"Let us run with patience the
race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our
faith" (Hebrews 12:3).
"Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the
prize? Even so run, that ye may attain" (1 Corinthians 9:24).
"Ye were running well; who did hinder you...?" (Galatians 5:7).
"Let us run". It is not so much the running or the race that is in view but the
goal, the prize. What is the objective of our running? Ideas about this vary
greatly, and much evangelism limits it to the fact of being forgiven and going
to heaven. When, however, we come to the New Testament, which is our final
authority on the matter, we find that although blessings and heaven and glory
are included, the real objective is a Person. The prize turns out to be a
person, and that person, the Lord Jesus Christ. At this point in the letter to
the Hebrews we are faced with a summing up and an exhortation, but it is clear
that we must go back to the beginning of this marvellous document if we are to
appreciate the force of its appeal.
The beginning of this epistle gives us one of the two or three classical
presentations of the person of the Lord Jesus. I feel sure that if Paul did not
actually write it, the writer was one of Paul's school, notably so in his
apprehension of the matchless greatness of Christ. The first five verses provide
us with a superlatively beautiful presentation of God's Son. It is to this Son -
Jesus - that we are to look as we run. He is the goal: He is the prize. The
letter has as its supreme object the setting forth of Divine fullness and
finality in God's Son, presented to faith for faith's apprehension and
appropriation. Fullness in Christ - the gathering up of all into Him. Finality
in Christ - the completion and realisation of all in Him. It goes on to consider
in greater detail what He is and what He has done, His manifold capacity and
ministry as God's Son, turning then to an exhortation that we should keep this
well in view and pursue our race with fullness and finality in Christ as our
objective. Our lifetime will not be sufficient for us to attain to this:
eternity will be required for us to discover what fullness really is.
If the goal and prize is Christ then the race will resolve itself into
overcoming everything that is not Christ. The Christian life is a course, and a
very strenuous course, calling for our utmost concentration, consecration and
abandon. After all, progress can never be made unless there is something to work
against, and strange as it may seem, friction seems almost essential to
progress. One cannot run on ice, and one can only make slow and unsatisfactory
progress on deep sand. There must be something against which one can press and
push, something that provides resistance and which has to be resisted and
overcome. So our race is a matter of overcoming, and supremely of overcoming the
natural by the spiritual. Our three texts will give us three areas in which such
an overcoming is called for in the Christian life. We find three contrasts.
1. Natural Intellect or the Mind of the Spirit
We begin with Paul's allusion to
the Christian race in his letter to the Corinthians. He told them to run and
later added: "So I run" (1 Corinthians 9:26). We do not have to look far to
discover what you had to run against if you lived among those Corinthians. The
letter begins with the complete contrast between the spiritual man and the
natural man, showing that in this race the spiritual man has to run against the
natural, and defeat him. We must be careful to note that it is not a question of
overcoming the natural man by the natural man - that is a hopeless endeavour.
No, the spiritual man is the new creation man, born of the Spirit and now the
deepest inner reality of the Christian. The fact is that within the sphere of a
Christian's being there is the natural man, who always hinders God's purposes,
and the 'hidden man of the heart' who is governed by the mind of the Spirit. And
the attaining of the prize is the result of the progress and growth of what is
of Christ in the life and the leaving behind, often by conflict, of that which
is not Christ.
Most of this letter is an exhibition of how the natural mind behaves in the
things of God. Christian fellowship, even the Lord's Table and many other
important features of the spiritual life were confused and muddled because the
Corinthians were being governed by their own natural way of thinking. Our
natural mind is a great obstacle in the race which we are running, cropping up
all the time with its complexes, its arguments, its interests and its methods.
When the Corinthians were brought into the Church they left behind their obvious
sins but they carried over into their new realm the old, natural ways of
thinking and reasoning which belonged to the world and not to the Spirit of God.
But the apostle remonstrated with them: "But we have the mind of Christ" (1
Corinthians 2:16), so urging them to allow the cross to be planted between the
natural mind and the spiritual. We shall only come to the fullness of Christ as
we leave behind the mind of the natural man and move on more and more in the
progress of the mind of Christ. On everything; every judgment, every conclusion,
every analysis, every appraisal; we must ask the Lord: 'Is that Your mind, Lord,
or is it mine? We may sometimes feel that we have the strongest ground for
taking up a certain attitude or coming to a certain conclusion; we may feel that
we have all the evidence and so are convinced; and yet we may be wrong.
The man who wrote the letter to the Corinthians knew from deep and bitter
experience that this was the case. "I verily thought... that I ought to do many
things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth" he said (Acts 26:9). There was
no man who had stronger convictions as to the rightness of his course than Saul
of Tarsus. The great revolution which took place in him when he came to Christ
was that he had to say: 'I have been all wrong in my fundamental way of
thinking'. After that confession he made good headway in the race because he was
always ready to subject his thinking to the jurisdiction of his crucified Lord.
This is the way of spiritual progress. We shall not get very far while we hold
to our own opinions and our own conclusions, even though we may have the support
of others; we have to learn to conquer our natural mind by submission to the
mind of Christ. This is most important if we are concerned about spiritual
progress. And spiritual progress is the increase of Christ - there is no other.
2. Natural Emotions or the Love of Christ
Paul wrote to the Galatians: "Ye
were running well: what did hinder...?" Something had broken in and interrupted
their running in the spiritual race. This was extremely serious and disturbed
Paul to the depths of his being. It seems that in the case of the Galatians it
was again the natural man, but this time in the realm of natural emotions. They
seem to have been of that temperamental constitution which corresponds to
Christ's words in the parable about seed falling into shallow soil. The seed was
received quickly and earnestly, but did not go on to produce a harvest. There
are some people who make an enthusiastic start in this way and make quite a stir
about it, but then do not go steadily on. These Galatians were like that; they
made a tremendous response; they loudly protested their devotion; and then they
were very quick to drop out of the race. Why? Because they lived on their
emotions, on their feelings, and these were changeable. This may well be a
matter of temperament, but in fact something of such a characteristic can be
found in most of us. We respond to an appeal, come under the power of a great
emotion, and then slack off. In the words of the Lord Jesus: "When tribulation
or persecution ariseth... he is offended" (Matthew 13:21).
Clearly, then, if you and I are going to persevere to the end we must have a
greater power than that of our natural emotional life. The only hope is that it
may be true of us, as of Paul: "The love of Christ constraineth" (2 Corinthians
5:14). There is all the difference between the natural and the spiritual in this
matter of the energy of love. This word translated 'constraineth' is the same
one used over the arrest of Jesus when it says: "the men that HELD Jesus"
(Luke 22:63). They took a purchase on Him; they were not going to let Him
escape; He was a prize, and they expected a reward for arresting Him. So it is
that the love of Christ should hold or grip us, conquering our natural emotions
by the mighty power of the Spirit. Our feelings come and go. They may be strong
at times but they can also grow very weak. If we do not know something of the
mighty grip of Christ's love, we will never go right through to the end of this
strenuous race. After all it is the love of Christ which makes for the fullness
of Christ. If we finally come to that fullness it can only be by the constraint
and holding power of His love. "Ye were running well: who did hinder you?" The
answer is, You ran in the strength of your own emotions, you ran as your
enthusiastic response to God's call because it affected your feelings for the
time. The letter to the Galatians is devoted to emphasising the place of the
Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, for He alone can supply the necessary
energy of love for us to go on running well.
3. The Natural Will or the Will of God
Our third text is taken from the
letter to the Hebrews and is in the form of an exhortation: "Let us run...". A
comparison is made with Israel in the wilderness, as being an example of those
who set out but who never finished the race. What was the matter with them?
There is a reference which perhaps touches the secret core of their failure: "A
generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast
with God" (Psalm 78:8). This seems to indicate a breakdown in the matter of the
will. It is true that the Hebrews to whom the letter was addressed may have been
stumbled by the natural mind and natural emotions, but the main point of failure
seems to have been - like Israel of old - in the realm of the will. Whether this
natural will is regarded as weak or strong, it has a treacherous effect on
spiritual life. There can only be real progress as this natural will is set
aside in favour of the will of God. It was on this basis that the great Author
of our faith set out on His race: "I am come... to do thy will, O God" (Hebrews
10:7). What a battle He had to remain true to the will of God! Even with Him
there was that which had to be brought under or set aside, and His was a perfect
nature. Our natures are far from perfect, so clearly we shall need to be
conquered by the will of God if we are to make progress in the race.
We should remember that the opportunity to know this all-embracing fullness of
Christ only comes to us because of His infinite capacity for letting go. But for
that He would never have come to us at all. But for that He would never have put
up with life here on earth for one single day. The all-inclusive fulness of Christ has
come to us because of His infinite capacity for letting go. The story of the laying aside of
His glory, the emptying of Himself, His humiliation, His death on the cross,
would never have been written if it had not been that He was able at all points
to let go and accept the will of God. "Wherefore... God highly exalted him, and
gave unto him..." (Philippians 2:9). God gives when
we let go. Let us then "run with patience".