“Therefore, we do not give up.”—2 COR. 4:16.
SONG 128 Enduring to the End
1. What must Christians do to finish the race for life?
CHRISTIANS are in a race for life. Whether we have just started running or we have been in the race for years, we need to keep running until we cross the finish line. The counsel that the apostle Paul gave to Christians in Philippi can spur us on to complete the race. Some members of that first-century congregation had been serving Jehovah for years when they received Paul’s letter. They were running well, but Paul reminded them of the need to keep running with endurance. He wanted them to keep following his example of “pressing on toward the goal.”—Phil. 3:14.
2. Why was Paul’s advice to the Philippians timely?
2 Paul’s advice to the Philippians was timely. The congregation faced hostility from the start. It all began when, in response to the divine invitation to “step over into Macedonia,” Paul and Silas arrived in Philippi about 50 C.E. (Acts 16:9) There they found a woman named Lydia, who “was listening, and Jehovah opened her heart wide” to the good news. (Acts 16:14) She soon got baptized along with her household. However, the Devil was not idle. Men of the city dragged Paul and Silas before the civil magistrates and falsely accused them of causing a disturbance. As a result, Paul and Silas were beaten, imprisoned, and later urged to leave the city. (Acts 16:16-40) Did they give up? Never! And what about the brothers and sisters in the newly formed congregation? Commendably, they too endured! No doubt they were greatly encouraged by the good example that Paul and Silas set for them.
3. What did Paul realize, and what questions will we consider?
3 Paul was determined not to give up. (2 Cor. 4:16) He knew, however, that in order to run the race to the finish, he would have to stay focused on the goal. What can we learn from Paul’s example? What modern-day examples of faith show us that we can overcome obstacles to endurance? And how can our hope for the future strengthen our resolve never to give up?
HOW PAUL’S EXAMPLE CAN BENEFIT US
4. How did Paul stay active in spite of his circumstances?
4 Consider how Paul was exerting himself when he wrote to the Philippians. He was under house arrest in Rome. His freedom to preach was severely limited. Yet, he kept busy by witnessing to visitors and writing letters to distant congregations. Likewise today, many Christians who are housebound take advantage of every opportunity to share the good news with those who come to their home. They also write encouraging letters to householders who cannot be reached by a personal visit.
5. According to his words found at Philippians 3:12-14, what helped Paul to keep his eyes on the goal?
5 Paul did not allow himself to be distracted, either by past accomplishments or by past mistakes. In fact, he said that “forgetting the things behind” was essential to “stretching forward to the things ahead,” that is, to completing the race successfully. (Read Philippians 3:12-14.) What were some of the things that could have distracted Paul? First, his accomplishments in Judaism were impressive. Yet, he viewed those things as “a lot of refuse.” (Phil. 3:3-8) Second, he did not allow guilt over his earlier persecution of Christians to paralyze him. And third, he did not reason that he had already done enough for Jehovah. Paul had a productive ministry despite being imprisoned, beaten, stoned, and shipwrecked, as well as lacking food and clothing. (2 Cor. 11:23-27) However, regardless of what he had already accomplished and suffered, Paul knew that he must press on. The same is true of us.
6. What are some of “the things behind” that we may need to forget?
6 How can we imitate Paul’s example in “forgetting the things behind”? Some of us may need to overcome feelings of guilt because of past sins. If so, why not start a personal study project that focuses on Christ’s ransom sacrifice? If we study, meditate, and pray about that upbuilding subject, we may do much to relieve unnecessary guilt. We may even stop punishing ourselves for sins that Jehovah has forgiven. Consider another lesson we can learn from Paul. Some may have given up a potentially lucrative career in order to pursue Kingdom interests. If so, can we forget the things behind by refusing to look back longingly at material opportunities we might have missed? (Num. 11:4-6; Eccl. 7:10) “The things behind” might even include things that we accomplished or trials that we endured in the past. Of course, looking back on the way Jehovah has blessed and supported us over the years can draw us closer to our Father. However, we never want to become self-satisfied, imagining that our work is done.—1 Cor. 15:58.
7. According to 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, what is necessary in order to win the race for life? Illustrate.
7 Paul well understood Jesus’ words: “Exert yourselves vigorously.” (Luke 13:23, 24) Paul knew that, like Christ, he must exert himself to the very end. He thus compared the Christian course to a race. (Read 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.) A runner in a race stays focused on the finish line and avoids distractions. For example, runners in an urban race today may follow a course that is lined with businesses and other potential diversions. Can you imagine that a runner would stop to examine the goods displayed in the store windows? Not if he wants to win! In the race for life, we too must avoid distractions. If we stay focused on our goal, exerting ourselves vigorously as Paul did, we will win the prize!
MEETING CHALLENGES TO OUR FAITH
8. What three challenges will we consider?
8 Let us now consider three challenges that could cause us to slow down. They are postponed expectations, declining physical strength, and long-lasting trials. We can benefit from learning how others have coped with these circumstances.—Phil. 3:17.
9. How can postponed expectations affect us?
9 Postponed expectations. We naturally long for the good things that Jehovah has promised. In fact, when Jehovah’s prophet Habakkuk expressed a yearning for Jehovah to bring an end to the wicked conditions in Judah, Jehovah instructed him to “keep in expectation.” (Hab. 2:3) However, when the fulfillment of our expectations appears to be delayed, it may dampen our enthusiasm. We could even lose heart. (Prov. 13:12) This happened at the beginning of the 20th century. At that time, many anointed Christians expected to receive their heavenly reward in 1914. When that did not happen, how did faithful ones deal with their delayed expectations?
10. How did one couple deal with delayed expectations?
10 Consider the example of two loyal ones who met such a challenge. Brother Royal Spatz was baptized in 1908 at the age of 20. He was very confident that he would soon receive his reward. In fact, when he proposed marriage in 1911, he told his prospective bride, Pearl: “You know what is going to happen in 1914. If we are going to get married, we better do it soon!” Did this Christian couple give up the race for life when they did not receive their heavenly reward in 1914? No, because their primary focus was on faithfully doing God’s will, not on gaining their reward. They were determined to run the race with endurance. And, indeed, Royal and Pearl remained active and faithful until they finished their earthly course many decades later. No doubt you long to see Jehovah vindicate his name and sovereignty and fulfill all his promises. Be assured that these things will happen in Jehovah’s due time. Until then, may we keep busy serving our God, never allowing postponed expectations to discourage us or slow us down.
11-12. Why can we keep moving forward even if our physical strength has declined? Give an example.
11 Declining physical strength. Unlike a literal runner, you do not need to be physically strong in order to continue growing stronger spiritually. In fact, many whose physical strength has declined still maintain a fiery determination to keep progressing spiritually. (2 Cor. 4:16) For example, Brother Arthur Secord* was 88 years old and infirm after having served at Bethel for 55 years. A nurse approached his bed to care for his needs. She looked at him and affectionately said: “Brother Secord, this body has traveled many miles in Jehovah’s service.” Arthur, however, was not living in the past. He gazed into her eyes, smiled, and replied: “Yes, that’s true. But it’s not what we have done that is important. It’s what we do from here on that counts.”
12 Perhaps you have served Jehovah for many years and now find that failing health prevents you from doing as much as you once did. If so, do not despair. Be assured that Jehovah cherishes the faithful service you have accomplished in the past. (Heb. 6:10) And as for the present, remember that whole-souled devotion is not measured by how much we do in Jehovah’s service. Rather, we reveal the depth of our devotion by showing a positive spirit and by doing all that we physically can. (Col. 3:23) Jehovah understands our limitations and does not require more than we can give.—Mark 12:43, 44.
13. How does the experience of Anatoly and Lidiya encourage us to press forward in spite of many trials?
13 Long-lasting trials. Some of Jehovah’s servants have endured decades of hardship and persecution. For example, Anatoly Melnik* was just 12 years old when his father was arrested, imprisoned, and exiled to Siberia, more than 4,000 miles (7,000 km) away from his family in Moldova. One year later, Anatoly, his mother, and his grandparents were also exiled to Siberia. In time, they were able to attend meetings in another village, but they had to walk 20 miles (30 km) in the snow, enduring subzero temperatures. Later, Brother Melnik spent three years in prison, away from his wife, Lidiya, and their one-year-old daughter. In spite of years of hardship, Anatoly and his family continued to move steadily forward. Now 82 years of age, Anatoly serves on a Branch Committee in Central Asia. Like Anatoly and Lidiya, may we do all we can in Jehovah’s service, continuing to endure as we have done in the past.—Gal. 6:9.
MOTIVATED BY OUR HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
14. What did Paul realize he had to do to reach his goal?
14 Paul was confident that he would finish the race and reach his goal. As an anointed Christian, he looked forward to gaining “the prize of the upward call of God.” However, to reach that goal, he realized that he had to keep “pressing on.” (Phil. 3:14) Paul shared with the Philippians an interesting comparison to help them keep focused on their goal.
15. How did Paul use the subject of citizenship to encourage the Philippian Christians to keep “pressing on”?
15 Paul reminded the Philippians of their heavenly citizenship. (Phil. 3:20) Why did such citizenship matter? In those days, Roman citizenship was highly prized.* However, anointed Christians had a much better citizenship, one that would bring far greater advantages. Roman citizenship paled in comparison! For this reason, Paul encouraged the Philippians to “carry on as citizens in a manner worthy of the good news about the Christ.” (Phil. 1:27, ftn.) Anointed Christians today set a fine example as they press on toward their goal of everlasting life in heaven.
16. Whether our hope is to live in heaven or on earth, what must we continue to do according to Philippians 4:6, 7?
16 Whether our hope is everlasting life in heaven or on a paradise earth, we must keep pressing on toward that goal. No matter what our circumstances, we must not look at the things behind; nor should we let anything hinder our progress. (Phil. 3:16) The fulfillment of our expectations may seem to be delayed, or our physical strength may be declining. We may have endured hardship and persecution for many years. Whatever the case, “do not be anxious over anything.” Rather, let your petitions and supplications be made known to God, and he will give you a peace that is beyond your imagination.—Read Philippians 4:6, 7.
17. What will we consider in the next article?
17 Like a runner who exerts himself as he races down the homestretch, may we stay fully focused on the goal of finishing the race for life. To the extent that our strength and circumstances allow, may we exert ourselves and progress eagerly toward the wonderful things ahead. What must we do in order to press on in the right direction and at a pace that we can maintain? The next article will help us to set proper priorities and to “make sure of the more important things.”—Phil. 1:9, 10.
SONG 79 Teach Them to Stand Firm
No matter how long we have been serving Jehovah, we want to keep on growing and improving as Christians. The apostle Paul urged his fellow believers never to give up! His letter to the Philippians contains motivating encouragement to help us endure in our race for life. This article will show us how to apply Paul’s inspired words.
See Brother Secord’s life story, “My Part in Advancing Right Worship,” in The Watchtower, June 15, 1965.
See Brother Melnik’s life story, “Taught From Childhood to Love God,” in Awake!, October 22, 2004.
Because Philippi was a Roman colony, the city’s inhabitants enjoyed a form of Roman citizenship. So Paul’s illustration was meaningful to his audience.