“Run . . . That You May Attain It”
“Run in such a way that you may attain it.”—1 COR. 9:24.
1, 2. (a) What did Paul use to encourage the Hebrew Christians? (b) What are God’s servants admonished to do?
IN HIS letter to the Hebrews, the apostle Paul used a powerful word picture to encourage his fellow Christians. He reminded them that they were not alone in running the race for life. Surrounding them were a ‘great cloud of witnesses,’ who had successfully completed the race. Having clearly in mind the faithful acts and strenuous efforts of these forerunners would give the Hebrew Christians incentive to press on and not to give out in their race.
2 In the preceding article, we considered the life course of several among the “cloud of witnesses.” All demonstrated that unshakable faith enabled them to remain loyal to God, as if they were pressing on in a race to the finish. We can draw a lesson from their success. As noted in that article, Paul offered this admonition to his fellow servants, including 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.”—Heb. 12:1.
3. What was Paul’s point of counsel with reference to runners in the Greek games?
3 Regarding foot racing, one of the popular athletic events of the day, the book Backgrounds of Early Christianity tells us that “the Greeks exercised and competed in the nude.”a In such cases, the runners stripped themselves of any extraneous weight or burden that could slow them down. While we would object to their lack of modesty and propriety, they ran that way with the sole objective of winning the prize. Paul’s point was that to gain the prize in the race for life, it is essential for runners to remove hindrances of any sort. This was sound counsel for Christians back then, and it is for us today. What weights or burdens might hinder us from gaining the prize in the race for life?
“Put Off Every Weight”
4. What were people in Noah’s day preoccupied with?
4 Paul’s counsel was to “put off every weight.” That includes everything that might prevent us from giving our full attention and best effort to the race we are running. What might such weights be? Looking at Noah—one of those examples cited by Paul—we recall what Jesus said: “Just as it occurred in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of man.” (Luke 17:26) Jesus was not speaking primarily about the unprecedented destruction that is to come; he was referring to the people’s way of life. (Read Matthew 24:37-39.) The majority of the people in Noah’s day did not show interest in God, let alone endeavor to please him. What had distracted them? Nothing extraordinary. Eating, drinking, and marrying—things that are normal aspects of life. The real problem was that “they took no note,” as Jesus said.
5. What can help us to complete the race successfully?
5 Like Noah and his family, we have much to do every day. We need to make a living and to take care of ourselves and our family. That can occupy a large portion of our time, energy, and resources. Especially in economically challenging times, it is easy to become anxious about life’s necessities. As dedicated Christians, we also have important theocratic responsibilities. We share in the ministry, prepare for and attend Christian meetings, and keep spiritually strong by personal study and family worship. Despite all that Noah had to do in serving God, “he did just so.” (Gen. 6:22) Surely, keeping the weight we have to carry to a minimum, as well as avoiding taking on any unnecessary burden, is vital if we are to run the Christian race to the finish.
6, 7. We should keep in mind what counsel of Jesus?
6 What did Paul mean when he said to put off “every weight”? Of course, we cannot relieve ourselves completely of every responsibility that we have. In this regard, bear in mind Jesus’ words: “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.” (Matt. 6:31, 32) Jesus’ words imply that even so-called normal things like food and clothing can become a burden or a stumbling block if not kept in their proper place.
7 Focus on Jesus’ words: “Your heavenly Father knows you need all these things.” This implies that our heavenly Father, Jehovah, will do his part to take care of our needs. To be sure, “all these things” may be different from what we personally are inclined to like or want. Still, we are told not to be anxious about “the things the nations are eagerly pursuing.” Why? Jesus later advised his listeners: “Pay attention to yourselves that your hearts never become weighed down with overeating and heavy drinking and anxieties of life, and suddenly that day be instantly upon you as a snare.”—Luke 21:34, 35.
8. Why is now especially the time to “put off every weight”?
8 The finish line is just ahead. What a pity it would be if we allowed ourselves to be burdened down with unnecessary weights that could impede us when we are so close to the end! The apostle Paul’s counsel, therefore, is truly wise: “It is a means of great gain, this godly devotion along with self-sufficiency.” (1 Tim. 6:6) Our taking Paul’s words to heart will greatly enhance our prospects of attaining the prize.
“The Sin That Easily Entangles Us”
9, 10. (a) To what does the expression “the sin that easily entangles us” refer? (b) How might we be entangled?
9 In addition to “every weight,” Paul mentioned putting off “the sin that easily entangles us.” What might that be? The Greek word translated “easily entangles” appears only once in the Bible, in this verse. Scholar Albert Barnes observed: “As a runner would be careful not to encumber himself with a garment which would be apt to wind around his legs in running, and hinder him, so it should be with the Christian, who especially ought to lay aside everything which resembles this.” How might a Christian become entangled, with the result that his faith is weakened?
10 A Christian does not lose his faith overnight. That might take place gradually, even subtly. Earlier in his letter, Paul warned about the danger of ‘drifting away’ and of ‘developing a wicked heart lacking faith.’ (Heb. 2:1; 3:12) When a runner’s legs get entangled with his garment, almost unavoidably he falls. The risk of entanglement is particularly great if the runner ignores the danger of wearing certain clothing while running. What might cause him to ignore the danger? Perhaps carelessness or overconfidence or some distraction. What lesson can we draw from Paul’s counsel?
11. What might cause us to lose faith?
11 We should bear in mind that loss of faith is the end result of what we might do over the course of time. Regarding “the sin that easily entangles us,” another scholar notes that it is “the sin that has the greatest advantage against us, by the circumstances we are in, our constitution, our company.” The idea is that our environment, our personal weaknesses, and our associations can all exert a powerful influence on us. They can cause a weakening of our faith or even the loss of it.—Matt. 13:3-9.
12. What reminders should we take to heart so as not to suffer a loss of faith?
12 Over the years, the faithful and discreet slave class has been reminding us to be careful about what we watch and listen to, that is to say, what we set our hearts and minds on. We have been warned about the danger of getting entangled in the pursuit of money and possessions. We might be sidetracked by the glitter and glamour of the entertainment world or by the endless parade of new gadgets. It would be a serious mistake to feel that such counsel is overly restrictive or that it applies only to others, while we personally are somehow immune to the dangers. Subtle and deceptive are the entanglements that Satan’s world puts in our way. Carelessness, overconfidence, and distractions have been the undoing of some, and such things could affect our hope of attaining the prize of life.—1 John 2:15-17.
13. How can we protect ourselves against harmful influences?
13 Day in and day out, we are exposed to people who promote the goals, values, and thinking of the world around us. (Read Ephesians 2:1, 2.) Nonetheless, the degree to which we are affected depends largely on us, on how we react to these influences. “The air” that Paul spoke about is death-dealing. We must constantly be on guard so as not to be choked, or asphyxiated, and thus fail to finish the race. What help do we have to stay the course? Jesus is the perfect lead runner, you might say. (Heb. 12:2) We also have Paul’s example, for he counted himself among the runners in the Christian race and urged his fellow believers to imitate him.—1 Cor. 11:1; Phil. 3:14.
“You May Attain It”—How?
14. How did Paul view his personal share in the race?
14 How did Paul view his personal share in the race? In his final address to the elders from Ephesus, he said: “I do not make my soul of any account as dear to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 20:24) He was willing to sacrifice everything, including his life, in order to finish the race. For Paul, all his efforts and hard work in connection with the good news would amount to nothing if he should somehow fail to finish the course. Yet, he was not self-assured, feeling that he would without fail win the race. (Read Philippians 3:12, 13.) Only toward the end of his life did he say with a measure of confidence: “I have fought the fine fight, I have run the course to the finish, I have observed the faith.”—2 Tim. 4:7.
15. What encouragement did Paul give his fellow runners in the race?
15 In addition, Paul had an intense desire to see his fellow Christians finish the course and not drop out along the way. For example, he urged Christians in Philippi to work hard for their own salvation. They needed to keep “a tight grip on the word of life.” He continued: “That I may have cause for exultation in Christ’s day, that I did not run in vain or work hard in vain.” (Phil. 2:16) Similarly, he urged the Christians in Corinth: “Run in such a way that you may attain [the prize].”—1 Cor. 9:24.
16. Why should we have the goal, or prize, clearly in view?
16 In a long race, such as a marathon, the finish line is not in sight at first. Still, all through the race, a runner keeps focused on the finish. That focus becomes clearer when he knows that the goal is near. It should be similar in our race. The goal, or prize, needs to be real to us. That will help us to attain it.
17. How is faith involved in keeping focused on the prize?
17 “Faith is the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld,” wrote Paul. (Heb. 11:1) Abraham and Sarah were willing to leave a comfortable way of life behind and live as “strangers and temporary residents in the land.” What helped them? “They saw [the fulfillment of God’s promises] afar off.” Moses rejected “the temporary enjoyment of sin” and “the treasures of Egypt.” How did he have the faith and strength to do so? He “looked intently toward the payment of the reward.” (Heb. 11:8-13, 24-26) Understandably, Paul prefaced his description of each of these people with the expression “by faith.” Faith enabled them to look beyond the trials and hardships of the present and see what God was doing in their behalf and would yet do.
18. To put off “the sin that easily entangles us,” what positive steps can we take?
18 By meditating on the men and women of faith mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11 and imitating their example, we can cultivate faith and put off “the sin that easily entangles us.” (Heb. 12:1) Also, we can “consider one another to incite to love and fine works” by gathering together with people who are cultivating like faith.—Heb. 10:24.
19. How do you feel about keeping focused on the prize?
19 We are near the end of our race. The finish line is as good as in sight. Through faith and with Jehovah’s help, we too can “put off every weight and the sin that easily entangles us.” Yes, we can run in such a way that we may attain the prize—the blessings promised by our God and Father, Jehovah.
a This was offensive to the Jews of ancient times. According to the apocryphal book of 2 Maccabees, it caused considerable controversy when, as a Hellenizing effort, the apostate high priest Jason proposed to build a gymnasium in Jerusalem.—2 Macc. 4:7-17.
Do You Remember?
• What is involved in putting off “every weight”?
• What might cause a Christian to lose faith?
• Why must we keep our focus on the prize?
[Picture on page 23]
What is “the sin that easily entangles us,” and how might it entangle us?