Run the Race With Endurance
“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”—HEB. 12:1.
1, 2. To what did the apostle Paul compare the Christian life course?
EACH year, marathons are held in many places. The so-called elite runners enter the race with one objective—to win. Most others who participate aim a bit lower. For them, just to finish the race is an accomplishment to be proud of.
2 In the Bible, the Christian life course has been compared to a race. The apostle Paul called this point to the attention of his fellow Christians in ancient Corinth in his first letter to them. 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. Why did Paul mention that only one runner wins?
3 Was Paul saying that only one of those Christians would gain the prize of life and all the rest would run in vain? Of course not! Runners in the competitions trained and exerted themselves rigorously with the goal of becoming the winner. Paul wanted his fellow Christians to exert themselves that way in their quest for everlasting life. Doing so, they could hope to gain the prize of life. Yes, in the Christian race, all who finish win that prize.
4. What do we need to consider regarding the race that is set before us?
4 Those words are encouraging, yet sobering, to all who have taken up the race for life today. Why? Because the prize—whether life in heaven or life in Paradise on earth—is beyond compare. True, the race is long and arduous; there are many obstacles, distractions, and dangers along the way. (Matt. 7:13, 14) Sadly, some have slowed down, given out, or even fallen along the way. What pitfalls and dangers are there in the race for life? How can you avoid them? What can you do to finish and thus win that race?
Endurance Needed to Win
5. As recorded at Hebrews 12:1, Paul made what reference to a race?
5 In his letter to the Hebrew Christians in Jerusalem and Judea, Paul again made reference to features of athletic games or races. (Read Hebrews 12:1.) He not only called attention to the reason for engaging in the race but also pointed out what one must do to win. Before we examine Paul’s inspired advice to the Hebrew Christians to see what lessons there are for us, let us consider what prompted Paul to write the letter and what he was trying to encourage his readers to do.
6. Christians were under what pressure from religious leaders?
6 The first-century Christians, especially those living in Jerusalem and Judea, were facing many trials and hardships. They were under great pressure from the Jewish religious leaders, who still wielded powerful influence over the people. Earlier, these leaders had succeeded in having Jesus Christ condemned as a seditionist and killed as a criminal. And they were not about to stop their opposition. In the book of Acts, we read one account after another of their threats and attacks against Christians, starting almost immediately after the miraculous events at Pentecost 33 C.E. This certainly made life difficult for the faithful ones.—Acts 4:1-3; 5:17, 18; 6:8-12; 7:59; 8:1, 3.
7. What critical times were upon Christians to whom Paul wrote?
7 Those Christians were also living in the period just before the end of the Jewish system of things. Jesus had told them about the destruction to come upon the unfaithful Jewish nation. He had also told his followers about events that would take place just prior to the end, giving them specific instructions on what action to take to survive. (Read Luke 21:20-22.) What, then, would they do? Jesus warned: “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.”—Luke 21:34.
8. What might have caused some Christians to slow down or give out?
8 At the time Paul wrote his letter to the Hebrews, nearly 30 years had passed since Jesus gave that warning. How did the passage of time affect those Christians? Some succumbed to the pressures and distractions of daily life and failed to make the spiritual advancement that would have fortified them. (Heb. 5:11-14) Others apparently felt that life would be so much easier if they just went along with the majority of Jews around them. Those Jews, after all, had not completely abandoned God; they were still following his Law to some extent. Other Christians were persuaded or intimidated by individuals in the congregation who clamored for sticking to the Mosaic Law and tradition. What might Paul say that would help his Christian brothers to keep spiritually alert and endure in the race?
9, 10. (a) Toward the end of Hebrews chapter 10, we read what encouragement by Paul? (b) Why did Paul write about the faithful acts of ancient witnesses?
9 It is interesting to observe the way Paul, under divine inspiration, sought to strengthen the Hebrew Christians. In chapter 10 of his letter, Paul pointed out that the Law was but “a shadow of the good things to come” and clearly demonstrated the value of the ransom sacrifice of Christ. Toward the end of that chapter, Paul admonished his readers: “You have need of endurance, in order that, after you have done the will of God, you may receive the fulfillment of the promise. For yet ‘a very little while,’ and ‘he who is coming will arrive and will not delay.’”—Heb. 10:1, 36, 37.
10 In Hebrews chapter 11, Paul skillfully explains what true faith in God is. And he illustrates it by historical examples of men and women of faith. Was that an unnecessary digression? Not at all. The apostle knew that his fellow worshippers needed to realize that faith called for courageous action and endurance. The sterling example set by those ancient faithful servants of Jehovah would strengthen the Hebrews to deal with the trials and hardships they faced. Thus, after enumerating the acts of faith of those loyal ones in the past, Paul could say: “Because we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding 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.
“A Cloud of Witnesses”
11. Thinking of the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ can have what effect on us?
11 The ‘great cloud of witnesses’ were no mere spectators or bystanders, as it were, who were there only to watch the race or to see their favorite athlete or team win. Rather, they were participants, like runners in a race. And they had successfully run the race and finished it. Though now deceased, they could be thought of as seasoned runners who could encourage newer runners in the race. Imagine how a contestant would feel if he knew that surrounding, or watching, him were some of the most accomplished runners. Would he not be moved to do his best or even to outdo himself? Those witnesses of old could testify that such a figurative race, no matter how strenuous, can be won. Thus, by keeping closely in mind the example of the “cloud of witnesses,” the first-century Hebrew Christians could draw courage and ‘run the race with endurance’—as can we today.
12. How are the examples Paul cited relevant to us?
12 Many of the faithful ones whom Paul mentioned had circumstances similar to ours. For example, Noah was living when the pre-Flood world was ending. We are living near the end of the present system of things. Abraham and Sarah were called upon to leave behind their homeland to pursue true worship and await the fulfillment of Jehovah’s promise. We are urged to disown ourselves and gain Jehovah’s approval and the blessings he holds out for us. Moses journeyed through a fearsome wilderness, heading for the Promised Land. We are on a course through this dying system of things, heading toward the promised new world. What these men went through, their successes and failures, as well as their strengths and weaknesses, is truly worthy of our consideration.—Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11.
13. Noah faced what challenges, and what enabled him to overcome them?
13 What enabled these servants of Jehovah to endure and succeed in the race? Note what Paul wrote about Noah. (Read Hebrews 11:7.) “The deluge of waters upon the earth [that would] bring to ruin all flesh” was something that Noah had “not yet beheld.” (Gen. 6:17) It was something that had never taken place before, something totally unprecedented. Still, Noah did not dismiss it as impossible or even improbable. Why? Because he had faith that whatever Jehovah said, Jehovah would do. Noah did not feel that what he was asked to do was too difficult. Rather, “he did just so.” (Gen. 6:22) Considering all that Noah had to do—building the ark, gathering the animals, stocking the ark with food for humans and animals, preaching a warning message, and keeping his family spiritually strong—it was no small task to do “just so.” Yet, Noah’s faith and endurance resulted in life and blessings for him and for his family.
14. What trials did Abraham and Sarah endure, providing what lesson for us?
14 Abraham and Sarah come next in Paul’s list of the “cloud of witnesses surrounding us.” They were uprooted from their normal life in Ur, and their future appeared uncertain. They proved to be examples of unwavering faith and obedience in trying times. In conjunction with all the sacrifices that Abraham was willing to make for true worship, he was fittingly called “the father of all those having faith.” (Rom. 4:11) Paul touched only on the high points, his readers being well-acquainted with the details of Abraham’s life. Nonetheless, the lesson Paul drew is powerful: “In faith all these [including Abraham and his family] died, although they did not get the fulfillment of the promises, but they saw them afar off and welcomed them and publicly declared that they were strangers and temporary residents in the land.” (Heb. 11:13) Clearly, their faith in God and their personal relationship with him helped them run the race with endurance.
15. What motivated Moses to live as he did?
15 Moses is another exemplary servant of Jehovah among the “cloud of witnesses.” Moses left behind a prosperous, privileged life, “choosing to be ill-treated with the people of God.” What motivated him to do so? Paul answered: “He looked intently toward the payment of the reward. . . . He continued steadfast as seeing the One who is invisible.” (Read Hebrews 11:24-27.) Moses was not distracted by “the temporary enjoyment of sin.” God and his promises were so real to Moses that he demonstrated extraordinary courage and endurance. He exerted himself untiringly in leading the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land.
16. Why did Moses not become despondent when he was not allowed to enter the Promised Land?
16 Like Abraham, Moses did not experience the fulfillment of God’s promise in his lifetime. With the Israelites poised to enter the Promised Land, Moses was told: “From a distance you will see the land, but you will not go there into the land that I am giving to the sons of Israel.” This was because earlier he and Aaron, exasperated by the people’s rebelliousness, “acted undutifully toward [God] in the middle of the sons of Israel at the waters of Meribah.” (Deut. 32:51, 52) Did Moses become despondent or resentful? No. He pronounced a blessing on the people and concluded with these words: “Happy you are, O Israel! Who is there like you, a people enjoying salvation in Jehovah, the shield of your help, and the One who is your eminent sword?”—Deut. 33:29.
Lessons for Us
17, 18. (a) As to our race for life, what can we learn from the “cloud of witnesses”? (b) What will be considered in the following article?
17 From our review of the life of some of those who make up the “cloud of witnesses surrounding us,” it is clear that for us to run the race to the finish, we must have implicit faith in God and his promises. (Heb. 11:6) Faith cannot be just at the corners of our life; it needs to be at the center of it. Unlike those without faith, Jehovah’s servants can see beyond the present. We are able to see “the One who is invisible” and thus run the race with endurance.—2 Cor. 5:7.
18 The Christian race is not easy. Nonetheless, it is possible for us to finish the race successfully. In the following article, we will consider what further help we have available.
Can You Explain?
• Why did Paul write at length about the ancient faithful witnesses?
• How can envisioning the “cloud of witnesses surrounding us” encourage us to run with endurance?
• What have you learned from considering such faithful witnesses as Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and Moses?
[Picture on page 19]
Abraham and Sarah were willing to leave behind the comforts of Ur