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  • Writer's pictureWiehann de Klerk

Running The Race Together

For us to truly live Christian lives, here on Earth, we need to realign our interests to the interests of others and the interests of Jesus, running the race in fearless unity.

Imagine a world where we all run together, love one another and, in unity, become more and more like Jesus. We would be unstoppable.

We are to conduct ourselves "in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ" as Paul says in Philippians 1:27. The reality is that no matter where you are born or where you live if you are born again, you are a citizen of heaven. There are so many believers who forget their true identity as a citizen of heaven. We are to be aware of this reality, and once we are, we are to walk in a manner which is indeed "worthy of the gospel of Christ.” If we don't, we may not be considered worthy entrants through the big gates that lead to the city of our eternal King. For us to be worthy of entry, we are to conduct ourselves in a manner which is worthy. Worthy being actions that are related to, in respect to the will of the Father, as we read in Matthew 6:10, "on earth, as it is in heaven.” We are spiritual beings, yet, we sometimes forget that we are. The Greek word for conduct in this passage is πολιτεύεσθε (politeuesthe) which means, "to live as a citizen" and in Philippians 3:20, Paul says "But our citizenship is in heaven.” Now, let's begin by asking ourselves, what are the implications and demands of citizenship? We are members of the Commonwealth of Christ, it's time that we act in a manner akin to its membership. In the kingdom, there is no such thing as America or Australia, there is only one nation, Earth, filled with the creation of God who are born citizens of His kingdom. Unfortunately, some have declined the membership, but, there is still time for them to realize the opportunity of this citizenship. To be a citizen of the Commonwealth of Christ, we must act in accordance with the gospel as it is written in the word. A politician - unfortunately not always the case - is selected as a politician based on their merits as a person of character who believes and holds themselves accountable to the constitution of the country that they represent. In the same way, for us to be selected in higher places of authority in the kingdom, trusted by God for His gospel, we must hold ourselves accountable to the constitution of the gospel. That constitution is the living word of God, because, as we read in 2 Timothy 3:16, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”

We are members of the Commonwealth of Christ, it's time that we act in a manner akin to its membership.

Paul continues, in Philippians 1:27, to say, "stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” To conduct ourselves "in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ" is to strive together. There are three things mentioned here which, together, results in unity: We are, as the Church, to be in unity; first, in one spirit; second, with one mind and; third, by striving together. Paul also spoke about unity in one spirit to the Ephesians, in Ephesians 4:3, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Paul speaks about "unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” In other words, he is speaking of the unity of the Spirit amidst dissimilarity. The flock of sheep, for example, do not experience unity at all despite their similarities, but they do experience unity when a shepherd guides them. At that moment, they walk together, in unity, wherever the shepherd leads them. Now, with us, every single one of us is imperfect and each of us, when we are together, provides a capability in which another person is not strong. We are the body of Christ, so, if you think about a body, each member of the body is linked together. Sometimes, however, the Church doesn't think of itself as a body, and this can lead to many issues. If a part of the body is cut of - if a leg is cut off, or a tongue is torn out - the body will instantly experience a lack of unity. In that moment, something will be missing and unity will be destroyed. Now, think of unity between the members of the body, without the mind, how will the members communicate? And, without the spirit, how would the body discern where it should go? You see, no matter what pieces of the puzzle we have, if our hearts and minds are not aligned and unified, the members of the body are in disunity. It is only through the "unity of the Spirit" that our members can be bonded together. The Spirit is the similarity; we, the dissimilarity. We all have "one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” as we read in Ephesians 4:5 - this is the similarity between us as the body, despite all our individual dissimilarities. The "unity of the Spirit" is to be united spiritually, as one. Paul is not referring to only the fact that there is one Holy Spirit, but also, the power of unity in terms of affection and love between one another.

In Philippians 1:27, the word, μιᾷ ψυχῇ (sunathleó) meaning to strive with, followed by the word, πνεῦμα (pneuma) meaning spirit shows we are to be standing in one spirit, not diverted by the divided sentiments of other parties which can cause disunity. No gossip, no inclinations, no egos, simply listening to the spirit. Now, what about the mind? We are to be united by "one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel.” The mind has the ability to think, most assuredly, so, when Paul is speaking about one mind, he is speaking about one purpose but also one plan. The mind has the ability to think in terms of what needs to be done and also the means to which it can be done. In other words, the what and the how. We obtain our "why" through the Holy Spirit and the Word. The unity of the Spirit is the why behind the what and the how. "With one mind, striving together" is speaking of unity from an emotional (purpose) and intellectual (plan) perspective. We are to be purposeful in our unity so that we may advance the kingdom, and we are to plan accordingly to make the advancement of the kingdom more of a reality over time. “Where there is no vision, the people perish,” – Proverbs 29:18, however, what happens if there is a vision but no unity, and no plan to make it a reality? Yes, vision is important, but if we are not all in one mind, how will that vision become a reality? There is only two occurrences of the word, συναθλέω (sunathleó) in the entire Bible, and that is here in Philippians 1:27, and also in Philippians 4:3. In both instances, it means to strive at the same time with one another, together, as one, for something, essentially helping and assisting jointly for the same prize, goal. It means, to compete together with others, cooperate vigorously with others. The only time anyone competes is to achieve something, but what are we working together to achieve? Our goal is to "press on toward the goal.” Think of a team sport to get an idea of the picture that Paul is sharing here. Unity as a team, working jointly toward the prize. The prize being victory, or being victorious. In Philippians 3:14, we read, "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” "I press on" speaks of endurance. There are many things that we are called to endure, and let's endure them "in one spirit, with one mind striving together.

"Toward the goal" in many translations is written as "toward the mark.” Now, if we think about a race, perhaps a running competition as part of the Olympic games, there is a white mark at the end of the race. The first person to cross the mark is the winner; after that, second place and third place is available for the taking. That white mark in the Christian faith is Jesus. In 2 Timothy 2:5, Paul says, "An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.” Paul makes reference to the Olympian games many times in the word, sharing many phrases such as "receiving the prize" in 1 Corinthians 9:24, "the crown of life" in 1 Corinthians 9:25, "run with endurance" because we are surrounded by "so great a cloud of witnesses" in Hebrews 12:1, but here, it is different, it's about the manner in which we run the course and run the race; the importance of doing it in a way that is not ours, but God's way. "According to the rules" speaks of the divine rules and disciplines in following Jesus. I'm not speaking here of old testament laws, and most certainly, Paul isn't either. Instead, Paul is refuting the notion of doing things our way or creating our own religions. In verse 4, it reads, "No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier": Christ has enlisted us as His soldiers here on Earth, but why is it that we are so concerned about the rules of this life and not the rules of His kingdom? Sometimes, we forget that we are not citizens of the nations in which we reside, but citizens, soldiers of His kingdom. We are to neglect the rules of this world and compete instead according to the rules of the kingdom.

Its a lot harder to have endurance when you don't have someone to endure with.

So, we are to "stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel" which means, that we are to be united together as we strive together. When we are united, we are acting "in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” This is already so powerful, but as we read on, in verse 28 of Philippians 1: "and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition,” it becomes a deeply compelling statement. The NIV says it even better - "without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.” There are two steps denoted by Paul; firstly, we are to be united, and secondly, we are to be fearless, not alarmed or intimidated by the opponents. We are not to be alarmed or intimidated by Satan, for Christ is greater than he; the world, for Christ has overcome it; the false teachers, for Christ is the true teacher. Whatever it might be, do not be afraid or terrified. Keep on running the race. A team cannot run together if they are not united and they cannot run with endurance if they are fearful. The Christian race is like a game of Rugby, you know where you need to go, you have the ability to get there, but there are always opponents that get in the way. Let's not be afraid and fearful of the opponents that tackle us as we run, trying to stop us from becoming more and more like Jesus; instead, let's "strive together.”

"Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ." Ephesians 4:11-13 (NLT)

Let's continue, together, to learn more about Jesus, to become mature in Him, and measure up to His "full and complete standard.” He is the highest standard that we can have. He is the white mark that we run towards, that we aim to become like. Since I was a kid, there have been heroes that I look up to. The younger we are, the more heroes we have, whether they be "The Hulk" or "Captain America" or just our dads. In our minds, at this young age, we have a certain manly character with elements that we most admire and wish to imitate. But, let us not be confused by these poor copies of ideals, let us aim, at once at the highest mark. Yes, we may not reach it, but we shall obtain more than the imitation of any other hero. Our Saviour, Jesus Christ is the perfect replica, the ideal, the white mark we should run to.

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