What’s one of your current projects? We all have things we need to do. They can be unique tasks or they can be repetitive ones. For example, I need to stop storm-water ingress at home when it rains. Psalm 127 gives us advice on how to do our daily work. The main point is that it’s better to commit our work to God rather than to do it all alone.
Psalm 127 has been categorized as a wisdom psalm. These psalms have similarities in literary features or content to the wisdom books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. They are written for the purposes of teaching and instruction rather than worship. Wisdom literature addresses important issues in life. (more…)
Today the music legend, Prince, died suddenly aged 57 years. According to Billboard, Prince was “One of the most iconic musicians in music history”. “His legacy as a musician, a singer, a style icon and an endlessly creative mind is nearly unparalleled, and his influence stretches from pop to R&B to funk to hip-hop and everywhere in between”. Tony Parsons wrote: “Prince danced like Fred Astaire, he played guitar like Hendrix, he wrote songs as good as Dylan, he smashed as many barriers as Bowie”. Prince received seven Grammy Awards from 32 nominations. Over his 35-year career, he released 39 solo studio albums. Four of these were No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
When discussing the death on radio today, a commentator said “You’ve got to enjoy life”; presumably because it can end suddenly. King Solomon tried living like this.
Solomon enjoyed life
I said to myself, “Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life.” But I found that this, too, was meaningless. So I said, “Laughter is silly. What good does it do to seek pleasure?” After much thought, I decided to cheer myself with wine. And while still seeking wisdom, I clutched at foolishness. In this way, I tried to experience the only happiness most people find during their brief life in this world. (Eccl. 2:1-3NLT)
“Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure” (Eccl. 2:10).
His attitude was: enjoy life while you can!
“So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.” (Eccl. 3:12-13)
“So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun.” (Eccl. 8:15).
“Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart, for God approves of this! Wear fine clothes, with a splash of cologne! Live happily with the woman you love through all the meaningless days of life that God has given you under the sun. The wife God gives you is your reward for all your earthly toil. Whatever you do, do well. For when you go to the grave, there will be no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom” (Eccl. 9:7-10).
But Solomon found that a life which is not related to God is meaningless (Eccl. 2:11; 12:8). It is like “chasing after the wind.” True fulfilment and lasting satisfaction are elusive. The things we do apart from God are hollow and futile because they can be destroyed and come to nothing.
Death, the leveller
100% of people die. Solomon realized that we all share a common destiny (Eccl. 9:2-3). Death is a great leveller. It happens to the rich and famous like Prince and to ordinary people like us.
Here’s what Solomon concluded from his investigation into all the ways of living without God:
Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor Him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.” (Eccl. 12:1).
Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey His commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.” (Eccl. 12:13-14).
From this we see that our purpose in life is related to the God who created the universe and to whom we are accountable.
If our quest is to enjoy life, then it will absorb so much of our time and energy that we will miss the purpose of our life. This life is the support act for the main show. It’s the prelude to eternity.
Prince’s biographer said he was spiritual. I wonder what this means? But salvation isn’t based on our goodness. Instead, it’s based on Jesus’s goodness, “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).
According to the Bible, we are not here just to enjoy life or to be spiritual. But we are here to have a close relationship with the God who created the universe. This is prohibited by our rebellious sinful nature. Fortunately, God sent Jesus to earth to overcome this barrier so we can be reconciled with God. Have you accepted this gift?
Written, April 2016
Apple products are declared “obsolete” if they haven’t been manufactured for at least 7 years; and “vintage” if they haven’t been manufactured for at least 5 years. Spare parts and service isn’t available for all obsolete products and for most vintage products.
Today we will see that the Jewish temple is now obsolete. Because Christ’s sacrifice atoned for our sin, we no longer need a temple where priests offer animal sacrifices. Instead of living in a special building, God now lives in His people. This means that congregations of people are more important than the buildings they use.
In about 1450 BC, the Hebrew tabernacle (a tent) was built in Sinai and transported to Canaan, where it was later superseded by the temple in Jerusalem. The first temple, completed by king Solomon in about 950 BC, was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The Babylonians were God’s agents in this judgment of Judah’s idolatry which was called “the day of the Lord” (Jer. 1:14-16; 4:5-17; 5:15-19; 9:11; 12:7-15; 19:3, 11; 21:3-7; Zeph. 1:1-18). The temple was rebuilt after the Babylonian exile by Zerubbabel in 538-515 BC. Later, king Herod renovated and expanded this temple, commencing in 19 BC (Jn. 2:20). It took 46 years to complete the main building and another 36 years to finish the entire Temple complex.
The house of the Lord
The term “the house of the Lord” (Strongs #1004 #3068) appears about 221 times in the Old Testament. It meant a place of worship such as the tabernacle and the temple. The following verses show that it’s synonymous with the “temple” (#1964) of the Lord.
“One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple” (Ps. 27:4NIV).
“He then brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord, and there at the entrance to the temple, between the portico and the altar, were about twenty-five men” (Ezek. 8:16).
“This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Now hear these words, ‘Let your hands be strong so that the temple may be built.’ This is also what the prophets said who were present when the foundation was laid for the house of the Lord Almighty.” (Zech. 8:9).
The tabernacle/temple was a place for God to live amongst His people the Israelites (Ex. 25:8-9; 29:45-46; 2 Chron. 6:2; Isa. 8:18). God’s presence was shown by the cloud above them (Ex. 40: 34-38; 1 Ki. 8:10-11). Although Solomon said that God lived in the temple, he knew that God wasn’t restricted to one place (1 Ki. 8:13, 27). Before the end of the first temple, Ezekiel had a vision of God’s glory departing from the temple because of the people’s idolatry (Ezek. 8-10).
The tabernacle/temple was where the Jews offered sacrifices to God (Lev. 1:1 – 7:27) and celebrated their festivals, particularly the Passover, Pentecost and the Tabernacles (Dt. 16:16). On such an occasion David said, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” (Ps. 122:1).
After Solomon finished the first temple, God said that if the Israelites turned away from obeying the Lord, then “this temple will become a heap of rubble” (1 Ki. 9:8; 2 Chron. 7:21). And the temple was destroyed for this reason in 586 BC. While Zerubbabel rebuilt the temple, Daniel predicted that it would be destroyed likewise after the Anointed One (Christ) was put to death (Dan. 9:26).
The fact that the curtain of Herod’s temple was torn in two when Christ died symbolized that His death opened new access to God (Mt. 27:51; Mk. 15:38; Lk. 23:45). Priests and animal sacrifices were no longer required. Although the temple was now obsolete, the Jews kept offering animal sacrifices. But God put an end to this when Herod’s temple was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70 (like he used the Babylonians to destroy Solomon’s temple in 586 BC) and it wasn’t rebuilt. These two destructions both occurred on the 9th day of Av (5th month in the Hebrew calendar; which is in July-August in the modern calendar)! As predicted by Jesus, Herod’s grand temple was completely dismantled (Mt. 23:38; 24:2; Mk. 13:2; Lk. 13:35; 19:44; 21:6, 20-24).
God’s house today
What is the “house of God today”? The Bible says that God doesn’t live in a building (Acts 7:48; 17:24). Instead the Christian congregation (church) is said to be “God’s temple”; “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16NLT). In this figure of speech, the collective body of believers is like the temple. In a similar metaphor, they are said to be a “spiritual house” (1 Pt. 2:5).
“But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are His house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory” (Heb 3:6). Here the writer explains what God’s house is today. It is made up of all true believers in Christ. Their endurance in the faith (holding firmly to their “confidence” and “hope”) shows the reality of their faith. Those who don’t endure aren’t true believers (Heb. 3:7-19).
As Christ is the head of the church, He is the leader of the “house of God”. The book of Hebrews says He is metaphorically like a great high priest; “we have a great priest over the house of God” (Heb 10:21).
And each Christian’s body is a metaphorical temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). So Christians, individually and collectively, are the “house of God” today! What was a physical term in the Old Testament is now a metaphorical one.
Lessons for us
We have seen that God tore the temple curtain when Christ died and He used the Romans to destroy the temple in AD 70. Because Christ’s sacrifice atoned for our sin, we no longer need a temple where priests offer animal sacrifices. So the Jewish temple is now obsolete. Instead of living in a special building, God now lives in His people. This means that congregations of people are more important than the buildings they use. So let’s keep the right balance between people and buildings.
Also, because the “house of the Lord” is no longer a building, we shouldn’t call a church building “the house of the Lord”. God’s people are the house of the Lord (God’s temple) today, whether they are aware of it or not!
Written, November 2015
I have received the following comment about a post on polygamy.
Sorry, but what I come to notice is that some people are using the New Testament to then try to interpret the Old Testament. Just like the author of this post is doing. By using Jesus and Paul interpretation of the Old Testament (Gen. 2:24-25) to say this means marriage is only between one men and one woman. If you see, in the Old Testament GOD never condemned polygamy for his people. It will be really hard for me to believe that GOD has clearly spoken and given rules about certain things like owning a Hebrew Slave, yet when it comes to polygamy he decides is best to put it a non-clear way.
1-“The first mention of polygamy in the Bible involves Lamech who claimed to avenge himself eleven times more often than Cain (Gen. 4:19, 24)”. -this point is moot, the text has to do with the killing, the fact that he had two wife makes no sense. If you find a person in the bible that was evil but only had one wife you will not say monogamy is bad.
2- “In fact, God had commanded that the king “must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray” (Dt. 17:17)” – I love this because if you actually read the TEXT in CONTENT, well actually just read starting from verse 14, see that GOD is talking about the rules that the KING OF ISRAEL has to follow. He never ever say, everyone or my people. He is specially talking about the KING OF ISRAEL.
3- “The most extreme example of polygamy in the Bible is king Solomon who “had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray” (1 Ki. 11:3). His wives turned him to idolatry.” – Again here, the passage clearly never say don’t have many wife’s because I say it should be only one men and one woman. It clearly teaches the wrong thing here is that the wife’s made him believe in ANOTHER GOD.
This post is based on a survey of the instances of polygamy in the Old Testament (OT). I have been careful to identify instances of a man having more than one wife (or concubines) at the same time (concurrently). In those days woman sometimes died as a result of childbirth or for other reasons. In such cases the man usually remarried and could be said to have had children with two wives. Such serial marriages are not polygamy.
We will see that because polygamy wasn’t God’s idea, it wasn’t the original form of marriage, and it wasn’t the ideal marriage assumed by the OT commands and it wasn’t the model for God’s relationship with the nation of Israel.
In this post we look at whether the instances of polygamy (including bigamy) in the OT are a command, a model to follow or merely a report of events. Monogamy will be considered in the same way so the two can be compared.
Is polygamy a command, a model or a report?
Some think that Exodus 21: 7-11 regulates polygamy involving a female Hebrew slave. However the translation of “ownah” (Strong’s 5772, feminine noun) as “marital rights” in verse 10 is uncertain as this is its only occurrence in Scripture (NET Bible). Also, it has been suggested that it could mean accommodation or ointments. The main point is that the displaced woman was to be cared for and not disadvantaged. Therefore, this verse doesn’t definitely relate to polygamy.
Hebrew law maintained the rights of the firstborn in a polygamous marriage (Dt. 21:15-17). Does this mean that God approved polygamy? Not necessarily, but He recognized that it did occur as this passage begins “If a man has two wives …”. It seems that God allowed polygamy because otherwise a man who had multiple wives would need to divorce all except one and those who were divorced would be destitute because they would be unable to remarry.
Under Hebrew law, levirate marriage obligated a man whose brother has died and left a widow without heir to marry her (Dt. 25:5-10). The son of this union “shall carry on the name of the dead brother”. This special case preserved the family name and protected the family property and the widow’s welfare in societies where women can’t own property and there is no social welfare. If the man was already married, this would mean that he had two wives. This seems to be the only OT command that is potentially related to polygamy. The best Scriptural examples of levirate marriage are Tamar (Gen. 38:1-30) and Ruth (Ruth 3:1 – 4:17), but they don’t involve polygamy.
Nathan the prophet said that God gave David Saul’s wives (2 Sam. 12:8). Does this mean that God commanded David to be polygamous? When we look at the context of this verse, it is part of the interpretation of the parable in v.1-4. The main message is that God has placed David as king of Israel in place of Saul. David has replaced Saul. So God had given David, as king of Israel, everything that was Saul’s. This included wealth and power and caring for Saul’s wives. If God had given him all this, how despicable of David to take another man’s wife. The Hebrew word translated “into your arms” (Strongs #2436) in v.8 is used in v.3 to describe how a poor man cared for a lamb like it was his daughter. Saul’s wives were given to David to care for like “all Israel and Judah” were given to him. But how could Saul’s wives trust him after how he had treated Uriah and Bathsheba? By the way, there is no conclusive evidence that he married any of them. So, this verse isn’t related to polygamy.
It is interesting to note that Jehoiada (a good High Priest) chose two wives for King Joash (2 Chron. 24:3). Joash was a godly king until the death of Joash, but he didn’t finish well. Was this a model of bigamy to follow for the kings of Judah?
Besides this, I am not aware of any example of polygamy in the OT that has God’s approval.
In the following cases polygamy is reported as a historical event without being endorsed or criticised: Lamech (Gen. 4:19, 23), Nahor (Gen. 22:20-24), Abraham (Gen. 25:6; 1 Chron. 1:32), Esau (Gen. 26:34; 28:6-9), Jacob (Gen. 29:16-30), Eliphaz (Gen. 36:12, Caleb (1 Chron. 2:18-19, 46, 48 ), Manasseh (1 Chron. 7:14), Gideon (Jud. 8:30-31), and Elkanah (1 Sam. 1:1-2). Also, some other men who are said to have large numbers of children may have had more than one wife at once. But there are no reported incidences of polygamy among the Jews after the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BC.
Polygamy is also reported amongst the following kings of Israel without being endorsed or criticised: Saul (2 Sam. 3:7), David (2 Sam. 5:13), Solomon (1 Ki. 11:1-8), Rehoboam (2 Chron. 11:18-21), Ahab (1 Ki. 20:3), Jehoiachin (2 Ki. 24:15), Jehoram (2 Chron. 21:14, 17), Abijah (2 Chron. 13:21), and Joash (2 Chron. 24:3). These kings disobeyed the command not to have many wives (Dt. 17:17). Solomon was the worst offender with 700 wives and 300 concubines!
At that time kings used marriages to establish political alliances with other nations. For example, King Belshazzar (of Babylonia) had many wives and concubines and king Xerxes of Persia had a harem (Dan. 5:2; Est. 1:9; 2:14).
The Bible says that polygamy led to troubles in the family. There was friction, jealousy and rivalry between the wives (Gen. 30:1; 1 Ki. 11:3-4). And Solomon’s wives “led him astray” and “turned his heart after other gods” (1 Ki. 11:3-4).
So polygamy occurred in Old Testament times and it is reported amongst God’s people the Israelites, but it wasn’t approved or commanded by God. The only instance that could be a model for the kings of Judah to follow is the bigamy of king Joash.
How does this compare with what the Old Testament says about monogamy?
Is monogamy a command, a model or a report?
The 10th commandment given to the Israelites includes, “You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife” (Ex. 20:17; Dt. 5:21NIV). The singular word “wife” assumes the ideal that each husband has only one wife.
Similarly God’s commands given to the Jews about 1,000 years later include,
“…the LORD is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife (singular) of your marriage covenant.” (Mal. 2:14)
“… do not be unfaithful to the wife (singular) of your youth” (Mal. 2:15b).
The singular word “wife” assumes the ideal that each husband has only one wife.
Hebrew law always assumes the ideal where a husband had one wife and not more than one. For example:
“Do not have sexual relations with your father’s wife” (Lev. 18:8; 20:11; Dt. 22:30; 27:20).
“Do not dishonor your father’s brother by approaching his wife to have sexual relations” Lev. 18:14; 20:20)
“Do not have sexual relations with your daughter-in-law. She is your son’s wife” (Lev. 18:15).
“Do not have sexual relations with your brother’s wife” (Lev. 18:16; 20:21).
“Do not take your wife’s sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living” (Lev.18:18).
“Do not have sexual relations with your neighbor’s wife” (Lev. 18:20; 20:10).
“These are the regulations the Lord gave Moses concerning relationships between a man and his wife” (Num. 30:16).
“If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife” (Dt. 22:22).
“If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant” (Dt. 25:11).
Also, the test for an unfaithful wife assumes the ideal of monogamy (Num. 5:11-31).
In all these instances it is assumed that a husband had one wife at any given time and not more than one.
The commands for the kings of Israel included not having many wives:
“The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself … He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold” (Dt. 17:16-7).
Horses were used in warfare and royal wives were taken to form alliances with other nations. God wanted the kings of Israel to trust in Him and not in armaments or political alliances. The accumulation of wealth may be due to the oppression of the people. So God places limits on the armaments, alliances and wealth of these future kings. The kings “must not take many wives” (v.17). The Hebrew verb translated “many” (Strongs #7235) means multiply. This doesn’t seem to be a command for monogamy because in the previous verse the same word is applied to horses, which were used in warfare. As they wouldn’t be restricted to one horse, then they weren’t necessarily restricted to one wife. So this passage can’t be used to support monogamy for these kings.
After God created Adam He said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18). Note that the helper, which became Adam’s wife is singular, not plural.
After God created Eve (the first woman) from Adam’s rib, the Bible says “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Because it says “that is why”, Adam and Eve are a model of marriage for humanity (when husband and wife leave their parents and live together). Because it says “his wife” and not “his wives”, this marriage is monogamous, with one man married to one woman and not many women. It is interesting to note that the second “start” to the human population (after the Genesis flood) began with four monogamous couples (Noah and his wife, Shem and his wife, Ham and his wife, Japheth and his wife). Also, Isaac, Joseph and Moses were monogamous.
One of the blessings of a godly man is “Your wife (singular) will be like a fruitful vine within your house” (Ps. 128:3). King Solomon advised “Enjoy life with your wife (singular)” (Eccl. 9:9). Also, a godly man “does not defile his neighbor’s wife (singular)” (Ezek. 18:6, 15).
Others who had one wife were Cain, Lot, servants (Ex. 21:3-5), Amram ( Num. 36:59), Lappidoth (Jud. 4:4), Heber (Jud. 4:17), Gilead (Jud. 11:2), Samson, Elimelek (Ruth 1:2), Phinehas (1 Sam. 4:19), Nabal (1 Sam. 25:3), David’s 600 men (1 Sam. 30:22), Uriah (2 Sam. 11:3), Bahurim (2 Sam. 17:18-19), a prophet (2 Ki. 4:1), Naaman (2 Ki. 5:2), Shallum (2 Ki. 22:14), Hezron (1 Chron. 2:24), Abishur ( 1 Chron. 2:29), Ephraim (1 Chron. 7:23), Jeiel (1 Chron. 8:29), Jehoiada (2 Chron. 22:11), Haman (Est. 5:10), Job (Job 2:9), Ezekiel (Ezek. 24:18). Kings have been omitted from this list because of the greater likelihood of them having more than one wife and of having concubines. For example, although Jezebel is said to be the wife of king Ahab, he also had other wives (1 Ki. 20:3; 21:5-7).
When the men of Benjamin who survived war with the rest of Israel were provided with wives, it was one wife for each man (Jud. 21:20-23).
So monogamy was the original form of human marriage (it was God’s idea) and it is assumed to be the ideal marriage in the commands of the Old Testament. Clearly monogamy was approved by God and was more prevalent in OT times than polygamy.
Marriage as a symbol
It is interesting to note that the OT prophets often illustrated God as the husband of Israel (Is. 54:5-8; 62:5 Jer. 2:2; 3:14; Ezek. 16:32; Hos. 2:16, 19-20; 3:1). In this figure of speech, the nation of Israel is God’s wife. It only makes sense with monogamy and not with polygamy – God only had one bride and wife in the OT and that was the nation of Israel. God didn’t have multiple brides and wives in the OT.
Because of her idolatry (following other God’s), Israel is accused of spiritual adultery (Jer. 3:1, 20; 13:27; Ezek. 23:37; Hos. 1:2; 4:13-14; 5:4; 9:1). Israel had broken the covenant between them (it was like a marriage covenant). This is illustrated by Hosea who married Gomer in a monogamous relationship (Hosea only had one wife). But Gomer was unfaithful in committing adultery – “like an adulterous wife this land (the northern kingdom of Israel) is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord” (Hos. 1:2). Afterwards Hosea took her back. He was to “love her as the Lord loves the Israelites” (Hos. 3:1). Then he told her “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any (other) man, and I will behave the same way toward you” (Hos. 3:3). This is a monogamous marriage, not a polygamous one.
So the model for God’s relationship with the nation of Israel was a monogamous marriage and not a polygamous one.
Polygamy and monogamy compared
We have seen that monogamy was approved and commanded by God, but polygamy wasn’t. Monogamy was God’s idea. But God protected the rights of children in a polygamous marriage and protected women without an heir. Also the commands given in the OT assume monogamous marriages, and not polygamous ones.
The first marriage was between Adam and Eve, so it was monogamous. Also the marriages of those saved in the Genesis flood to repopulate the earth were monogamous. So marriage was monogamous at the beginning of time and not polygamous. The godly example and model for marriage in the OT was monogamy. Although some godly men were polygamous, they aren’t commended for their polygamy. Instead the Bible records the troubles that this caused (see the lives of David’s and Solomon’s children). The only model to follow that advocates polygamy, may be that the bigamy of king Josiah was a model for the kings of Judah.
Both monogamy and polygamy are reported in the OT without being endorsed or criticised. These are historical reports of events that don’t indicate God’s viewpoint on the subject of marriage.
Because monogamy was God’s idea, it was the original form of marriage, and it was the ideal marriage assumed by the OT commands and it was the model for God’s relationship with the nation of Israel.
Because polygamy wasn’t God’s idea, it wasn’t the original form of marriage, and it wasn’t the ideal marriage assumed by the OT commands and it wasn’t the model for God’s relationship with the nation of Israel.
Written, August 2015
Recently a woman asked this question. Because of an abusive husband, she was frightened of men and never went outside at night. All her hopes and dreams had vanished. She was alone and couldn’t see any possibility of her situation improving. Also, I learnt that an elderly man had completed suicide. He chose death rather than life. He had no reason to live any longer.
The wisest person who ever lived, Solomon, found that a life which is not related to God is meaningless (Eccl. 1:2; 1:14; 12:8). It is like “chasing after the wind.” True fulfillment and lasting satisfaction are elusive. The things we do apart from God are hollow and futile because they can be destroyed and come to nothing. Hopes and dreams for this life can be shattered and wiped away. This was the case for these people.
According to the Bible, there are two main purposes of life: to know God, and to serve Him. Paul, a pioneer of the Christian faith, wrote: “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things … I want to know Christ” (Phil. 3:8,10 NIV). He also wrote: “ For to me, to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). He gave up Judaism and all his personal achievements when he trusted Christ as Savior. He wanted to know the Lord personally and live for Him.
The Bible tells us that people are “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). They have no lasting hope, no hope beyond death. This is because they don’t know the only true God, who was revealed by Jesus Christ. But if we truly know God, we have a lasting hope that looks beyond death. Paul said, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). Because Christ was raised from the dead, we can look forward to the resurrection of our bodies, life forever with the Lord and God’s kingdom being established on earth.
People put their time and effort into the things that they think are important. Near the end of his life Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). He was a devoted servant of God who put all his energy into serving Him and doing His will. He had protected the Christian doctrine which had been committed to him, and he faithfully passed it on to others. God wants us to be faithful in His sight; not merely successful in people’s sight.
Paul was motivated by the fact that his service would be reviewed in heaven: “We make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:9-10). Fancy being able to please God when we are “away from” the body after death! This is when believers stand before the Lord as He reviews their service. The only thing we can take with us beyond death is our reward for faithfulness to Him.
Can all our hopes, dreams, visions and goals be taken away? If the answer is yes, they are flimsy and not robust. That’s why people give up, get depressed, and think there is no purpose to life. Instead let’s be like Paul and make our most important priority knowing the Lord Jesus Christ and serving Him while we can.
Published, April 2012
The biggest sporting event in history is being held in Sydney, Australia this month. More than 10,000 of the world’s best athletes from 200 nations will compete in 28 sports in the Olympic Games. The strongest competition in the world will be broadcast to a worldwide viewing audience of 3.5 billion. Every athlete will be striving for medals and fame.
The ancient Greeks celebrated the great national festival known as the Olympics between 800 BC and the 400 AD. This festival was celebrated every four years in the sanctuary of their god Zeus in Olympia. It involved competitions between representatives from the Greek city-states.
Did you know that Paul was thinking of similar games when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:25 that all athletes “go into strict training”? These particular games were celebrated every two years on the Isthmus of Corinth in honor of the Greek gods. The Greeks were passionate about the games and the winners received crowns made of laurel or olive branches. In both the ancient and modern games the athletes practice long hours to improve their endurance, strength, skills and performance.
The Bible compares life to a race, but makes remarkable claims about what is victory. In the game of life we can succeed — but not by our own strength. Let’s look at how we can be winners in life’s race. Our examples are King Solomon, who lived 3,000 years ago, and the apostle Paul, who lived 2,000 years ago. Both competed at the top of their professions.
Solomon was from Israel’s royal family, the son of King David. As king for 40 years he had great wealth and power. You might say he was a winner.
A recent poll voted the boxer Muhammad Ali the greatest sports star of the twentieth century. He carried the torch at the opening ceremony of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. As heavyweight champion of the world he boasted, “I am the greatest!” That’s also how Solomon felt, but it did not last. His book, Ecclesiastes, shows how he sought success in life through such things as wisdom, pleasure, possessions, wealth and hard work.
- Wisdom: Solomon was devoted to exploring everything by wisdom, and became known as the wisest man in the world (1 Ki. 4:29-34; Eccl. 1:13,16). He was an expert in botany and zoology. He wrote 3,000 proverbs and 1,000 songs. He was so famous people from other nations came to hear him. The Queen of Sheba visited him and confirmed that his wisdom and wealth were far greater than what she had been told (1 Ki. 10:6-7).
- Pleasure: Solomon tried to cheer himself with wine, and he acted the fool (Eccl. 2:3). He also indulged in entertainment, and had 1,000 wives who gave him great pleasure. He did whatever made him happy (1 Ki. 11:3; Eccl. 2:8).
- Possessions: Solomon had great homes, vineyards, gardens and groves filled with all kinds of fruit trees. He built reservoirs to irrigate his flourishing groves. He had many slaves and owned more livestock than any other king in Jerusalem. It is recorded that he had 12,000 horses, 1,400 chariots and 4,000 stalls to keep them (2 Chr. 1:14; 9:25).
- Wealth: Solomon was the richest man on earth (1 Ki. 10:23) — like Bill Gates is today. His great wealth came from commerce, mining, gifts from visitors, and taxes from countries between the Euphrates River and Egypt (1 Ki. 4:21; 10:25). He collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of kings and provinces (Eccl. 2:4-8).
- Hard Work: Solomon enjoyed working hard for his success. He undertook many great projects, among them being the palace it took 13 years to build (Eccl. 2:10-11,17-22). He had everything a person could desire, but didn’t find lasting satisfaction in success. He learned that man’s appetite is never satisfied (Eccl. 6:7). As he looked at everything he achieved, it was meaningless and futile, like chasing the wind. There was nothing worthwhile anywhere (Eccl. 2:11). He concluded that unless you “remember your Creator … everything is meaningless” (Eccl. 12:1, 8).
His despair resulted from looking for success in all the wrong places — of trying to find his way in life without God. Leaving God out of life’s race leads to disappointment, because life is more than success. Solomon had everything money could buy and power could seize, but couldn’t find satisfaction. He discovered that a life not centered on God is meaningless.
The Right Race?
Are you following Solomon by leaving God out while striving for such things as education, career, money, power, popularity, pleasure, etc.? Only the top three finishers receive a medal at the Olympic Games. Many athletes will not receive a prize, even though they did their best. Others will be disqualified because they broke the rules of their event.
The marathon race will be run along a well-marked route through the streets of Sydney, Australia to the Olympic Stadium. Athletes must follow this route to qualify for the prize. Jesus saw people as being in two categories: those travelling a wide road that leads to destruction, or a narrow road that leads to eternal life (Mt. 7:13-14). Which road are we running on? Those who ignore God and live like Solomon are running down the route that leads to hell and torment.
During much of his life Solomon was in the wrong race! If we are in the wrong race, then our best is not good enough. Without God, our best efforts, no matter how good, are never good enough to get us to heaven.
We can only enter the race to heaven by accepting God’s offer of forgiveness for our sins through Jesus Christ. The Bible says we can be saved by faith in God, who treats us much better than we deserve. Salvation is God’s gift to us and not anything we have done (Eph. 2:8). We can only be winners through Christ’s victory (1 Cor. 15:57; 1 Jn. 5:4-5).
The apostle Paul was privileged to have Hebrew religion, Greek culture and Roman citizenship. He had two names: Saul was his Hebrew name and Paul was his Greek name. The son of a Pharisee, he studied under Gamaliel, an esteemed teacher of Jewish law. He was born a pure-blooded Jew of the tribe of Benjamin. He was a member of the Pharisee sect that demanded the strictest obedience to Jewish law. He obeyed Jewish law so carefully that he was never accused of any fault (Phil. 3:5-6).
His first “race” was religion and he excelled in it. He was a fanatical Pharisee who was convinced that Christians were heretics and that God’s honor demanded their extermination (Gal. 1:13-14). He persecuted and imprisoned Christians and approved of Stephen’s death (Acts 9:1-2; 22:2-5,19-20; 26:4-11; 8:1-3). He travelled around the country capturing Christians. So Saul was racing along the broad road to destruction.
But on the way to Damascus he was miraculously confronted by Jesus and converted from the error of his way. He immediately began to live by faith in his Savior. Now on the narrow road to heaven, he preached Christianity, worked with those he had previously persecuted and was persecuted by his previous colleagues.
Paul used the illustration of a race to describe how he lived: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14). He was looking forward to the end of the race, and the prize in heaven to all who put their trust in God.
We are urged to imitate Paul by following his example (Phil. 3:17). He said, “Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air” (1 Cor. 9:24-26). He ran hard to win, exercising discipline and self control, with a definite goal and purpose.
Furthermore, he urged us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith … Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 12:1-3). As runners we should focus on the goal, throwing aside anything that might hinder us, such as materialism and legalism. The “love of money” causes some to wander from the faith, while unbiblical rules stop some from running a good race (Gal. 5:7; 1 Tim. 6:10-12).
As a Christian, Paul could look forward to victory and finishing the race, even victory over death: “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24). Paul knew his mission. Near the end of his life he wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8). Paul lived by faith.
The Christian’s Race
From Paul’s example we see that Christians are to live by faith and focus on their heavenly destiny. Their goals are: to live like Christ and please God, not others (2 Cor. 5:9; Gal. 1:10; 1 Jn. 2:6); to persevere with passion and be diligent, not lazy (Mt. 25:14-29); to practice humility, not selfish ambition (Mt. 18:4; Phil. 2:3). When asked who is the greatest, Christ said it was whoever is humble like a child. Be a Christ-like servant and don’t have a win-at-all-costs attitude (Mt. 20:25-28).
The Bible says we should: “live” in peace and harmony (Rom. 12:16,18; 1 Cor. 7:15; 2 Cor. 13:11; 1 Th. 5:13; 1 Tim. 2:2; Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 3:8); “live” by faith (Rom. 1:17; 2 Cor. 5:7; Gal. 2:20; 3:11; Heb. 10:38); “live” a life of love (Eph. 5:2); and “live” by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16,25).
Sports psychologists coach athletes to be winners because they know how much the mind influences performance and behavior. Christians should have their minds set on what the Spirit desires, as they have “the mind of Christ” (Rom. 8:5; 1 Cor. 2:16). The Holy Spirit is their coach (Jn. 16:13). This is their secret of success: right relationships with God and others. So the key to real success is a relationship, not an achievement.
The Christian’s reward is a prize beyond compare. It is described as “the victor’s crown,” “the crown of life,” “the crown of glory” and “the crown of righteousness” (2 Tim. 2:5; 4:8; Jas. 1:12; 1 Pet. 5:4). Also, since it is kept in heaven, it will never fade away, and never perish or spoil (1 Cor. 9:25; 1 Pet. 1:4; 5:4). As believers are Christ’s servants, their reward is to hear this: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt. 25:21).
Everyone who accepts Jesus into his/her life is a winner. Remember, that the criminal who repented on the cross was told, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” And Lazarus, the beggar, finished up in heaven, while the rich man was tormented in hell (Lk. 16: 22-26; 23:43).
Unfortunately many live selfish lives that lead to destruction (Phil. 3:18-19). If you have left God out of your life, your best will never be good enough. No matter what you may achieve, you will not have lasting success or lasting victory. Instead, you will have the emptiness and lack of purpose experienced by Solomon. In this case you need to get in the right race by accepting God’s offer of forgiveness for your sins through Jesus Christ. No great achievement is required, just childlike trust and commitment (Mt. 18:3).
Although you are not competing in the Olympic Games you are running the race of your life. Are you running the good race (Gal. 5:7)? Christians are not only saved by faith, they should also live by faith. This means trust and commitment to God, to the Scriptures and to other Christians. Success depends on your relationship with God.
Where is your commitment and passion in life? Are you chasing after other things like Solomon? Is your attention distracted, or are you developing a new mindset so you will know what God wants you to do in life (Rom. 12:2)? We only have one lifetime, so let’s make it count for God.
Do your best by following Jesus and imitating Paul; don’t be distracted or sidetracked from the race like Solomon.
Published: September 2000