are as good as dead. Quit training and quit the race and we are dead in God’s sight. Do not be dead in the sin of inactivity. Be active now and live tomorrow, brothers!
WHERE TO KEEP THE EYE FIXED
23, 24. (a) Upon what must we keep our eyes fixed, and why? (b) What is our goal, and why will some not reach it?
23 Another rule was, keep the eye on the prize—the crown of ivy leaves. Today some Christians lose sight of the prize held out to them. It is not wrong to keep your eye on the crown of life. The reason is that it is God-given. Jehovah causes desire for the reward to spring into our hearts. Make it your own. The reward is worth running for. It is of no use to say: ‘I am so glad to be in the truth and I shall serve Jehovah whether I get a reward or not.’ Be careful; do not spurn God’s goodness. He put the promise before your eyes for a reason. It is so that you will reach out and run to the end to get it. Make sure that you at all times see the reward. As an example of this, suppose an earthly father wants his son to pass his school examinations. He promises him a bicycle if he succeeds. That boy will extend himself. Every hour he can get will be used to gain knowledge to pass the examinations. He sees the prize while he studies. He dreams about it. He succeeds because he wants the bicycle. Jehovah has held out to us, his children, a far greater prize, everlasting life. It is proper for us to keep the prize before us as an incentive to run, because our race is very difficult. While we seek the prize, it is the giver of the prize that we love and we want to please him.
24 Why do so many fail? Because they do not pay attention to this goal of life eternal. Paul wrote: “Brothers, I do not yet consider myself as having laid hold on it; but there is one thing about it: . . . stretching forward to the things ahead, I am pursuing down toward the goal for the prize of the calling above and which God extends in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13, 14, NW) The “calling above” applies to those of the anointed class. But the call to the “other sheep” is also ‘from above.’ Life eternal on earth is to the “other sheep” just as much to be desired as life in heaven, “the crown of life,” is desired by the anointed ones called of Jehovah. (Rev. 2:10, NW) What is the difference? One is a finer prize, but both bring eternal life, and it is life that we want. Some allow vision of Jehovah’s purpose, his kingdom and his theocratic work to grow dim. They will not study privately and do not attend study meetings. They have no vision. Such will not successfully reach the goal. Where there is no vision the people perish. (Prov. 29:18) In the race have you lost sight of the prize? Keep the prize before your eyes and you will stay on the track and not get sidetracked by the Devil and lose life.
25. Why may we not look back?
25 Another rule of running is that the runner must not look back, nor look behind him as he runs. Some come into the race and run well for a while. But later they begin to feel that they have left something behind. They turn their heads and look behind to consider whether to go back to their earlier course of living. Pleasures, business, old-world friends, or other things, haunt their memories and cause them to fall out of the race of integrity keeping. For this sort of deflection Jehovah put Lot’s wife out of the race. Do you look back at the things that are behind? If you do, you will stumble and fall out of the race. Do not let things behind hinder you from getting ahead.—Phil. 3:13.
26, 27. Who is our real enemy, and why is the present time especially dangerous?
26 Those who entered into the ancient wrestling contest or boxing bout had to keep their eyes on their adversary all the time. In the modern theocratic contest failure to do so entraps many today. In some divisions of Jehovah’s team many look for an adversary to come in the form of dictators, security police or mobs. They fail to see in their own contest that the real adversary is invisible to human eyes. Have you become inactive? If so, you have failed to see that we are not fighting a blood-and-flesh enemy. Through the eyes of Paul we see our enemy. He said that “we have a fight, not against blood and flesh, but against . . . the wicked spirit forces in the heavenly places.”—Eph. 6:12, NW.
27 Do you look for a blood-and-flesh adversary instead of an invisible foe? Then you show you have lost your spiritual eyesight. You have been ambushed by the invisible enemy. Brothers who are alert realize now that these days are more dangerous than when the Nazis controlled Germany and mobsters ruled in the United States, when persecution was rampant almost everywhere. Now as never before the Devil and the demons oppose Jehovah’s work in democratic lands as well as in dictator nations. Like Paul, Peter also warns: “Keep your senses, be watchful. Your adversary, the Devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.” (1 Pet. 5:8, NW) A roaring lion throws the prey that he is stalking off guard by roaring with his head close to the ground, so the prey cannot determine the location of the roaring lion! Are you not deceived and do you keenly see the invisible beastly adversary stalking you at your heels? If you see him you will put all the energy you have into running for the final contest; yes, more energy than you would if you saw merely the secret police at your heels or the mob at your doorstep!—Rev. 12:12.