Finish the Race

September 11, 2020

Have you ever been in a race? Have you ever watched a race? I’m going to assume that you answered, “Yes,” to at least one of these questions. Races are familiar, and it makes a powerful image for Christian living. Paul writes, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So, run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. “So I do not run aimlessly” (1 Corinthians 9:24–26 ESV).

Purposeful and disciplined. Races have a starting line and a finish line. They are goal oriented, which makes a great analogy for Christian living. We are to live a life of faith and be pleasing to God, so that in the age to come, we will spend an eternity with God. That’s why in this race analogy Paul notes the self-control of the runner. He notes about himself that he does not run aimlessly. The Christian life is to be purposeful and disciplined because we have a finish line that we are running towards. And unlike the race where there is one winner, Paul encourages that the victor’s wreath is available to all the faithful.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7–8, ESV, emphasis mine)

When Paul speaks of “the crown of righteousness,” there is a parallel with the wreath of 1 Corinthians 9:25. Both crown and wreath are the Greek word stephanos (στέφανος, Strong’s #G4735). It refers to the victor’s wreath as opposed to the royal crown, which in Greek is diadem. So, Paul is comparing the prizes of an athletic contest to the reward of Christian living. The athlete’s wreath is perishable, but the Christian’s wreath is imperishable. There are many things people chase after. Most of them are perishable. If I want to capture the true meaning of life, I must be aiming for the imperishable and eternal with purpose and self-control.

Finish the Race. When I was in college, I would run laps around a track for exercise. I would reach a point where I couldn’t go on but hadn’t quite reached my goal. But by pressing on, I would gain “a second wind.” Perseverance made the difference. For most of us, the Christian race will not be a sprint but a marathon. We need to ponder Paul’s statements about his Christian life: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Christian living will involve opposition which we must resist. It involves finishing a course. Races are not meanderings that go anywhere you want to go. To change metaphors, our course is “the narrow way.” And finishing this course means, we have kept the faith. We have believed the Scriptures. We have trusted in the One revealed there. We have followed Jesus to the end.

— Russ Holden


Prejudices

March 3, 2017

In the book, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, Richards and O’Brien warn us not to read the ethnic prejudices of our culture into the ancient world. One such passage is Numbers 12 where Miriam and Aaron complain about the Cushite wife of Moses. Several questions can be raised in this passage. Does Cushite mean Midianite? Is this woman Zipporah, or is this a second wife? Cushite normally means Ethiopian. Are Miriam and Aaron complaining that Moses married a black African? Unfortunately, commentators have sometimes read modern ethnic prejudices into this text.

Richards and O’Brien examine Cushites from an ancient world perspective and come away with quite a different, possible take on the passage.

The Cushites were not demeaned as a slave race in the ancient world; they were respected as highly skilled soldiers.’ It is more likely that Miriam and Aaron thought Moses was being presumptuous by marrying above himself. That makes sense of the tone of the passage. “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they whined. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” (Num 12:2). In other words: Moses is not the only prophet here. Who does he think he is?*

Although I would view this as a possible reading of the text, it is at least informed by the ancient world. It avoids reading the text through modern ethnic prejudices.

Certainly, ethnic prejudices existed in the ancient world. A careful reading with cultural awareness can spot some of these. Greeks looked at everyone else as barbarians, their term for non-Greek speakers. It is an onomatopoeic word. To the Greeks, non-Greek speaking people sounded like they were going around saying “bar … bar.” Jews looked down on Gentiles. Hebrew and Aramaic speaking Jews could neglect the Greek speaking Jewish widows (Acts 6).

Although prejudices exist in the ancient world as well as the modern, scripture is consistently against such prejudices. We are called to see every human being from God’s point of view. All are created in the image of God. God loves the whole world and wishes that none should be lost. With Paul, we must exclaim: “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11, ESV). We must sing like the heavenly scene found in Revelation: “for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9–10, ESV). We must check our cultural blinders, and behave as God would have us treat one another.

*E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Kindle Locations 602-605). Kindle Edition.