“Abundant peace belongs to those loving your law, and for them there is no stumbling block.”—PS. 119:165.
1. How can the attitude of a certain runner illustrate our determination not to give up?
FROM her early teens, Mary Decker was renowned as a world-class runner. She was the favorite to win the gold medal in the 3,000-meter final at the 1984 Summer Olympics. However, her track shoes never crossed the finish line. She tripped on the leg of another runner and fell headlong off the course. Injured and in tears, she had to be carried off the track. Mary was no quitter, though. In less than a year, she was back in racing form and set a new world record for the women’s mile in 1985.
2. In what sense are true Christians in a race, and on what must our focus be?
2 As Christians, we are in a race—a symbolic footrace. Our focus must be on running to win. Our race is not a sprint in which speed is the key to victory. And it definitely is not a mere jog with frequent idle moments. Rather, it can be likened to a marathon wherein endurance is necessary for victory. The apostle Paul used the metaphor of a runner in a race in his letter to Christians living in Corinth, a city renowned for athletic contests. He wrote: “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.
3. How is it that all runners can win the race for everlasting life?
3 The Bible tells us to run in this figurative race. (Read 1 Corinthians 9:25-27.) The prize is everlasting life, either in heaven for anointed Christians or on earth for the rest of the participants. Unlike most athletic contests, this race allows for all who enter and who endure to the end to win the prize. (Matt. 24:13) Contestants lose only if they fail to run according to the rules or do not cross the finish line. Furthermore, this is the only race that offers the prize of everlasting life.
4. What makes our race to gain everlasting life challenging?
4 Crossing the finish line is not easy. It takes discipline and certainty of purpose. Only one person—Jesus Christ—has ever been able to cross the finish line without stumbling even once. But his disciple James wrote that followers of Christ “all stumble many times.” (Jas. 3:2) How true! All of us are subject to our own imperfections and those of others. So at times we may trip, then stagger and lose our momentum. We may even fall; but we get up and continue running. Some have fallen so hard that they had to be helped to get up and resume the race toward the finish line. Thus, it is possible that we could, momentarily or even repeatedly, stumble or fall down.—1 Ki. 8:46.
IF YOU STUMBLE, STAY IN THE RACE
5, 6. (a) How is there “no stumbling block” for a Christian, and what will help him to “get up”? (b) Why do some not recover after stumbling?
5 Perhaps you have used the words “stumble” and “fall” interchangeably to describe a spiritual condition. These Bible expressions can, but do not always, have the same sense. For instance, notice the wording of Proverbs 24:16: “The righteous one may fall even seven times, and he will certainly get up; but the wicked ones will be made to stumble by calamity.”
6 Jehovah will not allow those trusting in him to stumble or to experience a fall—an adversity or a setback in their worship—from which they cannot recover. We are assured that Jehovah will help us “get up” so that we can continue giving him our utmost devotion. How comforting that is for all who love Jehovah deeply from the heart! The wicked do not have the same desire to get up. They do not seek the help of God’s holy spirit and his people, or they refuse such help when offered to them. In contrast, for those ‘loving Jehovah’s law,’ no stumbling block exists that can permanently knock them out of the race for life.—Read Psalm 119:165.
7, 8. How can one “fall” and yet have God’s favor?
7 Some lapse into minor sin—even repeatedly—because of some weakness. But they are still righteous in Jehovah’s eyes if they continue to “get up,” that is, sincerely repent and strive to resume a course of loyal service. We can see that from the way God dealt with ancient Israel. (Isa. 41:9, 10) Proverbs 24:16, quoted earlier, rather than emphasizing the negative—our ‘falling’—focuses on the positive, our ‘getting up’ with the help of our merciful God. (Read Isaiah 55:7.) Expressing their confidence in us, Jehovah God and Jesus Christ kindly encourage us to “get up.”—Ps. 86:5; John 5:19.
8 Even if a runner stumbles or falls in a marathon, he may have time to recover and finish the course if he acts with urgency. In our race for everlasting life, we do not know the “day and hour” when the end of the race will come. (Matt. 24:36) Still, the less we stumble, the more likely we are to keep a steady pace, stay in the race, and finish it successfully. So how can we avoid stumbling?
STUMBLING THAT IMPEDES PROGRESS
9. What potential stumbling blocks will we discuss?
9 Let us consider five potential stumbling blocks—personal weaknesses, desires of the flesh, injustices on the part of fellow believers, tribulation or persecution, and the imperfections of others. Remember, though, if we have stumbled, Jehovah is very patient. He is not quick to label us as being disloyal.
10, 11. With what personal weakness did David struggle?
10 Personal weaknesses may be likened to loose stones lying on a racetrack. Looking at events in the lives of King David and the apostle Peter, we can note two such weaknesses—lack of self-control and fear of man.
11 King David manifested a weakness as to exercising self-control, as was evidenced in his actions involving Bath-sheba. And when faced with the insults of Nabal, David was about to react rashly. Yes, his self-control faltered, but he never gave up trying to please Jehovah. With the help of others, he was able to regain his spiritual balance.—1 Sam. 25:5-13, 32, 33; 2 Sam. 12:1-13.
12. How did Peter stay in the race despite stumbling?
12 Peter manifested fear of man, stumbling badly at times; yet, he remained loyal to Jesus and Jehovah. For example, he publicly denied his Master, not just once, but three times. (Luke 22:54-62) Later, Peter failed to act in a Christian manner, treating Gentile believers as if they were somehow not as good as circumcised Jewish Christians. The apostle Paul, however, saw the matter clearly—there was no room for class distinctions in the congregation. Peter’s attitude was wrong. Before Peter’s conduct could sour the brotherhood, Paul acted by counseling Peter directly, face-to-face. (Gal. 2:11-14) Was Peter’s pride so wounded that he quit the race for life? No. He seriously considered Paul’s counsel, applied it, and kept on in the race.
13. How may physical weakness cause stumbling?
13 Sometimes a personal weakness is a health issue. This too can loom as a stumbling block. It may interfere with our spiritual pace and even cause us to stagger and tire out. For example, a Japanese sister suffered a health crisis 17 years after her baptism. She became preoccupied with her health to the point of becoming spiritually weak. In time, she became inactive. Two elders visited her. Encouraged by their kind words, she began attending meetings again. She reflects, “I was moved to tears because the brothers greeted me so warmly.” Our sister is now back in the race.
14, 15. What strong action is needed when wrong desires arise? Illustrate.
14 The desires of the flesh have stumbled many. When tempted in this way, we need to take strong action to keep mentally, morally, and spiritually clean. Recall Jesus’ counsel to ‘throw away’ in the figurative sense anything that might stumble us, even our eye or our hand. Would that not include immoral thinking and actions that have caused some to drop out of the race?—Read Matthew 5:29, 30.
15 One brother who was raised in a Christian household wrote that for as long as he could remember, he struggled with homosexual tendencies. He said: “I always felt awkward. It seemed that I didn’t fit in anywhere.” By age 20, he had become a regular pioneer and was a ministerial servant in the congregation. Then he stumbled badly, was Scripturally disciplined, and received help from the elders. By praying, studying God’s Word, and focusing on helping others, he picked himself up and resumed his spiritual pace. Years later, he admits: “At times I still have those feelings, but I don’t let them overtake me. I have learned that Jehovah will not let you be tempted beyond what you can handle. So I believe that God thinks I can make it.” This brother concludes: “All the struggles I have endured will pay off in the new world. I want that! Until then, I will continue to fight.” He is determined to stay in the race.
16, 17. (a) What helped one brother who felt that he had suffered an injustice? (b) To avoid stumbling, on what do we need to be focused?
16 Injustices on the part of fellow believers can be stumbling blocks. In France, a former elder believed that he had been the victim of an injustice, and he became bitter. As a result, he stopped associating with the congregation and became inactive. Two elders visited him and listened sympathetically, without interrupting while he related his story, as he perceived it. They encouraged him to throw his burden on Jehovah and stressed that the most important thing was to please God. He responded well and soon was back in the race, active in congregation matters again.
17 All Christians need to keep focused on the appointed Head of the congregation, Jesus Christ, not on imperfect humans. Jesus, whose eyes are “as a fiery flame,” views everything in proper perspective and thus sees much more than we ever could. (Rev. 1:13-16) For example, he recognizes that what seems to be an injustice to us may be a misinterpretation or a misunderstanding on our part. Jesus will handle congregation needs perfectly and at the right time. Thus, we should not allow the actions or decisions of any fellow Christian to become stumbling blocks to us.
18. How can we withstand trials or troubling situations?
18 Two other stumbling blocks are tribulation or persecution and the imperfections of others in the congregation. In his parable of the sower, Jesus said that “tribulation or persecution” on account of the word would cause some individuals to stumble. Whatever the source of that persecution—family, neighbors, or governmental authorities—it may particularly affect one who “has no root in himself,” who lacks spiritual depth. (Matt. 13:21) However, if we maintain an upright heart condition, the Kingdom seed will help us develop deep stabilizing roots to our faith. When beset with trials, endeavor to meditate prayerfully on praiseworthy things. (Read Philippians 4:6-9.) In Jehovah’s strength, we will withstand trials, not allowing troubling situations to be stumbling blocks.
19. How can we prevent an offense from becoming a stumbling block?
19 Sadly, over the years some have let the imperfections of others knock them out of the race. Differences in viewpoints in matters of conscience have become stumbling blocks for them. (1 Cor. 8:12, 13) If someone offends us, will we allow this to become a major issue? The Bible admonishes Christians to stop judging, to forgive others, and to avoid insisting on personal rights. (Luke 6:37) When you face a possible stumbling stone, ask yourself: ‘Am I judging others based on my own preferences? Knowing that my brothers are imperfect, will I let someone’s lack of perfection take me out of the race for life?’ Love for Jehovah can help us be resolved not to allow anything another human does hinder us from crossing the finish line.
RUN WITH ENDURANCE—AVOID STUMBLING
20, 21. What are you determined to do in the race for life?
20 Are you determined to “run the course to the finish”? (2 Tim. 4:7, 8) Then personal study is a must. Use the Bible and our theocratic publications to help you do research, meditate, and identify potential stumbling blocks. Beg for holy spirit to give you the spiritual stamina you need. Remember, no runner is doomed to fail in the race for life just because he stumbles or falls on occasion. He can get up and get back into the race. He may even use potential stumbling stones as stepping stones, learning valuable lessons from any challenge to his faith.
21 The Bible describes participation in the race for everlasting life as active, not passive. It is not like getting on a bus that simply carries those on board to victory. We must run the race for life ourselves. As we do, “abundant peace” from Jehovah will be like wind at our back. (Ps. 119:165) We can be confident of his continued blessings now and unending blessings to come for all who finish the race.—Jas. 1:12.