Teaching 4

FINISHING THE RACE WITH JOY THROUGH FAITHFULNESS TO GOD’S WORD

REV. DR RACHAEL A. LATEJU

Introduction: Today, many people exhibit faithfulness at work, at home and in school. They devote a lot of time to their work, home and business to attain excellence but when it comes to studying God’s Word, they care less. As Christians, our journey here on earth is a race and faithfulness to God’s Word is essential ingredient that can help us finish the race with joy. John 1:1 says that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” We must begin from the beginning. Jesus is the Word of God. Knowing the Word and following Jesus will help us in life’s race. How faithful are you to the Word of God? Do you study the Bible and do all that it requires of you as a Christian? This study examines how to finish the Christian race with joy through faithfulness to God’s Word.

Definition of Terms

Finishing: Merriam Webster Dictionary defines finishing as “to end a competition in a specified manner or position.” Finishing line is described as “a line on the ground used in sports for showing where a race ends.” It can be finishing an assignment, pastoral ministry, tenure etc. John 4:34 says “Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.” It is expected of everyone that is given one assignment or the other to determine to finish well. Finishing a task is very important. Parents are encouraged to teach their children that when they begin an activity or play, they must complete it before beginning another. One of our hymns in the Baptist Hymnal (I956: 6), Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, stanza 4, emphasises the importance of finishing well:

Finish, then, thy new creation; pure and spotless let us be

Let us see thy great salvation; perfectly restored in Thee

Changed from glory to glory; till heaven we take our place

Till we cast our crowns before Thee, lost in wonder, love and praise

Race: Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learner defines race as “a competition that decides who is the fastest at doing something, especially running.” The physical or worldly race has its own reward, which can be in form of prizes or promotion. In the context of our study, it means the journey of faith, which every child of God embarks on. Children of God must aim at achieving the goal of life in abundance, which is the prize of eternity. Apostle Paul said “So I run straight towards the goal in order to win the prize which is God’s call through Christ Jesus to the life above” (Philippians 3:14).

Joy: Joy, according to Merriam Webster Dictionary, is“the emotion evoked by well-being, success or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” After working tirelessly to plant and weed a crop, there is always a day of harvest. This is a day of relief and happiness when the farmer rests from the stressful days of planting and weeding. He is full of joy that his effort was not in vain. There is an inner satisfaction, which encourages him to forge ahead. Also, when someone completes a task, there is an inner joy that he is fulfilled and has made impact. In the same vein, those who work for the Lord will rejoice when souls are won for the kingdom and at the end they are told “well done, you good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). Theirs will be joy eternal. This is the reward of serving God faithfully after our work on earth is over. The joy of the race is the satisfaction of pleasing the Lord; the joy of the crown that is set before us – the heavenly crown. While not everyone can get a prize in an earthly competition, we all will receive a crown in the Christian race as long as we are able to reach the finishing line faithfully.

Faithfulness: This is the concept of unfailingly remaining loyal to someone or something, putting that loyalty into consistent practice (wikipedia.org). Faithfulness is remaining true, consistent, devoted and loyal to a course. It simply means discipline. Many Christians today, are shallow because they are not disciplined (Lateju 2015:60). Faithfulness means following without retreat, looking or going back. Faithfulness to the Word of God entails being committed and true to God’s Word by not just reading but doing all that is expected of a Christian according to the Word of God. The story of Ruth depicts a faithful relationship towards others. Ruth 1:16 – 17 “And Ruth said, entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee . . .Where thou diest, will I die, an there will be buried . . .” She was loyal till the end and she was rewarded for her faithfulness towards her mother-in-law. In the same vein, Christians must be faithful to the Word above all else.

God’s Word: This is an English translation of the Bible (wikipedia.org). The Word of God is the manifestation of the mind and will of God (www.freedictionary.com). The purposes of God’s Word are for teaching, straightening out, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2Timothy 3:16-17). The Word of God is powerful and potent more than any spoken word. It is a powerful spiritual weapon given to us by God. The Word of God is God Himself. John 1:1 says “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.” God holds His word in high esteem; He honours His Word more than His name (Psalm 138:2). It is a powerful weapon in the hand of an enlisted soldier.

Pitfalls of Unfaithfulness to God’s Word

Pitfalls are deadly traps. It takes grace to escape from a spiritual pitfall. As a Christian, there are some things you must watch out for so that you do not fall into the pit of unfaithfulness to the Word of God. These include:

  1. Lack of Focus on the Word: Any athlete who allows distraction will not finish successfully. Distractions can come from fans, spectators, co-athletes, coaches, etc. Likewise, in the Christian race distractions may come from humans, fame, worldly gains, past achievements, challenges: financial, spiritual, health or marital etc. All these can shift one’s focus from the goal of finishing with joy. When you lack focus, you will not be able to concentrate on the Word. When God speaks, you will not hear, listen or understand. Lack of focus takes your mind away from God and His Word.
  2. Fatigue: Fatigue, according to Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, is a feeling of being extremely tired, usually because of hard work or exercise. It is when a runner is too weak to continue a race, and any runner who does not complete the race cannot get the prize. Starting well is good but finishing well is more important. A Christian who does not study the Word of God will be weak and empty. Such a person will be spiritually dry and will be prone to the enemy’s attack. Studying the Word when you are physically tired or when in need can cause fatigue, thereby hindering your faithfulness to the Word of God. Life challenges, disappointment and depression can weaken the spirit such that studying the Word of God will be very difficult if not impossible.
  3. Lack of Fellowship: A tree cannot make a forest. When a believer is on his own without relating with other believers, there will be problem. He may lack the zeal to study and apply biblical truth. The Bible encourages us not to forsake the gathering of other believers (Hebrews 10:25). To finish a race with joy, you need the company of others who will stand as encouragers and motivators as you move ahead. You get more revelation from the Word of God when you study with other brethren. When you seem weak and weary, brethren will be available for you. 1 John 1: 3 – 7 admonishes us to have a fellowship with God so that our joy will be full. If we have fellowship with God and others, our strength is renewed and our horizon is widened.
  4. Excess Weight: Every runner must run light and simple to get to the finish line. Do away with whatever will slow you down. Sin is a weight; do away with it. Sin destroys and brings sorrow. It slows you down and places a burden on you. You need to lay aside every weight and sin that easily besets you from keeping focus in the race (Hebrews 12:1). The psalmist says in Psalms 119:11, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (NIV). Once you give in to sin, you are treading on the path of failure. 2 Timothy 2:4 says “No man who wars entangles himself with the affairs of this life.” Excess weight will pull you down, draw you back and hinder you from finishing with joy.
  5. Disobedience: There is always a guide in any race. When a runner does not abide by the rules and regulations guiding the game, there is bound to be failure. Reading the Bible is an act of obedience to God and His Words, Joshua 1:8 says “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shall meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shall make thy way prosperous, and thou shall have good success.” Anyone who is not obedient to God is heading towards a pitfall.

How to Be Faithful to God’s Word

Having mentioned the pitfalls of unfaithfulness to God’s Word, how then can you be faithful to God’s Word so that your Christian race will be meaningful and you will experience the joy of eternal life? Food gives energy, strength and nourishment to the body. When you eat good food, you will be strong enough to run the race. There is a saying, “you are what you eat.” If food is so important to the physical wellbeing, then spiritual MEAL will be of greater benefit to your soul. Take the Word of God as a MEAL every day and every moment. Eat it to grow and stay healthy spiritually. One of our songs says Read your Bible, pray every day if you want to grow. To do this, you have to Meditate on God’s Word, Engrave the Word in your heart, Apply the Word of God and Lead others to be faithful to the Word.

Meditate on God’s Word (Joshua 1:8): Faithfulness to the Word begins with reading the Word; then carefully studying and meditating on the Word. To meditate is to think deeply about the Word; to reflect on the Word. God instructs that you meditate on His Word day and night so that you may carefully observe everything in it and have good success (Joshua 1:8). The first step is to read; then study and meditate thereafter. Everything needed to be successful in the race of life is in the Word of God. However, it takes meditation to get this revelation. Meditation allows you to keep in tune with God and have a clear revelation about the area you are studying. God wants you to enjoy the race; hence the need for you to meditate on the Word. It is not a distraction in the race. Make out time for God. Create a study schedule for God’s Word. Read and re-read so that you can have a full understanding of the passage. Do not just read, jot and keep for future reference. Pick a verse for meditation and prayerfully meditate on it. Think deeply about the verse, reflect and ponder on it and allow the Holy Spirit to minister to you. Give the Holy Spirit the chance to expound His Word in your heart. Let God speak to you and make sure you receive from Him.

Engrave the Word in your heart (Hebrews 10:16): To engrave something is to impress deeply as if with a graver; to form by incision (www.meriam-websterdictionary.com). Faithfulness to God’s Word requires that you engrave the Word of God in your heart by impressing the Word deeply in your heart. Engraving the Word in your heart means to have an imprinting of the Word in your heart. To achieve this, the Word of the Lord needs a solid foundation in your heart. The psalmist prays “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.” It will be a mere waste of time when you read the Word without preparing your heart for it. Jesus, in a parable gave the need to have a solid root for God’s Word (Matthew 13:19-23). He said “But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but endureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended” (Matthew 13:20-21). It is possible for you to joyfully read, study the word and meditate on the Word of God; but without engraving it in your heart, you are not faithful. When the Word has been engraved, no trial or tribulation can sweep it away. James 1:21 emphasises the need to receive the Word with humility: “…receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.” When God’s Word rebukes, corrects or disciplines you, accept it with humility of heart. Let the Word break you down, renew you and shape your reasoning. This will make you grow and keep you focused in the race.

Engraving the Word in your heart also requires that you have faith in the Word. Do you have faith in the Word of God? Hebrews 4: 2 says “For we have heard the Good News, just as they did. They heard the message, but it did them no good, because when they heard it, they did not accept it with faith.” Increase your faith in Christ and His Word; keep growing stronger and better in Him. Carefully hold on unto the faith you have in Christ and His Word so that you will not run in vain. Hebrews 10:16 says “This is the covenant that I will make with them after these days… I will put my laws into their hearts and in their minds I will write them.” God’s Word must pierce through and penetrate your hearts. The engraved Word of God in your hearts will help you in your trying times.

Apply the Word of God (Matthew 7:21): Applying the Word means putting the Word into practice.Reading, studying and meditating and engraving the Word in your heart are essential; but you need to apply the Word of God in your daily life by practicing what you have read. Reading, studying and meditating on the Word of God help you to take right decisions and to apply the Word brings blessings. Your actions must reflect that you are a student of the Word. You apply the Word by doing and obeying all that God commands in the Scriptures. Make it your personal priority to study, meditate and obey the Word of God. Paul admonishes that you “study to show thyself approved of God….” The Bible likens anyone who hears the Word of God and does not apply the Word to a man who built on the sand without a foundation. When the stream beat it vehemently, it fell (Luke 6:46-49). Also, James 1:23-25 says “If you listen to the Word, but do not put it into practice, you are like people who look in a mirror and see themselves as they are. They take a good look at themselves and then go away and at once forget what they look like. But if you look closely into the perfect law that sets people free, and keep on paying attention to it and do not simply listen and then forget it, but put it into practice – you will be blessed by God in what you do.”

Living or applying God’s Word means obedience to His Word. Obedience is essential to every army. The first duty of an officer is obedience; without this, he is not qualified. Any officer who does not obey will face the consequence. As a member of the army of Christ, you must obey God’s Word faithfully and absolutely. “Behold to obey is better than sacrifice…” (1 Samuel 15: 22 KJV). Fatoki (2013) says, “Your life as an obedient child of God will always be characterized by progress, while a disobedient one retrogresses.” Therefore, obey the Basic Instructions (of God) Before Leaving Earth (BIBLE). This will give you an everlasting joy at the end of your race. “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do the things which I say’’ (Luke 6:46). This is the voice of God calling you to order: be faithful to God and His Word by doing all that He commands. If God’s Words are true (which they are) then, you must study them and use them to meet your needs. Psalm 19:7 says “The law of the Lord is perfect; converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is true; making wise the simple.” The Word of God you have read, studied, meditated and engraved in your heart will convert your soul and enable you to take the right steps per time.

Lead others to Christ through the Word (Matthew 28:19-20): When you apply God’s Word in your heart, you will attract the attention of others to Christ. Others will see Jesus in you and will be willing to come into the fold. Be an instructor of the Word and live as an instructed disciple and a discipler. When King Josiah discovered the scroll, he called his people together for Scripture reading. He also led them in making a commitment to apply the truths therein. He pledged that he and his people will obey God’s Word (2Chronicles 34:29-32). If you read the Bible and acknowledge the truth therein, you will be setting proper examples for your family and friends. The Bible says “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom…” (Colossians 3:16). The Word says forgive, give, love, share; just do it.If you do not have the Word of God in your heart, what do you want to teach? The Bible says “In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). You cannot lead others to study the Word when you do not study and use it yourself. It is what you have that you can give. Leading others to Christ is effective when you are well rooted in the Word.

Deuteronomy 6:7-9 says “Teach them to your children. Repeat them when you are at home and when you are away, when you are resting and when you are working. Tie them on your arms and wear them on your foreheads as a reminder. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.” This suggests that everywhere you are: at home, in your place of work, in the market, in school and everywhere you find yourself, faithfully study and live the Word of God and lead others to do same. As a parent or leader, you are to teach the commandments of God by reading and living the Bible truths in your daily interaction, conversation and discussion with your children. Teach your children to read and memorise the Scripture; make it fun and interesting for them. Use biblical truths when you sit or sleep, eat or exercise, play or pray, visit or are being visited, at home or away. As a worker at work and in church, let them know you as a student of the Word and they will be encouraged to follow suit. You lead by living the Word. Does your action call others to Christ? The Christian race is not successful without evangelism: preach the Word of God to the world. Tripp (1997:241) poses that “People who are successful at soul care are good students of the Scriptures.” When you stay true to God’s Word, you will lead others to Christ.

Benefits of Faithfulness to God’s Word

Faithfulness to God’s Word has a lot of benefits; some of these are:

  1. It renews the mind. God’s Word renews and transforms the mind. It keeps your mind in tune with God. It keeps you current, correct and comprehensive. As your mind is renewed, you will be transformed and you will be able to discover what God’s will is (Romans 12:2). Your mind will be filled with godly and edifying thoughts. The Word of God keeps you from concealing negative thoughts, works of the flesh and sins that easily entangle. It is only the Word of God that can help you to keep gazing at the prize and finish the race with joy.
  2. It builds faith. The Word of God helps to build your faith. Faith is an important element that helps one to finish strong. You need to maintain and grow your faith in Christ Jesus in order to finish strong, and this can only be done when you devote your time to the Word of God. The Bible says “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). The early Christians had the opportunity to see Jesus, touch Him and witness His miracles but we have no such opportunity. By faith, as we read and meditate on the Word of God, our faith in Him is built for greater miracles in our time. The faith of Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place he never knew brought endless blessings to his generation (Genesis 12).
  3. It helps us to commune with God. Faithfulness to God’s Word provides daily opportunity to commune with God. Communion goes beyond opening the Bible, reading some verses or taking some prayer points. It entails reading and studying the Scriptures purposefully and prayerfully meditating on it. It means to understand the mind of God. This helps to create a communication channel with God: you meet with God, receive and hear from Him. It gives you the opportunity to know the mind of God; you attend an inner-circle conference with God; have cabinet meetings with Him and discover secrets that are hidden from others. Therefore, if you are faithful to God’s Word, your relationship with Him will be strengthened. The psalmist says “As the deer pants for the water so my soul pants for You, oh Lord” (Psalms 42:1). Your devotion to God’s Word keeps you in close relationship with God.
  4. It brings hope. Hope keeps you going in the Christian race. The Word of God gives life and assures hope (Psalm 119: 40-48). In it you live and have your being.When you have hope, it means you have trust, confidence and belief in God and His Word. Consistent meditation on the Word of God and doing all what God commands build your hope in Christ. When you confess the Word of God daily during your difficult moment(s), you will get your hope revived. When the race seems tiring and challenging, the Word of God is available for comfort. It brings happiness (Psalm 119: 1-8). When you obey God’s Word, you will be happy and faultless. You will not make error and you will not be put to shame.The psalmist cries “You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word” (Psalm 119:114). While the devil brings discouragement and hopelessness, the Word of God brings hope. Hope in God never gives up; it makes achieving goals possible.
  5. It equips. The Word of God equips you with the power to do the extraordinary. The food, water and supplement needed to run the Christian race without getting tired are embedded in the Word of God. When you daily feed on God’s Word, you are no longer an ordinary person; you are a carrier of grace, mercy and power. Regular and consistent feeding on God’s Word equips and prepares you fully for the journey of faith. The Word of God is a powerful weapon against Satan, sin and self. It is a defensive and offensive weapon to defend and deliver God’s children. The Bible says “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17). You need the Word of God as your sword to be victorious in the race.
  1. It gives victory over temptation: The Christian race comes with a lot of challenges, assaults, temptations, humiliations and trials but with the Word of God, you are an overcomer. Jesus Christ already warns that in the Christian journey, you will have tribulation but the joy is that, He has conquered the world for you (John 16:33). The Word of God helps you to live victoriously in this wicked world. Lateju (2015:59) also says that “Today’s world is full of storms; it takes a person who has Christ as his ANCHOR to sail through the storms of life without a loss.’’ One part of the spiritual armour Paul listed for every believer in Ephesians 6:11-18 is the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. Any Christian soldier who neglects the sword of Spirit will be prone to the enemy’s attack. When King Jehoshaphat was threatened by an invasion of a large army of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites etc., he recognised that the battle cannot be won by human efforts, and resolved to handle it spiritually. He fasted, prayed and praised God. Jehoshaphat prayed with the Word of God; He reminded God of His Word (2 Chronicles 20). With the Word of God, you can attack every enemy posing a threat to your life, family, business, career etc. The Holy Spirit in you makes the spoken Word of God potent and effective. Jesus Christ was tempted three times by Satan but He overcame through the Word of God (Matthew 4:1-11). Speak the Word of God to your situations. You can also overcome temptations and finish the race with joy when you are faithful to God’s Word.
  2. It gives wisdom. The Word of God gives wisdom to those who read, study, meditate and obey it. The wisdom needed to move on in the race is in the Word of God (Psalm 11:66-67). All that you need to take the right direction per time is in the Word of God. Deuteronomy 4:5-6 says “See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees….” There is no wisdom outside God and His Word. The word of God gives wisdom to those who meditate on the Word (Isaiah 11:2). When you wisely apply the Word of God to your life, you will not stumble; you will not fall, fail or falter. The entrance of God’s Word gives light and understanding to the simple (Psalm 119:130).

Conclusion: The Christian race is a lifetime race. It continues until you are called home. In order not to grow weak and weary on the way, you need to be faithful to the Word of God. It is your map; your guide. Faithfully trust, obey and follow God’s Word. Let it be your daily tonic and be careful to do all that God commands in it. You will finish the Christian race with joy. Remain faithful to the Word and the blessings in the Word will be your portion.

References

Cambridge Dictionary (www.dictionary.cambridge.org)

Collins Dictionary (www.collinsdictionary.com)

Fatoki S.A. (2013) A-Z of Christian Living. Ibadan: Eternity Minds Ministries Publication.

Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners (www.macmillandictionary.com)

Merriam Webster Dictionary (www.meriam-webster.com)

Tripp, P. (1997) Age of Opportunity, a Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens. New

York: Harper and Row

Lateju R. (2015) Touching Teenagers’ World with the Word of God. Ibadan: Kogiah Communications

www.freedictionary.com

www.wikipedia.org

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