‘Run in Such a Way That You May Attain 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 CORINTHIANS 9:24.
1, 2. (a) What would be a great tragedy for a Christian today? (b) What counsel did Paul give at 1 Corinthians 9:24, and how did it apply to Christians at Corinth?
IT WAS to have been the grand climax to 12 years of grueling preparation. But just over half way into the race, the young athlete fell in a heap, abruptly ending her dreams of an Olympic gold medal. The news media called her fall a “tragedy.”
2 Far more tragic, however, would be the failure of a witness of Jehovah to finish the race for life, especially with the promised New Order so near! (2 Peter 3:13) Appropriately, then, the apostle Paul said: “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 Corinthians 9:24) Some in ancient Corinth were in danger of losing out because they selfishly did as they pleased, even at the cost of ‘wounding the consciences’ of others. (1 Corinthians 8:1-4, 10-12) Winning the race, though, entailed sacrifice, for Paul said: “Every man taking part in a contest exercises self-control . . . I pummel my body and lead it as a slave, that, after I have preached to others, I myself should not become disapproved somehow.”—1 Corinthians 9:25-27.
3. (a) What situation existed at Colossae that could have prevented Christians there from finishing the race? (b) Was it advisable for Christians at Colossae to study philosophy and mysticism?
3 Later, when writing to the Colossians, Paul warned of yet another potential danger—men who would ‘deprive them of the prize’ of life. (Colossians 2:18) So how could Christians ‘run in such a way as to attain it’? Did the apostle suggest that they study philosophy and mysticism in order to debate successfully with false teachers? No, for Christians had ‘died toward the elementary things of the world’ and should have wanted nothing to do with its philosophies and traditions.—Colossians 2:20.
4. How would gaining “accurate knowledge” help Christians in Colossae?
4 Paul, therefore, encouraged his fellow believers to focus their efforts on becoming “filled with the accurate knowledge of [God’s] will in all wisdom and spiritual comprehension.” Yes, “accurate knowledge”—not idle speculations—would help them “walk worthily of Jehovah to the end of fully pleasing him.” (Colossians 1:9, 10; see also Colossians 3:10.) True, most Christians in Colossae probably could recite the basic teachings of the Scriptures. But through study and meditation, they needed to go beyond the basics and become firmly “established on the foundation” of Christ. (Colossians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 3:11) After gaining such depth, ‘no man could delude them with persuasive arguments.’ (Colossians 2:4) Through skillful use of God’s Word, they could effectively refute the claims of any angel worshipers or Judaizers.—Deuteronomy 6:13; Jeremiah 31:31-34.
5. (a) Give some examples of “deep things” that a mature Christian should know and understand. (b) How does one sister’s experience show the danger of not taking in “accurate knowledge”?
5 Have you, though, gone beyond “the primary doctrine” and peered into “the deep things of God”? (Hebrews 6:1; 1 Corinthians 2:10) For example, can you identify the beasts of Revelation or explain what the spiritual temple is? (Revelation, chapter 13; Hebrews 9:11) Can you explain the Scriptural basis for the modern-day organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses? Are you well grounded in Bible doctrine? One Christian sister found it difficult to defend her beliefs when discussing the Trinity with a certain woman. Later, the woman gave our sister literature that slandered Jehovah’s organization. “I got very depressed spiritually,” this Witness recalls. Happily, an elder was able to expose the false claims of the opposers and restore our sister’s faith. (Jude 22, 23) “Now I understand,” she says, “why the Society always says pray, study, and meditate.”
“Trembling at Men”
6. (a) What has proved to be a stumbling block to some servants of God? Give some Biblical examples. (b) What often causes the fear of man?
6 “Trembling at men is what lays a snare,” warned the wise man. (Proverbs 29:25) And at times a morbid “fear of death” or an inordinate desire for acceptance by others pushes a person into this snare. (Hebrews 2:14, 15) Elijah, for one, fearlessly stood up against practicers of Baal worship. But when Queen Jezebel ordered his execution, “he became afraid . . . and began to go for his soul and came to Beer-sheba.” (1 Kings 19:1-3) The night Jesus was arrested, the apostle Peter likewise gave in to fear of man. Although Peter had boasted, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both into prison and into death,” when charged with being one of Christ’s disciples, “he started to curse and swear: ‘I do not know the man!’”—Luke 22:33; Matthew 26:74.
7. (a) Likely, what was the real reason why some in Colossae sought to blend Christianity with Judaism? (b) Who today appear to be similarly motivated?
7 Fearful desire for acceptance may have been the real reason why some sought to blend Christianity with Judaism. When Judaizers arose in Galatia, Paul exposed their hypocrisy, saying: “All those who want to make a pleasing appearance in the flesh are the ones that try to compel you to get circumcised, only that they may not be persecuted.” (Galatians 6:12) Could it be that a similar desire for popular acceptance has also been the force motivating some who have recently left Jehovah’s organization?
8, 9. (a) How might a Christian today manifest the fear of man? (b) How can this fear be overcome?
8 Christians must work to overcome such fears. If you are reluctant to preach in territories close to your home, or you hold back from witnessing to relatives, fellow workers, or schoolmates, remember the question that Jehovah asks at Isaiah 51:12: “Who are you that you should be afraid of a mortal man that will die, and of a son of mankind that will be rendered as mere green grass?” (Compare Matthew 10:28.) Remind yourself that anyone “trusting in Jehovah will be protected.” (Proverbs 29:25) Peter overcame his fear of man, eventually dying a martyr’s death. (John 21:18, 19) And many brothers today show similar courage.
9 A missionary serving in a country where the preaching work was under ban said: “It takes faith to go to a meeting or in the service, knowing that it is possible that you will be picked up by the police.” But like the psalmist the brothers there said: “Jehovah is on my side; I shall not fear. What can earthling man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6) And the work in that country flourished, recently attaining legal recognition. Regular participation in the field ministry is sure to help you develop the same confidence in Jehovah.
10. (a) What emotional need is universal, and how is it usually fulfilled? (b) Give Bible examples of men whose attachment to their wives was stronger than their relationship with Jehovah.
10 A book entitled The Individual, Marriage, and the Family states: “A universal need of the individual in all societies and in all segments of society is the need to ‘belong’ and to have a significant other who ‘belongs’ to him.” This need is usually fulfilled through the family arrangement, an institution of Jehovah. (Ephesians 3:14, 15) Satan, though, often exploits the attachment we feel to family members. Adam’s strong feelings for his wife evidently prodded him to ignore the consequences and join her in rebellion. (1 Timothy 2:14) And what about Solomon? In spite of his renowned wisdom, “it came about in the time of Solomon’s growing old that his wives themselves had inclined his heart to follow other gods; and his heart did not prove to be complete with Jehovah his God . . . And Solomon began to do what was bad in the eyes of Jehovah.”—1 Kings 11:4-6.
11. How did Eli ‘honor his sons more than Jehovah’?
11 Do you remember aged Eli, a high priest of Israel? His sons Hophni and Phinehas were “good-for-nothing men” who “did not acknowledge Jehovah.” They showed brazen disregard for sacrifices to Jehovah and committed sexual immorality “with the women that were serving at the entrance of the tent of meeting.” Yet Eli offered only the meekest of protests (“Why do you keep doing things like these?”), while making no effort to remove them from their privileged office. In effect, he was ‘honoring his sons more than Jehovah,’ this resulting in his—and their—death!—1 Samuel 2:12-17, 22, 23, 29-34; 4:18.
12. (a) What warning did Jesus give regarding family ties? (b) What worldly line of reasoning might some pursue when it comes to relatives, but is this Scripturally proper?
12 Misdirected loyalties could, therefore, hinder you in your race for life. Jesus told his disciples: “He that has greater affection for father or mother than for me is not worthy of me; and he that has greater affection for son or daughter than for me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37; Luke 14:26) But what if a loved one left the truth or was disfellowshipped? Would you go along with the worldly notion that “blood is thicker than water” and follow that relative into destruction? Or would you put faith in the words of Psalm 27:10: “In case my own father and my own mother did leave me, even Jehovah himself would take me up”?
13. How did the sons of Korah prove their loyalty to Jehovah, and how were they blessed for this?
13 The sons of Korah had such faith. Their father led a rebellion against the authority of Moses and Aaron. Jehovah, however, dramatically proved that he backed Moses and Aaron by executing Korah and his coconspirators. Yet “the sons of Korah did not die.” (Numbers 16:1-3, 28-32; 26:9-11) Apparently they refused to join their father in rebellion, and Jehovah blessed their loyalty by preserving them alive. Their descendants later had the privilege of writing portions of the Bible!—See the superscriptions of Psalms 42, 44–49, 84, 85, 87, 88.
14. What experience illustrates the blessing that results from placing loyalty to Jehovah above loyalty to relatives?
14 Loyalty today likewise results in blessings. One young Witness remembers the stand he and his brothers took when their mother, long inactive as a Christian, entered an adulterous marriage. “We reported matters to the elders,” he recalls, “and since she did not live at home, we decided to limit association with her until the elders could handle matters. It was the hardest thing we ever had to do.” The mother protested, “Does your everlasting life mean more to you than I do?” To this they replied, “Our relationship with Jehovah means more than anything.” The woman was jolted into manifesting sincere repentance, was restored spiritually, and serves again as an active publisher of the good news.
15. (a) How have some parents allowed their own children to be stumbling blocks? (b) How can a parent help both himself and his offspring to gain life?
15 Some have allowed their own children to be stumbling blocks. Failing to recognize that “foolishness is tied up with the heart of” youngsters, some parents have allowed their children to associate closely with worldlings, attend unsavory social affairs, and even date when far too young for marriage. (Proverbs 22:15) What are often the tragic consequences of such permissiveness? Spiritual shipwreck. (1 Timothy 1:19) Some even compound the wrong by deviously covering up the wrongdoing of their children! (Proverbs 3:32; 28:13) However, by loyally sticking to Bible principles, a parent helps both himself and his children to gain the prize of life.—1 Timothy 4:16.
Your Friends—“Wise” or “Stupid”?
16. (a) How can our friends be a powerful influence? (b) Who are particularly vulnerable to the influence of friends, and why?
16 The book Sociology: Human Society observes: “Desire for the esteem of one’s close friends exerts a strong pressure for conformity to their standards.” The book Adolescence shows that young people are particularly vulnerable to such pressure. It states: “[This is because] of the changes they are experiencing in their bodies, self-concepts, and relationships with their families. As a result, adolescents begin spending more time with their friends and less with their families.”
17. (a) Illustrate the truthfulness of the words of Proverbs 13:20. (b) What kind of friends could be considered “wise”? (c) How can young people today follow the example of young Samuel?
17 Not to be overlooked are the words of Proverbs 13:20: “He that is walking with wise persons will become wise, but he that is having dealings with the stupid ones will fare badly.” One Christian girl confesses: “All the bad association at my school is really starting to affect me. I caught myself saying a curse word in school today . . . I almost said it, but I didn’t.” Sad to say, some Christian youths have been led into very serious acts of misconduct by so-called friends. But if you are a young person desirous of gaining the prize, search out wise friends—those who are spiritually minded, upright in their conduct, upbuilding in their speech. Remember, young Samuel did not associate with the bad sons of Eli. He stayed busy “ministering to Jehovah,” thus remaining untouched by their corruption.—1 Samuel 3:1.
Attain the Prize!
18. (a) How may some brothers, perhaps unwittingly, hinder us in our race for life? (b) What can protect us from such unwholesome influences?
18 Beware, then, of anyone who would deprive you of the prize of life. This, of course, does not mean that you should view your brothers with suspicion. At times, though, perhaps unwittingly, some brothers may say things that discourage you. (‘Why do you keep pushing yourself? Do you think you’re the only one who will gain life?’) They may even harshly judge your sincere efforts. (‘I just don’t see how you can pioneer with a family. It just isn’t fair to your children.’) However, recall that Jesus rejected Peter’s admonition to ‘take it easy.’ (Matthew 16:22, 23) Use your Bible-trained ears to “test out words,” and do not be influenced by those that do not ring true. (Job 12:11) Remember that Paul said: “If anyone contends even in the games, he is not crowned unless he has contended according to the rules.” (2 Timothy 2:5) Yes, God’s “rules”—not unscriptural opinions—must guide your thinking.—Compare 1 Corinthians 4:3, 4.
19, 20. (a) How did Joseph’s brothers seek to do him harm, and how did Joseph respond to their unkindness? (b) How can we avoid stumbling over imperfect humans? (c) What should be our resolve with regard to the prize, and why?
19 True, at times a fellow Christian may ‘stab’ you with some thoughtless word. (Proverbs 12:18) Do not let this make you quit the race for life! Remember Joseph. His own brothers considered murdering him, and though restrained from doing so, they finally sold him into cruel slavery. Joseph, however, did not allow this to embitter him or ‘enrage him against Jehovah.’ (Proverbs 19:3) Rather than taking revenge, he later gave them opportunity to demonstrate a changed attitude. And upon observing their repentance, he “proceeded to kiss all his brothers and to weep over them.” As Jacob later said, “the archers [Joseph’s jealous brothers] kept harassing him and shot at him and kept harboring animosity against him.” Yet Joseph repaid their hatred with kindness. Rather than being weakened by the experience, “the strength of his hands was supple.”—Genesis 37:18-28; 44:15–45:15; 49:23, 24.
20 So rather than stumbling over imperfect humans, keep on ‘running in such a way as to attain’ the prize! Like Joseph, let trialsome encounters strengthen rather than weaken you. (Compare James 1:2, 3.) Let your love for God prove to be so strong that no human will become a stumbling block to you. (Psalm 119:165) Always remember that Jehovah holds out the prize of everlasting life—a prize beyond description, beyond comprehension. Let no man deprive you of it!
Do You Recall?
□ Why is accurate knowledge of such value to Christians?
□ How can one overcome the fear of man that has prevented some from gaining life?
□ How could one’s own family prove to be a stumbling block?
□ How should a Christian respond to discouraging or even hurtful words from fellow Christians?
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By filling our minds and hearts with accurate knowledge, we equip ourselves to refute erroneous ideas
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Peter denied Jesus because of fear of man. Later, the apostle conquered such fear. So must all true Christians