Running the race in the last days Bible study
The approaching finish line and ending well
by I Gordon
I was praying and pondering about what to speak on next and I kept thinking about the
theme in the Bible of running the race. The scripture uses different
metaphors to describe the Christian life and you may have noticed that
there are few sporting one in there. Now, I'm probably biased as I enjoy
sports. But Paul's letters especially speak of running the
race, fighting the good fight... of boxing and wrestling.
One of my favourite sports, tennis, even gets a mention in the Bible. That may surprise
you as the history books will tell you that tennis originated in 12th century France.
But don't be deceived... the Bible clearly says
that Moses served in the courts of Pharaoh. Ok, that's pretty bad. Let's
move on. Who was the fastest runner in the Bible? Adam, he came first in
the human race. Ok, enough of that. Is baseball in the Bible? Yes - Gen 1:1
In the big-inning, Eve stole first, Adam stole second, Cain struck out Abel
and the Giants and the Angels were rained out. Ok... time to move on...
So I kept thinking of this theme of the race, and especially running the
race in these last days. We'll look at some of the passages surrounding this
topic but for this first message I want to start, somewhat oddly, near the
end. It was on my heart to speak about finishing the race well in view of
the approaching finish line.
So we will...
Look at a few general verses about the race.
Focus in on one passage in the last words of Paul
Examine what finishing well actually is
Look briefly at the closeness of the finish
line and associated instruction from an Old Testament
Some common verses about the race
There are obviously some well known verses about the race that we are in. We'll look
at some in more detail as we move through this series but for now think on the
To the Corinthians, one of Paul's earliest letters, Paul wrote:
1Co 9:24-25 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but
only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. (25)
Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all
things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an
To the Hebrews he wrote:
Heb 12:1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses
surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin
which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race
that is set before us.
To the Galatians, another very early letter, he wrote:
Gal 5:7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you
from obeying the truth?
And this theme goes right through to the last letter that Paul ever wrote.
What letter was that? If we are going to explore what it means to finish
well then we better look at someone who did just that.
2nd Timothy - The last letter
& last words of Paul
2nd Timothy is the last letter Paul ever wrote. It's 67 or 68
AD. Paul is in a Roman dungeon (as seen to the right1), waiting a beheading...his beheading. He
knew, as he sat in that dark prison, that there was no coming back this
time. He had previously been stoned to death and lived to talk about it. He had been
in multiple shipwrecks and even spent the night in the ocean, yet survived.
He had lived on though beaten with rods and whips. He had survived though
bitten by a deadly poisonous snake. Paul knew all about comebacks... but
not this time. He had been imprisoned and released multiple times before...
but this time there would be no release. And he knew it. The Lord had made
that clear to him. We often deeply value the last words that someone says.
Whether it is on someone's deathbed as they know their time draws near or,
as in this case, a letter from a man who knew these would be the last words
he would write. So this well-known passage comes from the last chapter of
Paul's last letter:
2Ti 4:6-8 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and
the time has come for my departure. (7) I have fought the good fight, I
have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (8) Now there is in
store 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 longed for his appearing.
Paul sees his life as being poured out like a drink offering. This imagery
is taken from the Old Testament, where the drink offering was poured out
upon the sacrifice. Paul didn't see himself as the sacrifice itself... that is
Christ and Christ alone. But he saw his life as a drink offering added to
the Lord's sacrifice and now being poured out to its last drop. He knows the
time of his departure has come.
And in these last words we see this same theme of the race and the fight
coming out again. He says he has fought the good fight and finished the
race. He has done it. It was not an easy race or fight but he has completed
it. Someone once wrote in to the website and asked 'Is the Christian life
easy or hard'? Truth be known, the Christian life is impossible. Only
Christ can live it. But to answer like that is to avoid the significant
role that we have to play. Scripture says that through many tribulations
you must enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22) The truth is, being a
Christian brings troubles and challenges that you would not get being an
unbeliever. Yet it also brings the one who is adequate for, and provides
strength in, all things. But it is, as we see here, a fight. It is a race.
And neither give the impression of it being easy or a
breeze. It had been a real fight and a difficult race but Paul could look
back and say I've made it... I've done it. I have run well. I have got to the
finish line. Through all the obstacles, all the opposition, I have fought
the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. And now
comes the time of my departure. Now comes the time of my reward!
So what is finishing well... finishing strong?
Now I'm certainly no Apostle Paul. Who is? But this thought of finishing
well has been on my heart lately. I want to lay aside that which easily
entangles and run with perseverance the race that God has for me. As I hope
you do. But often we don't always feel 'strong' do we? So what is finishing
well? We get this image of someone sprinting towards the finish line, wind
in the hair, muscles ripping, arms raised in triumph, powering home. And
then you look at your own life and see yourself coming down the home
stretch limping, supported by a walking stick or possibly a zimmer frame!
Sometimes we feel a little beaten up by life. Does that mean you're not
finishing well? What is finishing well? Maybe you can relate to Christian
in Pilgrims Progress who was making good swift progress till he came to the
hill of difficulty where it says:
'I looked and saw Christian go up the hill, where I noticed him slowing
his pace from running to walking and finally to scrambling up the path
on his hands and knees because it was very steep.'
He has not long made it to the top of the hill when, hearing the roar of
lions, the author writes:
'Difficulty is behind, Fear is before.
Though he's got on the hill, the
A Christian man is never long at ease.
When one fright's gone, another
does him seize.'
So maybe you relate to Christian who went from running, to walking, to just
crawling. There are different challenges that we all face in this race.
We don't always feel like we are firing on all cylinders!2 But that isn't what
I mean by finishing well. You may get to the finish line with some physical
and even mental scars from the fight... you may be coming along the home straight with a
walking stick. But the important thing is this: how is your heart towards God?
Finishing well is getting to the end and...
You've kept the faith. You have not stopped. You haven't turned
around and gone back mid-race. People may try to discourage you. Tempt you.
Tell you you're not running the right way and try to lead you off onto
another path... but you held your belief and trust in the Lord Jesus
through the stillness and the storm, through the conflicting voices and
opposition. That is finishing well.
You've guarded your heart. You still have a
soft heart towards God that wants to know Him and make Him known. You haven't let
the thorns and thistles of this life make you bitter. Instead of
blaming God or others for difficulties or failures you have kept a
soft heart towards the things of God and are ever thankful for what He has
done. That is finishing well.
You've kept your focus. You
have fixed your eyes firmly and solely on Jesus - the author and
finisher of your faith. You haven't let the lights and attractions of
this world strangle and entangle your spiritual life. That is finishing
You are pressing on. You are
still saying to the Lord - 'Father, what would you have me to do?' In
the language of Paul in Philippians, you are forgetting the things that
and are pressing on to lay hold of that which He laid hold of you for. That is
You eagerly desire HIS return.
You are watchful, alert, looking, hoping and longing for the return of
the Lord Jesus. Heaven is your home and hope and you are looking for
Him. Jesus spoke about this need of watchfulness for His return in a few
of His parables. Eagerly desire His return. That is finishing well.
The time of my departure is at hand.
The fact is that we are getting, I believe, near the end of our race.
No one knows the day nor the hour3
yet the signs tell us that it is close and to be ready! The finish line in this race is our departure, whether through death or
rapture, undertaker or uppertaker. And It will come quicker than you expect.
Before leaving this passage it could be useful to just pause and examine
this word 'departure'. The word chosen here by Paul is not the usual word for leaving or departing and is used only here in the
Bible. It is the Greek word 'analusis' and literally means 'to
un-loose'. Paul knew he was about to be 'unloosened' from this world.4
When we look at how this word departure (unloosen) was used in the Greek
world we see:
1. It was used in tenting - 'striking' the tent meant to disassemble it and
pull up the ropes that bound it to this earth before setting out. Seeing as
Paul was a tent maker by trade he would have understood that this was now
happening to him. We have cords that bind us to this earth but this is not
our home and the call to pull it all up and move out will soon come!
2. It was used in agriculture speaking of the 'unyoking' of oxen or other
animals after a hard day's work. Finally being free and entering into rest!
Even though we are called to not be yoked with this world, gravity pulls at
our feet. And this fallen body pulls us down too! And quite frankly, I'm
ready to be unyoked from this world and this body!
3. Probably most common, it was used in shipping where a ship would be
released from its anchorage, when it was about to set sail on its voyage.
Are you ready to depart? Or are you all tied up?
So for Paul, his departure was the start of his real freedom, his real
adventure. The ropes had
been taken away. The voyage was on. The ship was about to sail! It was the
start of real life. And this is going to happen to all believers - whether,
as I've said before, by undertaker or upper-taker. But don't you want to
get to that point and look back knowing that you tried to run well? Don't
you want to get to the finish line knowing that you
kept the faith and have come to the end of the race still with a soft heart
towards God and a desire to do His will?
The Old Testament Picture
Jos 3:1-5 Then Joshua rose early in the morning; and he and all the
sons of Israel set out from Shittim and came to the Jordan, and they
lodged there before they crossed. (2) At the end of three days the
officers went through the midst of the camp; (3) and they commanded the
people, saying, "When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your
God with the Levitical priests carrying it, then you shall set out from
your place and go after it. (4) "However, there shall be between you
and it a distance of about 2,000 cubits by measure. Do not come near
it, that you may know the way by which you shall go, for you have not
passed this way before." (5) Then Joshua said to the people,
"Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among
Jos 3:15-17 and when those who carried the ark came into the Jordan,
and the feet of the priests carrying the ark were dipped in the edge of
the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks all the days of
harvest), (16) the waters which were flowing down from above stood and
rose up in one heap, a great distance away at Adam, the city that is
beside Zarethan; and those which were flowing down toward the sea of
the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. So the people
crossed opposite Jericho. (17) And the priests who carried the ark of
the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the
Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had
finished crossing the Jordan.
Israel's whole journey from Egypt to the Promised Land is full of types and
pictures. It is not just me saying that. Paul wrote about some of them in 1
Cor 10 and in 1Co 10:11 said
'Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written
for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.'
So this crossing is a literal historical event, but one that has repeated fulfillments. It has a
fulfillment for a believer in this day when we come into the promised life
of Christ available to us. But it finds its ultimate fulfillment when we,
as God's people, finally make it to our Promised land - the Heavenly
So what do we see? When Israel finally came to cross into the Promised
Land, after 40 years (the number of testing and trial) in the wilderness,
the instruction was very specific. Firstly, the Ark would be carried down to
waters of the Jordan. At that point, the waters did something
miraculous - they rolled back all the way to the city of Adam, near Zarethan,
where they stood heaped up. This is the only mention of the
city of Adam in the Bible but it is typically placed about 16 miles north
of the crossing point. Secondly, the people would follow the Ark across but
they had to be about 2000 cubits behind. And though the priests carrying
the Ark would stand in the waters (Josh 3:15), the people would walk
through on dry ground (Josh 3:17).
You have not passed this way before (but soon will)
The typology is clear. The waters of the Jordan, as did the waters of the
Red Sea, speak of death. The Ark is the very presence of God and represents
the person of Christ. As the Ark (Christ) went down into the waters of
death for us, the impact went all the way back to Adam. Zarethan, according
to 'A dictionary of Scripture Proper Names' means 'their distress'. The
power of the Ark (Christ) reaches right back to the point of mankind's
distress - It goes right back to Adam and gives victory over
the source of their distress - sin and death! The Ark crossed over first
into the Promised Land and represents the Lord's return to the final
Promised Land, Heaven.. The people would follow later, but separated by a
distance of 'about' 2000 cubits. While I can't prove it, I believe this is
pointing to a gap of 'about' 2000 years between the Lord going into the
Promised Land (Heaven) and then His people following later.5 Notice also
that God's people didn't have to experience the waters. They went through on
dry ground. In like matter there will be a generation, at the end of the
age, that do not have to experience death but will be caught up to meet the
Lord in the air and be taken to the promised Heavenly Jerusalem.6 (1 Thes
4:15-17, John 14:1-3). Now in view of all this, look at what the scripture
Jos 3:4-5 "However, there shall be between you and it a distance of
about 2,000 cubits by measure... you have not passed this way before."
Then Joshua said to the people, "Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow
the LORD will do wonders among you."
Joshua said to the people 'The Lord is going to do something wonderful for
you. You have not passed this way before. You have never experienced this
new land but you will - He will do wonders among you.' Where believers are
going, we have never been before. We have not passed this way before. We
have been tied and anchored to this world. But we are nearing the end of the
But none of us have passed this way before. In one way it is the unknown
country. In another it is home. And what did Joshua say to those
about to experience the Promised Land for the first time? Look, for this is
yourself. Set yourselves apart for Him. Be people for the Lord. Tomorrow He will do wonders
among you. Be His today!'
I want to end well. We should all want to end well. If I'm honest sometimes
I feel like a complete and utter failure. I know what it is to trip and
stubble. Sometimes I feel
like I'm running in the wrong direction. Yet
there is that inner voice whispering, saying "This is the way, walk ye in it.
And Iain...end your race
We have never passed this way before. All we know is this world. Like an
anchored ship we have been tied to this world. But the finish line is
End well people... End well.
A word from Amir Tsarfati for 2019
Let me close with a word written by Amir Tsarfati7, a Bible prophecy teacher
that I very much respect and enjoy. You will just have to believe me that I had decided what I wanted to
about before I saw what he wrote (honest!) but it was interesting to see
that his word for 2019 is exactly the same message that was coming back to
me. He just says it better than me : ) He writes:
"As 2018 is coming to an end, I can look back and rejoice at what the
Lord has done. However, the message that He has placed on my heart for
2019 is a resounding one: Finish well! Yes my friends,
we are close to the finish line. The writing is on the wall, the signs
are on the ground, all the players are in place. We are the generation
that shall not pass away. We are the generation that will experience
more deception than any other simply because it's so easy to fall into
deception with the digital world.
The questions I've been posed to ask myself, as well as all of you are:
Is life here in this world all that you care about? Is this world all
that you have? Is it all about 'making the most' out of it? Are the
things of this world the main issues on your mind and the prime goals
of your life?
Are you as excited about eternity that you wouldn't want to live here
in this world again? Is heaven your home or this world? You can only be
homesick for where your home is!
As we approach the finish line, we must all examine our hearts and
ask ourselves...Do we know that when the Lord comes back He will tell us?
'...well done, good and faithful servant!' Matthew 25:23
My friends, let's finish well. Let's finish strong!