I go forward to the mark, even the reward of the high purpose of God in Christ Jesus. Phil 3:14
All who know me personally will smile about the following, those less nice might even laugh:
When I ran my first marathon.
For those uninitiated: Normally I hold it with Sir Winston Churchill, who said: absolutely no sports.
But in fact, once in my life I ran something like a marathon, or even longer. Instead of 42km there were 50. It was in the Swiss Army during my basic training as an armoured infantryman in Bure – back long enough to look back with a smile.
I think that Paul had such a march in mind when he spoke of the race he wanted to keep running. This type race is not so much about winning, the price is quite different from the medal given to a winner today, forgotten tomorrow.
Let us take a little trip back to the times of Paul: A winner at the Olympic Games was given citizenship of the province for which he started, lifetime tax exemption, and many other fringe benefits. Especially the citizenship was highly sought after, as citizens were treated quite differently than a non-citizen.
But why do I think of a march, when I read this passage?
In this march we were traveling as a team. It was about running together, encouraging and even exhort each other. Our leaders had taught us how to march for such a distance. Various shorter marches had served to harden us, teach us the right tactics. And during the march they were there for us. An image of a spiritual leader, a member of the five-fold ministry that brings us into the fullness of our vocation, our ability.
If one was not able to go on, others carried his weapon and backpack, because the goal was to reach the destination together. Just as the priesthood of all saints, in which each contributes its specific skills for the benefit and success of the whole.
During this march I had times I numbly just put one foot before the other. The cerebrum shut off, the brain stem, a primitive part of the brain, taking over: just chase the figure in front of me. The one wearing the same camouflage and a weapon on his back. And do not break away!
In every sport, every effort is much easier to endure if you keep connected to your front man. It takes so much more power to close a resulting gap. Especially when I break away as an individual, as I am on my own. In a group, it is possible to take turns leading, so that everyone walks in the shadow of others at times, recovering.
After four rounds of seven a farmer on the roadside gave us an apple. A green, sour apple. I, who hardly eat fruits, and enjoy apples most in the form of applesauce, had never enjoyed an apple just like this one in my life.
Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word appropriately spoken. Like a gold earring, like a fine gold necklace is a wise reprover to a receptive ear. Proverbs 25: 11-12
This apple revived me. This apple woke me from my numb chase of my front man and made me march again! This is what happens to us when we encourage and at times exhort one another.
Our Christian life is a marathon. Who thinks of it as a series of sprints, will inevitably burn out. A sprinter after 100m just as worn out as a marathon runner after 42km. Both just gave everything. But life goes on after a 100m dash.
Even in life we need a team. In the military, we marched – the whole company – divided into groups. In Christian life, the global community is divided into local churches, which together run the race.
As in the race, we have to stick with the others in life. Do not break away. We are to encourage one another, exhort, edify, support, teach, mentor, and so much more. We win the prize.
For our military march, the prize was that we were allowed to go home the next day.
And at the end of the long marathon, it is time to go home.
But we are citizens of heaven, and it is from there that we expect a Deliverer, the Lord Yeshua the Messiah. Phil 3:20