Do Not Let Yourself Be Sidetracked in the Race for Life
1. In what vital race are Christians participating, and what is the prize for those who finish successfully?
CHRISTIANS are in a very unusual race. Winning does not depend so much on swiftness as it does on endurance and adhering to the rules of the race. And while it may appear strange, the race is won, not just by a single winner, but by all who stay in the race to the finish. It is the race along the racetrack, really the cramped road entered through a narrow gate, to everlasting life in God’s new system of things. (Matt. 7:14) The grand prize of eternal life goes to all who finish successfully, and it is worth all the persistent training and the sacrifices needed in order to win.
2. Why is this race not easy, and how should the hurdles along the way be viewed?
2 But this race is not easy. It is not completed in one day. And there is an ever-present danger of being sidetracked, of being turned aside from the more difficult road to life, into the broad and spacious road that Jesus described as leading to destruction. (Matt. 7:13) In this strenuous race for life, if the weaknesses of the fallen flesh from within and the pressures and attractions from the world without are not looked upon continually as hurdles to get over, they will become diverting barriers that turn one aside from the race. Among these major things that can sidetrack a Christian, we will deal with materialism first.
THE PROPER VIEW OF MATERIAL POSSESSIONS
3. Why is the proper view of material possessions important?
3 Man, made by God to live on the earth and to enjoy its bounties, naturally desires the good things of life provided by his Creator. That in itself is not wrong, but how can one enjoy any material possessions without life and a measure of health? (Matt. 16:26) God is the Life-Giver, and he has the right to set forth reasonable requirements that must be met in order to retain this gift of life. He is very frank in telling man that ingrates and mere pleasure-seekers will not have a permanent inheritance on earth. They will be cut off. Moreover, one’s seeking only material advantages and comforts now, without developing spiritual and moral values that are rooted deeply in the true worship of God, results in a very empty and frustrating life.
4. How did Jesus illustrate the deceptive value of material riches?
4 Jesus put things in proper focus when he warned: “Keep your eyes open and guard against every sort of covetousness, because even when a person has an abundance his life does not result from the things he possesses.” He then illustrated the point with the parable of the rich man who tore down his storehouses in order to build bigger ones for his ever-increasing produce. Thinking the future to be very secure for him now, he said to himself: “Soul, you have many good things laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, enjoy yourself.” However, Jesus went on to say of this man who had put his trust in material possessions: “But God said to him, ‘Unreasonable one, this night they are demanding your soul from you. Who, then, is to have the things you stored up?’” Driving the point home in conclusion, Jesus said: “So it goes with the man that lays up treasure for himself but is not rich toward God.”—Luke 12:15-21.
5. What attitudes can easily develop when one is selfishly pursuing material possessions and comforts?
5 So what is the danger here? It is the danger of getting so involved in gaining things to satisfy one’s fleshly desires. In this way one forgets that God created the earth and man upon it, and that hence a person cannot really be happy and fulfill the purpose for living by putting trust in what he can rake up around him as material security or creature comforts. Invariably such a person becomes self-centered. The welfare of his neighbor is not important. While he is seeking to protect his possessions from the greed of others, violence and killing often result. Self-confidence leads to self-reliance. God does not really count, is even dismissed as the real Provider. And the promise of everlasting life becomes just an unrealistic dream. Why pursue some illusionary thing, such a one often reasons, when it is possible to have material comforts now? Thus a materialistic philosophy can easily sidetrack one from the race to everlasting life or prevent one from ever starting it.
6. (a) How can we as Christians imitate the runner in a race in preparing for and running the race for life? (b) How did Jesus set the perfect example for us to imitate?
6 In contrast, the successful runner does not indulge himself but follows a strict routine of exercise and diet that keeps him in shape. In the race, he is stripped down to bare essentials, and he is very careful not to stumble or disqualify himself. (1 Cor. 9:24-27; 2 Tim. 2:5) Drawing on the experiences of ancient runners, Paul counseled Christians: “Let us also put off every weight and the sin [the lack of faith] that easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, as we look intently at the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus.” Yes, Jesus had run this course himself and exemplified how it could be done successfully. While the victorious conclusion of the race for him led to death on a torture stake and the shame associated with it, afterward God gave him the prize of glorious immortal life in the heavens at His right hand. In view of such a fine outcome, Paul admonished: “Indeed, consider closely the one who has endured such contrary talk by sinners against their own interests, that you may not get tired and give out in your souls.”—Heb. 12:1-3; 3:12, 13.
7. (a) What principle did Jesus set out that shows that it is impossible for one to divide one’s loyalties? (b) What is Jehovah’s promise as to necessities, allowing us to put what first?
7 In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus stated the principle: “No one can slave for two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will stick to the one and despise the other. You cannot slave for God and for Riches.” Then after telling of Jehovah’s caring for the needs of the animal and plant creations, and how humans are “worth more than they are,” he stated: “So never be anxious and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or, ‘What are we to drink?’ or, ‘What are we to put on?’ For all these are the things the nations are eagerly pursuing. For your heavenly Father knows you need all these things. Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.”—Matt. 6:24-33.
8. What two contrasting treasures did Paul write about, and what results in pursuing either of these?
8 The apostle Paul warned: “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.” Rather than letting themselves be sidetracked into this course that plunges “men into destruction and ruin,” Paul encouraged Christians “to rest their hope, not on uncertain riches, but on God, who furnishes us all things richly for our enjoyment; to work at good, to be rich in fine works, to be liberal, ready to share, safely treasuring up for themselves a fine foundation for the future, in order that they may get a firm hold on the real life.”—1 Tim. 6:9, 10, 17-19.
9. (a) As to obtaining necessities, what responsibility rests upon a Christian, and especially the head of the house? (b) How can the Devil cause one to become sidetracked by material possessions?
9 We of course, have need of our daily requirements, and we should work honestly and honorably for these as we run the race set before us. Indeed, the man not providing the necessities of life for his family would be disqualified from the race, he having thus “disowned the faith and [being] worse than a person without faith.” (1 Tim. 5:8) But we cannot run the race successfully by letting any glamour associated with the work we do or the wages earned therefrom become the big things in life. Our having a place to live is a necessity, but our buying a house beyond our means and letting the furnishing and upkeep of this occupy all our time could easily cause us to drop out of the race for life. The same could be said regarding a car or a boat, an inordinate desire for new and stylish clothing, taking expensive trips for pleasure or excessively occupying ourselves with hobbies. Remember, the Devil has many years of experience in knowing how to use material possessions to capture the heart and lead the unwary astray from the race for life.
10. What questions might one ask oneself in determining the advisability of obtaining certain material possessions?
10 In looking to the race ahead, learn to ask respecting material things: Is this something that is necessary in order for me to keep living and serving Jehovah? Will this help me to be a better servant of Jehovah, or will it slow me down? What obligations or weights will this impose on me? Do I really need this in order to provide for my household? Will I have to go into debt to get it? Will it cut down on the time I have for Bible study, Christian meetings and the preaching of the Kingdom message? Is this in any way going to sidetrack me from my purpose in life?
11. Why is it futile to make the big thing in life a career in this system of things?
11 Parents, train your children to keep in focus the Kingdom hope, in order to avoid materialistic tendencies. Youths today are encouraged to carve out careers for themselves in this materialistic world. But this would be like the young man out looking for a job after years of schooling, and who applied for a job with what appeared to be a growing and progressive company, while he ignored the sign on the door: “GOING OUT OF BUSINESS. BUILDING CONDEMNED FOR NEW GOVERNMENT PROJECT.” This old system, too, will soon be out of business, even though it is humming with materialistic pursuits. To have a real future, we should plan every move in relation to Jehovah’s new government for this earth by his King Jesus Christ.
12. In our putting the Kingdom and its interests first, what might the making of personal adjustments permit us to do?
12 Resources and abilities that we might possess should be used to advance Kingdom interests, rather than letting them serve as hindrances in the race for life. For instance, if you have an extra house, could you sell it and use the money to enter the pioneer service instead of working hard to maintain both houses? If you have retired or will soon retire from secular work, does your heart move you to use the increased freedom for a fuller share in the Kingdom preaching? Even though your resources may be limited, how can they be used best in serving Jehovah?
13. If we truly love life, how will we view material possessions?
13 The objective should be to make material things serve us as needed, and not for us to become enslaved to them. If we truly appreciate spiritual values and put our relationship with Jehovah above all else, he will help us to keep running the race with endurance and to gain the prize. The world with its desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life “is passing away . . . but he that does the will of God remains forever.”—1 John 2:15-17.
KEEPING FREE FROM NATIONALISM
14. What hurdles involving nationalism face Christians in running the race for life?
14 Another barrier erected to sidetrack Christians from the race for life involves nationalism. This hurdle is being raised higher and higher in all countries as we get deeper into the time of the end. Often on one’s confronting this hurdle, it is made to seem that the wise and practical course for one is just to give up the race and to turn aside. To do so would seem to enable one to avoid the public criticism and violent acts that are used many times by officials and mobs who seek to force compliance with unscriptural laws or attitudes. On the other hand, nationalistic propaganda is designed to stir national or racial pride. It is made to appear as an attractive cause in which to get involved. In fact, in many countries nationalism has become a religion. As a result, each national group thinks its country and way of life are the best and it becomes intolerant of others.
15. What attitude does nationalism promote?
15 Author Ivo Duchacek observed in his book Conflict and Cooperation Among Nations: “Nationalism divides humanity into mutually intolerant units. As a result, people think as Americans, Russians, Chinese, Egyptians or Peruvians first, and human beings second—if at all.” Former U.N. Secretary-General U Thant observed: “So many of the problems that we face today are due to, or the result of, false attitudes—some of them have been adopted almost unconsciously. Among these is the concept of narrow nationalism—‘my country, right or wrong.’”
16. How did Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego face up to the issue of nationalism in Babylon?
16 Nationalism is not new. It got its start in Babylon with Nimrod, the first one who set himself up as king in opposition to Jehovah. Centuries later the Hebrews in captivity in this infamous city felt keenly the cruel and unreasonable demands of nationalism. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were among the subjects Nebuchadnezzar gathered on the plain of Dura and who were instructed to bow down in worship before the national state image. These Hebrew worshipers of the true God Jehovah, however, refused to bow down, even on the threat of being thrown into the fiery furnace alive. They had the courage to tell the raging king: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we are under no necessity in this regard to say back a word to you. If it is to be, our God whom we are serving is able to rescue us. Out of the burning fiery furnace and out of your hand, O king, he will rescue us. But if not, let it become known to you, O king, that your gods are not the ones we are serving, and the image of gold that you have set up we will not worship.”—Dan. 3:16-18.
17-19. (a) What similar questions on Christian neutrality face us today? (b) How did Jesus set the example when being examined by Pilate? (c) To what did involvement in nationalism lead the Jews who rejected Jesus?
17 Do we today feel the same way as did these faithful servants of God in the past? When national law or community pressure seems to make it imperative that we bow down before national emblems or salute them in an act of worship, vote for political leaders or support nationalistic schemes, will we compromise and get disqualified and sidetracked from the race for life? Or, rather, will we do as Jesus and the early Christians did?
18 Jesus set the perfect example when before the Roman governor Pilate for trial. The Jews lyingly claimed that Jesus had made himself an earthly king. If true, this would be treasonous. But to Pilate’s query, Jesus said: “My kingdom is no part of this world. If my kingdom were part of this world, my attendants would have fought that I should not be delivered up to the Jews. But, as it is, my kingdom is not from this source.” Pilate was ready to release Jesus on the basis of this truthful reply, but his Jewish accusers answered: “If you release this man, you are not a friend of Caesar. Every man making himself a king speaks against Caesar.” Pilate remonstrated with them: “Shall I impale your king?” The chief priests answered: “We have no king but Caesar.”—John 18:33-38; 19:12-16.
19 History records the terrible consequences of their choosing “Caesar” rather than Jesus as the Messiah, when Jerusalem was destroyed thirty-seven years later with a great loss of life, the remainder of her inhabitants going into slavery among the nations. Who, in this instance, maintained neutrality with respect to the affairs of this world while maintaining strict loyalty to God’s kingdom? Jesus Christ!
20. How were early Christians tempted to become sidetracked by nationalism?
20 What did the early Christians do? Daniel P. Mannix, in his book Those About to Die, stated: “Christians refused to . . . sacrifice to the emperor’s genius—roughly equivalent today to refusing to salute the flag or repeat the oath of allegiance. . . . Very few of the Christians recanted, although an altar with a fire burning on it was generally kept in the arena for their convenience. All a prisoner had to do was scatter a pinch of incense on the flame and he was given a Certificate of Sacrifice and turned free. It was also carefully explained to him that he was not worshiping the emperor; merely acknowledging the divine character of the emperor as head of the Roman state. Still, almost no Christians availed themselves of the chance to escape.”
21. Why do Christians expect persecution because of not becoming involved in nationalism?
21 From the first century down until today nationalism has caused bitter persecution of Christians. But those who loved God and kept their eyes on the prize at the end of the race did not compromise. It is not strange to them that they have these obstacles to contend with, since it was thus foretold. Jesus said to his disciples: “Be on your guard against men; for they will deliver you up to local courts, and they will scourge you in their synagogues. Why, you will be haled before governors and kings for my sake, for a witness to them and the nations.” While God would allow this as a test for his people and for them to give a witness, Jesus added: “And do not become fearful of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; but rather be in fear of him that can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”—Matt. 10:16-18, 28.
22. Why now, deep into the “time of the end,” is it increasingly difficult to keep free from nationalism?
22 The Bible particularly warns that, during the “time of the end,” the Devil’s political organization would apply an economic lockout against God-fearing people in that those not bowing to pressure to worship this beastly system would not be able “to buy or sell except a person having the mark” of the beast. (Rev. 13:17) If it should happen in your country that identification with a political party is required in order to get employment or other advantages, what would you do? Of course, you need employment to care for your family. Under pressure, what will you do? In whom do you put your confidence for the necessities of life? Will you panic and forget that you have prayed to God: “Give us today our bread for this day”? (Matt. 6:11) Jehovah knows that we have need of food, clothing and shelter, but it is important to remember that the Adversary, Satan the Devil, presses the issue of integrity into all aspects of life. As in the case of Job, he may raise the charge with respect to any one of us that we will turn against God if deprived of some of our material needs. But the warning is given that the name of not one of those who worship this beastly system is written in the scroll of life. (Rev. 13:8) By maintaining our loyalty to Jehovah under test, we can be assured that He will open the way and provide relief.
23. (a) What conditions could make it easy for Christians to get involved in nonneutral causes? (b) Why do we not need to feel that we should take matters into our own hands when social injustices are committed against us?
23 Sometimes social, racial and religious barriers and prejudices result in hardship and oppression for many. They often make the Christian’s race for life much more difficult. The tendency is to speak out, to fight back, to take things into one’s own hands, to demand justice. For example, a minority group may strike out for more rights. Protest marches may be organized to put pressure on the government. Boycotts may be arranged to bring pressure on merchants. Leaders among the group may appeal to the pride of their people, and by speech or by coercion they may seek the Christian’s support. What will you do if you are faced with this situation or a similar one? Again there is a need to maintain neutrality and avoid getting involved in the affairs of this world. Rest assured that Jehovah will settle accounts for any wrongs committed. “Return evil for evil to no one. Provide fine things in the sight of all men. If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men. Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath; for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says Jehovah.’”—Rom. 12:17-19.
24. What course has been taken by some claiming to be Christian, but what do they fail to recognize about this?
24 Hence, do not let yourself be sidetracked from the race for life by the propaganda or pressure designed to cause you to compromise on your Christian neutrality. You will be criticized because of this, since the trend in Christendom today is for both the parishioners and their ministers to get involved in social causes. They have stopped waiting for God’s kingdom to bring the real remedies that are needed for man’s social problems, and they have taken sides. But they fail to recognize that no matter on what side a person may place himself in this world, he is still on the Devil’s side, if he actively supports any of the nationalistic programs and policies put forward by this system of things.
25. Why can we put our complete trust in Jehovah in facing future issues regarding materialism and nationalism?
25 Hence let neither materialism nor nationalism cause you to be sidetracked from your course as a Christian. Put your complete trust in God and his kingdom by his Son, Christ Jesus. “Let your manner of life be free of the love of money, while you are content with the present things. For he has said: ‘I will by no means leave you nor by any means forsake you.’ So that we may be of good courage and say: ‘Jehovah is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’” (Heb. 13:5, 6) But there are other obstacles that can take a Christian out of the race for everlasting life, and in subsequent studies we will deal with these.