Let’s continue thinking about finishing well in a ministry assignment. In our last blog post, we talked about receiving the baton well. So now we are running our leg of the race. We are now fully engaged in our ministry assignment. Furthermore, we have a working knowledge of our host language and culture. Yes, we will want to continue to grow in these areas as we serve. But it is now our turn to run well with the baton we have been given.
How we run our leg of the race will significantly impact finishing well. Of course, we want our ministry to further the progress of the gospel. We want to make a contribution to the contextualization of the gospel in our host culture, building on the progress of those who served before us. In the New Testament, Paul and the author of Hebrews use the race analogy to describe ministry and the Christian life. At the end of Paul’s life, he writes, “I have finished the race” (2 Timothy 4:7). So, what gave him a sense of finishing well? I see four ways we can run like Paul to finish well.
We Run with a Clear Purpose
Paul’s life was guided by a clear purpose. We see this in passages such as Acts 20:24, 1 Corinthians 9:23, and Philippians 3:14. In Acts 20:24 he describes his life as “my course” (the same word translated in 2 Timothy 4:7 as “race”). Notably, Paul identifies his purpose as completing his God-given work of faithfully “testifying to the gospel of the grace of God.” This goal drives him forward.1 1 Cor 9:23, Phil 3:14 He is focused on the prize awaiting him at the finish line. Eckhard Schnabel writes in his commentary on Acts,
The metaphor of the athlete running, as used by Paul, communicates goal-oriented behavior, arduous effort, and proclamation of the gospel. The term dromos [course] thus connotes Paul’s total life commitment to his task, absolute dedication of all aspects of his ministry, a resolute concentration of mind and will to his task, and a determined willingness to bear pain and suffering.Eckhard Schnabel, Acts, 2012, p. 842.
So, if we are to have that same confidence of finishing well, we need to keep our purpose of testifying to the gospel in focus. We need to run with a deep commitment to this goal to be sure of finishing a ministry assignment well.2 like Paul in Ephesus. See Acts 20:18-21, 26-27. This steadfast focus is also imperative in order to finish well at the end of our life (2 Timothy 4:7).
We Run with Discipline
The athletic metaphor highlights discipline. A runner cannot run his/her leg of a relay race without personal and team discipline. Likewise, ministry requires both personal and team discipline. Specifically, team discipline is required for a smooth exchange of the baton (more on that in the next post).
Paul emphasizes the need for self-control and a focus on the prize in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. Thus, discipline flows out of a clear purpose in our ministry. In fact, Paul just wrote, “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” in 1 Cor 9:23. The motivation for self-control comes from our purpose of sharing the gospel. Furthermore, we have our eyes on the prize of receiving the ultimate blessings or benefits of the gospel – the promise of the reward of an imperishable wreath at the end of our race.
If we are to finish our leg of the race well, we need to pay careful attention to Paul in this passage. We need to discipline ourselves so that we are living the gospel as well as speaking the gospel. Our ministry of testifying to the gospel requires our full, disciplined participation in it.
We Run with Endurance
Finishing well requires endurance. That is, without endurance, there is no finishing well. In seeking to know Christ more deeply (Philippians 3:7-16), Paul presses on toward the prize. He is describing running with endurance. Interestingly, he describes pressing on as “forgetting what lies behind and straining to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13). This reminds me of a scene in Chariots of Fire in which Eric Liddell is tripped early in a race yet gets up and wins the race. We may stumble at times in our ministry, hitting times of discouragement or failure. Yet to finish well we need to get up again and resume running.
Likewise, the author of Hebrews exhorts us to run our leg of the race with endurance (Hebrews 12:1,2). He points to the encouragement of those who have run before us in verse one. In addition, he urges us to lay aside every weight and sin so that we run unhindered. Most importantly, we need to look to Jesus who died for us. Considering Jesus enhances our endurance (Hebrews 12:3).
We Run with Humility
Humility is not usually associated with athletics. Yet, in a relay race, seldom is one runner singled out for praise. The team equally receives the prize. As with all metaphors, the athletic analogy breaks down at certain points. In ministry, pride is an enemy, not a friend. When Paul describes his exertion in ministry in athletic terms (Col 1:29), he quickly affirms that it is with God’s energy that works within him. Likewise, in Acts 20:19 he says he served in Ephesus with humility. Elsewhere, Paul is also careful to point out that God’s grace is at work within him as he labors.3 1 Cor 15:10, 2 Cor 12:9-10. Other New Testament writers also emphasize serving with humility.4(James 4:6-10; 1 Peter 5:4-5)
Therefore, in order to finish well as we run our leg of the race, let us run with:
- a clear purpose of faithfully testifying to the gospel of the grace of God.
- discipline focused on our purpose and the prize of receiving the ultimate blessings of the gospel.
- endurance encouraged by the faith of those who have run before us while fixing our eyes on Jesus.
- humility realizing that our strength comes from the grace of God.