the weblog of Alan Knox

Running the Race as an Illustration in Scripture – Part 3

Posted by on Oct 19, 2011 in discipleship, scripture | 5 comments

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:

1) Part 1 – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
2) Part 2 – Galatians 2:2 and Galatians 5:7
3) Part 3 – Philippians 2:16
4) Part 4 – Hebrews 12:1
5) Part 5 – 2 Timothy 2:5


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 10-19-2011

    For those of us who are unable to run well, we can still finish the race. We aren’t running alone

  2. 10-19-2011

    O, sorry one more. A friend sent this to me this morning:

  3. 10-19-2011


    What do you think about Paul indicating that if the Philippians are not maturing then HE is running in vain?


  4. 10-19-2011

    Gal 4:19-20 My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.

    The task is for us to “teach faithful men who will be able to teach others also,” (teaching being largely by example) that is, to see believers become mature Christlikenesses, (observing–doing–all things that Jesus asks of us) who are also building up others. If we fail in this, we have failed to finish our course.

    In I Thess 2, Paul describes this responsibility well:

    I Thess 2:7-9 But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us (love that leads to sacrificing on behalf of others). For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.

    I Thess 2:10 Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe (teaching by example): As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory (walking in maturity, doing what God asks).

    I Thess 2:19-20 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy (To finish the race requires mature ones left in our path).

    This is why I posted the link to the first race. Dad ran to his son’s aid, to help him run the race. We don’t lead from in front, we lead from alongside.

  5. 10-19-2011


    If you combine the two illustrations (Paul’s and the YouTube video), then the father (from the video) would consider his own race in vain if his son did not finish his race well.

    I think the passages you listed are great examples of what Paul is talking about here.