Run That You May Attain the Prize
“Run in such a way that you may attain it.”—1 CORINTHIANS 9:24.
1, 2. (a) What did Paul use to encourage the Hebrew Christians? (b) What did Paul say that we must do?
THE apostle Paul used an illustration of a race to encourage the Hebrew Christians. In the letter he wrote to them, he said that they were like runners in a race. But he reminded them that they were not alone in that race. There were many loyal servants of Jehovah in the past who had already finished the race. Paul said that these ones were like a great “cloud of witnesses” surrounding them. If the Hebrew Christians always remembered the acts of faith and the efforts of those loyal ones, they would be determined to finish the race.
2 In the previous article, we talked about the example of some of those loyal servants of Jehovah. Their strong faith in God helped them to remain loyal to him to the end of their life. They continued running the race to the end. How can we too finish the race, just as they did? Paul said: “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.”—Hebrews 12:1.
3. What can Christians learn from what Paul said about running in the Greek games?
3 Why did Paul say to “put off every weight”? A book that talks about Christians in the time of Paul explains the way the runners of his time ran. (Backgrounds of Early Christianity) It says: “The Greeks exercised and competed in the nude.”* (See footnote.) To run in this way may not seem right today. But the runners ran without clothes because they did not want anything to stop them from winning the prize. So when Paul told the Hebrew Christians to “put off every weight,” he meant that they should try to remove anything from their lives that could stop them from winning the prize of everlasting life. This was good advice for the Hebrew Christians, and it is good advice for us too. What things in our lives could be like a weight and make it difficult for us to finish the race?
“PUT OFF EVERY WEIGHT”
4. What were the people in Noah’s time doing?
4 Paul said to “put off every weight.” This weight includes anything that could stop us from giving our full attention to the race and from doing everything we can to finish it. What are some of those things that could be like a weight? Jesus helps us to understand this. He spoke about the time of Noah. Jesus explained: “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) It is true that the world of our time will end just as the world of Noah’s time ended. But Jesus was explaining that the way people live now would be similar to the way people lived before the Flood of Noah’s time. (Read Matthew 24:37-39.) Most people in Noah’s time did not want to learn about God, and they did not want to live in a way that pleased him. What were they doing? Eating, drinking, and marrying. These were just the normal things of life. But doing these things was more important to the people than listening to God’s message. Jesus said that they “took no note.”
5. What can help us to run the race to the end?
5 Like Noah and his family, we have much to do every day. We need to work to earn money, and we need to take care of ourselves and our family. This can use a lot of our time and energy. And if we have money problems, we could become anxious about how to get the things we need every day. Also, because we have dedicated our lives to Jehovah, we have other important responsibilities. We preach, we prepare for our meetings and attend them, and we study the Bible with our family and do our personal study. Noah also had much to do to serve God, but “he did just so.” He did everything Jehovah asked him to do. (Genesis 6:22) It is very important that we do not carry any weight that would make it difficult for us to run the race to the end.
6, 7. What words of Jesus should we always remember?
6 What did Paul mean when he said to “put off every weight”? He did not mean to remove every responsibility from our lives. Some responsibilities are necessary. But remember what Jesus said about the necessary things of life: “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.” (Matthew 6:31, 32) Jesus was helping us to understand that even the necessary things of life, like food and clothing, could become like a weight if they are the most important things in our lives. They could stop us from running the race.
7 Do not forget that Jesus said: “Your heavenly Father knows you need all these things.” These words show us that our Father, Jehovah, will take care of our needs. Of course, to have “all these things” does not mean that we have everything that we would like to have. So Jesus told us not to be anxious even about the things we need. Otherwise, we would be like the nations who are “eagerly pursuing” these things. Why is it dangerous to become anxious about our needs? Jesus said: “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 should we “put off every weight” now?
8 It is as if we can see the finish line. So we do not want to allow anything to make it difficult for us to finish the race. That is why we must “put off every weight.” We must be content to have the things we need. This was the advice the apostle Paul gave when he told us to have “godly devotion along with self-sufficiency.” (1 Timothy 6:6) If we listen to Paul’s advice, it will be easier to continue running and win the prize.
“THE SIN THAT EASILY ENTANGLES US”
9, 10. (a) What is the sin that could easily entangle us? (b) What can happen to the faith of a Christian?
9 Paul mentioned something else that we must put off. He said that we must put off “the sin that easily entangles us.” The Greek word that is translated “easily entangles” appears only once in the Bible, in this verse. One Bible scholar named Albert Barnes said that a runner of that time was careful not to wear clothing that could wrap around his legs and make it difficult for him to run. And he said that in the same way, a Christian should not allow anything to make it difficult for him to run his race. A Christian should not allow anything to entangle him, that is, to weaken his faith or even cause him to lose his faith. How does a Christian lose his faith?
10 A Christian does not lose his faith suddenly. This might happen gradually, and he may not even realize that his faith is becoming weaker and weaker. Earlier in his letter to the Hebrew Christians, Paul warned them about this danger. He said that they should be careful never to “drift away” from the faith and never to develop “a wicked heart lacking faith.” (Hebrews 2:1; 3:12) If the clothing of a runner wraps around his legs, he usually falls. So a runner must realize that if he chooses to run in the wrong kind of clothing, he could fall. What might cause a runner to ignore this danger? Maybe he is careless, that is, he does not pay attention when someone warns him. Maybe he is overconfident, that is, he thinks that he is strong and could never fall. Or maybe he is distracted, that is, he is busy thinking about other things. What can we learn from all of Paul’s advice?
11. What might cause us to lose our faith?
11 We must remember that if a Christian loses his faith, it is because of things he has chosen to do. Another scholar talked about “the sin that easily entangles us.” He explained that the circumstances we are in, the people we associate with, and our wrong desires can all have a very powerful effect on us. These things could weaken our faith or even cause us to lose our faith.—Matthew 13:3-9.
12. What warnings are important to obey if we do not want to lose our faith?
12 The faithful and discreet slave has often warned us to choose carefully what we watch and what we listen to because these things affect how we think and what we desire. The faithful and discreet slave has also warned us about the danger of always wanting more money and more things. If we love the entertainment of this world or want to have every new gadget, we could be so busy with these things that we do not have time for more important things. It could be dangerous to reject these warnings because we think that they are too strict. And we should not think that because we have strong faith, these warnings are for others and not for us. Satan uses the thinking and desires of the world to make us ignore the warnings. He does not want us to finish the race. Some have lost their faith because they became careless, overconfident, or distracted by things in the world. If this happens to us, we are in danger of losing the prize of everlasting life.—1 John 2:15-17.
13. What must we do to avoid thinking like the people in the world?
13 Every day, people in Satan’s world try to make us think like them. They want us to consider important the things they consider important. And they want us to want to do the same things that they do. (Read Ephesians 2:1, 2.) But we have a choice. We can decide if we will allow the thinking of the world to affect us. Paul said that the thinking of people in the world is like the air that is all around us. But this thinking is like poisonous air. So just as we would not want to breathe poisonous air, we must never allow the way people in the world think to affect the way we think. What can help us to continue running in the race? The example of Jesus. He is the best example of someone who ran the race to the end, and we can imitate him. (Hebrews 12:2) And we also have the example of the apostle Paul. He ran the race, and he encouraged his brothers to imitate his example.—1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 3:14.
HOW “YOU MAY ATTAIN” THE PRIZE
14. How important was it for Paul to finish the race?
14 How important was it for Paul to finish the race? When he spoke to the elders from Ephesus for the last time, 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) So Paul was willing to sacrifice everything, even his life, to finish the race. Paul had worked very hard to preach the good news. But he said that all that effort would have been for nothing if he did not finish the race. He knew that he had to continue working hard to the end. He did not think that he had already won the prize. (Read Philippians 3:12, 13.) However, not long before he died, he was able to say: “I have fought the fine fight, I have run the course to the finish, I have observed the faith.”—2 Timothy 4:7.
15. What did Paul encourage his brothers to do?
15 Paul wanted his brothers to finish the race. He encouraged the Christians in Philippi to work hard for their own salvation. He reminded them to keep “a tight grip on the word of life.” He also told them why this was important to him: “That I may have cause for exultation in Christ’s day, that I did not run in vain or work hard in vain.” (Philippians 2:16) He also encouraged the Christians in Corinth to continue running to win the prize. He said: “Run in such a way that you may attain it.”—1 Corinthians 9:24.
16. Why should the prize be real to us?
16 A runner in a long race does not see the finish line until the end. But he is always thinking about the finish line and knows that it is getting closer. And when he knows that the end of the race is near, he is even more determined to finish. The race that Christians run is similar. The prize must be real to us. This will help us to be determined to finish the race and win the prize.
17. How does faith make the prize real to us?
17 Paul wrote: “Faith is the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld.” (Hebrews 11:1) Abraham and Sarah were willing to leave a comfortable home and live as “strangers and temporary residents in the land.” How were they able to do this? The things that God had promised were real to them. “They saw them afar off.” Moses rejected “the temporary enjoyment of sin” and “the treasures of Egypt.” How did he have the faith and strength to do this? He “looked intently toward the payment of the reward.” (Hebrews 11:8-13, 24-26) Paul said that each of these people acted “by faith.” They had strong faith, so the prize was always real to them. They did not allow any difficult situation to make them forget the prize. They knew that God was helping them then, and they knew that his promises for the future would come true.
18. What should we do to avoid not finishing the race?
18 We can think deeply about the faithful men and women of Hebrews chapter 11, and we can imitate their example. This can help us to build up our faith and put off “the sin that easily entangles us.” (Hebrews 12:1) Also, by meeting together with our brothers who are trying to build up their own faith, we can “consider one another to incite to love and fine works.”—Hebrews 10:24.
19. Why is it important to continue running the race now?
19 We are near the end of our race, and it is as if we can see the finish line. Because Jehovah will help us and because we have strong faith in him, it is possible for us to “put off every weight and the sin that easily entangles us.” We can continue running and attain the prize that our Father, Jehovah, promises us.
The ancient Jews thought that this was very shocking. The apocryphal book of 2 Maccabees says that many Jews were angry when apostate High Priest Jason wanted to have a gymnasium in Jerusalem just as the Greeks had.—2 Maccabees 4:7-17.
SOME WORDS EXPLAINED
▪ Attain: To work hard to get something. To attain the prize means to win the prize
▪ Entangle: Clothing that entangles a runner wraps around his legs and makes him fall. If we allow the thinking of the world to make us lose faith, we will fall and we will not be able to finish our race
DO YOU REMEMBER?
▪ How can we put off “every weight”?
▪ What might cause a Christian to lose his faith?
▪ Why must the prize be real to us?
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We should remove anything from our life that could stop us from finishing the race
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We have a choice. We can decide if we will allow the thinking of the world to affect us
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If we have strong faith, the prize will be real to us even in difficult situations
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What is “the sin that easily entangles us”? How might it entangle us?