Gaining the Prize of Life by Active Training Now
1. How do Jehovah and Jesus Christ view the halfhearted, and why?
THOSE who are halfhearted are hated by Jehovah and by Christ Jesus. (Ps. 119:113, AS; Hos. 7:8) Oh, they want the prize of life all right. They like to be with the witnesses of Jehovah, but they are lukewarm about it. They want to feel the excitement. They like the celebrating. Yet they do not do anything to give cause for celebrating. Because they are neither hot nor cold, Christ Jesus will vomit them out of his mouth. (Rev. 3:14-16) They will lose the race.
2-4. What must we do and have, and what does it take to win?
2 Those running in the ancient games at Corinth knew it meant they had to put every ounce of strength into the contest. One Greek runner anciently ran the twenty-four stadium lengths, enduring right to the end and coming in first. As the crown was being placed on his head he dropped dead. He had attained the goal. He had triumphed! But how about us? Do we put the race first in order to endure to the end? Jesus admonished us to seek first the Kingdom and Jehovah’s righteousness. (Matt. 6:33) Only by doing this can we win. Do not let anything—family, business, pleasure, desires, or anything else—intervene in the contest. It will put in jeopardy your triumph.
3 Unswervingly determine to stick in the contest until final victory. What good does it do a runner to have a strong body if he is weak-willed? He will run unwisely or, like a poor boxer in training, he will beat the air instead of the punching bag. (1 Cor. 9:26) He is sure to lose because he will have no endurance. He needs mental determination to have endurance. Your heart must be in the race and it must be strong, permanently fixed, trusting in Jehovah. (Ps. 112:7, AS) Wholehearted you must be for completing the contest. Yes, determine to overcome all obstacles! If you do, it is more than half the race. As a runner, you must know the pace required by the race. Is it a short race or a long one? Does it call for pacing or racing the limit? A champion boxer or wrestler must have a good mind. He cannot be a brute bull with no sense. So with us, it is not a matter of just strong legs and a weak mind. We cannot merely walk from door to door, but we have strong minds and in our sermons we hit the target with the Bible. Run wisely! Use knowledge of the Bible and intelligence to win the race or to get victory. Build yourself up and equip yourself with a knowledge of God’s Word. “You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome Jehovah gave.”—Jas. 5:11, NW.
4 Jesus said that “he that has endured to the end is the one that will be saved.” (Matt. 10:22, NW) Will you keep enduring? If you do not, you will lose. Adopt Paul’s words: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor governments nor things here nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor any other creation will be able to separate us from God’s love that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”—Rom. 8:38, 39, NW.
5. (a) Why will not haphazard and spasmodic training make us winners? (b) What caused Hezekiah to win?
5 Haphazard training means lost races. Do not publish spasmodically. You will run with uncertainty if you do. Paul did not. Be regular in training to be qualified. You cannot run in fits and starts. It is not just a burst of energy here and easing off there that wins. Do you think you can redeem your lagging behind by a spurt of activity for a while and then slip away and let no one see you for weeks? You cannot. “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.” (Eccl. 9:11) The Assyrian Sennacherib had the superior army and the strength, but it was the surrounded King Hezekiah, who had faith in Jehovah, that won. Remember the old fable about the hare and the tortoise? True, the hare darted almost out of sight but the tortoise won the race. But wait! You know Jehovah’s sure Word is better than any man-made fable. Why did Hezekiah win? Was he swift? Was he strong? He won because he submitted himself to Jehovah, in prayer. Hezekiah then accepted Jehovah’s answer. Through his prophet Isaiah, Jehovah said to Hezekiah: “I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.” (Isa. 37:35, RS) That night Jehovah’s angel slew the enemy a hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrians. (2 Kings 19) In our fight, too, it is not just one punch and the enemy is out. We must keep on striking many telling blows. So it cannot be just one set of scriptures or one sermon to use in the witness work. For them to be varied we must have many and versatile ones, and then keep on using them aright in offense and in defense of the good news.
6. Whom may we not fear? why? and whom must we fear?
6 The rule is that to participate in the boxing match or test of combat the fighter must be fearless. Thus we must be fearless in witnessing, confident of our spiritual strength and of handling the word of truth aright. Fighting in a contest is mentioned by Paul in addition to frequent references to running. (1 Cor. 9:26; 1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7) Remember, preach and be opposed! When opposed, what will you do? Will you be afraid and quit? If so you will be disqualified and put out of the contest. Jehovah says: “The cowards and those without faith and . . . all the liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur . . . the second death.” (Rev. 21:8, NW) Have fear of man and it will lead to a snare, the loss of the prize of life. (Prov. 29:25) “The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom.”—Ps. 111:10, AS.
7. Contests’ being won or lost teamwise teaches us what lessons?
7 Ancient contests were won by a team or lost by a team, not by one participant. It took javelin throwers, discus hurlers, wrestlers, jumpers, boxers and runners to make up a team. The theocratic organization is a great team. Each of us is a small unit in it. One member cannot do without the others. “For the body, indeed, is not one member, but is many.” (1 Cor. 12:14-26, NW) Let us think only of the team’s accomplishments. When the race is won or victory comes, the team, not the individual, obtained it. Let honor come and credit go to the leader of the team, Christ Jesus. It takes the consideration of each for all, and of all for each. Then we have real teamwork. There are many parts to a vast machine. For it to operate without friction it must have lubrication. Jehovah’s spirit and resultant unity are to our organization what oil is to the machine.
8. Why are bad associations so very dangerous?
8 Another rule of contest bans bad association. Old-world friends cling to some. Some foolishly cling to old-world friends. Paul admonished: “Do not be misled. Bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Cor. 15:33, NW) Even some in the organization have old-world habits. All are leaven. Leaven works its way into your whole life. If you do not separate from bad associations you will lose the race. (1 Cor. 5:9, 10; 6:9, 10) This is breaking training and leads to softening our spiritual muscles. It is not whether an associate is a ‘good fellow.’ A ‘good fellow’ may be good company. But is he theocratic company? If not, then shun him. Run only with those running the race. Remember the old proverb: “Birds of a feather flock together.” You may also recall the old story of the farmer’s swan that always swam among the cranes. The cranes were destroying the farmer’s crops. So he determined to shoot them. He killed the cranes and with them also his beautiful swan, his prize bird. Do not be caught at Armageddon like this beautiful but unfortunate swan.
9. To avoid being disapproved what must we exercise?
9 Paul wrote that “every man taking part in a contest exercises self-control in all things. . . . [Accordingly] I browbeat my body and lead it as a slave, that, after I have preached to others, I myself should not become disapproved somehow.” (1 Cor. 9:24-27, NW) The ancient contestants controlled their conduct, their lives, eating habits, associations, drinking and pleasures. They avoided any and all things that detracted from or neutralized their training. So too must we theocratic contestants individually control ourselves in order to be triumphant.
10, 11. What is the greatest rule? the final rule? and how are these related to each other?
10 Let us end our consideration of the rules and their effect with the greatest of all the rules, love. Paul said that if we do not have love we are (1) as ‘sounding brass or clashing cymbal’; (2) as nothing, and (3) as “not profited at all.” (1 Cor. 13:1-3, NW) Jesus laid down the rule when he said: “‘You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind and with your whole strength.’ . . . ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”—Mark 12:30, 31, NW.
11 Realize that there is no time to waste. (Eph. 5:16; Rev. 10:6, NW) Learn well the rules and how to apply them. Practice these things. Keep the rules and you will achieve victory and avoid disaster. The final rule, then, as stated by Jesus, is that we keep all the rules of the race or contest. “If you love me, you will observe my commandments.” (John 14:15, NW) All the rules must be complied with. Not one can be violated with impunity.
OUTSTANDING CONTENDERS WHO WON
12-14. How did Jesus demonstrate himself an outstanding winning contender, gaining what reward?
12 We cannot here leave this subject of participants in the theocratic contests without considering some of Jehovah’s outstanding contenders for the faith, fearless fighters and runners who endured.
13 The greatest contestant of all on Jehovah’s team is our Leader, Jesus Christ. Since he is our pattern, let us first consider him. (1 Pet. 2:21) The first outstanding obstacle placed before him in his race was the opportunity to obtain all the kingdoms of this world. Steadfastly Jesus kept in the race by answering the Devil: “Go away, Satan! For it is written, ‘It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.’” (Matt. 4:10, NW) Another hurdle Satan placed in Jesus’ race was Peter and his human, godless thinking. Peter took Jesus aside and raised strong objection about threatened injury to Jesus. Peter said: “Be kind to yourself, Master.” Was Jesus slowed up by this? He answered: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumblingblock to me.” (Matt. 16:22, 23, NW) Before Pilate also Jesus contended for the faith by telling him: “For this purpose I have been born and for this purpose I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.”—John 18:37, NW.
14 Shortly afterward Jesus was entirely on his own, without companions. He was alone in the race to the end and was deserted by his associates, but he was faithful right to the last. He put everything he had into the race, life itself. He was stripped of his clothes, nailed to the stake, wearing on his head a crown of thorns. It appeared to all that Jehovah had completely abandoned him. In the eyes of Satan and his earthly agents Jesus died as a criminal. Speedily Jehovah reversed the scene, right before the eyes of Satan. Within three days Jehovah rewarded Jesus with a resurrection to life eternal, and a few weeks later Jesus ascended to the right hand of his God and Father.—Ps. 110:1, AS; John 20:17, NW.
15. What example did Stephen give of a victorious contender? Paul?
15 Jesus Christ’s first follower known to have run his course faithfully after Jesus finished his was Stephen. He completed his contest in the clutches of his enemies. He preached even as they were stoning him to death. He ran and won the victory crown. Death did not cheat him of his reward. Another winner was Paul, who overcame many obstacles put in his path of the race. Consider his report at Second Corinthians eleven, verses 23 to 27 (NW). He said he was “in prisons more plentifully, in stripes to an excess, in near-deaths often. By Jews I five times received forty strokes less one, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I experienced shipwreck, a night and a day I have spent in the deep; in travels often, in dangers from rivers, in dangers from highwaymen, in dangers from my own race, in dangers from the nations, in dangers in the city, in dangers in the wilderness, in dangers at sea, in dangers among false brothers, in labor and toil, in sleepless nights often, in hunger and thirst, in abstinence from food many times, in cold and nakedness.” Later Paul added: “I have run the course to the finish, I have observed the faith.”—2 Tim. 4:7, NW.
16, 17. How did the three Hebrews and Samson show themselves to be on the winning “team”? with what outcome for each?
16 Earlier examples of outstanding faith in Jehovah are Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These three faithful Hebrews were commanded to bow down and worship the golden image erected in the plain of Dura. Would they refuse to do so at the cost of being cast into the fiery furnace? Having entered the race, they stayed in it, calmly reminding the king: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.” Their bold defiance infuriated the king. He commanded that the furnace be heated seven times as hot as usual and the three men be cast into it. They flinched not, they refused to bow down and remained in the contest. They were thrown into the intensified roaring fire. As a reward from Jehovah, they came out of the flames unsinged and were triumphant through their faith and endurance.—Dan. 3:1-27, RS.
17 Let us not forget Samson. In the custody of his enemies till his hair had grown long again Samson was grinding in the prison house. He thought of the indignities committed against his God Jehovah and against himself as he was lashed by the jeers and taunts and cut by the whip of his Philistine enemies, who had bored out his eyes. His feelings worked up to their highest pitch and he was about to burst with determination to vindicate Jehovah’s name. He knew his life was imperiled in his final contest. To vindicate Jehovah’s name Samson put his whole heart and strength into the final fight in the temple of the Philistine celebrators of Dagon. He knew the contest would take his life. Yet he declared: “‘Lord Jehovah, remember me, please, and strengthen me, please, just this once, O God, and let me avenge myself upon the Philistines with vengeance for one of my two eyes.’ With that Samson braced himself against the two middle pillars upon which the house was firmly established, and got a grasp on them, one with his right and the other with his left hand. And Samson proceeded to say: ‘Let my soul die with the Philistines.’ Then he bent himself with power and the house fell upon the axis lords and upon all the people that were in it, so that the dead that he put to death in his own death came to be more than those he had put to death during his lifetime.”—Judg. 16:28-30, NW.
18. In what particular contest did David prove to be a mighty contender?
18 Another mighty contestant was David. Even in youth he personified fearlessness. He could not be frightened out of the contest. He was bold in Jehovah. Goliath had defied Almighty God and his people. Young David was overflowing with righteous indignation at this affront to his God, Jehovah. He angrily demanded: “‘Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?’ . . . But David said to Saul, ‘Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and smote him and delivered it out of his mouth; and if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him and killed him. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God.’” Fearless, David came forward to the contest. Although but a youth, he courageously met the bully, the giant Goliath. To that Philistine David declared: “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin; but I come to you in the name of [Jehovah] of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” Note the contrast: a giant covered with armor, an expert man of war, opposed by a mere lad in his shepherd’s togs, equipped only with a slingshot and stones! But did David desert the field of contest? Was he fearful of losing life? Did he leave the battle? Unquaveringly he shouted: “This day [Jehovah] will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down, and cut off your head; . . . that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.” (1 Sam. 17:26, 34-36, 45, 46, RS) At that David, sling in hand, unerringly aimed the stone at the giant’s forehead! It hit the mark! Jehovah gave David the triumph. The giant fell dead. Because of his fearlessness and love of Jehovah, David is named as one of those who met Jehovah’s approval. (Heb. 11:32-34) He is sure of his prize of triumph.
19. Why did Paul list some of these triumphant contenders at Hebrews 11?
19 Some of these triumphant contenders for the faith Paul listed among Jehovah’s ancient witnesses to encourage us today to run continually in the triumphant manner that they did. For us Paul wrote: “So, then, because we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also put off every weight and the sin that easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, as we look intently at the leader and perfecter of our faith, Jesus.”—Heb. 12:1, 2, NW.
20-22. What course leads to death, and what course to winning the prize of life in God’s new world?
20 Now the question is: Will you be one of the active Christians running triumphantly toward the prize of life? Or will you be one of the inactive covenant-breakers or sluggards, drifting to your doom of everlasting death? (Rom. 1:28-32) Do not be an inactive sluggard, too lazy even to feed yourself, and die. (Prov. 19:24; 14:14, RS) Remember, if you are not actively for Jesus you are against him and must face the fate of his enemies. (Matt. 12:30) Have you wandered off the racecourse into the mire of inactivity? Take hold of yourself and swing back quickly! The most thrilling and final of all contests, Armageddon, is just ahead. By our activity let us all triumphantly “put up a hard fight for the faith.”—Jude 3, NW.
21 Under Jehovah’s searching gaze, may all of us at seeing the triumphant kingdom established in the heavens determine to escape inactivity and death. Let us, instead, by activity, win the prize of triumph, LIFE in the new world under Jehovah’s kingdom.
22 Jehovah our God bless you as you “contend for victory in the right contest of the faith.”—1 Tim. 6:12, NW.