In the first post in this series, I explained that while running recently I was reminded of several passages related to running a race and athletes. Since I started running for exercise a few months ago, I decided to look into those passages a little more closely to see if my experiences helped me to understand them.
In this post, I’m going to look at another illustration used by Paul; this one was written in his letter to the Philippians. Here is the verse in the broader context:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (Philippians 2:12-16 ESV)
This passage follows a very strong passage in which Paul instructs his readers to seek unity and fellowship by considering others as more important than themselves (Philippians 2:1-4). Paul points them to the living example of Jesus Christ, who, while being much more than an example, was a perfect example of the humility that all of God’s children should demonstrate (Philippians 2:5-11).
In this passage, Paul continues exhorting his readers by reminding the Philippians that while they are working hard at living the kind of life exemplified by Jesus Christ, God is at work in them to bring it to fruition. Thus, this passage is about maturity in Christ.
And, that is a very important difference between this passage and the ones in Galatians. In fact, almost the exact same phrase is used in Galatians 2:2 and Philippians 2:16, that is, “running in vain.” However, the illustration of running a race in vain (a race that cannot be completed) is used to illustrate two very different points in Galatians and Philippians.
Remember that in Galatians, Paul compared trusting in righteousness by keeping the law to running in vain. But, in Philippians, Paul compares failure to live by “holding fast to the word of life” to running in vain. In this passage, he says that a child of God who fails to mature is like running a race that cannot be finished. Interestingly, Paul sees this maturity as partly his responsibility.
We can see this double responsibility (proclaiming the gospel of grace and helping others mature in grace) in Paul’s letters and in his activities as recorded by Luke in the Book of Acts. Thus, for Paul, failure to trust completely in God and the righteousness that he bestows by his grace is like running in vain. But, at the same time, failure to continue growing in maturity in Jesus Christ is also like running in vain. The two go together.
What would you like to add to this discussion?
Running the Race as an Illustration in Scripture: