Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
“Do you not know that the runners in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may attain it.”—1 Cor. 9:24.
1. Why does the Bible often use words pertaining to a foot race?
RUN, running, race—these are words you probably have noticed many times in your reading of the Bible, especially the epistles of the apostle Paul. Why does he frequently use words pertaining to a foot race? Because a race well illustrates the course that is set before a Christian; because running expresses movement, action, going forward; because running is one of the most forceful, striking words the apostle could use to express the efforts a Christian must put forth to win the prize of everlasting life in God’s new world.
2, 3. The ancient Corinthians had what knowledge of the foot race, and so what counsel did the apostle give the Corinthian Christians?
2 To encourage the Christians of Corinth to run so as to win the prize, Paul used the picturesque language of the ancient games. Of the four most celebrated games of the ancient world, one was held near Corinth, at the stadium at the Isthmus of Corinth. One of the most highly esteemed contests at the Isthmian games was the foot race. Almost every Corinthian, at one time or another, had attended the games and witnessed a foot race. For the non-Christian Corinthian it was the thing to do; it was the national pastime or sport, only the contests were more important than sport as we know it today; for those contests were profoundly associated with the ancient Greek religion. Knowing his readers’ familiarity with the foot race, Paul could fittingly ask:
3 “Do you not know that the runners in a race all run, but only one receives the prize?” They knew. Those Christian Corinthians knew that many runners ran in a race, yet only one received the prize; they knew that each runner put forth the most strenuous efforts to win that prize; they knew the runners ran to win the prize. Christians, Paul shows, must run in a similar way: “Run in such a way that you may attain it.” Yes, run to win! Unlike the ancient foot race, in which only one received the prize, the Christian race offers a prize to all who run well, to all who reach the goal line.—1 Cor. 9:24.
4. In the ancient foot race, what was the custom regarding the prize, and how did this affect the runners?
4 No doubt about it: those ancient Greek runners ran to win the prize; they were not running just to be in the race. How eagerly they sought the prize! With what intentness they ran! How they kept their eyes straight ahead! At the very point where the race was to end it was customary to set the prize in a conspicuous place. The sight of it roused the contestants to strain every nerve, to forget everything but their one objective—to win the prize. They ran with their eyes on the prize. How much more so should the Christian!
5. For what kind of prize did the ancients run?
5 For, compared to the Christians’ prize, what was the prize that those runners so eagerly sought? “Now they,” said the apostle, “do it that they may get a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible one.” For the ancient runner the prize was a crown or garland of olive, laurel or pine. At the Isthmian games the crown was of pine. This crown and the ensuing glory it brought was what the ancient runners ran for with all they had. And yet even the pine crown in time faded and dried up. Their prize faded, withered, perished! A fading crown—and yet how vigorously they strove to win that crown, running with their eyes on the prize!—1 Cor. 9:25.
APPRAISING THE PRIZE
6. In contrast with the prize given pagan runners, what is God’s loving reward for running well?
6 In contrast with the fading crown of the ancient games, the apostle tells Christians that a prize awaits those who run the race to the finish, a prize that will never perish. Speaking of this crown, the apostle Peter wrote: “When the chief shepherd has been made manifest, you will receive the unfadable crown of glory,” or, as the footnote shows, “carry away as a prize” the unfadable crown. What a prize for the anointed Christians, those called to the heavenly kingdom! Could any prize this world offers compare with that prize God offers—the prize of incorruptibility, the prize of everlasting life in heavenly glory with Christ the King? Today there are hundreds of thousands of Christian runners who are not anointed by God to be his spiritual sons in the heavenly kingdom; God offers them also an unperishable prize. It is everlasting life in perfection on earth under the kingdom of heaven. Whichever prize the Christian runner has his eyes on, it is worth expending just as much vigor and energy as the runners of the ancient games did; indeed, the Christian should run with greater determination and vigor, for the prize God lovingly promises will never fade: “This is the promised thing which he himself promised us, the life everlasting.”—1 Pet. 5:4; 1 John 2:25.
7, 8. From the apostle Paul’s example, how should the Christian runner view the prize God offers?
7 With such an incomparable prize before the Christian runner, what should be his view of the prizes of this world? It should be that like Paul’s, who said: “I do indeed also consider all things to be loss on account of the excelling value of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. On account of him I have taken the loss of all things and I consider them as a lot of refuse.” And so how did Paul run? “Brothers, I do not yet consider myself as having laid hold on it; but there is one thing about it: Forgetting the things behind and stretching forward to the things ahead, I am pursuing down toward the goal for the prize.”—Phil. 3:8, 13, 14.
8 Just as the runners of the ancient games ran with their eyes on the prize, oblivious to all other prizes, to all things in the past and stretching forward to the things ahead, so Paul ran. To paraphrase the apostle’s words: ‘Believe me, there is only one thing worth while in the whole world—the prize my eyes are fixed upon. Nothing can be compared to it, absolutely nothing. All that this world offers, no matter how fine the chariot, how spacious the mansion, how resplendent the apparel or how exquisite the pleasures, I count them all as so much refuse, rubbish to be cast aside, that I might concentrate on winning the prize. So I’m not running irregularly, indifferently, as if my goal were in doubt. I’m running with full purpose of heart, with singleness of eye. I have the goal in view. Why should I take my eyes off it? So I live, I run—with my eyes on the prize!’
9. What danger confronts the Christian runner, making it vital for him to get the right mental attitude?
9 Paul took a realistic view of the prize. He placed the right value on it. He took the right view also of the prizes this world offers. He tells the Christian runner to do the same: “Let us, then, as many of us as are mature, be of this mental attitude.” How vital this is in this “time of the end” when the world’s prizes have multiplied—prizes in careers, prizes in pleasures, prizes in possessions! So we see the danger then: the danger that the Christian runner begins the race in joy and vigor but later lets the prizes of this world distract him and he takes his eyes off the prize of life. Then what happens? The runner slows to a walk, a careless saunter. How uncertainly he runs now. He no longer runs as one seeking to win the prize of life. The things behind, the prizes of this old world, have distracted him, causing him to lose that stimulus and incentive for running that comes only by keeping one’s eyes on the things ahead, the prize God offers. Demas, Paul’s fellow runner, took his eyes off the prize; the prizes of this world distracted him, and he stopped running. We need to get the right mental attitude toward this world’s prizes, “because everything in the world—the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life—does not originate with the Father, but originates with the world. Furthermore, the world is passing away and so is its desire, but he that does the will of God remains forever.”—Phil. 3:15; 2 Tim. 4:10; 1 John 2:16, 17.
10, 11. (a) Why is no prize the world offers worth taking one’s eyes off the prize God offers? (b) How do people who have pursued the prize of wealth often feel toward the close of their life, in contrast with the apostle’s expression?
10 So of what value are the prizes of this world, prizes that are doomed to pass away and fade just as surely as did the vegetable crown of the ancient runners? Is the greatest prize this world offers—the life goal of so many persons today, the so-called economic security—really worth taking our eyes off the prize of life? Not for a minute! The Christian runner must provide the necessities of life and yet at the same time never take his eyes off the prize. Paul made tents to provide some of his necessities; yet he never allowed tent-making to take his eyes off the prize. So Paul did not pursue the fruitless goal of economic security; he knew that money, wealth and possessions are of no value without life. Even those who attain what they view as economic security by amassing millions of dollars often come to realize what a fading prize they spent a lifetime to win. In the volume Treasury of the Christian World appears the following item: “Mr. T. P. O’Connor reports an interview with Mr. Andrew Carnegie: ‘As we drove to the station I was remarking how I envied him his wealth. He said, “I am not to be envied. How can my wealth help me? I am sixty years old, and cannot digest my food. I would give all my millions if I could have youth and health.” Then I shall never forget his next remark. We had driven some yards in silence, when Mr. Carnegie suddenly turned, and in hushed voice, and with bitterness and depth of feeling quite indescribable, said: “If I could make Faust’s bargain, I would. I would gladly sell anything to have my life over again.” And I saw his hand clench as he spoke.’”
11 How different was the expression of the apostle Paul, who, after expending his life in pursuit of the heavenly prize, could say: “I have run the course to the finish, I have observed the faith. From this time on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me as a reward in that day.”—2 Tim. 4:7, 8.
ENDURANCE THROUGH SINGLENESS OF EYE
12. To what did Paul largely owe his powers of endurance?
12 Paul owed his extraordinary endurance to his singleness of purpose. And he gained singleness of purpose by keeping his eyes on the prize. So keeping our eyes on the prize vitally affects our powers of endurance. Make no mistake about it: endurance is needed. “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” The Christian race is no short dash; it is long and difficult. Because the prize is not won until the finish line has been crossed, there can be slackening of effort along the way. Among the most penetrating parables of Jesus were those in which he pointed out the failure of those who started well but were not able to keep it up to the end.—Heb. 12:1.
13. In the parable of the sower, what did Jesus show could cause a runner to stumble and lose the prize, and what counsel did he give as to possessions?
13 In his parable of the sower Jesus, in explaining the meaning of the seeds that fell upon rocky ground and among the thorns, said: “As for the one sown upon the rocky places, this is the one hearing the word and at once accepting it with joy. Yet he has no root in himself but continues for a time, and after tribulation or persecution has arisen on account of the word he is at once stumbled. As for the one sown among the thorns, this is the one hearing the word, but the anxiety of this system of things and the deceptive power of wealth choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.” So some runners fall out of the race, stumbled by “tribulation or persecution.” Others lose their powers of endurance because of “the anxiety of this system of things.” After discussing the parables of building a tower and of a king going to war, Jesus commented: “Thus, you may be sure, none of you that does not say good-bye to all his belongings can be my disciple.”—Matt. 13:20-22; Luke 14:33.
14. How should a Christian regard material possessions?
14 The Christian runner is under no obligation to give away his material possessions, but he is under the principle that Jesus laid down: If one sees that his possessions are taking his eyes off the prize of life, then he would rather say good-by to those distracting possessions than keep them and take a chance on losing the race. No possession, no material belonging, should ever be allowed to become so important, so big in one’s life, that it takes the runner’s eyes off the prize. In today’s world, though, it is not likely that a single possession will take one’s eyes off the prize; it is the multitude of things, belongings, pleasures, hobbies and the anxieties and distractions of life. All together the multiplicity of distractions exert a strong power, making it difficult—and yet at the same time more vital than ever—to obey the Bible command for the race: “As for your eyes, straight ahead they should look, yes, your own beaming eyes should gaze straight in front of you. Smooth out the course of your foot, and may all your own ways be firmly established. Do not incline to the right hand or to the left.” How to get this singleness of eye that adds so much to our powers of endurance—that is the problem each runner must solve.—Prov. 4:25-27.
AGE OF DISTRACTIONS
15. What has a worldly speaker said about “the anxiety of this system of things”?
15 A comment on the “anxiety of this system of things” comes from Bernard M. Baruch. Speaking to a group of college students at City College, New York, he declared: “Never in history has mankind boasted superior means of communication, high speed printing presses, profusely illustrated magazines, the radio, movies, television. Yet all these miraculous forms of communication seem less conducive to thought than a log in the woods. Almost, in fact, these jet-propelled, streamlined means of communication appear the enemies of thinking. They bombard us daily with fresh distractions. . . . Our energies . . . are dissipated on side issues. . . . Not too long ago, it was fondly thought that ours was ‘The Age of Enlightenment.’ More and more it is becoming ‘The Age of Distraction.’”—Vital Speeches of the Day, June, 1953.
16, 17. (a) Those who are distracted by many things should take what counsel of Jesus? (b) What did a woman writer say about distractions in a modern civilization?
16 The more distractions the more difficult it is to attain the singleness of eye needed for the Christian race. Obviously, there are more distractions today than in Jesus’ day; and yet people were distracted in Jesus’ day too. On one occasion Jesus entered a certain village and “a certain woman named Martha received him as guest into the house. This woman also had a sister called Mary, who, however, sat down at the feet of the Master and kept listening to his word. Martha, on the other hand, was distracted with attending to many duties. So, she came near and said: ‘Master, does it not matter to you that my sister has left me alone to attend to things? Tell her, therefore, to join in helping me.’ In answer the Master said to her: ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and disturbed about many things. A few things, though, are needed, or just one. For her part, Mary chose the good portion, and it will not be taken away from her.’” Mary shed distractions to sharpen her spiritual vision; Martha was too distracted with many things to sit down at the feet of the Master and take in the knowledge, the one thing that she really needed.—Luke 10:38-42.
17 This modern world has more Marthas than Marys. Distractions are the reason. Commenting on some of the distractions that face a modern housewife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh writes in Gift from the Sea: “I mean to lead a simple life. . . . But I do not. . . . The life I have chosen as wife and mother entrains a whole caravan of complications. It involves a house in the suburbs and either household drudgery or household help. . . . It involves food and shelter; meals, planning, marketing, bills, and making the ends meet in a thousand ways. It involves not only the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker but countless other experts to keep my modern house with its modern ‘simplifications’ (electricity, plumbing, refrigerator, gas-stove, oil-burner, dishwasher, radios, car, and numerous other labor-saving devices) functioning properly. It involves health; doctors, dentists, appointments, medicine, cod-liver oil, vitamins, trips to the drugstore. It involves education, spiritual, intellectual, physical; schools . . . tutoring; camps, camp equipment and transportation. It involves clothes, shopping, laundry, cleaning, mending, letting skirts down and sewing buttons on, or finding someone else to do it. It involves friends, my husband’s, my children’s, my own, and endless arrangements to get together; letters, invitations, telephone calls and transportation hither and yon. . . . The problem of the multiplicity of life not only confronts the American woman, but also the American man. And it is not merely the concern of the American as such, but of our whole modern civilization.”
NEED TO SHED DISTRACTIONS
18. How is Paul’s example and admonition valuable to us, and what must the Christian runner learn?
18 Amid the cares and distractions of modern life the Christian runner must maintain a singleness of purpose. And he must be certain he is making progress toward his goal. Never did the apostle Paul let the “anxiety of this system of things” take his eyes off the prize. “The way I am running,” he said, “is not uncertainly.” Paul had his goal in view; there was never any doubt of it. We must run with such determination to win the prize, with such singleness of vision. But how can one do this, seeing that distractions come from every quarter, many of them being obligations that cannot be set aside? One can apply the principle given in Paul’s counsel to Christian runners: “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.” For the sake of endurance, then, the Christian runner must learn the art of shedding distractions, the art of putting off weights—those things that, added together, tend to take one’s eyes off the prize and hold him back in the race for life.—1 Cor. 9:26; Heb. 12:1.
19. How did this matter of distraction govern Paul’s counsel on marriage? So what is basic in a Christian’s life?
19 By reducing distractions we make time for concentrating on running the race and winning the prize. It is this matter of keeping distractions at a minimum that enters into so many facets of a Christian’s life. The apostle Paul knew marriage brought many distractions; so he advised singleness as the better course because of its permitting “constant attendance upon the Lord without distraction.” Yet, on the other hand, Paul knew that passion was a distraction and that it could be a dangerous one; hence he wrote: “It is better to marry than to be inflamed with passion.” Trying to get away from distractions—that is basic in a Christian’s life.—1 Cor. 7:35, 9.
20. To buy out time, what should a Christian be willing to do, and what about nonessential possessions?
20 For the sake of keeping his eyes on the prize the Christian runner should be willing to determine which distractions may rightfully and profitably be discarded. By shedding these he buys out time for himself, in harmony with the command: “Keep strict watch that how you walk is not as unwise but as wise persons, buying out the opportune time for yourselves, because the days are wicked.” We ought to go about this matter of buying out time in earnestness, ever being on the alert to keep distractions at a minimum. Since people tend to be acquisitive, what distractions a person can pile up in the way of possessions alone! What a vast amount of gadgets, magazines, books, clothing, hobby paraphernalia and nondescript effects one can accumulate! It is often surprising how many things one tends to accumulate that are not really useful. Even piled away in a closet, things not really needed are a distraction: not only do they require space but they take time—dusting, cleaning, rearranging, etc. By shedding distractions, by keeping possessions to those that are needful, we feel happier and, above all, are better able to keep our eyes on the prize.—Eph. 5:15, 16.
21. How can we aid ourselves in keeping distractions at a minimum?
21 Selectivity is an important aid in keeping distractions at a minimum. The world’s commercialists do not want you to be thoughtfully selective; they are doing their utmost to entice people to pile up acquisitions whether they need them or not. So we need to be selective in purchasing, selective in reading, selective in the way we choose to use our time. Remember that only “a few things,” as Jesus said, are needed.
DETERMINATION AND TRAINING
22. What did a modern runner say about running and training, and why does the same principle apply to the Christian’s race?
22 Time bought out by shedding distractions enables us to concentrate on the race. Since the word “running” embraces the whole Christian way of life, especially our vigorous efforts to preach the good news, it is imperative that we train for the race. No runner runs well without training. In 1954 Roger Bannister, the first man to run a measured mile in less than four minutes, told a newspaper reporter, after his victory: “There is no point in running a race unless you set out to win. To do that you have to train. If you haven’t time to train you shouldn’t enter races.” Is the Christian race really different? “Run in such a way that you may attain it,” said Paul about the prize. He also counseled: “Be training yourself with godly devotion as your aim.” So why enter the Christian race unless you are determined to win the prize? And if you are determined to win, why run without training? Yet some runners have tried running without training; they neglect the spiritual training available at congregational meetings of the New World society. These meetings serve a vital function: they aid us in keeping our eyes on the prize. No wonder those who regularly miss meetings often drop out of the race; they lose a clear view of the prize and their powers of endurance weaken.—1 Cor. 9:24; 1 Tim. 4:7.
23. For encouragement what examples of singleness of eye should we reflect upon?
23 In training for the race we need to reflect on examples of those who ran well, such as Abraham and Moses. Abraham was “awaiting the city having real foundations,” and Moses “looked intently toward the payment of the reward.” They had their eyes on the prize! Especially do we need to reflect upon the example of the perfect runner, Christ Jesus. “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. For the joy that was set before him he endured a torture stake, despising shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Make Jesus your pacemaker.—Heb. 11:10, 26; 12:1, 2.
24. Why should there be no delay in running the race now, and how should we run?
24 Jesus, Paul and the faithful witnesses of early times all ran with their eyes on the prize. Run as they did. Make time to run that way now. We have no assurance that circumstances will favor us with fewer distractions tomorrow. Distractions will likely increase as this world nears its doom. While it is still today, buy out the time for running. Appraise the prize correctly. Train regularly. Shed weights and distractions. Strip down to bare necessities. Run to win: Run with your eyes on the prize!