Do Not Give Up in the Race for Life!
“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”—Hebrews 12:1.
1, 2. What exciting events have thrilled Jehovah’s servants during these last days?
WE LIVE in exciting and challenging times. More than 80 years ago, in 1914, Jesus was enthroned as King of God’s heavenly Kingdom. “The Lord’s day” and with it “the time of the end” of this system of things began. (Revelation 1:10; Daniel 12:9) Since then the Christian’s race for life has taken on increasing urgency. God’s servants have exerted themselves vigorously to keep up with Jehovah’s celestial chariot, his heavenly organization, which is moving unstoppably to fulfill Jehovah’s purposes.—Ezekiel 1:4-28; 1 Corinthians 9:24.
2 Have God’s people found joy as they ‘run the race’ toward everlasting life? Yes, indeed! They have thrilled to see the gathering of the remaining ones of Jesus’ brothers, and they rejoice to realize that the final sealing of the remaining ones of the 144,000 is well along. (Revelation 7:3, 4) Moreover, they are excited to discern that Jehovah’s appointed King has thrust his sickle in to reap “the harvest of the earth.” (Revelation 14:15, 16) And what a harvest it is! (Matthew 9:37) So far, more than five million souls have been gathered in—“a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues.” (Revelation 7:9) No one can say how great that crowd will finally be, since no man is able to number it.
3. Despite what must we always try to cultivate a joyful spirit?
3 True, Satan tries to trip us or slow us down as we speed along in the race. (Revelation 12:17) And it has not been easy to keep running through the wars, the famines, the pestilences, and all the other hardships that mark the time of the end. (Matthew 24:3-9; Luke 21:11; 2 Timothy 3:1-5) Still, our hearts leap with joy as the end of the race draws closer. We strive to reflect the spirit that Paul urged fellow Christians in his day to have: “Always rejoice in the Lord. Once more I will say, Rejoice!”—Philippians 4:4.
4. What kind of spirit was manifested by the Philippian Christians?
4 There is no doubt that the Christians to whom Paul addressed those words were finding joy in their faith, for Paul said to them: “Continue rejoicing in the Lord.” (Philippians 3:1) The Philippians were a generous, loving congregation who served with zeal and enthusiasm. (Philippians 1:3-5; 4:10, 14-20) But not all first-century Christians had that spirit. For example, some of the Jewish Christians to whom Paul wrote the book of Hebrews were a cause for concern.
“Pay More Than the Usual Attention”
5. (a) What spirit did Hebrew Christians have when the first Christian congregation was formed? (b) Describe the spirit of some Hebrew Christians about 60 C.E.
5 The first Christian congregation in world history was made up of natural Jews and proselytes and was established in Jerusalem in 33 C.E. What kind of spirit did it have? One only has to read the early chapters of the book of Acts to learn of its enthusiasm and joy, even in the face of persecution. (Acts 2:44-47; 4:32-34; 5:41; 6:7) As the decades passed, however, things changed, and many Jewish Christians evidently slowed down in the race for life. One reference work says this about their situation as it existed about 60 C.E.: “A condition of languor and weariness, of disappointed expectations, deferred hopes, conscious failure and practical unbelief. They were Christians but had slender appreciation of the glory of their calling.” How could anointed Christians get into such a state? A consideration of parts of Paul’s letter to the Hebrews (written about 61 C.E.) helps us to answer that question. Such a consideration will help all of us today to avoid sinking into a similarly weak spiritual state.
6. What are some differences between worship under the Law of Moses and worship based on faith in Jesus Christ?
6 Hebrew Christians came out of Judaism, a system that claimed to obey the Law that Jehovah gave through Moses. That Law seems to have continued to hold an attraction for many Jewish Christians, perhaps because for many centuries it had been the only way of approach to Jehovah, and it was an impressive system of worship, with a priesthood, regular sacrifices, and a world-famous temple in Jerusalem. Christianity is different. It demands a spiritual vision, like that of Moses, who “looked intently toward the payment of the [yet future] reward” and “continued steadfast as seeing the One who is invisible.” (Hebrews 11:26, 27) Many Jewish Christians evidently lacked such spiritual vision. They were limping along instead of running in a purposeful manner.
7. How might the system we have come out of affect the way we run in the race for life?
7 Is there a similar situation today? Well, things are not exactly the same. Still, Christians come out of a system of things that makes great boasts. The world offers exciting opportunities, but at the same time, it places heavy demands on people. In addition, many of us live in lands where a skeptical attitude is common and where people have a selfish, me-first approach to things. If we allow ourselves to be influenced by such a system, the ‘eyes of our heart’ could easily be dulled. (Ephesians 1:18) How will we run well in the race for life if we can no longer clearly discern where we are going?
8. What are some ways in which Christianity is superior to worship under the Law?
8 In order to stimulate Jewish Christians, Paul reminded them of the superiority of the Christian system over the Mosaic Law. True, when the nation of fleshly Israel was Jehovah’s people under the Law, Jehovah spoke to it through inspired prophets. But, says Paul, today he speaks “by means of a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the systems of things.” (Hebrews 1:2) Further, Jesus is greater than all the kings of the line of David, his “partners.” He is even higher than the angels.—Hebrews 1:5, 6, 9.
9. Why do we, like Jewish Christians of Paul’s day, need to pay “more than the usual attention” to what Jehovah says?
9 Therefore, Paul counseled Jewish Christians: “It is necessary for us to pay more than the usual attention to the things heard by us, that we may never drift away.” (Hebrews 2:1) Although learning about the Christ was a wonderful blessing, more was needed. They needed to pay close attention to God’s Word to counteract the influence of the Jewish world surrounding them. We too need to pay “more than the usual attention” to what Jehovah says in view of the constant propaganda that we are exposed to from this world. This means developing good study habits and maintaining a good Bible-reading schedule. As Paul says later in his letter to the Hebrews, it also means being regular at meetings and in proclaiming our faith to others. (Hebrews 10:23-25) Such activity will help us to remain spiritually alert so that we do not lose sight of our glorious hope. If we fill our minds with Jehovah’s thoughts, we will not be overwhelmed or thrown off balance by anything this world can do to us.—Psalm 1:1-3; Proverbs 3:1-6.
“Keep On Exhorting One Another”
10. (a) What can happen to one who does not pay more than the usual attention to Jehovah’s Word? (b) How can we “keep on exhorting one another”?
10 If we do not pay close attention to spiritual things, God’s promises may well come to seem unreal. This even happened in the first century when congregations were entirely made up of anointed Christians and some of the apostles were still alive. Paul warned the Hebrews: “Beware, brothers, for fear there should ever develop in any one of you a wicked heart lacking faith by drawing away from the living God; but keep on exhorting one another each day, as long as it may be called ‘Today,’ for fear any one of you should become hardened by the deceptive power of sin.” (Hebrews 3:12, 13) Paul’s expression “beware” emphasizes the need to be alert. Danger threatens! A lack of faith—“sin”—might develop in our hearts, and we could draw away from God instead of closer to him. (James 4:8) Paul reminds us to “keep on exhorting one another.” We need the warmth of brotherly association. “One isolating himself will seek his own selfish longing; against all practical wisdom he will break forth.” (Proverbs 18:1) The need for such association moves Christians today to be regular in attending congregation meetings, assemblies, and conventions.
11, 12. Why should we not be satisfied with knowing merely basic Christian doctrines?
11 Later in his letter, Paul gives this further invaluable counsel: “Although you ought to be teachers in view of the time, you again need someone to teach you from the beginning the elementary things of the sacred pronouncements of God; and you have become such as need milk, not solid food. . . . Solid food belongs to mature people, to those who through use have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.” (Hebrews 5:12-14) Evidently, some Jewish Christians had failed to move ahead in understanding. They had been slow to accept increased light regarding the Law and circumcision. (Acts 15:27-29; Galatians 2:11-14; 6:12, 13) Some may still have valued such traditional practices as the weekly Sabbath and the solemn annual Atonement Day.—Colossians 2:16, 17; Hebrews 9:1-14.
12 Hence, Paul says: “Now that we have left the primary doctrine about the Christ, let us press on to maturity.” (Hebrews 6:1) A marathon runner who pays close attention to his diet is better able to endure the long, grueling race. Similarly, a Christian who pays close attention to spiritual nutrition—not limiting himself to basic, ‘primary doctrines’—will be better able to stay on the course and finish it. (Compare 2 Timothy 4:7.) This means developing an interest in “the breadth and length and height and depth” of the truth, thus progressing to maturity.—Ephesians 3:18.
“You Have Need of Endurance”
13. How had the Hebrew Christians demonstrated their faith in times past?
13 In the period immediately following Pentecost 33 C.E., Jewish Christians stood firm despite fierce opposition. (Acts 8:1) Perhaps Paul had this in mind when he wrote: “Keep on remembering the former days in which, after you were enlightened, you endured a great contest under sufferings.” (Hebrews 10:32) Such faithful endurance demonstrated their love of God and gave them freeness of speech before him. (1 John 4:17) Paul exhorts them not to throw that away because of a lack of faith. He urges them: “You have need of endurance, in order that, after you have done the will of God, you may receive the fulfillment of the promise. For yet ‘a very little while,’ and ‘he who is coming will arrive and will not delay.’”—Hebrews 10:35-37.
14. What facts should help us to endure even after many years of serving Jehovah?
14 What about us today? Most of us were zealous when we first learned the Christian truth. Do we still have that zeal? Or have we ‘left the love we had at first’? (Revelation 2:4) Have we cooled down, perhaps become a little disillusioned or tired of waiting for Armageddon? Stop, though, and consider. The truth is no less wonderful than it was before. Jesus is still our heavenly King. We still hope for everlasting life on a paradise earth, and we still have our relationship with Jehovah. And never forget: “He who is coming will arrive and will not delay.”
15. Like Jesus, how have some Christians endured bitter persecution?
15 Hence, Paul’s words recorded at Hebrews 12:1, 2 are very appropriate: “Let us also put off every weight and the sin [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. 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.” There are many things that God’s servants have endured in these last days. Like Jesus, who was faithful to the point of an agonizing death, some of our brothers and sisters have faithfully endured the harshest persecution—prison camps, torture, rape, even death. (1 Peter 2:21) Does our heart not swell with love for them when we consider their integrity?
16, 17. (a) What challenges to their faith do most Christians contend with? (b) Remembering what will help us to keep running in the race for life?
16 To most, however, Paul’s further words apply: “In carrying on your contest against that sin you have never yet resisted as far as blood.” (Hebrews 12:4) Nevertheless, in this system the way of the truth is not easy for any of us. Some are discouraged by “contrary talk by sinners” at secular work or at school, enduring mockery or resisting pressure to sin. (Hebrews 12:3) Strong temptation has eroded the determination of some to maintain God’s high standards. (Hebrews 13:4, 5) Apostates have affected the spiritual balance of a few who listen to their poisonous propaganda. (Hebrews 13:9) Personality problems have robbed others of joy. Overemphasis on entertainment and leisure activities has weakened some Christians. And most feel pressured by the problems of living in this system of things.
17 True, none of these situations constitute ‘resistance as far as blood.’ And some may be traceable to wrong decisions that we ourselves make. But all of them pose a challenge to our faith. That is why we should keep our eye on Jesus’ magnificent example of endurance. May we never forget how wonderful our hope is. May we never lose our conviction that Jehovah “becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” (Hebrews 11:6) Then, we will have the spiritual strength to keep running in the race for life.
We Can Endure
18, 19. What historical events suggest that Hebrew Christians in Jerusalem heeded Paul’s inspired counsel?
18 How did Jewish Christians respond to Paul’s letter? Some six years after the letter to the Hebrews was written, Judea was at war. In 66 C.E., the Roman army besieged Jerusalem, fulfilling Jesus’ words: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies, then know that the desolating of her has drawn near.” (Luke 21:20) However, for the benefit of Christians who would be in Jerusalem at that time, Jesus said: “Then let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains, and let those in the midst of her withdraw, and let those in the country places not enter into her.” (Luke 21:21) Hence, the war with Rome posed a test: Would those Jewish Christians abandon Jerusalem, the center of Jewish worship and the site of the glorious temple?
19 Suddenly, and for no known reason, the Romans withdrew. Likely, religious Jews viewed this as proof that God was protecting their holy city. What about Christians? History tells us that they fled. Then, in 70 C.E., the Romans came back and totally destroyed Jerusalem with appalling loss of life. The “day of Jehovah” foretold by Joel had arrived on Jerusalem. But faithful Christians were no longer there. They ‘got away safe.’—Joel 2:30-32; Acts 2:16-21.
20. Knowing that the great “day of Jehovah” is close should move us in what ways?
20 Today, we know that another great “day of Jehovah” will soon affect this whole system of things. (Joel 3:12-14) We do not know when that day will come. But God’s Word assures us that come it will! Jehovah says it will not be late. (Habakkuk 2:3; 2 Peter 3:9, 10) Hence, let us “pay more than the usual attention to the things heard.” Avoid a lack of faith, “the sin that easily entangles us.” Be determined to endure for as long as it takes. Remember, Jehovah’s great chariotlike heavenly organization is on the move. It will accomplish its purpose. So may we all keep running and not give up in the race for life!
Do You Remember?
□ Heeding what exhortation of Paul to the Philippians will help us endure in the race for life?
□ What will help us to counteract the tendency of this world to distract us?
□ How can we help one another to endure in the race?
□ What are some things that could slow a Christian down?
□ How can Jesus’ example help us to endure?
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Christians, like runners, must let nothing distract them
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Nothing can prevent Jehovah’s great celestial chariot from accomplishing God’s purpose