Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, (Hebrews 12:1)
During his ministry, Jesus searched among the descendants of Israel for those who had enough faith in God in order to follow two simple, yet profound instructions:
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (Matthew 22:37-39)
When one was found who understood and appreciated this message, Jesus called them out of their previous lives onto a new path in life that would place serving God as the first and foremost purpose of their lives. Because only a relatively few number of people were able to understand this message and thus be called onto this new path, Jesus referred to this path as a “narrow way”:
Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7:14)
Later, this invitation to enter the “narrow way” was extended to the rest of mankind who were not descended from Israel. God revealed this extension of the invitation to the apostle Peter. This revealing came in the form of a vision, given to Peter, after Jesus' death. God also arranged circumstances such that shortly after this vision was given, Peter was called to meet with a Gentile man named Cornelius. Cornelius became the first, but by no means last, Gentile who was called by God to walk in this “narrow way.” Acts chapter 10 chronicles the meeting between Peter and Cornelius. The account of Cornelius's acceptance by God is highlighted by verses 44-48, which outline that Cornelius' acceptance by God was accompanied by an outpouring of the Holy Spirit; not only to Cornelius, but to others gathered there.
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days. (Acts 10:44-48)
Although the account does not specifically state this, some others who were gathered there also seemed to share Cornelius' desire to serve God, as supported by verses 47 and 48, which chronicles Peter's command to baptize those who had received the Holy Spirit. Baptism is generally associated with a outward symbol of a person's commitment, or consecration, to follow Jesus' commands to spend one's life in love and service to God. This thought, of a receipt of the Holy Spirit at the time an individual commits, or consecrates, their lives to God, is of key importance to the admittance and progression in “the narrow way”.
As might be expected of a concept that is of such importance, the consecrating of one's life to God is referred to by many different descriptions and pictures throughout the Bible. The picture of a “narrow way” is one of these methods of describing this concept. A “way” can bring to mind the picture of a road or a path. The purpose of a path is to start in one place and journey to another. This concept of a journey is often applied not just to physical journeys, but to emotional and intellectual ones as well. An individual may start with one set of characteristics, and through the application of discipline and study and effort, progress over time to cultivate a desired intellectual or emotional state. This type of “path” or “way” is appropriate when considering how those who decide to serve God are not expected to instantly transform into a fully formed servant of God. The thought of a “way” denotes that the serving of God is meant to be a transformation over time, requiring effort to stay faithful and maintain the commitment that was made. Paul recognized this struggle in many of his writings, and often discussed his personal need to maintain progress in developing his mind and character such that faithfulness to God was the foremost priority in his life. Through his writings, he also often encouraged those who made similar commitments or consecrations to God to continue forward in their dedication to their commitment. Paul considered these individuals “his brethren.” Note the honesty and intensity which Paul describes his own personal struggle to maintain his focus and his commitment to serving God as described in his letter to the church at Corinth:
Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. (I Corinthians 9:24-27)
This passage emphasizes the thought that the development of a character that is pleasing to God is an active process, and at times even a struggle. These verses also introduce two further concepts related to an individual's consecration to God. First, in verse 24, Paul refers to a “race”, and encourages the readers of his words to “run”. Second, in verse 24, Paul also refers to a “prize”. This same “prize” is also referred to in verse 25 as a “crown”.
The Picture of the "Crown" as a Reward
As noted previously, the many different facets of consecration to God are referred to in different manners throughout the Bible. In these verses, Paul refers to the reward for being found to have successfully fulfilled one's commitments to God as a “crown.” This thought originates from the practice of awarding victors in sporting events, such as races, a crown upon the successful completion of their event.
Jesus referred to this reward during his ministry. He considered those who had found the entry to “the narrow way” and committed their lives to God to be a “little flock”. The “little flock” is another picture associated with the concept of consecration to God. This description is relevant in that those who have committed their all to God have agreed to follow the example Jesus left and be guided by God in all things, just as a flock of sheep look to a shepherd for guidance. This “flock” is “little” in a very related sense to the idea of “the narrow way” being narrow, and that few find the “gate” to the way. Although many throughout history have heard of and even read or studied the Bible, comparatively few have heard and understood the invitation for consecration to God. Fewer still have responded to this “high calling” even when it was found or understood. In his addressing this “little flock”, Jesus declares that they are to be rewarded with “the kingdom”:
Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Luke 12:32-34)
Later in the New Testament, the Apostle Peter provides more specific details on what the reward is:
According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (II Peter 1:3,4)
In these verses, Peter explains that the reward for those who are found faithful in their commitments to God is the divine nature. The divine nature is a state of being that has “life in itself”. It is the level of existence on which God exists, and the level of existence to which Jesus, after his death, was elevated. This receipt of the divine nature is the “crown” referred to by Paul as the reward for being found faithful in consecration to God. This promise is repeated in I John chapter three:
Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (I John 3:1,2)
In these words, the statement is made that those who have consecrated themselves to God are “the sons of God”, and will, if found faithful in their commitments, eventually become like Jesus, elevated to the divine nature just as he was after his faithful execution of his commitment to God. An important note here is the wording of verse two. Note that the scripture says “now are we the sons of God”, implying that this title is relevant during one's lifetime while progressing in “the narrow way”, yet, the reward will be given at some future point as denoted by the wording of the second half of the verse, as in “we shall be like him”.
The "Crown" Granted at the "Race's" Completion
Having reviewed the reward for maintaining one's commitment to “walk” the “narrow way” and maintain one's consecration to God, a reasonable question may be, when will this reward be granted, if one is found worthy by God to receive it? The scriptures provide a very clear answer to this question in the book of Revelation:
Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. (Revelation 2:10)
This is an important verse, in that both the requirement for receiving the reward as well as the time frame for receiving the reward, if found worthy of it, is given. The act of consecrating one's life to God is not a one-time statement or act. Instead, God expects those who choose to walk “the narrow way” to do so for their entire lives. This harmonizes with the thought of consecration to God being a “path” or a progression that an individual is expected to work at and slowly, over their lives, prove their faithfulness to God and to the commitment that was made to Him. Those who expect to finish the path and who hope to be found worthy of the “prize” at the end of the path are expected to maintain their faithfulness until their deaths.
This verse also compares the reward for successfully finishing “the narrow way” with a crown. This is very similar to the thought given by Paul as examined earlier, where Paul also compares the result of being found worthy by God to that of a crown given out to victors in a race.
Later in Revelation, a similar reference to this reward as a “crown” is made, and this reference contains an important word of caution as well:
Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. (Revelation 3:11)
A comparison between the wording in this verse and the verses written by Paul in I Corinthians is immediately evident. “Coming quickly” and “holding fast” indicate the same level of urgency, attention and effort as expressed by Paul. To those who have committed their lives to God, there should be no greater effort in one's life than their efforts to serve Him and His people. There should be no holding back; no delay; no “putting work in His service off until later.” The walk in “the narrow way” is time sensitive from many different perspectives. Remember that Paul referred to this progression in “the narrow way” as a race; bringing with it, again, the thought of effort and of urgency.
When examining the verse from Revelation 2:10, the requirement that, in order to be found worthy by God and to thus obtain the promised reward or “crown of life”, one must be found faithful to God until death is stated. This means, clearly, that God will not bestow this reward during one's life. Only after death will God make His determination of worthiness and, if He so judges, bestow the prize. If this is true, though, how can a crown then be stolen, as Revelation 3:11 warns against? Clearly, Revelation 3:11 is a reminder to remain engaged and dedicated to “the narrow way” in much the same way as Paul urges us in I Corinthians, which means Revelation 3:11 refers to the lifetime of the runner, not what happens to the runner after finishing the race.
The Holy Spirit: Received, but Also Required to be Maintained
Earlier, the events of Acts chapter 10 were examined. In this account, Cornelius and certain others who were with him made a commitment, or consecration, to God. These verses chronicle how, at the time of this consecration, an outpouring of God's Holy Spirit fell on those who had made these consecrations. These consecrations were outwardly symbolized afterwards by the act of baptism. The concept of receiving the Holy Spirit at the moment of consecration is extremely important, and highly relevant to harmonizing the thoughts in Revelation 2:10 and Revelation 3:11. Paul provides clarification on this very topic in another of his writings:
For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.
For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,
Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. (Romans 8:13-23)
In this passage, Paul is addressing those who he considers his brethren; those who, like him, have made a commitment, or consecration to God. He refers to those who have made such a commitment as “the sons of God”, and further specifies that it is through being led by the Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit) that this group is able to be considered a “son of God”. This thought very much harmonizes with I John 3:2, examined earlier. Paul then provides a very key insight into the relationship between the act of consecration and the receipt of the Holy Spirit by expressing that those who have made such an act of consecration have “the firstfruits of the Spirit.” The process of the transformation is started at the moment of consecration, but the process is not completed. The individual has more work to do before the final prize can be received; indeed, a lifetime of work is necessary.
In verse 17, Paul highlights a chain of logic that begins with the receipt of the Holy Spirit facilitating one's receipt of the honor of being considered a “child of God”. This chain eventually leads to the thought of being a joint-heir with Christ, and becoming glorified together with him. This final state, of being found worthy of one's commitments, of progressing through the lifetime of work in God's service, is the state in which, after finishing the path of “the narrow way”, after death, those judged worthy by God will receive the prize of “the crown” - “we may also be glorified together”.
The act of consecration and the subsequent receipt of the Holy Spirit allows one to begin the path of the “narrow way.” Returning to the analogy of a race, consecration and the receipt of the Holy Spirit allows one to enter the race course and participate. The “prize” for finishing the “race” is not given at this point, but the potential for gaining the “prize” is now possible. This concept is sometimes referred to as “a crown is reserved for the runner at consecration.”
Something that is “reserved” can subsequently be lost. Consider Jesus's parable of the wise and foolish virgins:
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.
Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh. (Matthew 25:1-13)
In this parable, Jesus calls attention to the need to remain steadfast in one's commitments to God and to prepare oneself properly for service to God. Those who are found to be not prepared will not be accepted. Although the foolish virgins were originally invited to meet the bridegroom, they were found wanting in their responsibilities, and subsequently not rewarded with admittance to the marriage. Compare this with the thought of those who make an act of consecration, who receive the Holy Spirit, and who are thus made, for a time at least, “children of God”. These are promised what the parable refers to as “admittance to the marriage” - the glory of joint-heirship with Christ – but in order to be admitted – in order to be found worthy of receiving that “prize” once their course is completed – such will need to have been found faithful to their commitments throughout their lifetime. The picture in this parable is that due to foolishness, or unfaithfulness, on behalf of those who make an act of consecration to God, the rewards of that consecration may be lost. In this parable, the reward is pictured as the entrance to the marriage. In Revelation 3:11 and in I Corinthians, the reward is pictured as a crown given at the end of a race. In both these pictures, the reward is the same. The reward is the bestowing of the divine nature and opportunity to be a joint-heir with Christ.
A "Crown" Taken?
Revelation 3:11 makes a stronger statement than the potential for a “runner” to lose their “crown”. The scripture makes particular reference to a “crown” being taken: “that no man take thy crown”. As covered earlier, at the point of commitment, or consecration, to God, an individual receives a portion of the Holy Spirit. This Spirit makes the individual a child of God, and permits the individual to begin to progress along “the narrow way” for the promised “prize” of being glorified with Christ, if found worthy. As this “prize”, also sometimes referred to as a “crown” has not yet been received, it is sometimes thought of as “reserved” for the individual at consecration. This crown can subsequently be lost through a lack of faithfulness on the part of the individual. However, does the thought of “running a race” along with the warning in Revelation 3:11, imply that those who are thus progressing through the “narrow way” together are in competition with each other? Although it is clear that a “runner” may lose a “crown”, is the thought of Revelation 3:11 that at any point, one's crown may be taken and given to a different “runner”?
The comparison with progressing through one's life of consecration with that of a race is simply a picture. While the traditional view of a race is that of participants competing against each other in order to be the first to cross the finish line, there are other types of races. One type of race is commonly known as a “qualifying race”. In a qualifying race, a standard is set before the race starts. For example, the standard may define some type of time limit in which participants need to complete the race. In these types of races, participants do not compete against each other. The criteria for success is measured against whether or not participants can complete the race in compliance with the standard. With the thought of this type of race in mind, consider Paul's words in his letter to the Philippians:
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)
In these verses, Paul again stresses the importance of maintaining focus in one's dedication to God by referring to this focus as “the one thing he does”. In verse 14, he describes himself as pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling. The concept of the “prize for the high calling” is the same as “the crown” figuratively given to those who are found worthy at the end of their journey along “the narrow way”. Note that Paul describes himself as “pressing toward” this mark. This thought seems in harmony with the the thought of a participant in a race, putting forth all effort in order to reach the finish line.
The word “mark” in verse 14 is Greek word 4649 in Strong's Concordance, and carries the meaning of “a goal.” Word 4649 is related to Strong's Greek word 4648, which carries the thought of “to take aim at”. The thought of “the mark” seems very much the same as one of a standard in a qualifying race. God sets that standard very clearly, to love Him with all one's heart, mind and soul. Pressing toward that mark thus seems in tune with the thought that an individual who has consecrated their life to God will, of necessity, need to spend their lives making progress to this standard. As stated before, such a transformation of mind and character does not happen instantaneously, but time as well as all effort and will in one's lifetime to achieve.
A "Race" in Another Sense
The analogy that the progression of one's character from consecration until death may be considered a race is strengthened in that each individual only has the time allotted in their lifetimes to complete this progression. As the scripture in Revelation 2:10 states, faithfulness is to be continued until death, after which that faithfulness will be judged. Each individual thus has only a finite amount of time to prove and maintain their faithfulness. This does not mean individuals participating in “the narrow way” are expected to be perfect in this lifetime. The scriptures assure us that our Master, Jesus, is willing to act as an advocate on our behalf when we fail:
My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: (I John 2:1)
Paul also repeats this promise, as he recounts a vision in II Corinthians:
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (II Corinthians 12:9)
However, there is a difference between failures and earnest attempts to recover from those failures, even learning from those failures; and purposeful and continuous acts of unfaithfulness or deviations from what is known to please God. These latter types of deviations from “the narrow way” can add up, each taking precious time in our lives, and thus shortening the time left available to cultivate and prove faithfulness. Consider the picture of a runner on a course, given a fixed amount of time to finish the race and thus qualify as a victor. Such a runner may stumble, even fall, potentially several times during a race and still meet the qualifying time. However, too many stumbles and too much recovery time surely puts the runner's ability to meet the qualifying time in jeopardy. From this perspective, one's life walking in “the narrow way”, of following the example of Jesus, may be considered a race against time, yet not against any fellow individuals also walking in “the narrow way”.
From a similar perspective, the need to prove one's faithfulness to God is a race against time when viewed against the execution of God's grand plan. History has shown that God's plan executes exactly on time, regardless of the efforts of mankind or any other force to impact His perfect timetable. If an individual is called forward by God to “run in the race”, then that individual has something which God sees as needed for His plan. However, if the individual proves negligent in providing that “something”, God's plan will still advance, but through allowing another individual to have the privilege of making the needed contribution.
This does not mean that any “runner” need to be worried that if they earnestly strive to be faithful in their commitments and are diligent in God's service, that God's plan does not allow sufficient time for them to “finish their race and qualify.” Paul assures us that if we are faithful to our commitment, God will be faithful to His side of the commitment as well:
Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: (Philippians 1:6)
For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.
And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: (Hebrews 6:10-11)
In these verses, Paul is expressing that those who have consecrated their lives to God should be strong in the belief and faith that if God has begun a work in them, by calling them forth to the point where they decide to consecrate our lives to serving Him, and that if they are faithful in that commitment, then they may equally have faith that God's plan allows enough time for them to complete that progression of character. However, the scriptures and history have both shown that God's plan will execute exactly on time. With this thought in mind, there is a sense of urgency toward those who are walking in “the narrow way” to cultivate their faithfulness and characters without significant or continuous deviations. From this aspect, the picture of a race is again applicable. God's plan is progressing, and executing on time. It is the responsibility of those “running the race of the high calling” to keep pace with their development, and not allow themselves to be overtaken by unfaithfulness.
Brother Russell provides a beautiful summary of both God's grace of giving those “walking in the narrow way” time enough to finish their characters, and at the same time, issuing a reminder of the responsibility of maintaining faithfulness, of “not falling behind in the race”:
"It is God who worketh in you," declares the Apostle Paul. We did not begin this work ourselves. It would never have occurred to us, uninvited, to endeavor to obtain a share in the glory, honor and immortality of the Lord Jesus. It would have been the height of presumption for us so to do without an express invitation. It is God who planned the whole matter. He has been working in us by His promises, by His providences in our daily experiences, and by all the instructions, warnings and counsels of His Word, and we rejoice in this. There is no changeableness with God; and when once He made this proposition, He meant it to the full. It would never mean anything else. He never makes an arrangement which He would wish to abrogate or amend.
We are assured by the Apostle Paul that "He who has begun the good work in us will complete it, unto the Day of Jesus Christ." The only condition is our own faithfulness. God will never fail. "We are His workmanship." He is really doing the work. We are submitting ourselves that God may work in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure. He is the great Master Workman. Thus the work of grace goes on in our hearts and lives, making us ready for the exalted position to which we are called. And it is only if we are negligent of these great privileges granted to us that God will take them from us and give them to others. - R5855 “Our Faithful, Unchangeable God”
Love and Support, not Competition, Between "Runners"
Even given these considerations, the comparison of the work of developing a character of faithfulness to God with that of a race can sometimes suggest the thought of a “crown” being lost by one runner and given to another “runner” in the “race”. Revelation 3:11 speaks to someone taking one's crown. The traditional thought of a race is that there is only one first place winner, one second place winner, and so on. This view of a “race” can sometimes suggest a thought of competition between those who are running in this “race.”
If competing between our brethren while progressing on “the narrow way” were a requirement, or even desirable, then surely Jesus, whom all who have committed their lives to God look to as a teacher and a perfect example, would have stressed this need for competition. Even a brief examination of Jesus's life, his teachings, and his actions, prove the exact opposite. Consider Jesus' actions in the closing moments of his life. He knew his time on earth was drawing to a close, and perhaps felt the need to impress a few last important lessons on his disciples, and by doing so, to us, as well. He didn't instruct his disciples to compete with one another for placement in the kingdom, and he didn't condone or endorse their arguments over who would hold the greatest place of honor in the kingdom. Instead, he demonstrated the attitude that he wished his followers to have toward others who have dedicated their lives to God in a very simple and straightforward act, which leaves no room for misinterpretation:
Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.
And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him;
Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God;
He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.
After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?
Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.
Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.
Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.
Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all.
For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean.
So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?
Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet.
For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. (John 13:1-15)
The thought of any form of competition among those who are running for the prize of the high calling is simply yet profoundly put to rest by this example. The spirit of servitude toward our fellow “runners”, toward those who truly call our Master their Master as well, is clearly specified by Jesus. There is a grain of selfishness in any form of competitiveness. When in competition, a competitor, by definition, adopts the thought that they are more worthy of the prize than their neighboring competitors and will prove that point by finishing ahead of them. However, even a grain of selfishness was not present on our Lord's actions or teachings. His quiet command in verse 15 makes his commandment about how those who follow his example are to consider each other abundantly clear.
Personal Responsibility for the Resources Entrusted To Us
Consider further the parable of the talents, which follows the parable of the wise and foolish virgins examined earlier:
For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.
And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money.
After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 25:14-30)
In this parable, Jesus calls attention to the need to be active in the work God puts before us. Regardless of how those consecrated to God may see their ability to contribute, large or small, each should remember that there is a reason that God called them, and that each individual is expected to be active in searching for ways to make use of the resources entrusted to them in service of God.
Note that some interpretations may cite Matthew 25:28 as support for the thought that one's “crown” may go to another “runner” if one is found unfaithful to one's commitments. It is important to remember that Jesus used parables to deliver specific messages. In this parable, Jesus meant to emphasize the need for those committed to God to be active and faithful in using one's resources in ways pleasing to God, whether these resources be spiritual gifts, opportunities for service or spreading God's word, or physical resources. The parable stresses that these talents belong to the lord in the parable, and is a reminder that those who have committed their lives to God have committed everything to God. Every resource thus belongs to God and those consecrated ones who oversee these resources on God's behalf must use them in ways pleasing to God or they will lose what has been promised or entrusted to them. The parable does not equate the “talents” entrusted to the servants to the “crown” awarded to the faithful, but equates the “talents” to the resources to be managed by those in God's services. These are the resources that God will take away from those who prove unworthy of them and give them to those who will use them in His service. As noted previously, God's plan executes exactly on time, and if that plan relies on certain resources being available or used in a certain way at a certain time, then that will most assuredly happen. The servant who thus does not use their resource misses the opportunity to take part in the wonderful privilege of assisting in the advancement of God's plan.
In Summary: Our Crowns and Our Responsibilities
Returning to the concept of the “race that is before us”, if, then, runners in this “race ” are not in competition with each other, who, then, may take our crown? Who is the “no man” referred to in Revelation 3:11?
Brother Russell provides a very eloquent answer to this very question in an article titled “Let No One Take Thy Crown”, which uses Revelation 3:11 as the key scripture. In the section of the article subtitled “Encouragement for the Church”, he offers the following encouragement, advice and caution, which is as applicable today as in the time he wrote these words:
Our text addresses not the world, not the nominal Church--but the true Church. The true Church, having turned away from sin, having accepted Christ, having given their hearts to God, through Christ having been accepted of the Father and begotten of the Holy Spirit, are children of God; and, as the Apostle says, "If children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ" our Lord. (Romans 8:17.) A crown of glory is set apart for each son thus received of the Father, and the name of each is recorded in the Lamb's Book of Life.
So far as God is concerned, the whole matter is settled. But so far as the Church is concerned, it still remains for them to fulfil their Covenant. Having presented their bodies a living sacrifice to God, acceptable through Christ, they are to continue in that attitude--day by day gladly presenting their bodies, willing to endure, to suffer, to be anything and everything that God would be pleased to have them be. All who do this continue to grow in character-likeness to the Lord Jesus; and all such will thereby make their calling and election sure.
But should any of these neglect this Covenant of Sacrifice, and through fear of death be subject to bondage either to sin or to sectarian errors, or in any other manner fail to be responsive and loyal to their Covenant, they will thereby fail to maintain their election and make it sure. After a time of testing they will be relegated to a secondary place; they will be no longer counted part of the Royal Priesthood, even though they might still maintain their standing as Levites, servants of the Priests. This is the thought of the text; namely, Be of good courage. It will not be long until I will come to receive
you to Myself. Let the thought of the Kingdom and of the Divine blessing connected with it cheer, strengthen, comfort you, and make you strong to do God's will faithfully, nobly, courageously, loyally. "Hold fast that which thou hast." Do not let slip from you the blessed relationship which was entered into, which was established for you by Me, your Master, when I made you acceptable on the basis of your Covenant to be dead with Me, to suffer with Me, to give up all earthly ambitions and to strive daily for the great prize which I set before you--a joint-heirship in My Kingdom.
The crown is yours now, by virtue of the arrangement which I have made with you as your Advocate, and by virtue of the Covenant of Sacrifice which you have made with Me. Hold fast your crown! Do not allow it to pass to another. If any one of you is unfaithful, God will not permit you to have a share in that Kingdom, but will enroll another name than yours, will apportion another name instead of yours as a new Covenanter. - R5532-5533 “Let No One Take Thy Crown”
When one consecrates one's life to God, a position of joint-heirship with Christ is set aside for that individual, sometimes figuratively described as “a crown of life”. From that point forward, the individual is committed. The “race” to “qualify” for the reward set aside for them has begun. Faithfulness must be proven to God within the confines of the individual's lifetime and within the time constraints of God's plan. Others are also “running” for this same reward, but each individual may be assured that their own unique place in God's plan has been reserved for them, independent of the places that are reserved for their fellow runners. Each runner may also be assured that if they maintain their commitments to their “race”, if they spend their “talents” in God's service, by performing His wishes and by assisting their brethren, their fellow “runners”, God has lovingly provided them enough time to finish their own “ race course”, and He will remain faithful to His promise. However, just because “runners” are not in competition with each other, their “crown”, their reserved reward, can still be lost due to their own unfaithfulness to their commitments. God's plan will execute on time. If one irrecoverably “falls behind” in their “race”, God will call another forth to take their place in the “race”, and will give the reserved reward to the new “runner”.
From this perspective, all who have committed their lives to God need not look at their brethren with any sense of anxiety or fear of competition. Those who have consecrated their lives to God and who are diligently going about their Master's business must maintain faith that their reserved position is still there. There is no time to slacken intensity of the “run”. The standard is there. It does not change. As our Master taught us, it is the privilege of each “runner” to thus assist, in whatever manner possible, each fellow “runner” to meet the standard and, if found faithful, ultimately enjoy together the reward that awaits at the finish line.
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matthew 25:40)
We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. (I John 3:14)
Further Readings and References
- The two excerpts from the Watchtower Reprints, written by Brother Russell are taken from the two larger articles:
- How We Outwork Our Great Salvation R5854-R5856 from February 1916. The excerpt cited in particular was taken from the subsection "Our Faithful, Unchangeable God"
- "Let No One Take Thy Crown" R5532-R5533 from September 1914. The excerpt cites in particular was taken from the subsection "Encouragement for the Church"
- Other related reprint article that were used, but not cited, in the writing of this article
- View from the Tower from May 1883, specifically R476:1
- Paul's Charge to Timothy from June 1903, specifically the last paragraph of R3211 carrying over to R3212
- Some Better Thing For Us from May 1881, R218:4
- Consecration The Normal Attitude for God's Intelligent Creatures from November 1912, specifically R5133:4-8