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MARATHONS
by Philip Owen

            The Boston Marathon was completed several hours before I began typing these words.  Our own town will be hosting its annual marathon next Saturday in which several thousand people from all across the United States will be competing.  Though more popular than they once were, marathons are not competitions that attract the vast numbers of either competitors or spectators that sports like football and basketball generate.  Certainly, one of the main reasons for their dearth of participants is the grueling nature of the event.  Unlike sprints, which are short and exciting, long distance races threaten boredom, demand patience, and produce exhaustion.  For obvious reasons, the life of a believer has often been compared to a marathon.  Even Scripture suggests that possibility.  The writer of Hebrews uses a race metaphor to exhort Christians to be faithful:  “let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (12:1c).  This short clause emphasizes three truths.

            “Let us run.”  Although the Word of God refers to the life of a believer as a “walk,” the pace of that “walk” is not leisurely.  A race is a running event.  Believers are not promised that their lives will be like a stroll in the park; we should not expect, as the hymn writer said, to be “carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease.”  We will search in vain for any suggestion that knowing the Lord makes the natural aspect of a believer’s life easy.  Fighting and wrestling are terms Scripture uses to describe the life of a saint, but not ease and leisure.  As with running, the life of a Christian may be both demanding and exhausting.  It requires both physical and spiritual endurance.  Anyone who promises that the Christian life will be all sweetness and light has not taken his perspective from the Bible.

            “Run with patience.”  It is axiomatic that a marathon makes different demands on a runner than does a sprint.  Similarly, the Christian life is one that requires “patience”—the Greek word might be translated better as “endurance.”   The apostle Paul gives us some insight into what is required when he observes that “tribulation worketh patience [“endurance”]” (Rom. 5:3).  Swift victories and quick rewards may come from time to time, but the believer can expect his life to be characterized by trials and beset by tribulations demanding endurance.  The word means literally “to remain under.”  The idea of patience, then, suggests a voluntary attitude of submission to the sometimes difficult circumstances that the Lord is pleased to bring into the life of a believer, a willingness to endure—even with thankfulness and joy—the trials the Lord orders or permits to befall a believer, knowing that they are intended for his good.

            “The race that is set before us.”  Just as all races have predetermined requirements and designated courses, so does the life of a believer.  He must “strive lawfully” (II Tim. 2:5) if he wishes to be rewarded.  He must obey the prescribed rules and follow the stipulated course.  He is not free to invent his own regulations or chart his own path.  So, too, for the believer.  The Lord has published the rules for the race in His Word, and His will designates the course.  It is the duty, but also the privilege, of the believer to note and follow the course that has been marked out for him.  Following his own will and violating God’s rules or making his own choices and refusing God’s course will result in “disqualification.”  Though the believer might continue to run, he will not obtain the victor’s prize at the end; he will not hear his Lord say “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23).  But we have a wise God who has fitted us perfectly for the race He has chosen us to run.  May we run in such a way as to receive the prize and so as to honor the Lord who has saved us.

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