First Things @ First
You may well have heard the statement a couple of times--'you need to be in it to win it.' That is often used of those who are providing encouraging counsel in finishing what has been started. The Apostle Paul would have agreed with that statement. In fact, in his letter to young pastor Timothy, Paul pens these words of encouragement in 2 Timothy 2:5-7.
"And also, is anyone competing in athletics; he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops. Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things."
Paul had compared ministry to that of being a teacher and a soldier previously. Now he continues with the comparison to an athlete. One who trains well for the race. The athlete must be in it to win it. Otherwise, his/her time is wasted. In using this metaphor, Paul is building from something he was familiar with; the Greek games. These ancient athletic contests were popular in Paul's day. There were basic requirements to win a crown, and each of them has an application for the follower of Christ today.
The first application concerns the requirement for being able to enter the race to begin with. To be included in the contest, an athlete was required to be a natural-born Greek. No exceptions.
For the follower of Christ this is made possible through the supernatural 'new birth' of the soul where we become co-heirs of Jesus Christ through faith in His redemptive work on our behalf. We become a son or daughter in the family of God through the supernatural transforming power of the Holy Spirit at conversion. So, to be qualified for the crown of righteousness, a person must be born again. John 3:3
The next application concerns the requirement of competing according to the rules. A Greek athlete was required to prepare for the race within the guidelines of proper training.
No one was able to just walk in off the street and enter the race. The Greek athlete was required to go through the rigors of intense preparation and training. This requirement eliminated the slackers; those who were in it for the experience but not in it to win it. The rigorous training 'weeded' out those who were not fully surrendered to the process. In the same way, the follower of Christ must be willing to embrace the disciplines of prayer, Bible study, witnessing, service and more. Disciples of Christ must prepare according to the rules. This requirement has been so compromised through the years in the attempt to get 'more' entered in the race and the result is that those who enter for 'the experience' only are not in it to win it. They are not running the race to finish well because they lack the discipline necessary to properly train for the journey that is demanding yet most rewarding when we compete according to the rules.
The final application concerning the requirements of running the race or contest. The athlete had to run the race set before him/her within the boundaries of the established guidelines. The athlete could not step out of bounds or break the rules. This would disqualify him/her from finishing well. An accomplished athlete is acknowledged and even admired not only for what he/she does but what he/she does not do.
So, if you're in it to win it, training, preparation and living within the boundaries are an ongoing part of the process in the journey home to be with Jesus. There's a reward to be presented to all who finish well.
Blessings on your preparations this week!