Runners Run with Focus
Focused on the Lord Jesus
Focused on Our Great High Priest
Focused on Things Above
Focused on the Prize
Focused on His Coming
Focused on Eternity
Focused on the Glory of the Lord
Running the Earthly Race with a Heavenly Focus
Evidently the apostle Paul liked sports. He likens the Christian life to running a race (I Cor.9:24a). It is likely that this imagery came from Paul’s acquaintance with the Isthmian Games which were held seven miles east of Corinth in a place called Isthmia. Every few years Olympic-type games were held there in honor of the sea-god Neptune (Poseidon). The Corinthians were very familiar with these games. Next to the Olympics, these were the most important athletic events in Greece – a country that was passionate about its sports. According to Jamison, Faucet, & Brown, in order to enter the Isthmian Games, each runner had to take an oath that he had been ten months in training, and that he would violate none of the regulations. From the analogy of the Greek athletic events, using imagery which would be very familiar to his readers, Paul made several points in this metaphor which are analogous to the Christian life:
- Running a race requires giving it one’s all (vs.24b)
- Running is agonizing and requires self control (vs.25a)
- Runners run with single-minded focus (vs.26)
- Running requires discipline (vs.27a)
- Runners must run according to the race rules (vs.27b)
This study is going to deal with just one sub-point in Paul’s analogy, namely that running a race requires single-minded focus. It may be only one part of the whole illustration, but it is an important theme that is seen throughout the New Testament. It is an essential part of Christian living.
Runners Run with Focus (I Corinthians 9:26)
“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. 25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. 26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air” (I Corinthians 9:24-26).
Paul just noted (vs.25c) that Christians run in order to obtain an incorruptible crown – rewards given by the Lord Jesus at the Judgment Seat of Christ at the finish line of this race called the Christian life. Therefore, Paul ran in such a way as to obtain a crown for himself. And he ran faithfully throughout his whole life. At the end of his days, he knew that the Lord had a crown for him (II Tim. 4:7-8). He finished his course. He ran well. He seeks to teach us how to run well so that we too might obtain an incorruptible crown. We don’t have to be smart, or talented, or strong. In fact in this race it’s not a good idea to lean on our own understanding or to rely on our own strength. The arm of flesh will fail you. All God wants us to do is run… and remain focused on Him. How simple!
Here Paul states that as he runs the race (the Christian life), he does NOT run uncertainly. “Uncertainly” is defined as aimlessly wandering, as one without a fixed goal. As Paul runs the race, he isn’t just wandering aimlessly through life. He wasn’t running down dead end roads and endless rabbit trails. He knew exactly where he was headed. There was no uncertainty in his mind at all. He was not going to allow anything to cause him to swerve away from his goal… and life does throw a lot of curve balls at us! His eyes were on the prize and nothing was going to disturb his focus on that prize. That is the main gist of I Cor.9:26.
Some days when I take a leisurely jog, I’m not sure which route I’m going to take. That’s ok if you’re out on a leisurely jog, but Paul is not talking about that. He has a RACE in mind – the Isthmian Games. The Christian life is not like a leisurely jog. It is like a road race… in which the runners are not wandering aimlessly, but are focused on the prize and nothing else.
There was no uncertainty in his mind. He knew the rules of the race. He knew the boundary lines. When he came to a fork in the road he didn’t have to stop for several minutes, take out a map, and decide which way to go… while the other runners passed him up. Marathon runners often take a trial run of the route before they run the race, so that they become acquainted with it. A wrong turn could throw them off course and they would lose ground and waste time. Paul knew the route ahead of time. It was crystal clear in his head. He could almost visualize it in his head. The Word of God is our rule book. The better we know the rule book, the better equipped we are to run the race. We should be certain about what God says. The more certain we are in our head about the rules and the boundary lines, the more focused we can be on running the race.
Paul was also certain about finishing the race. He didn’t look at each obstacle along the way and have an internal debate: “Do I really want to finish this race? Should I just call it day and go home to rest? Boy, that park bench looks mighty comfortable!” He was not uncertain about how grueling the race would be. He was a realist. His good training taught him to EXPECT pain. He knew that there would be points in the race when he would feel like quitting – when he would hit the wall. But because he was so focused on finishing the race, he ran right through that wall. Nothing was going to stop him from reaching the goal. Quitting was not an option for Paul as he ran the race. He determined ahead of time that he would run through the pain and not let the pain or obstacles sideline him. Paul was resolved, determined, and resolute. He knew where he was going. There was no uncertainty in Paul’s mind as he ran the race. The apostle Paul was FOCUSED on one thing: winning the prize. Therefore, he did not run as uncertainly.
“So Fight I, Not as One That Beateth the Air”
Paul mixes his metaphors here. He switches from the running to a boxing metaphor… but the point is the same. Here he states that when he boxes, he does not “beat the air”. Paul was not shadow boxing… or pretending. He was dead serious about his contest. It wasn’t a game to him. He wasn’t just beating the air. In other words, when Paul swings his fist, he wants it to hit the target, not miss and beat the “air.” He is certain and sure when he runs; he is certain and sure when he boxes. He is dead serious about running and boxing. With every ounce of energy he exerts, he strives to be on course and on target. In his athletic program there was to be no wasted time, no wasted steps, and no wasted swings.
As a runner he is focused on winning the prize; as a boxer he is focused on his target. The two illustrations (running and boxing) make the same point. Focus is everything. Consider the three following helpful hints on running with focus from a recent runner’s magazine.
- Imagery: Because running can be so challenging, often what separates the good from the great runners is mental conditioning. Runners can choose to focus on anything from imagining running in their favorite place to crossing the finish line in first place. You should try to make your images as clear as possible, incorporating all senses, and rehearse your image even when you are not training.
- Dissociation: Focus on something other than running during their workouts. (in other words, don’t think about the run itself; the struggle of the hills; the obstacles; the pain; etc.)
- Control: Take control of your thoughts. Don’t let your mind wander; focus on what you’re doing. If random thoughts occur, gently shift your attention back to where it should be.
The advice running coaches give to their runners concerning the importance of focus is applicable to running the spiritual race: the Christian life.
Focused on the Lord Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-3)
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (Hebrews 12:1-3).
We are commanded to be looking unto Jesus. Consider the meaning of the term “look”: to fix attention on, to look intently toward a distant object. Metaphorically, it means to behold in the mind, to fix the mind upon. The term “look” implies something far more significant than a mere passing glance. It is a look in which the runner is focused – even fixated upon Christ… looking intently. The mind is completely concentrated upon this object, in this case, Christ. This is not a description of a wandering mind that drifts and meanders from one object to the next… inattentive and unfocused. This term implies a clearheaded, concentrated gaze. It is a look that isn’t distracted by all the “things” going on in the background. We are to be looking unto (fixing our attention upon) Jesus as we run the race.
Consider the grammar. The main verb (“let us run”) is followed by a present participle (“looking”). This construction indicates that this action of “looking” takes place concurrently with the action of the main verb “run.” In other words, the running and the looking occur simultaneously. We are to be looking as we run. We are to be running as we look. The command is to keep on running the race with patience and to keep on looking as you run. The implication here is that the look enables the run… the look motivates the run… the look empowers the runner to keep on running with patience. There is a definite connection between looking and running.
On what object should we focus our eyes AS we run? On Jesus! And keep in mind, that the Jesus we focus upon is not the carpenter of Galilee… not the earthly Jesus who lived under the Mosaic Law and offered the Kingdom to Israel. No, we are to focus on the RISEN Savior… the Jesus who has already purged us from our sins and is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. We are to be looking at Jesus, our Great High Priest who ministers to us continuously from the heavenly sanctuary, and who ever lives to make intercession for us. We are to be looking to the Jesus at the throne of grace who provides grace to help in time of need. We are to be looking unto the Jesus who is the Glorified God-Man, who already has tread the path we trod, and who is touched with the feelings of our infirmities.
We are to be looking unto Jesus our Judge who rewards us at the Bema seat – not the Judge who at the Great White Throne judgment condemns all to Hell. (That would hardly be motivation to run the race with patience!) We look to the Jesus who has already judged our sins on the cross by BEARING them and paying the penalty in full… and who has TAKEN AWAY our sins. We look to Jesus the Judge at the Bema seat who encourages us to continue running that He might give us a CROWN and say “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!” (THAT is motivation to keep on running.)
As new creatures in Christ (II Cor. 5:16-17) raised into heavenly places in Christ Jesus, we no longer know Jesus “after the flesh” (in His earthly condition as described in the gospels when he came to minister LAW to Israel). We know Him as our RISEN Savior… the God-Man in glory… our Great High Priest in His heavenly sanctuary, at His throne of GRACE.
We are looking unto the Jesus whose work is finished, and who has entered into that within the veil – into the heavenly Holy of Holies (Heb. 6:19-20) and to whom our souls are anchored – safe and secure every step along the way – as we run the race with patience! We are anchored to the forerunner, and we are running right behind Him, following His steps, and assured of the same heavenly destination. There is no uncertainty in this race.
Consider the importance of LOOKING. “And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live” (Num.21:8-9). The apostle John uses this historic event to illustrate how SIMPLE it is to be saved. Look and live (John 3:14-16)! There is something quite powerful in a simple look! It can imply a lot. A look can imply FAITH… a look that saves. “Look unto Me and be saved” (Isa. 45:22). Consider Isaiah 31:1: “Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the LORD!” In this context, the term looking speaks of trusting in; relying upon; seeking. Note the contrast here. Those who go down to Egypt were looking to Egypt for help, support, strength, and ability to fight the fight. In contrast to looking to Egypt, God said that the Jews should have LOOKED unto Him for help, support, strength, and ability to fight the fight. The concept of “looking unto” someone or something implies a confidence in… a look for someone to deliver… a look to someone to enable them to have victory. This is a good illustration for us of what it means to run the race looking unto Jesus – for help, strength, ability to fight the good fight, and endurance to continue running the race. He is our Strength.
When the author of Hebrews spoke of “looking unto Jesus” as we run the race, he certainly wasn’t talking about looking at icons or pictures of Jesus. He was talking about fixing our eyes of faith upon the Risen Lord and trusting in Him to give us the strength to continue running. We are to walk by faith (II Cor. 5:7). The author of Hebrews tells us that we are also to run by faith. As we run the race we are to be looking to Christ in faith, trusting in Him every step of the way to keep us going. This look of faith enables us to run the race with patience (endurance). Don’t miss this point: endurance is not something that we conjure up from our own strength. Rather, endurance is ours by faith as we keep our eyes upon the Lord. In the account in Matthew 14:24-30, Peter walked on water. He did something that was impossible in his own power. First the disciples saw Christ walking on the water. Peter requested to walk out to the Lord, and the Lord answered him, “Come!” In obedience and faith, and looking unto Jesus, Peter stepped out of the boat, and was able to walk on water. As we walked by faith with his eyes on the Lord, he was able to do the impossible. But notice that as he took his eyes off the Lord, and began to focus instead on the waves… on his circumstances… and he immediately began to sink. His natural senses and his own understanding told him that he could not walk on water. With his eyes of faith off Christ, and as he leaned on his own understanding and on his own strength and power, he began to sink.
Transferring that illustration to what the author of Hebrews states, the only way we will be able to run the race with patience (endurance – without sinking; without quitting; without falling) is to be LOOKING unto Jesus with our eyes of faith fixed firmly on Him. You see, running the race, (living the Christian life, walking in newness of life, living a resurrected life) is just as impossible in our own strength as walking on water. But as we LOOK unto Jesus, focused on Him, we are able to do the impossible! We are enabled to keep on running, persevering, and enduring, until we reach the finish line and receive a WELL DONE! Focus is everything.
Focused on our Great High Priest – Hebrews 3:1
“Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus” (Hebrews 3:1).
Here we are told to CONSIDER Christ, as our Great High Priest. The term consider: (κατανοέω – katano-eh-o) means to observe, to give careful consideration, to contemplate. In Acts 7:31-32, this term is translated “behold.” Moses saw a burning bush and was enthralled by what he saw. He carefully drew near to “behold” it… to pay close attention to it, to observe it, to consider the significance of what he was looking at. In Hebrews 3:1, believers are told to draw near to God and to CONSIDER Christ, our Great High Priest. We are to give careful consideration to Him, to contemplate Him, to behold Him. Again, this speaks of FOCUS on who Christ is.
The purpose for focusing on Christ is significant in the context of the previous chapter. In Hebrews 2:1, believers are warned of the possibility of “slipping away” from truth about Christ. In Hebrews 2:2, the author warned his readers that God chastened His people in the Old Testament for slipping away from truth delivered by angels. Then in verse 3 the warning continues: How much more will God chasten His sons in this age if we slip away from truth delivered by His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and His apostles!
Hebrews was addressed to a group of first century Hebrew Christians. They trusted in Christ as their Savior, and began running the race. At first they did well. In Heb.10:32-36, the author reminds them of their early days as Christians. At first, they ran well and were willing to suffer loss for Christ. At first they took “joyfully the spoiling of their goods” because they focused on Christ and things above. They knew that they had in heaven a better and an enduring substance.
However, as time went by, they became weary of the race and weary of suffering for Christ. Many of them were contemplating returning to Judaism and the sacrificial Temple worship in order to make the persecution stop. They had had enough. They had grown weary in well doing and weary in running the race. They wanted to quit running. The author reminds them that what they needed now was patience (endurance). They began sprinting but grew worn out when they discovered that this race was not a 40 yard dash but a seemingly never ending marathon! Anybody can sprint for a while, but to finish a marathon you need patience – endurance. In Hebrews chapter 12 the author tells them how to obtain that patient endurance in the race: by LOOKING unto Jesus… by keeping focused on Christ – who ran the race before us! Or as the author said in Hebrews 3:1, by CONSIDERING Him, our Great High Priest. Focusing in faith on Christ enables us to do the impossible. It enables us to run a race and keep on running far beyond where our puny strength will take us. It will enable us to run with patient endurance. It will keep us from slipping away, falling behind, and from losing our reward. Focus is everything.
Notice how Christ (the object of our focus) is described in this context. Hebrews 2:17 states that Christ was made like unto His brethren. He took on human flesh and was tested in all points as we are – apart from sin. He ran the race before us, successfully passed the test, and therefore, we too can pass the test. He entered into glory as our forerunner (Hebrews 6:20) and He paved the way for many sons to follow, running behind in His steps. And our souls are anchored to Him who is within the veil, so that ultimately nothing can separate us from Him, or from our final destination. No matter what happens in life down here, reaching the goal is certain. And note also that here we are told to consider (contemplate – focus on) Christ as our merciful and faithful High Priest. As a High Priest, Christ is one of us. He became a Man. And He represents us before the Father. He stands before the Father as our Propitiation – we are righteous IN Him. Hebrews 2:18 tells us that this High Priest suffered, was tempted, and tested along the course as He ran the race. And His ministry to us is faithful – reliable… enduring. His ministry is also merciful – compassionate. He knows experientially what we are going through. He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities as we run the race. And therefore, He is able to succor (help; come to the aid of) us. The term “succor” is in the present tense indicating that He is continually able to help us. He ever liveth to make intercession for us as we run the race (Hebrews 7:25). His ministry as our Great High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary on our behalf never changes.
Consider Luke 22:31-32: “And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not…” The only way we can run and endure is by faith, focused on Christ. In those times when our faith is frail and feeble and we feel like quitting, Christ prays for us. We can be assured that our faith will never fail. It may grow weak, but it can never fail. What a Great High Priest we have! He stands at the finish line, encouraging us along… praying for us… keeping us afloat as long as our eyes are upon Him. Thank you Lord!
Focused on Things Above – Colossians 3:1-4
“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. 2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4).
As we focus on things above, we demonstrate where our HEART really is… what our true treasure is. Anyone can say they love the Lord, but the manner in which we run the race manifests where our heart really is. If we truly love the Lord, we will LOOK towards Him and fix our gaze upon Him. We will look towards the One who has captured our hearts and towards the One for which we have great affection.
We will seek things above, because that is where Christ is. People naturally seek after that which their hearts treasure. Jesus said, “For where you treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). Focusing on Christ and things above is not primarily a matter of the head (though it involves information and truth). It is primarily a matter of the heart. If we truly love the Lord, our lives will be focused on Him, and our affections will be on Him and on things above. This kind of heart affection is not something that Law can produce in us. This is the result of LIFE… an abundant life… spending time with Christ in His word… beholding His glory. The more we get to know Christ, the more motivated we will be to run towards Him. Heart affection towards Christ enables us to run. It is our motivation to keep on running – because we LOVE the Lord.
In Colossians 3, we are commanded to be seeking and setting our affection on things above, where Christ is, and where we are to dwell in Him. Heaven is our home. We have already been positionally raised up into heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Thus, we are to have a HEAVENLY focus as we live our earthly lives and as we run the earthly race. Our feet are running the race upon the earth, but our hearts are focused on Christ in heaven. That is our true treasure. If we truly treasure Him, we will run with endurance, and we will be more than happy to lay aside any weights that hinder us from running closer to Christ. If we truly treasure Him and our affections are above, then whatever we are called to suffer and sacrifice in running the race will be worth it all!
Consider the warning in Colossians 3:2b. There is an ever present danger of setting our affection on things of the earth. The things of the earth refer to all earthly things. They are not necessarily evil – some are; some are not. But that’s not the point. The point here is that the things of earth can be distractions. It is impossible to keep your eyes focused on two realms at once. You have to make a choice. You can’t be focused on things above and things below at the same time. You can’t set your affections on things above and on things of the earth. You can’t have two masters. Anything that takes our eyes off the prize… anything that distracts us from focusing on Christ is to be avoided. Some of those distractions are sinful (lay aside the besetting sins) and some are not sinful (lay aside every weight). Earthly distractions are to be laid aside like weights, so that we might run the race unencumbered, unhindered, and so that we might WIN. There are many earthly things that are not necessarily evil, but they should be discarded if they distract us from running the race… if they are weighing us down… or hindering progress towards the goal: Christ and Christlikeness!
We will only be able to run with patient endurance IF we are looking unto Jesus and IF we are focused on Christ and seeking things above. The moment our attention is distracted and we shift our affections and our focal point to earthly things, we begin to sink… we begin to slip away… we begin to fall back in the race. And don’t think our adversary doesn’t know this. This is his tactic. Satan is the god of this world. He uses the things of this world to distract our attention from heavenly and spiritual things. He uses the things of the world to allure us off course, down a dead end street, and thus setting us behind in the race. He uses the things of the world to capture our hearts and affection. Hence, we are commanded, “Love not the world, neither the things in the world” (I John 2:15). Nothing is more effective in causing a believer to slip behind in the race than to distract his focus with earthly things. The devil knows that the believer will run towards whatever his eyes are focused on and his heart treasures.
Of course the only answer to our adversary’s tactics is the CROSS… where we DIED with Christ. “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14). We died to the world and the world unto us. Death to the world isn’t something we are trying to accomplish or produce. We are not attempting to DIE to the world. We already died to the world and the world unto us. The world is a defeated foe and has no more authority over us. Our passage in Colossians 3:3 puts it this way: “For ye ARE dead and your life is hid with Christ in God.” We died with Christ and thus died to the world. Thus, we have been redeemed and delivered from the world system and its god. And as long as we BELIEVE what God said and walk in faith, looking unto Jesus – we can experience victory over the attractions and distractions in the world. This does not mean that the world will no longer be appealing or that there will be no more temptations in the world. Our old nature is alive and well. Temptations don’t disappear, but by faith we keep our old man (the man who loved the world) on the cross. With our eyes of faith focused on Christ and things above, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we will continue running the race with patience. As a new creature alive unto God and focused on our Savior, we will be enabled by faith to run right past those worldly distractions, because something higher and nobler has caught our eye. As we continue on in faith, believing that we are dead to the world, looking unto Jesus, we experience victory. Focus is everything.
And how are we enabled to keep on running the race if we focus on things above and seek things above where Christ is?
“Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” As we run the race by faith (believing that we died with Christ to the world and to the things of the world), we experience a separation in heart from the world and its trinkets. As the hymn writer wrote: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face; And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” And as our hearts are weaned away from the things of this world, our hearts are drawn nearer still nearer to Christ… and we begin to discover what Paul meant when he said, “Your life is hid with Christ in God.” We begin to discover the glory of this truth: while we are running the race down here on earth, our REAL life (our spiritual life) is being nourished by Christ, (Col.2:19) our Head, our Good Shepherd, the Vine.
LOOKING UNTO JESUS speaks of looking unto Him with the eyes of faith, no longer distracted by the cares and entanglements of this life. By faith we enter into sweet communion with Him. As we consider our Great High Priest and focus on Him, we experience that abundant life HIDDEN away in glory with Him within the veil in that heavenly sanctuary, where we receive grace and strength to run the race and where the Vine provides the branch with all he needs to patiently endure. In that place of heavenly communion – a spiritual life hidden away with Christ in heaven, we find grace, strength, refuge, encouragement, comfort, and motivation to continue running the race. Thus, from heaven’s sanctuary, our High Priest nourishes and strengthens us with HIS strength – an endless supply and a source completely HIDDEN to the world, yet it is all we need to run consistently with zeal, zest, and vigor and with fire in the belly. And it is all because when we FOCUS on Christ (when we as branches ABIDE in Him) we are supplied with supernatural power from our Savior enabling us to bear spiritual fruit and to live a crucified, but resurrected life – a victorious life that will be rewarded with golden crowns and a WELL DONE from the Lord Jesus one day. We don’t run uncertainly. We run with our eyes of faith focused squarely on the Savior. We don’t beat the air. We swing focused on the target. Focus is everything.
Focused on the Prize (Philippians 3:14)
“Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).
In this passage, Paul once again uses the metaphor of running a race to describe the Christian life, using two different Greek terms: “reaching forth” and as a “pressing toward” the mark. The term “press towards” (διώκω) in vs.14a is also used in vs.13 and is translated, “follow after.” The term can mean to chase for the purpose of persecuting; to make to run or flee, put to flight, or drive away. Strong’s Concordance gives it a second definition: to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing, to run after; and figuratively of one who runs swiftly in a race to reach the goal. That is how he uses the term in this passage. Thus, in this illustration, Paul saw himself as running towards a goal.
Paul also uses a second term (“reaching forth” – ἐπεκτείνω) to describe the concept of “running.” This term is from epi (unto) + ektainw (to stretch). Hence, to stretch toward or strain toward some goal. This term speaks of the great EFFORT exerted in running a race, stretching oneself… stretching muscles. This term is parallel in meaning to the term he used in I Cor. 9:25 – “striving” (agonizomai) for the mastery, which emphasizes the effort, strain, and pain involved.
In Philippians 3:12, the effort required to win the race is expressed by Paul when he states that he realizes that he has not yet attained the goal nor was he yet perfect. Note that he was stretching towards “perfection” (which means full grown; mature; complete) and would not be satisfied with anything less. Remember, in the races Paul was familiar with, there was only ONE winner (I Cor. 9:24). There was no silver or bronze. Everyone else lost the race. Thus, Paul was not hoping to come in second place. Nothing but first place would do – and that meant that he had to strive for perfection. He was out for the gold, not the silver or bronze. He was striving for the mastery. He gave it his all, because he realized that he was not perfect yet. No one is in this life! But that fact did not discourage him. Rather, he saw it as a challenge, as a goal worth striving for because he knew that he was continually making progress. He knew that the moment he began to slack off… the moment he stopped stretching himself towards that goal, he would begin to lose ground in the race. (How true of us too!) That’s why he kept on “following after” that goal. (He continually chased it down – present tense). His goal was to BE perfect: Christlike in every way. That ought to be our goal in life too. If we focus on that goal we will never arrive fully in this life, but we will make progress in that direction.
The prize towards which the apostle ran was “the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” His high calling was his position IN Christ. He had been raised into heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:6). As Paul ran his earthly race, he focused on a mark, which is his high calling. He had been called to BE like Christ. “The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master” (Luke 6:40). The goal in this race was to be LIKE Christ.
Consider Philippians 3:10: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.” If Paul was going to be like his Master, then he would have to KNOW Christ in a deeper way – a full experiential knowledge of Christ. He knew that he wasn’t there yet entirely. Paul wanted to know fully the power of the resurrection in his daily life. He had experienced it, but not to the fullest. Paul also realized that he had to be willing to be made conformable unto Christ’s death. The term “conformable” is defined as to “take on the same form as.” It is used in Romans 8:29 where it is translated “conformed” into His image. How is the believer conformed unto Christ’s death? In His death for us, Christ was willing to suffer for us. He was willing to give Himself completely to the will of the Father – even to the point of death. He was completely selfless, willing to suffer and pay a price for the good of others. We are conformed to His death when we demonstrate that same “mind of Christ.” Being conformed to His death involves reckoning ourselves to be dead unto sin (Romans 6:11), being willing to suffer for righteousness’ sake, willing to fellowship in Christ’s sufferings for righteousness’ sake, picking up a cross and following Christ, putting others first, being willing to sacrifice our rights for the good of others, and being willing to sacrifice and suffer in order to win the race. As we do so, we are following the steps that Christ trod. As we run the race as Christ ran, we are being made conformable unto His death, and we are being conformed to His image.
The goal of the race is our “high calling” which IS Christlikeness. Consider our high calling:
- Our calling is IN CHRIST:
- Made members of His Body
- In Him we are complete
- In Him we have all spiritual blessings
- In Him we are new creations
- Our calling is HIGH – raised into heavenly places IN Christ.
- Citizens of heaven
- Translated into the Kingdom of His dear Son
- Seated with Him
- Our life is hidden with Him in glory
- Anchored to our High Priest within the veil in the heavenly sanctuary.
- We are saved; redeemed; justified; reconciled; indwelt by the Spirit; sealed; indwelt by Christ; our names are written in heaven; forgiven; sons of God; kings; priests; saints; positionally sanctified; washed; cleansed; purged; holy;
Paul knew well that his goal was his position in Christ. And he also knew that the condition of his present earthly life fell infinitely short of his glorious heavenly position… his high calling. He knew that in Christ he was holy (positionally), but he acknowledge that in his earthly race, he fell far short of that. He knew that in Christ he was a saint, but in his earthly race, he did not always behave in a saintly manner. He knew that he had not yet attained his goal. He had not been perfected. His condition did not perfectly match his glorious, heavenly position. Therefore, he knew he had to keep on running towards that goal and focused on that goal. His goal (mark) was obtaining that prize – a reward given at the Bema seat to those who faithfully run towards that mark.
Running the race in such a way as to obtain that goal requires FOCUS. Focusing on the prize requires FORGETTING those things which are behind. The things which are behind in this context refers to all the things Paul “sacrificed” or exchanged for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. In Phil. 3:5-7, Paul counted his past history (his past achievements; his past life) as dung compared to what he has now in Christ. In Phil. 3:8, he was willing to leave it all behind in his pursuit of the knowledge of Christ. He “suffered the loss of all things” in the past when he came to Christ. But now something infinitely superior has captured his heart: the prize of the mark of his high calling in Christ. Therefore, Paul refused to look back. He chose to “forget” (put out of his mind) whatever it cost him to follow Christ. Once he got a glimpse of Christ, the things of earth grew strangely dim in the light of HIS glory and grace! Once he got a glimpse of Christ, the finish line, and the prize of his high calling, he had no interest in turning back – or even looking back. (Remember Lot’s wife.) He was now “looking unto Jesus” and running the race with patience. He was now focused on his high calling – and the finish line where he would be perfected, made once and for all like Christ, robed in white and crowned with a golden crown that he could cast at Christ’s feet. Once he got a glimpse of his heavenly calling, he no longer thought about “those things which are behind.” Whatever it COST Paul to run this race was more than worth it! Why focus on earthly dung when you can focus on your heavenly calling in Christ?
In our passage, Paul tells us that AS he ran, he FOCUSED on his high calling… on his heavenly position in Christ. As he focused on his heavenly position, he was strengthened and enabled to run and to patiently endure. The Lord used a similar illustration: the branch abiding in Christ, the Vine. Christ IS our position… our position is IN Him (I Cor. 1:30). As we dwell on Him, rest in Him, and abide in Him, we will be strengthened and nourished by Him and will bear fruit. As the runner focuses on Christ who is our position, we are enabled to RUN the race with patience. What keeps the runner running? Focusing our attention on the Risen Savior and our position in Him keeps us running!
We are NOT to look back and dwell on the cost of the race. Paul’s point is that we are to forget the past, forget the cost, the sacrifice, and the price we paid to follow Christ. If we dwell on the past… we will be filling our minds with thoughts of how painful it was to have to give up this or that to follow Christ. We will be reminded of all the sacrifices involved in running the race… the loss of some so called friends… the time it demands of us… and all the work and service involved… all the things that we had to “give up” in order to be in shape to run. If we dwell on those past things, we will soon become discouraged and quit running. We would conclude that it’s not worth it.
A marathoner who focuses on his pain while running will stop running in no time. (If he thinks about his pulled leg muscle, his aching heel, etc.) he would quit. A runner is to forget the past. He is to forget his past victories. If he dwells on his past victories, he might get a bit proud and think that he no longer has to train as hard as he used to. He can slack off a bit – after all, he is number one and nobody can beat him! That’s a sure road to defeat. Some refer to this as “sitting on his laurels.” (Resting on his past victories, his past laurel crowns, instead of training and running for future races.) Resting on our past victories, (resting on our laurels) results in laziness and sloth… and leads to defeat. He is also to forget his past defeats. The runner is not to dote over his past failures either. Neither are we – and we’ve all had them! We’ve all had way too many past defeats. It does no good spiritually to sit around licking our wounds. That is a royal waste of time. If we have failed in the past, (and who hasn’t!) confess it, and BELIEVE that God has forgiven you, and get back into running in the race! Get back on track! Dwelling on past failures leads to nothing but discouragement and more failure. A runner who focuses on the things that are past (either victories or defeats) will be defeated: either through laziness or discouragement. It doesn’t matter which tool the devil uses… the end result is the same: defeat… quitting… failure.
When we as believers focus on our earthly condition (whether we think our condition is fabulous or lousy), then we are NOT focusing on our heavenly position. Focusing on our earthly condition is focusing on self, and that always leads to defeat. Focusing on our heavenly position is focusing on Christ. That enables us to run the race with patience… on to victory!
“But this ONE THING I do.” (vs.13) Of all the things that Paul could have done, he says that there was really only ONE thing that caught his undivided attention. The “one thing” was the prize. He left past things behind. He brushed all other things aside. There was only ONE THING that drove this man: winning the prize… standing before Christ in perfect Christlikeness… with the dross all burned away… and receiving a WELL DONE thou good and faithful servant. Paul forgot about everything else while running the race so that he could focus on this ONE THING. Focus is everything.
Focused on His Coming (Titus 2:13)
We are to FOCUS on Our Blessed Hope!
“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
Note the repeated emphasis on LOOKING unto Jesus. Hebrews 12:2 tells us to be “looking UNTO Jesus,” our Risen Savior. In that analogy, we are runners looking unto the goal… namely, the Judge at the finish line with a crown. Titus 2:13 tells us to be “looking FOR Jesus” our Coming Savior. We are to be looking for the coming of Christ for His Bride. As we live the Christian life we are to be focused with anticipation of His soon coming… maybe today!
The term “looking” (προσδέχομαι) is defined: “to expect, to look or wait for, eagerly anticipate a future event.” In this context, the term speaks of awaiting expectantly for the coming of Christ, looking for His coming, and anticipating it with great joy. The term “looking” also implies FAITH. We look for His coming because we believe that He is coming. And we believe because He said so: “I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2b-3). A look of faith to Christ the Savior saves the sinner from the condemnation of sin. A look of faith to Christ our High Priest saves the saint from the power of sin in his daily life. Faith IS the victory. LOOKING eagerly and expectantly is an expression of faith. In Titus 2:13, when Paul speaks of looking to Christ, he speaks of a heart of faith that is focused on His coming.
Consider the context and sentence structure in Titus 2:11-14. In verse 11, Paul begins by speaking about the grace of God that has appeared. It appeared in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. This true grace of God both saves and sanctifies. According to verse 12, God’s grace is a Teacher. It does not teach us that we are free to do whatever we want. That is licentiousness. The false teachers abuse grace and turn it into lasciviousness. Grace does not teach us self indulgence. But God’s true grace teaches us self denial! Grace teaches us to DENY ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live soberly and righteously in the world. Grace teaches us how to LIVE the Christian life. Note that as believers we live in the world. We are surrounded by the world… its ways… its philosophies… the good, bad, and the ugly. We live IN the world, but we are not to be OF the world. We are to be different. Grace teaches us to be different as we run the race, as we live the life. Grace teaches us that we are not to be occupied with the same pursuits as the world. Something higher and nobler has captured our minds and hearts. This affects the way we live. Grace teaches us to be careful about the way we live.
Verse 13 reminds us to be “looking for that blessed hope.” The blessed hope refers to the glorious appearance of Christ. According to the rules of Greek grammar, (Granville Sharp Rule), they refer to the same thing. His appearing IS our Blessed Hope! We are to be LOOKING for His coming, which is our hope. Hope means a confident expectation… not an uncertain “hope so.” The term “look” is a present participle. The same construction appears here as in Hebrews 12:2 – a main verb in the subjunctive connected to a present participle. This construction speaks of action that occurs simultaneously with the action of the main verb: live. Thus, in Hebrews 12:1-2, the author speaks of looking AS you run. Titus 2:13 speaks of looking AS you live soberly and righteously. And don’t’ forget that “running the race” is an illustration of “living” the Christian life. In other words, as we live, we are to be continually LOOKING for His coming. We are to be giving Christ our undivided attention. Running the race is a metaphor for living the Christian life. As we live our Christian lives, we are to be continually LOOKING for (focused on) the coming of the Lord. In Titus 2:14, this heavenly focus on the coming of Christ has an effect on the way we LIVE. It should motivate us to be zealous of good works (vs.14). The One we are looking to is the same One who redeemed us in order that He might purify us unto Himself a people zealous of good works. Don’t ever think of a heavenly focus as being of no earthly value. We are not looking unto a pie in the sky that is detached from real life. Looking unto Jesus and looking for His coming transforms our earthly lives and results in good fruit and good works. Both expressions teach that our focus in living the Christian life is to be on a Person, Christ: either looking for His coming or looking to meet Him at the finish line. As we run the race… as we live our lives, we are to continually look to Christ, our Blessed Hope. Looking towards this hope will motivate us to keep on running. Hope is essential.
There is both a positive and negative side in looking for (awaiting eagerly; anticipating) Christ’s coming.
“And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.” (I John 2:2)
Negatively, we should fear being ashamed before Him at His coming. We should fear having part of our lives go up in smoke as the wood, hay, and stubble is burnt up at the Bema. We should fear being caught wandering aimlessly when He comes, allowing laziness to settle into our Christian lives, not serving, not involved in the Local Church, not using the talents He gave us for His glory, letting others carry the load… in other words, sitting when we should be running. There will be shame at His coming if we are found to be unwilling to sacrifice… unwilling to waive our rights for the good of others… unwilling to suffer for His name’s sake. If our eyes are on self instead of Christ we will not run well. We will be feeling sorry for self, pampering self, doting over self, absorbed with self’s earthly circumstances, and not dwelling on our heavenly position. That kind of life is but wood, hay, and stubble. It is worthless and will be the cause of shame at His coming.
Positively, we can have CONFIDENCE at His coming if we are running the race with patience. If we are focused on Him and LOVE His appearing, then we will KNOW that we have crowns awaiting us. That brings spiritual confidence before Him. I John 2:28 speaks of the believer ABIDING in Christ (resting in Him; living by faith; surrendered; yielded). This is how we are to LIVE the life and RUN the race. This is the Christian life: abiding in Christ. It is the only life that is approved of God – a life that manifests fruit that was borne as a result of abiding in Him. We can have confidence at His coming if we are ABIDING in Him, walking in the light, serving Christ, sharing the gospel, and being the kind of witness He would have us to BE. If we are yielded and surrendered to Him, His life will be manifested through us, and that is well pleasing in His sight. That gives us confidence at His coming.
Consider I Tim.4:7-8: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” Note that for Paul, his confidence arose not just from what Paul was doing FOR the Lord but from his heart attitude TOWARDS the Lord: he loved His appearance because he loved the Lord. Those who focus on Christ and anticipate with great joy His coming, (we love Him and therefore we love His appearing) will be rewarded, because that kind of focus always results in a Christlike life… which is rewarded at His coming, and which creates MORE eagerness in us for His coming!
Philippians 3:20 states: “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.” There is a connection between LOOKING for the Savior and a heavenly “conversation” (citizenship). If we are focused on Christ above, it will affect our whole manner of life… the way we run the race down here on earth! As a citizen of heaven, we focus on the heavenly citizenship and Savior, and that results in a life which is continually progressing towards his heavenly position. In Philippians 3:18-19, Paul states that the unsaved in the world MIND (think of; look to) earthly things. They are looking to be rich and famous down here. But we are citizens of heaven. Our minds and hearts are anticipating a coming Savior to deliver us from the present evil world system and take us home to glory. We LOOK for a Savior. This is a heavenly mindset. This makes us different from the world: Christ centered, and beloved of the Father. The more we acknowledge our citizenship in heaven, (position) the more we will LOOK for the coming of Christ. Dwelling on our heavenly position (citizenship) will affect our earthly condition (lifestyle).
In the book of Revelation, we are told to BEHOLD… to LOOK for (focus on)… His coming.
- Revelation 3:11 – “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.”
- Revelation 22:12 – “Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me.”
There is a connection between looking unto Jesus and receiving crowns and rewards. Paul makes it clear in II Timothy 4:8 that our crowns are associated with His coming. There is a crown of righteousness for those who love His appearing. In Revelation we are told to BEHOLD (look) towards His coming and are reminded that His rewards are with Him. This ought to strike fear into us… (fear of displeasing Him; fear of becoming distracted) and also it ought to motivate us to keep on running, and to continue living for Him. This truth will motivate us to run the race with all we’ve got: the Lord is coming! He is coming at any moment… and His reward is with Him. We are presently running the race, but He could COME at any time… and we might have to give an account of everything we have done in our bodies. If that thought is front and center in our thinking, it will have an effect on the way we run the race.
“Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.” (James 5:8-9)
A life that is focused on the coming of the Lord will run the race with patience and produce good fruit. James 5:8 states that patience is needed in waiting for His return. But note that James states that we can be patient if we realize that His coming is “nigh” (near). He could come at any moment… therefore, be patient. And note also that the fact that the Judge is standing at the door (He could walk through at any moment), therefore we are to be careful about how we treat one another… holding grudges, etc. All of that could be judged at any moment. We don’t want to be ashamed at His coming. Thus LOOKING for His soon coming will have an effect on the way we live our ordinary lives… the way we treat one another… the way we run the race. James encourages us to be patient as we await the Lord’s coming, in spite of the difficult situations we face in the here and now… the Lord is coming.
“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:1-3)
A heart that is focused on the coming of the Lord need not be troubled by the cares and difficulties of this life. Christ is coming again. Our hearts need not be troubled. He is coming to take us to our heavenly home… and enter into eternal rest. There may be all kind of difficulties, struggles, and even heartaches in our earthly homes. But let not your heart be troubled. Right now He is preparing a place for us there, a heavenly home… a place of peace and rest… of settled holiness and righteousness. There are no troubles there.
And we will be with Him there forever. This Christ is coming at any moment… maybe today. The Lord here reminds His disciples that this world is not their home – nor is it ours. We are reminded that we shall be with the Lord forever. Therefore, “comfort one another with these words.” These words were spoken by the Lord to comfort the troubled and heavy hearts of His followers. Those burdens are lifted when we focus above. The troubles and trials of this earthly life are replaced with a joyous anticipation of good that God has in store for us. You can’t run well with a troubled heart. But hope and joy will enable us to keep on running.
“But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.” I Peter 4:7)
We are commanded to be sober and watching (LOOKING) for the END of all things is at hand. For the church, the end of all things refers to the coming of the Lord for His bride. This “end” of the church’s present history on earth is “at hand.” The Lord’s coming is imminent. Therefore, we should be watching or (as we have seen before) LOOKING unto Jesus… and LOOKING for His coming. The term “watch” is defined as “clear-headed; an acknowledgment of the reality given with God’s revelation; thus, focused on spiritual reality.” The spiritual reality is that Christ is coming and His reward is with Him… and we shall all stand before Him. That should have a sobering effect on us and should cause us to watch… to be aware… alert… focused on spiritual reality… focused on Christ and things above.
Watching for “the end of all things” indicates a seriousness of God’s plan for the ages. It is an acknowledgement that we are watching soberly… realizing that the JUDGE is at the door and judgment on this world is coming. This too will have an effect on our attitude and our heart affections. We will be less inclined to love the things of the world and more inclined to set our affections on things above. We will be watching for His coming and living in light of His coming. Being focused on His coming will fill us with a healthy fear of God. It will also help us to be patient, knowing His coming is near. It will bring comfort to our troubled hearts. (Hang in there! The Lord is coming any time now.)
But perhaps most importantly, it is our blessed HOPE. It results in great HOPE for the future, regardless of present conditions. Consider the great hope that is ours as we contemplate the coming of the Lord:
- I Thess. 4:16 – The hope of our resurrection
- I Cor. 4:5 – The hope of being exonerated at the Bema for all those hidden things for which men wrongly judged our motives and intentions
- I John 3:2 – The glorious hope that we shall see Him… we shall be like Him
- Col 3:4 – The hope that we shall appear WITH Him in glory
- I Pet. 1:7 – The glorious hope that our present trials will be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ
- 8:23 – the redemption of our body
- II Tim. 2:12; Rev. 5:10 – The hope that although we are suffering now; one day we shall reign with Him
Focusing on the coming of Christ and all that it implies will engender great hope, a blessed hope in our hearts. It will be worth it all – when we see Jesus! Reading God’s Word every day will keep hope alive in our hearts. It will refresh and revive these glorious thoughts every morning, renewing our minds, and that will enable us to run the race with patient endurance. Focus is everything.
As Christians, we believe in the coming of the Lord. Here at Salem Bible Church, we hold tenaciously to the pre-tribulation rapture. We are unashamedly pre-millennial. We have the correct doctrine concerning His coming. But when it comes to the coming of the Lord, there is something far more important than merely subscribing to the correct doctrine. In I Thessalonians 1:10 Paul states that we are to be “waiting for His Son from heaven.” The term “waiting” (ἀναμένω – an emphatic plus μένω) means that we are to wait eagerly. It is an intensive form of the term for “abiding.” As branches on the Vine, we are to abide IN Christ, in His Person. But here, we are to abide with intensity FOR Christ… for His coming. This speaks of awaiting His coming with zeal and eagerness. It implies that we LOVE His coming. Are we really waiting for the SON? Are we eagerly anticipating His soon coming? Is this the focus of our lives? The only way we will ever eagerly await His coming is if we first KNOW Him… and have set our affections on things above, where Christ is. We are not waiting for a prophetic event. We are awaiting a Person… whom we know and love. (You don’t eagerly await the arrival of a total stranger.)
If we are serious about eagerly awaiting the Lord’s coming, then we need to be serious about getting to KNOW HIM through His Word, and through being willing to follow His steps of suffering for righteousness sake. If we are serious about waiting for the Son, then we need to be serious about abiding IN Christ right now… day by day. We can only eagerly LOOK FOR the coming of Christ if we are presently walking in the Spirit with a pure heart. If we regard iniquity in our hearts, there will be no eagerness about His coming! Eager awaiting for a person implies that you LOVE that person and that you LOVE His appearing. It is one thing to have the proper eschatological doctrinal position. It is another thing altogether to LOVE His appearing… and to be eagerly awaiting His coming. If we love the Lord, we will be watching and looking for His soon coming. This truth should have an effect on the way we live.
“And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” (I John 3:3)
There is no inner purifying effect for the one who simply holds to the proper eschatological doctrines. But there IS a an ongoing (present tense) purifying effect for the one who WAITS for the Son… and who has this Blessed Hope in his heart day by day. John states that the believer purifies himself while he has this hope of Christ’s coming in his heart. Our job is to keep the Blessed Hope fresh in our heart and to be LOOKING for His coming. God’s job is to purify the heart. We are involved in the process of purifying our hearts by LOOKING unto Jesus, who is our Blessed Hope. Are we really looking FOR Christ, our Blessed Hope? Does it fill us with hope? It should.
Focused on Eternity (II Corinthians 4:17-18)
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (II Corinthians 4:17-18)
In this passage, Paul describes the focus of the Christian life. We are not to focus on earthly temporal things (our present condition). We are to focus on eternal things: that which is incorruptible and lasts forever… like the incorruptible crowns and heaven itself. We are to focus on things that are invisible, i.e., our spiritual life hidden away with Christ, crowns not yet seen, and an invisible coming Savior.
The term, “LOOK” (σκοπέω) means “to keep thinking about, ponder, fix attention toward, look towards an object, to contemplate”. (We get our English word “scope” from this Greek word – as the scope on a rifle which puts its target in the cross hairs. It is a present participle, indicating continuous action. We are NOT to continually look at the things that are seen. We ARE to continually look at the things that are not seen.
There is at first glance, something illogical about this statement: We are told to continually look at that which cannot be seen. But Paul’s point is well taken. It makes perfect sense spiritually. It is what we have been talking about all through this study: we are to be looking unto Jesus, whom we cannot see with our physical eyes, but we can focus on Him with our eyes of faith. By faith Abraham “looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10). It was with the eyes of faith that Moses forsook Egypt, “seeing Him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27). His eyes were on the invisible, and it moved him to forsake the world in favor of the things of God. Paul also spoke of “invisible things” which are “clearly seen” (Romans 1:19). The language here is not all that unusual. We are to continually look at the things that are not seen. There is a whole invisible realm out there that we are to focus on: God, angels, heaven, High Priest, heavenly sanctuary, the throne of God, incorruptible crowns, a city whose builder and maker is God, etc. We are to focus on those invisible (but real) things.
First Paul commands us NOT to look at the visible, earthly things, and then he gives us the reason why: “for” the things which are seen are temporal. It is because they don’t last! The visible things are like the corruptible, laurel crown that athletes almost kill themselves to achieve (I Cor. 9:25), and are like the treasures and trinkets of the world – that people almost kill themselves to acquire! They don’t last either. In Proverbs 23:5, Solomon wrote: “Wilt thou set thine eyes upon (focus) that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.”
Even Solomon warned against focusing on earthly riches. They soon fly away. Recently we have seen much of the wealth of this nation evaporate almost overnight! Why set your affection on that which is only temporal? Why seek that which is temporal? They don’t last.
The things which are NOT seen are eternal. This is what we ARE to be continually looking towards – focusing upon invisible, eternal things. Eternal things by their very nature last forever. They are incorruptible. They are not burnt up as worthless at the Bema; they survive the fire and bring eternal crowns. We can store up treasures on earth that will soon rust and corrupt OR we can store up treasures in heaven that will last forever. Jesus taught this same truth: it requires FOCUS to do so – a single eye… focused on that which has eternal value.
What is the RESULT of a heavenly, eternal focus? Does it aid us in the race (II Corinthians 4:17)? It will enable us to see our life and struggles from a whole new perspective! The earthly struggles and battles that cause us so much heartache here, and seem so overwhelming, will be seen as a “light affliction” from heaven’s vantage point! Consider what the apostle Paul endured (II Cor. 11:23-28). “In labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.” This he described as a “light affliction.” He was not lying. From heaven’s point of view it WAS a light affliction.
From heaven’s perspective, the battles that seem to go on and on and on – will be seen as “but for a moment” – even if that moment is the rest of our lives! (Remember that from heaven’s vantage point, our whole life is but a vapor!) Eternity’s focus is the CORRECT one. It is the TRUE spiritual reality. Looking at our lives through the lens of our natural eyes, this present world system distorts the true spiritual picture. Like a bent mirror at a carnival, it exaggerates the gain of earthly trinkets and minimizes the value of eternal things. Eternity’s focus will ENCOURAGE us to run the race with patience. And as we focus on Christ, we are nourished and empowered to run. Focusing on the things of earth will cause Christ to seem distant… afar off… unconcerned… uncaring… unloving… – a completely distorted and inaccurate picture. Paul knew how important focus is in running the race. Focus is everything!
“Wherefore we labour that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.” (II Corinthians 5:9-11)
In this passage we learn that Paul served the Lord in the present focused on the future. This gave a sense of URGENCY to his earthly ministry, and in particular, persuading other men to believe on Christ and be saved! Dwelling on eternal things does not result in a life isolated in an ivory tower, disconnected from the world and the people in the world. Dwelling on the future, eternal things ought to give the present a sense of urgency. Time is fleeting; the Judge stands at the door; the end is near; Christ could return at any moment… the summer is past and many are not yet saved! Today is the day of salvation… tomorrow may be too late. Paul tells us that he diligently labors, so that his work might be acceptable before the Lord. Why is he so concerned about the faithfulness and quality of his service for Christ? Because he knows that soon he will stand before the Bema and give an account for his earthly life, and that he will receive either a reward or a loss of rewards. In verse 11 Paul stated that knowing that the Lord is coming and that we must all stand before Him, caused him to FEAR and tremble (in a spiritually healthy way. Every tiny aspect of his earthly service would be evaluated by Christ. (motives, intentions, quality, purpose, etc.) This terror, a fear (φόβος – phobos) of God MOVED him to persuade men. Fear moves people. It moved Noah to build an ark. It moved Paul to preach the gospel. It should move US to preach the gospel too – the Lord is coming! It should move us to warn men to flee from the wrath to come! God gave Paul (and us) the ministry of reconciliation. We have a responsibility to tell others about the Savior. One day we will be evaluated for whether we were faithful stewards of this glorious gospel message or not. This should cause us to have a healthy fear of God too. And the fact that Christ could come any day should give us a sense of URGENCY in telling others. I don’t mean that we should all sign up to be an oversea missionary. But we should all acknowledge that we are missionaries right here and now. We are stewards of the mystery of God… the mystery of the gospel. And it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful. Thus, focusing on eternal things greatly affects the way we live our earthly lives. Jesus Christ came to seek and save sinners. We can’t say that we are focused on the Savior and are unconcerned about salvation of the lost. If His heart is beating in our breast as it ought, then we will persuade men to be saved, for today is the day of salvation.
“Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 12 Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? 13 Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. 14 Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.” (II Peter 3:11-14)
Peter concurs with Paul on this point: focusing on eternal things will produce a heart desire to see others saved. The fact that all the temporal things of earth will one day be dissolved has an effect on the manner of persons we ought to BE today, namely godly and holy. Would you deposit all your money in a bank that you knew was soon going to collapse and be a total loss? In light of God’s revelation for the future of this world, storing up treasures here is not that sensible. Therefore, storing riches in heaven is a good idea. Suffering loss in this life for eternal riches is wise indeed!
In verse 12 Peter writes that we should be “LOOKING for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God” in which eternity is ushered in. That is to be our FOCUS. In verse 13 he states that we are to LOOK for a new heaven and new earth. This old earth will be dissolved with a fervent heat. Why invest so heavily in property that you know is going to burn down and be a total loss? Is that sensible? In verse 14 he states again that because we LOOK for eternal things, we will be concerned to found blameless before the Lord. FOCUSING on eternal things affects our earthly lives for the good… for the eternal good! And with eternal things before our mind’s eye… LOOKING for that new heaven and new earth, which replaces the present earth slated for destruction, we will naturally be concerned about the SALVATION of those all around us, for they too are slated for destruction unless they come in contact with the gospel and are saved. And that is OUR responsibility. Focusing on heavenly things… (spiritual things – eternal things) does not DIMINISH our concern for the lost. It ought to fill us with the fear of the Lord and a zeal and motivation to want them to know the Savior too!
Focus is everything.
Focused on the Glory of the Lord (II Cor. 3:18)
“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (II Corinthians 3:18)
In yet another passage, the apostle Paul teaches us something new about the importance of FOCUS in the Christian life. This passage needs to be understood in its context. The apostle had been alluding to an Old Testament story of Moses on the Mount with the Lord found in Exodus 34. God called Moses (and only Moses) into His very presence on the top of the Mount (Exodus 34:2-3). There Moses talked with God face to face. There Moses had the awesome privilege of intimate fellowship and communion with the Lord. When Moses came down from that place of communion with God, “the skin of his face shone” such that Aaron and the people were afraid to come near to him (vs.29-30). Next we are told that Moses put a veil on his face as he talked with the people, but took it off when he talked to the Lord in the Mount (vs.33-35).
In II Corinthians 3:14, Paul noted that there was a veil on the hearts of Jewish people in his day as they read the Old Testament Scriptures. The veil blinds them to glory of the Lord as revealed in the truth in the Word. In Paul’s analogy, this corresponds to the fact that in Moses’ day, a veil existed between the glory of God and the people. They could not see His glory. In Paul’s day there was a veil over the hearts of Jewish people (vs.15)! The people under the Old Covenant could not come into God’s presence and could not behold His glory.
But Moses DID come into God’s presence unveiled, and the result was that his face shone. Moses experienced a bit of the glory of the Lord because he (and he alone under the Old Covenant) was permitted to enter into the presence of God unveiled, it had a transforming effect on him.
Entering into God’s presence unveiled would later be the privilege of EVERY one related to God through the blood of the New Covenant. Today, we can stand before God unveiled. In I Corinthians 3:18, the expression “with open face” means with an unveiled face. What an awesome privilege, unsurpassed in ages past! Only Moses was able to go into God’s presence unveiled under the Old Covenant Law, and only for a short time. It is the glorious privilege of EVERY believer of this age to be able to come into God’s presence and DWELL there because of the blood of the New Covenant (Heb. 10:19-22).
As we read God’s Word (II Cor. 3:18), we are told to BEHOLD the glory of the Lord. This Book is all about God. It is the word of (about) Christ (Col.3:16). It’s all about Him. Jesus said, search the Scriptures, for they testify of ME (John 5:39)! Sure, we can also see our old sinful self on the pages of Scripture. But here we are told to BEHOLD (focus on) the glory of God with an open (unveiled) face. We behold His glory as we read the Word and learn about the God of glory, as we learn who He is, and as we learn of His glorious nature and His mighty works. As we read the Word, we are (in a sense) unveiled before His radiant glory. There is nothing between us and our Savior! Sin has been removed. Guilt and shame are gone. Our consciences have been purged and cleansed by the blood of the New Covenant. We can therefore come into His very presence with boldness! We can enter right into the Holy of Holies with God for intimate communion (Hebrew 10:19). Spending time with Christ in His Word is perhaps the greatest ways in which we can BEHOLD Him and His glory, LOOK unto Jesus, and set our affections on Him above.
When the believer focuses on that heavenly glory, something supernatural happens. The glory of Christ has an effect on the one who stands before Him unveiled. God invited Moses up the mount to see Him and talk with Him and behold His glory. What an awesome privilege that was for Moses. We have something far better! We can come to Christ and behold His glory any time we want! Every one of us has that privilege as believers in the dispensation of the grace of God. Standing in God’s presence had an effect on Moses: his face began to shine. How could standing in God’s presence NOT have an effect?
But Moses could only stay there for a short while, and that glory soon began to fade. Paul tells us that as we FOCUS on Christ and His glory, we too are TRANSFORMED into the same image, into the image of Christ. In other words, the runner who focuses on Christ not only is motivated to keep on running, and not only is he nourished and empowered to run with endurance, but he is also changed into the image of that on which he is focused. When we focus on Christ and our position in Him, it has an effect on us. We will begin to radiate the presence of the indwelling life of Christ IN US (Colossians 1:27). How could spending time in the presence of God NOT affect us?
As we run the race, Christ who dwells within us is being FORMED in us (Gal. 4:19). We are being changed: less like our old self, and more like the Master. LOOKING unto Jesus motivates us to keep on running in the same path He trod before us, making us willing to suffer as He did, to sacrifice as He did, and to give our all as He did. And as we LOOK and RUN, we are conformed into His death and His LIFE is manifested through us as well (Phil. 3:10; Col. 1:27; II Cor. 4:10-11).
And note that the transformation is gradual: from glory to glory (II Cor. 3:18). It is never achieved perfectly; we will never “attain” completely in this life (Phil.3:12-14). The condition of our earthly life will never perfectly match our glorious heavenly position. But we keep on looking and keep on running, and we will keep on progressing: little by little, from glory to glory, day by day. And as we do, a supernatural transformation occurs… and it is the work of the Holy Spirit. We are changed into the same image BY the Spirit of the Lord. God does all the work of transforming us. It is GOD who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Phil.2:13).
So what is the ONE thing that we are to do? LOOK to the Savior… a look of faith… BEHOLD His glory. And as we look, we are transformed. Our job is a simple look of faith and God does a miracle: He transforms a sinner into the image of Christ. We are saved by looking. (Look and live!) We are also sanctified by looking (Look and be transformed!) Anybody can look. Anybody can be saved, if they chose to. Anybody can be sanctified if they choose to. There is no sin so powerful and with such a grip on the soul that the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit is not able to bring deliverance and victory. The believer who simply looks to Christ in faith (and keeps on looking!) will experience deliverance, and will discover that Christ is being formed in him, and he will RADIATE for Christ. This victory is ours by faith, moment by moment. As we look, we are transformed. As we look, God works in us. If we cease looking to the Lord, we are walking by natural sight instead of faith. We will not have the strength to live a victorious, resurrected life and to keep on running. (Remember that Peter began to sink when he took his eyes off the Lord.) As the branch abides in the vine moment by moment, and as the runner continually looks to Jesus, the Holy Spirit enables that believer to walk (even run!) in newness of life! It is a glorious, inward, supernatural work, and it all begins with a simple look of faith. Faith is the victory.
“The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” (Matt. 6:22) Jesus also spoke of the importance of a single FOCUS. The single eye speaks of single–minded focus on the ONE THING that is necessary. The eye that seeks to focus on two things (earth and heaven) will have blurred vision… and a crooked, inconsistent walk. But the single eye, focused on Christ (focused on one treasure and one Master) will discover to his delight that his whole body will be full of light! Growth occurs in the light. He will radiate with the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face in Jesus Christ. He will radiate with the excellency of the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Remember that this world is not our friend (James 4:4); the things of this world are not of our Father (I John 2:15-16); and that Satan is the god of this world (II Cor. 4:4). The whole world system is designed to encourage us to quit running the race. The things of the world are designed by the god of this world to distract us and cause us to treasure them and to focus on them rather than on the Lord. (“I see the sights that dazzle; the tempting sounds I hear…”) Don’t allow anything in this earthly life (riches or poverty; testing or tribulation; exceptional health or sickness; lofty mountain peaks or low valleys; triumphs or tragedies; success or failure; times of great joy or fits of depression; times of gain or times of great loss) to cause you to lose focus on your Heavenly High Priest. Focus is everything.
Perhaps someone reading these pages has already allowed the cares and burdens of life weigh you down distract you from your heavenly focus. Perhaps you have been drawn off course (II Tim. 2:5). Perhaps you have simply become discouraged by repeated failure and have thrown in the towel (Gal. 6:9; II Thess. 3:13). If that is the case, then NOW is the time to stop, refocus, put those running shoes back on, and get back into the race (I John 1:9). As the author of Hebrews challenges us, “Let us run with patience (endurance) the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1b-2a). Or to use the words of Winston Churchill, “Never, never, never quit.”
Holding the Head
Tune: Londonderry Air (AKA “Danny Boy”)
Holding the Head, we cling to Christ our risen Lord.
Hold fast to Him, let nothing come between,
For as we hold, we’re nourished from that heavn’ly place;
And Christ as Head lives through us though unseen.
It is by faith we cling and thus His strength is ours,
And in His love, our hearts are knit as one.
Holding the Head, we increase with a growth divine,
Glory to God and to His own Beloved Son.
Grow up in Christ, in all things ever mind-ful,
Of our blest’ union with the Lord we love,
For from the Head, the Body’s fitly joined as one,
All parts supplied and increased from above.
Be not a babe, tossed to and fro by winds of doubt,
Walk not as carnal men in earthly strife,
Grow up in Christ, increase in knowledge of the Son,
To know Him and the pow’r of resurrection life.
Hebrews 3:1; 8:1-2; 4:16; 10:21-22
Consider Christ, High Priest of our profess-sion;
At God’s right hand, the Majesty on high.
In heaven’s sanctuary there’s a throne of grace,
And through His blood, we’re privileged to draw nigh.
Within the veil, oh glorious commun-ion,
Where we find refuge, grace in time of need,
Consider Him, who longs for us to enter in,
The heavn’ly Bread of Life, our hungry hearts to feed.
Hebrews 12:1-2; 6:19-20
Looking to Jesus, He who ran be-fore us,
Who for the heavn’ly joy endured the cross.
Consider Him, lest we be wearied in our minds,
And losing hope, we faint and suffer loss.
For as our eyes are focused on the Sav-ior,
We run the race with patience, and endure.
Looking to Jesus, who to glory brings His sons,
To Him our souls are anchored and they are secure.