Contending for a Crown

THE Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “If any man contend in the games, he is not crowned unless he contend lawfully.”—II Tim. 2:5

The more we study Paul’s writings, the more we are impressed with his mastery in the use of illustrations, often embellishing his line of reasoning with some experience or activity with which the reader would be familiar. His illustrations were also varied, revealing that Paul was an interested student of human nature. He was an observer of man, his work, his pleasures, his society, his spirit of competition, his government, his love of sports and athletic competition, as mentioned in our text. The most important athletic events of his day were the Grecian games that later became known as the Olympics, called such for the name of the city in which they were held.

History tells us that Paul was a man of small stature, slight of build, and perhaps not too skillful at sports, and yet his writings indicate he had an interest in these activities. As a youth we can imagine him taking part in the various games in which youngsters of that day would participate, the most popular, no doubt, that of foot-racing. In later years, after the Lord brought him into his service, he drew on these early experiences, and his interest in marathon racing, wrestling, and boxing, made ready illustrations for describing various aspects of the Christian life.

The texts surrounding our text reads: “Thou therefore, my son [Timothy], be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.” (II Tim. 2:1-4) “If any man also strive for master, yet he is not crowned except he strive lawfully. The husbandman that laboreth must be first partaker of the fruits. Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things.” (II Tim. 2:5-7, Diaglott) Notice in these verses that Paul uses three illustrations: soldiering, racing, and farming—activities which were familiar to the brethren of his day and which have not lost their meaning these many centuries later. Obviously, God so directed the writing of his Word that the symbols and illustrations used would be timeless.

Originally, the Olympics were long-distance foot-races; later they were altered to include the shorter races—the dashes, as they are called today. Then other contests were added such as wrestling, boxing, javelin throwing, the discus, etc. In these, Paul found ample material for illustrations, one such being found in Hebrews 12:1. Here Paul writes, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight.” As those early Grecian runners would lay aside every weight of excess clothing so as not to be held back or encumbered in any way, likewise must the Christian runner do concerning the things of this world.

Paul is urging us to lay aside every weight. Perhaps the best way to derive a practical lesson from these words is to look into our own individual experiences and ways of life, and decide for ourselves what weights these might be. Some extraneous activity of interest might be needlessly hindering the giving of more time and service to the Lord. Paul indicates elsewhere that we are running in a race for a crown. To be victorious we must make every other interest in life subservient to the winning of our race and lay aside everything that might deter us.

Paul also mentions the laying aside of the sin which doth so easily beset us. Throughout the Book of Hebrews, Paul has identified this “close-girding sin” (Diaglott) as being a lack of faith and trust in God. The chapter previous is devoted to a definition of faith based on the examples left by many men and women of faith who lived in past ages, those we designate the Ancient Worthies. The encouragement of their example, Paul says, is like the cheering crowd at an arena. As runners in the Christian racecourse, it spurs us on to greater strength and effort, to greater faith and trust in the Heavenly Father and his mighty power to fashion our lives for victory.

It is very easy to lose faith, to doubt, to wonder. And so we can see why he called this the sin which doth so easily beset us. Once we fully lay this sin aside and exercise the faith of those ancient fathers, which Paul applauds—a faith which is now inspired by even more exceeding great and precious promises held out to us—then we can run with patience the race set before us.

Our text implies that to win, the contestant must obey the rules. We must strive, or run, “lawfully,” says the apostle. How true it is that we must meet certain requirements and follow specific rules if we are to win the crown, and come off the victor. First, there are entrance requirements. Do we remember when the desire came into our hearts and minds to enter this race? We heard the truth and accepted it; we recognized our own sinful condition—that we were dead in trespasses and sins, and needed a redeemer. Seeing Jesus as a ransomer we accepted him as our personal Savior. The requirement for entering this race involved the making of a covenant by sacrifice, consecrating our lives to serve God.

When that covenant was accepted by the Heavenly Father and he justified us through the merit of his beloved Son, placing his seal through the power of the Holy Spirit, then we were entrants in this race. And now it is up to us to lay aside every weight which might hold us back, and run that race with patience and in a manner that will bring victory, not only for us, but also for him whose banner we carry. In I Corinthians 9:24, Paul writes, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.” Even though in the race we are running there are 144,000 crowns, we should each stretch every fiber of our being to obtain the one held out to us!

Paul continues, “Every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they [the contestants in Paul’s illustration] do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”—vss. 25-27

Paul had the natural inclinations of the flesh as we all have, with which to contend. Well aware of the struggle, he urges us to continue the fight against the flesh and, as much as lies within us, to keep our lives in harmony with our consecration, holding nothing back.

Racing also had its rules. Our rules could perhaps be summed up in what Paul calls the development of the fruits of the Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, against such there is no law; if we live in the Spirit let us also walk in the Spirit.” (Gal. 5:22,23) You might wonder, how these could be rules. They are regulations in the sense of being the virtues which are here designated as guidelines for those striving for a spiritual crown. These qualities or fruits of the Spirit compare well with Paul’s description of love in I Corinthians, chapter thirteen.

There he points out that the focus of our lives should be the obtaining of perfect love. This involves living in such a way that, to our best ability, these graces are exercised outwardly and are a true reflection of our hearts. They must govern our lives and thus might well be considered the rules that we must obey if we would run this race and win a crown.

Athletes train for competition; so, in a sense, we must train for this race in which we are running. Mark Twain once wrote, “Oh foolish man, don’t you know that virtue is worthless unless it is tested by trial and experience.” How true! We may have all the virtues required to win a crown, but if they have not been tested and proven, they are not to be trusted. That is the reason for testing experiences, not only with the world, but also with our brethren, and our families—the latter often being the most difficult.

One of the promises of Revelation reads: “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10) In the lessons we have considered from Paul’s writings, he has urged us to seek for this crown by running the race with an all-consuming desire to win, observing the rules, with diligent training, and with our eye on the crown.

Shortly before his death, Paul wrote to Timothy, saying that he had fought a good fight, had finished his course, and had kept the faith, henceforth “there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.” (II Tim. 4:7) Paul recognized that not until his course was finished, with his trial and testing completed, could he consider that a crown was laid up for him. He called it a crown of righteousness. It is a crown which represents righteousness as God perceives it—righteousness as the very foundation principle for life. Since those who receive this crown will be God’s agencies in restoring life to the world, they must learn to think as God thinks—to love righteousness and hate iniquity. And since, in order to be effective co-laborers in accomplishing God’s future purpose for restoring righteousness and life, they are given the divine nature, the crown of life, they must be thoroughly proven for that position.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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