“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 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 Tim. 4:6). As Paul was nearing the end of his life here on earth, he reflected on his spiritual accomplishments. In doing so, he referred to himself have “finished the race” as if he was an athlete of some kind. Of course, if you have ever read the New Testament, you will know that it was not the only time he used that figurative example.
1 Cor. 9:24, “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….” Whereas the 2 Tim 4:6 verse refers to a race already run, this verse is speaking of the present training and competing in that race. Here Paul tells the reader that any athlete has to prepare for the sport they will compete in. He impresses on the mind of his audience that many people will take part in a race, but there will be only one winner. As Christians, we are aware that we should treat our spiritual service as a similar kind of challenge.
Now, Paul is not saying that only one Christian will ever win the spiritual race or even that we should compete ferociously against brother-and-sisters in Christ. Instead, he encourages us to look at our spiritual service as a personal race and train with the discipline necessary to win. A long time ago, I used to compete in half-marathons. I used to train three or four times a week and then compete in a race on the weekend. My determination to do my best would drive me to even train in inclement weather or when I was feeling a little “off.” I knew that I would receive a medal at the end of the race, and I trained with extreme discipline and dedication to receive that award. When the time came to compete, I was as ready as possible because I had displayed the self-control to remain dedicated to my goal.
I even traveled far distances to compete, but I was not blessed with the athletic ability to win any of those races. However, that did not mean that I did not compete against myself. No matter how hard it got, and every runner knows there are those “barrier” distances that make you want to throw in the towel, I refused to allow myself to fail. Every race I would finish in a faster time than before gave me such a sense of accomplishment that I would have tears of joy streaming down my cheeks. That participation medal was the symbol that I had conquered another week of watching what I was eating, training hard every day, and improving my ability by being disciplined. I would wear those medals with pride and even had a display case to show off my half-marathon achievements.
But, beyond the accolades from friends and family, seeing my name on the finishers board and even the medals were the sense of achievement I felt after finishing a race. It is hard to accurately describe the feeling of accomplishment I felt when I saw the finish line and crossed it. I had stayed the course: I had done what I set out to do. I can only imagine how great the sense of achievement will be when I complete my spiritual race here on earth. Paul had endured, suffered exhaustion, beaten the odds, and was about to cross the finish line. He would then receive his winner’s medal – an incalculably more valuable prize than any we can obtain for finishing or even being victorious in our earthly athletic endeavors. Train with discipline, compete with determination, persevere, and complete your spiritual race of servanthood for the Gospel. Then, like Paul, you can look back with pride and forward with anticipation for the day you receive the “crown of righteousness.”