Christian Life: An Endurance Race
The Christian Life: Enduring to the End
was impressed by a little Christian article that I read recently. It was written by a man of God who passed away in England about 40 years ago. I don’t think there are really any great men of God in the world today. The shallowness in evangelical Christianity is apparent and acknowledged by those few who are serious about their faith.
In my own country, there was a great man of God, who passed away 10 years ago. Of those who were his co-workers in the early days (way back in the 1940s and 1950s), very few remain. But sadly, they lack spirituality, they lack depth. They might have been very ardent for the Lord in their youth, but somehow the world got into them and they lost their effectiveness. It is shocking to see old men becoming carnal and sentimental and ignorant of divine truths and spiritual principles. Somehow, somewhere in their compromising past, they lost the Spirit. It is possible not only to grieve the Spirit, and to resist the Spirit, but the Spirit may be so quenched that their condition is almost like that of Saul in the Old Testament (1 Sam 16:14), who knew not that the Spirit of God had departed from him.
I have been strongly impressed by the life of Paul, and his words in 1 Corinthians 11:1. ‘Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.’ KJV. ‘Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.’ NKJV. It seems to me that the Lord has shown Paul to be the model of a true Christian. Our Lord Himself stated in John 15:19, ‘If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.' I think it is clear that true Christians, followers of Christ and Paul, would be hated by the world. Our Lord said, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” – which reminds me of Paul’s famous words in 2 Tim 3:12, ‘Yea, all you live a godly life in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.’
In short, the Christian life is a battle. And it’s a battle with evil forces, Eph 6:12. ‘Our struggle is not with flesh and blood…’ The New Testament also compares the Christian life to a long-distance race. ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course (race), I have kept the faith,’ was Paul’s great testimony. ‘Let us run with patience the race that is set before us.’ Heb 12:1. Our Lord made it clear thrice, in Matt 10:22, 24:13 and Rev 2:10, that he who endures to the end, who is faithful unto death, shall be saved and given a great reward.
I believe the Lord is testing us. Let us not take Him for granted. ‘I, the Lord, test the mind and search the heart,’ Jer 17:10. There is an acid test in our life. Just as the purity of gold is tested by placing a small drop of nitric acid on the metal’s surface, so our faith and endurance is tested by God over the years of our Christian life. When the acid is put on the metal, if there is an alloy it will fizz or bubble, but the gold as such remains unaffected. The acid test is thus decisive, immediate, cheap and simple to perform.
I remember the sad words of Paul in the last years of his life in 2 Tim 4:16. ‘No man stood with me, but all forsook me.’ Oh, the faith of the great apostle! He says, notwithstanding the cowardice and faithlessness of many believers, who deserted him in a crucial hour, ‘the Lord stood with me.’ I think a point comes in life, when no one is going to stand with you. The Lord alone will be your strength and support; no man, no believer, as such. God takes us through such deep trials, into the fellowship of His cross.
In Paul’s case, I see that the whole Jewish fraternity was against him, and they pursued him to far off cities in Asia and Europe. I believe that he was not liked even by certain Christians themselves. Peter himself admitted that in Paul’s letters were some things ‘hard to be understood’.
And why were they hard to be understood? Because Paul was so utterly spiritual and heavenly, and totally crucified to the world and its attractions (Gal 6:14) and to the flesh and its desires (Gal 5:24). He was ‘crucified with Christ’, Gal 2:20. Though He established many churches, in the end many in these churches turned against him. I have seen with my own eyes, over the last 20 years in a church reputed for its spirituality, how greatly things have declined and how carnality rules the roost, even among senior responsible brethren and so-called servants of God. Somehow they have developed an aversion to listening to the voice of the Spirit, and to be guide by the peace of God ruling in their hearts. Spirituality is absent. I have been told that I am so heavenly-minded that I am no earthly good! Pragmatism rules, not only in America but also in Asia. People want to be popular and gather large crowds at the cost of comprising vital spiritual truths.
In Paul’s life we see how two young men holding responsible positions in the church reacted to the situation confronting them. Were they able to follow in the footsteps of Paul? Paul writes of one young man who was a co-worker among the Colossians, viz. Demas. This young man is mentioned thrice, but the third and last mention conveys a sense of tragedy. ‘Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world.” 2 Tim 4:10. The world with its allurements was able to woo Demas away from the great apostle. And it is no surprise, because I have seen co-workers of the great man of God wooed away from the true Christian life by worldly ambition, worldly influence, worldly pleasure.
The other young man is Timothy. And here is one verse that, by contrast, speaks volumes about this faithful disciple. ‘All seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.’ Phil 2:21. If we have self-interest in the things of God, we can never serve Him faithfully. Rather we will betray our Lord. As a son with the father, Timothy served with Paul in the gospel, Phil 2:21. We are reminded of the Old Testament examples. How Joshua served Moses; how Elisha served Elijah. Timothy stood with Paul to the very end. Timothy served as overseer at Ephesus, and was martyred for his faith. He was a true example of a Christian, like his spiritual father, Paul the apostle.
The challenge is there before us. Are we willing to go the way of Paul and suffer misunderstanding, suspicion, ostracism? I know how the doors of many assemblies have been closed to me, because the elders of these churches feel that I am ‘not one with them’. Should we not, rather, ‘be one with the Lord’? Groups and parties in the church are the bane of spirituality.
Many so-called born-again believers are seeking popularity; they want to be widely accepted, and appreciated by the masses. They will go to the extent of ‘toning down’ the truth in order not to hurt the ‘feelings’ and 'sentiments' of the audience. There is no such thing as a prophetic ministry, by which I mean preaching in the power and authority of the OT prophets. You cannot say, ‘Thus saith the Lord!’ Rather you must strive to please the crowd and win their approval. Oh, what a mockery of New Testament Christianity in evangelical churches today!
The Bible makes it very clear that the cross has to cut in completely between you and your love for the world. This world is not our own. We are but strangers and pilgrims passing through, and the religious folk in Vanity Fair are ready to reproach and revile you, just as Bunyan described in his famous book of 330 years ago. Are you seeking glory and honor for yourself? Beware. Are you seeking power, position and popularity? That is the easiest way to lose touch with the Lord.
Let us be clear. If you are going to walk the way of the Lord Jesus, and the way of Paul, you will be walking alone. And there will be only a few who will stand with you in the hour of crisis. But one thing is evident. The sovereign God will see to it that the one whom He has chosen will ultimately triumph. And that triumph may not be in your lifetime, but resurrection life will flow from you (and your testimony in the world) just as the life flowed from Elisha’s bones, after you have gone.
No prophet is honored in his own country, John 4:44, nor in his own lifetime.
© Roland N Oliver/Pratonix