Colossians 3:5, 12, 14
Galatians 5:16; 2:2
2 Corinthians 4:16
VNC The subject I have in mind is the believer’s fitness. And by this I mean the activity in a believers’ pathway. I feel believers should be very active, and I feel Scripture has something to say about this, so I wanted to consider together with you what Scripture tells us about being an active believer, and what is the ultimate result of this.
Fitness is a very fashionable word today. It is a flourishing business. Many youngsters are involved in starting up new gyms, and loads and loads of people, will spend part of their day, every single day, at the gym, the swimming pool, or running. You will see lots of them around, especially in cities, even around here I am sure there are plenty!
And I feel believers should be interested in being fit: spiritually fit. So just to run through the thought, and then I would be very grateful if we could have a lot of contributions with the help of the Spirit. And I have a little word to the young ones, if you would take courage to ask questions, we may not have the answers, but the Spirit will answer to your question for sure.
So, I started in Ephesians chapter 4, because if we speak about being fit, and what is the aim of being fit, what are we aiming at? We are not just trying to build up muscles, we are not just trying to do a very specific thing. What is the purpose of the believer? Well, Ephesians chapter 4 is a chapter that helps us to understand what is the entire purpose of the Church, of the assembly, of the body of Christ. But in the verse we picked, (verse 13) I think we have a clue as to what should be our purpose. It speaks about four things. It speaks about the unity of the faith, suggesting that we arrive at it together. It speaks about the knowledge of the Son of God. There was a moment in the life of the disciples, when one of the disciples said, “Thou art the … Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16). And that was a great revelation given to a man, to a disciple of the Lord. So the knowledge of the Son of God is very important. Then we have, “at the full-grown man.” Now, if you read on, it speaks about so that we are being no longer babes, but we become adults, so the purpose is that we do not stay where we start, but we all grow together. So I would like us all to know that we must grow, spiritually, with the help of the Lord and the Spirit, so that we reach (it is a very big challenge for believers) “the measure of the stature of the fulness of the Christ.” So, if we are worried on what being fit means, well, everything that we do spiritually should lead us to the full stature, and that is the measure of the stature of the fulness of the Christ.
I wanted to concentrate on four activities that we should do as believers down here spiritually. We read in Colossians of two different activities. The first one is ‘putting off’ or ‘putting to death’ something. The second activity is ‘putting on’ something else. These are real spiritual activities: we put off something, we put on something. But putting off and putting on requires energy, so it is spiritual energy that is involved, it is exercise!
Then, if we go to Galatians, there is walking. And it is a very specific type of walking: it is walking in the Spirit. That is verse 16 of Galatians 5.
The fourth activity I would like to concentrate on is running. In Galatians 2, I will try to explain later what I have in mind there, but it speaks about running, and the believer needs to run as well.
And then the last verse (2 Corinthians 4:16) is to encourage all of us, but especially, hopefully, the older ones. Now, there is one feature about being fit as a man and it is that when you get old you become less fit! There are some things that become impossible to do – hopefully later on in your life, as late as possible! My grandmother was very fit when she was younger, now she is bent in half and she cannot do what she used to do – that is the limitation of the human body. But spiritually this is not the case. As we become fit, we grow fitter and fitter, and as our old age comes we do not lose our fitness, but we become fitter because we are getting closer and closer to the goal of our spiritual walk. So that is what I have in mind.
The one thing I want to add is, some of us will probably be aware of speaking about exercises. Now, I had a conversation about a year ago with a believer, and he said, ‘You keep on referring to exercises, what is all this about?’ So, I think it is clear to the little ones younger and older, that if we want to do something we need to practice at it. Whether we want to be a good pianist, whether we want to be a good sportsman, a good athlete, whether we want to become good at our job, we need to practice. We need to have experience in it. And the more we practice the more we stand a chance to become good at what we are doing. So, exercise is vital. A believer to be active needs to be exercised, that is spiritual exercise!
MJC I think that is really helpful for us. Say something in relation to what you started with as to why we should go in for all these things.
VNC Well, what strikes me in Ephesians 4 is that the third word we read is “until we all arrive.” So the first thought I have in mind is that all believers should be involved in this. It is not that we have first-class believers or second-class believers. Christians have this amazing role in life, and that is we are all in one race; we are all involved in one common purpose. But as to your question, I feel that what is in view is that we become more like Christ. Do you not think?
MJC I do, and also it helps us as to what we speak of as the service of God.
VNC Yes. Well, we know the Lord was the perfect servant of God when He came down here. He fulfilled the type of the Hebrew bondman: He is the servant par excellence. He is the one Whom we should learn from: we call Him Master, we call Him Lord. We look unto Him. I find it amazing that the believer is called to have a similar portion. He should aim to have that purpose.
AWGS If you want to exercise, you had to have the right food.
VNC You bring in a very interesting thought. The way I see it, and I would like to present this, is by reading the scriptures and by praying we get nourishment, and that is by being in fellowship with God Himself. So just like physically, when we exercise ourselves then we are tired and we need food to refresh ourselves, the same applies spiritually. So the more we are exercised the more we will be wanting to read the scriptures and to pray to the Lord. Is that right?
AWGS I think so, it is very true. But I think what you have mentioned as to the scriptures is very, very important, particularly when we are younger. The scriptures give us totally what God is looking for.
VNC Well, the Lord said, “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which goes out though God’s mouth” (Matthew 4:4).
TRP What is the motive in our hearts to get this?
VNC I believe we have been called by the Lord Jesus Himself, so I would say that it is really the love that we have for the Lord Jesus. You would agree with that?
TRP I agree fully. We love Him, and we want to be like Him, and we want to be serviceable to Him.
VNC That is very helpful, what you point out. It shows how the entire purpose of the believer is centred in the Lord Jesus Himself.
MJC And the gifts are given to help. I was just thinking of the verse before the one we read.
VNC Well, that is interesting, because the gifts are given individually, but they have a collective bearing. So we are formed as believers; we walk together and form companies, assemblies, so that together we help each other and edify one another. One thing that has become clear to me is that a believer cannot have all the gifts, so we need one another because the Lord gives different gifts to different believers, so that together we can edify one another.
DAC Can you say something about this thought of the full-grown man, the measure of the stature of the fulness of the Christ? I find it a very difficult thing to understand. Could you explain it a bit for me please?
VNC I do not know that I can explain it deeply, but keeping it simple, I think just like a child will never remain a child for all his life, but grows, the believer must follow the same pattern. We start as children, and we must start as children. Remember the words of the Lord that say we have to enter the kingdom as children (Matt 18:3). That is the way we enter into it, because the simplicity of children, that is what we need when we start. But then we must grow, and that picture, this full-grown man, just shows that it is a complete thought. That is why, I think, it adds, “the fulness of the Christ.” So that we do not drift away in thinking that we may become good Christian leaders, but we should aim to become like Christ.
TJK When the Lord was here He was humble and obedient, and we can become like that in our measure. But He was also wise, and very strong. How do we grow up to that?
VNC Well, first of all, we should have a desire for these gifts, and if we have a real, sincere desire, the Lord would provide them, through His Spirit, I would say. What characterised the Lord down here was the fact that the Spirit of God was in Him and with Him. It was clearly shown as the Spirit descended from heaven – it was a public testimony in that setting. [23:35].
If we think of it practically, when the Lord was down here what was strengthening the disciples was that they had the Lord there, and the Lord is the truth Himself. He is the true God, but He is the truth. And I think it is helpful also to think – this is a negative example by contrast – Pilate said, “What is truth?” He was lost without it. And so, just to stress what you are saying, holding fast the truth is what stirs us and moves us on in the pathway.
MJC So an occasion like this can encourage us and stimulate us to make us move and to make progress.
VNC I think that is the entire purpose. It is not that we have a pattern that everybody goes away and says, right I know that, tick the box here and here – but it is to be stirred by the occasion and boosted to move on in the right direction.
MSB Many of us have grown lazy. One of the biggest problems in society is obesity. It is a difficult thing to break out of that, and stop being lazy. How do we get the motivation for getting into this spiritual fitness?
VNC Well, naturally speaking when I was flying yesterday; in the EasyJet magazine there were all these things of how to lose weight, and how do you see yourself in three months’ time, six months’ time, using a personal trainer, and all this. But, although this is physical, I think spiritually we must stay close to the Lord Himself. He is the one Who will help us to lose our laziness, in that sense, and in that way, then we start to be exercised. But as we will go through these things, what I have in my heart is the fact that we need to exercise, so we cannot expect to grow as believers if we do not exercise.
TRP How do you understand the unity of the faith, please?
VNC There is one faith, one Lord, one Spirit, and that comes directly from God Himself. God is one, and His people must be one. Do you think that?
TRP Yes, and there are basic truths, and that is our unity. Christ is the centre of all unity.
VNC It is good. I find it striking that it speaks about the unity of the faith. It does not need to speak about the unity of the truth. There is only one truth. But what unites every believer together, independent of different congregations, different situations, different countries, different cultures, is the faith in the Lord Jesus.
MJC And it is presented as a possibility. I think that is important for us to grasp, as we get nearer to the Lord, as we make progress, we get nearer to each other.
VNC I once read about the principle of the triangle where if you shorten the distance to the centre, all the points will come closer to each other as well. So sometimes we have the wrong purpose and we try and get closer to each other without getting close to the Lord. I think the whole idea of the believer and the unity of the faith is that we draw closer to the Lord, and by drawing closer to the Lord we draw closer to each other.
BED Is patience needed for working this out? It is, “until we all arrive.” We have to be patient with one another, do we?
VNC Very good. Patience and perseverance are two aspects that run together, do they not? And I think we all need to understand a bit more. I think the older ones could be more helpful in that than the young ones.
MM Do we need the the word of God, for fitness? Paul opens it up in Romans.
VNC Very good. I will get to that a little bit later, in the aspect of running.
So just to move on, in Colossians we have putting to death, or putting off in verse 5, and then in verse 12 we have putting on. Just to get a little bit into the spirit of it, if we are speaking about exercise – and maybe some here will do daily exercise to try and keep the body fit; maybe a 10 minute run, maybe just a few exercises at home. Now, the believer, I think, needs to exercise these things constantly to be sure to be fit, spiritually fit, and to be close to the Lord Himself.
I would like to start by putting off. So why does this come? “Putting to death” is what it says here, in verse 5. The chapter starts, “If therefore ye have been raised with the Christ, seek the things which are above” (v1). That just puts us in the picture. The picture is that we are no longer of this world. We are in this world, but we are not of this world. So if we are raised with Christ, then we should aim that way. And that is why the believer has to remove all the aspects linked to his own nature, human nature. I do not want to go into the exact detail of these five aspects: there is fornication, uncleanness, vile passions, evil lust, and unbridled desire. The only thing I want to be very honest about is that we read these things and think they are horrible, but all of us, dear brethren, have it in our hearts. We have a tendency to go there. These are not major crimes – these are thoughts, these are ideas. These are things that keep on coming in our heart. And that is why it says we must put them to death. It is an exercise: it requires energy.
TRP And what is the power that enables us to do this?
VNC As I understand it, it is only the power of the Spirit that can help us to do this. We cannot put to death human things with human means – it is impossible. It is just something that does not work. So we need the help of the Spirit to put to death what is of the flesh.
PJC One of the things that hinders us getting fit and being active in a continual way is a lack of endurance, a lack of being able to keep going. Often it is these things that hinder us. We get entangled in them, they weigh us down, and we are not able to move in the way that you are speaking, and we are not able to keep spiritually active. So I wonder if this putting off is the first step in order to prove yourself so that you can continue in this spiritual fitness.
VNC I think that is very good – it really fits with what I had in mind. So you may wonder what boosts us, what gives us the energy to go on, and I could say yes, the Spirit, and the faith and the love for the Lord. But there are practical things that we need to be concerned with. If we do not put to death these things we cannot put on the other things that we are going to speak about. We should always keep in mind that we need to put off and put to death what is linked to the human flesh.
AWGS Does not the Roman epistle help us in this very much? I am thinking particularly of chapter 5: tribulations work endurance (v3).
VNC Very good. And Romans links it really to the gospel, what was mentioned before in this reading. All the basics are there. As the message comes out to us, it is already complete in that sense, but then we need to get into the enjoyment and we need to practice it day by day.
AWGS So do we see in the Old Testament those who came through the wilderness as an example? I am thinking specifically of Caleb. At the end of the journey he was as strong as he was when he started the journey. Is that not what should be our experience?
VNC Very good. These examples in the Old Testament are very helpful. I would also like to remind everyone that they were men, so they had these issues. Sometimes we think of these examples and put these servants of the Lord on a pedestal and say, look at these amazing pictures! Yes, spiritually, they are examples for us, and we have to follow their example.
AWGS Yes, we do, and one of the features that marked Caleb above all else was that of obedience.
VNC He was obedient, and he had in his heart what was in God’s heart.
TJG Do you think this order of putting off and putting on is very deliberate, because there is to be no mixture, is there, in that order?
VNC If you want to change your clothing, if you go running and then you go to work, you need to take off what you were wearing for running and put on what is necessary for work and so on. And so we must put off what is of the flesh to put on what is of the Spirit.
DWB It says “put to death” – not ‘put off,’ but “put to death.”
VNC You mean, it needs to die?
VNC Very good. If we just put off, then it stays aside and risks getting put on again.
DWB Quite so. It is seen in Romans 8:13.
VNC We need to follow the example of the Lord. Speaking reverently, He went through death to put to death all that belonged to man so that we could enter into a new order of manhood.
SGP There is a scripture which says, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14).
VNC Truly, if you say putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, you have the full picture. Sometimes, I speak as a youngster, I am like, ‘Okay, this is a big picture, what does this mean?’ And I find it helpful that the Scripture has also details on what we can put on and what we must look for. That is really what is spoken here in Colossians 3:12, about the “bowels of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering.” I do not know what you all think, but I do not see these aspects being very well advertised in the world today. Quite the opposite, society is pushing the opposite of these aspects.
MJC Could you say something as to the elect of God. It says, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God.”
VNC I wonder if this is a reference to remind us that we are dealing with holy things. We are on holy ground. We must not take these things lightly. We are speaking of them here, but as we take them home to us, we have to be very careful as we grow into them: we are elect of God. So there is holiness linked to it. The Lord could say, “be ye holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).
DWB There is a dress that is compatible with our new nature.
VNC What were you thinking about?
DWB “Put on”. It is like a dress.
VNC And it is clothing that has been given to us by God Himself. In that picture of the prodigal son coming home, he was given the best robe.
So there are things that we have to exercise in putting on. And this happens in the circumstances of everyday life. We have to look for things that we can put on. But I wanted to get to verse 14, because it says, “and to all these” things as if it is another step, a completely different dimension – it says, “add love, which is the bond of perfectness.”
RM Paul is writing from experience. Look at the epistle to Philemon, it is the bond of perfection: love.
VNC Very good.
TRP All these things we see in Christ. Above all, we see the wonder of divine love, it shone in Him in all His dealings with man.
VNC I think that is very helpful, and that is why we speak of the Lord as our Lord and our Master. If any believer would ask for an example of who to look to, I would like to point to the Lord Jesus Himself. We sometimes point to other believers, or to faithful servants of the Lord, and they are faithful, but I think it is more correct to point to the Lord Jesus Himself.
RM To come back to Ephesians 4, it says there in verse 15, “grow up to Him . . . Who is the Head, the Christ.” Once again, our object must be the Lord Jesus, and we need to grow up unto Him.
VNC It is really progressing to the picture of God’s plans. God has created us so that we are for Him, for His pleasure. So He has revealed this, the mystery of the Church, to bring this out to us in terms that it is a spiritual body created for the Lord Jesus Himself that is under His headship, that lives through Him, and is for Him.
MM If we are not fit, we cannot, like in Hebrews, “run with endurance the race that lies before us.” And then the object is, “looking steadfastly on Jesus, the leader and completer” (Heb 12:1‑2).
VNC The whole point is that, in order to be fit, we need to do a whole set of exercises that bring us to spiritual fitness, if we can so call it.
MJC If it is not to divert you, we often get exercises which we may find trying, in our local companies. But this is all to the end that we should become fit and be maintained. I think we should look at these things positively, do you not?
VNC The basics of an exercise is that it is not easy, and it requires energy. Whether it is a physical or mental exercise. Even when children start learning, they need to start learning basic maths, and it is so complicated to do simple multiplication, and it takes them minutes and minutes to do so. So it is not easy for them. But the end in view is that they grow into it. But you mentioned about trials. Now, I wonder whether we could see trials in spiritual life as exams. So if we are caused to be exercised, then there are moments in our lives when the Lord would test us to see whether, pardon the expression, we are fit, sufficiently fit, to meet that exercise. The Lord is always careful. It says that “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above what ye are able to bear” (1 Corinthians 10:13). So it means that the Lord follows our spiritual growth, and He puts us in tests so that we can be faithful to Him.
KHW In John 11, Martha and Mary went through considerable exercise. The Lord speaks to them and says, “Did I not say to thee, that if thou shouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” (v40).
VNC He really stirs their heart! The Lord is very caring in that chapter. He really helps them in getting through that big test, that big trial, that was the loss of their brother. And yet the Lord leads them and brings them back to Himself.
PJA There is a tendency for physical exercise to be self-centred. But this is not self-centred, is it? I am thinking of the bowels of compassion and kindness – they are towards others.
VNC I think that is very helpful, and that is what I had in mind in starting from Ephesians, because this is not a self-centred matter. It leads us to the completeness, to the fulness of the Christ. And everything, as was mentioned, heads up to Christ. So we become fitter, we are not concentrating on ourselves, but we are concentrating on the Lord Himself.
PJC In relation to all being involved, the spirit of forgiveness is needed, and that is what comes out in this section, “even as the Christ has forgiven you, so also do ye.” I just thought about that because if we are all to be together, love and forgiveness also have to be part of what we put on, and our spirit.
VNC I think that is good. As I have understood it, the believer is not meant to walk alone, so what boosts him, the energy, the motive of his walk, is the link individually with the Lord Himself, but then he shares this with others so that we can walk together. And that is why – I think it is very helpful – that is why it brings the whole matter of how we relate to each other as we are all concerned to be fit spiritually and growing spiritually and at the same time we are all caring one for another.
MJC 2 Timothy 2 supports that, does it not? “Pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart” (v22).
VNC Those features there would bring us back to these aspects of putting on, do they not? They are all linked together.
SGP He is perfect. I was thinking of the life of the Lord Jesus. For the younger ones and for the benefit of all of us, He started off as a little one, did He not? And, naturally, He grew. He also learned obedience. These are features we are to take on. In that respect there was growth with Him. Of course, as the Son of God, He did not need growth.
VNC As Son of God He did not, but He was also Son of Man, and He showed us how it would be done. I think that is the marvel of the Lord Jesus Himself. He is Man and God at the same time, and it is a wonderful picture for us, and that is why we should point each other to Him only.
MJC God manifest in flesh is the most wonderful thing.
VNC It is the basis of the revelation of God. Today, if we can say that we know something of God, it is only through and thanks to the Lord Jesus coming down here.
MJC And coming back to the gospel, our basic fitness is given to us, but we have to work on certain aspects, do we not?
VNC What I really have in mind is the fact that what God gives us is very clearly stated in Scripture, but to become active believers we need to be involved directly in it. So, God has given everything. We know that God’s love has provided everything for us, but this does not mean that we just magically grow up to the full stature, to the fulness of the Christ; we need to work our way with spiritual exercises.
MJC To quote Mr Coates, he said once that we might want to be wheeled to heaven in a pram (CAC vol22* p37). In other words, we need to grow and be active.
VNC To move on to Galatians. This is the third exercise I had in mind: walking. Now, to start off reflections on this subject, walking is something that we do automatically every day. We are not just speaking here of going out for a walk and having a long walk; we are speaking of walking – we walk every day to go from one place to the other. We do many steps that we are maybe not even aware of (until we are disabled, and then we realise how slow we are to get from here to there). The reason I mention this is that the note here in the Scripture on walking is ‘a manner of life.’ What I have in mind is that, daily, we should be active and exercised to “walk in the Spirit,” and by doing that it says that “ye shall in no way fulfil flesh’s lust.” So the question, and the challenge for each one of us, is, can we say that of ourselves every day as we get through difficult situations at work, when we have trouble at home, with family, with friends, with neighbours, are we walking in the Spirit? Is it visible to people that we are walking in the Spirit?
PJC This is true spiritual activity. Everything that we do is doing it as unto the Lord, and that is what makes the difference. Our whole life is to become spiritual rather than natural.
VNC I think that is very helpful, because you are highlighting what really is in mind, the fact that there is another order of things that is working in us which is the spiritual, which is unseen to man, but yet it develops us so that we come out with actions that are actions of love, kindness and all these aspects.
TRP Does walking in the Spirit involve our walking with the Spirit?
VNC Surely. I am not being very delicate here, but I think walking in the Spirit is really being in the fulness of His power, and walking with the Spirit probably is something that we should exercise more so that the Spirit takes more and more place in our lives.
TRP I was thinking that, in walking with the Spirit, we make Him our companion in life’s pathway, and He will help us then to walk in the Spirit.
VNC That is good.
OJP John tells us in his epistle that we have the unction of the Holy One. And I think the thought there is that the whole being is permeated by the presence of the Spirit.
VNC Very good. It really is again a divine activity that happens in our lives. It is quite amazing when you think about it that, as believers, we are objects of divine work, and we are filled in with a divine Person, that is, the Holy Spirit, that helps us through our life down here.
PJA So the fruit of the Spirit is important, is it not? There are nine (v22‑23): three which really relate to our activity with God, the matter of love, joy and peace – that is our condition with God. And then we have what raises our relationships one with another; the long-suffering, meekness kindness, goodness; and then there is peace with ourselves; fidelity, meekness, and self-control.
VNC It is interesting that you bring the fruit of the Spirit to our attention, because that would be the evidence that we are walking in the Spirit. We cannot bear fruit unless we abide in God. That is what we learn from the Lord’s teaching and so we must walk in the Spirit to bear fruit of the Spirit.
AWGS So walking involves steps, steps that are taken and each step should involve, with us, the knowledge, not only of the Lord, but each step is taken by the Spirit.
VNC That is really what is in view. I found it interesting that the Scripture does not speak about the speed of walking. It does not matter if you are a slow walker or a fast walker, as long as you walk in the Spirit. So, every step we take, we should not be concerned if somebody is going faster than us on the right-hand side or the left-hand side. We should make sure we take every step with the Lord in the power of the Spirit.
MJC Abraham in the Old Testament illustrates this.
VNC Abraham, of course, is the example of the father of the faithful. I do not think it is by chance that he is called that, because it really points out how he was taking step after step, he was asking God’s advice, and he was clearly walking according to God’s will.
MJC Not always, but most of the time.
MJC Like us.
VNC That brings me back to the fact that the perfect example is the Lord Himself. As when we speak of servants of the Lord, we must take in consideration that they are men, and they are examples, but they are not perfect models.
AND “The Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God” (1 Cor 2:10). I was wondering if walking in the Spirit really gives us the idea of tremendous fulness. We spoke about the fulness of the Christ earlier. In physical terms, we are all limited – we cannot all run marathons or whatever. But we are brought into the fulness of the Christ.
VNC Do you think that it really brings us into a new sphere completely, which is the sphere of God, divine administration, and it is only because the Spirit, as you said, is One, He is God Himself, He brings us into that sphere, that spiritual sphere of things.
JPW It says time would fail me to tell of these exercised men (Heb 11:32).
VNC Yes, there are plenty of examples in Scripture that are helpful for us. Hebrews 11 contains examples of faithful men, and they are helpful to us because we see men in our conditions, different settings, maybe, different countries, but they are helpful examples. As long as we take them as examples and we look on to the Lord Jesus Himself.
KHW In John we are told that they were looking upon Jesus as He walked (John 1:36), and they followed Him, and then they spent the day with Him. That is really where we see the perfect blend of the walk according to God.
VNC I think that is very helpful. The Lord, in the gospels, said “follow Me”. He says to the rich man, ‘Sell all things’ “and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21). He tells Peter to follow Him and not to worry about John. The thing is, we must follow the Lord Himself.
So, coming to the thought of … the final exercise I had in mind which was running. Now, I would like to suggest that running is a picture, in a spiritual part, of service. So, we put to death what belongs to flesh, we put on what belongs to the Spirit, and the spiritual aspects. We try and practice that by walking in the Spirit, and then maybe we have running involved. Now, I have in mind service in the widest setting. I am not suggesting one specific service or only a specific type of service, but that is, every type of service requires running, spiritual running. What I have in mind here, is the fact that when we run, we are then putting out most energy and we are running for a specific reason, for a specific purpose. So, service in God’s field is like running.
The reason I pick this verse – I do not want to go into the details of what was Paul’s thought, but what Paul is saying here is that he came back to Jerusalem and presented to those there, it says, “those conspicuous among them;” he just presented what he was doing, what he had done, what he had served. And he says, “lest in any way I run or had run in vain.” So Paul was a big runner in the spiritual path, and we know that he ran the race (2 Tim 4:7). I link back to what was mentioned before: one of the main services of Paul was bringing the gospel to the nations. So I think it should encourage the younger ones to take up service. Young ones are renowned to have more energy than older ones. So if we have more energy we are called to put it to good use, and the good use is being serviceable to the Lord Himself.
TJK In Galatians 2:2 Paul is referring to preaching the gospel. But walking and running is not only what we do on Sundays; is it Monday to Saturday as well?
VNC Very good. Monday to Sunday, Sunday to Monday, yes. It is through the entire week. It is really what should characterise us step-by-step.
MJC And the situation here in Galatians was that there was great opposition to Paul.
VNC That is why I think service comes in in terms that, as you take a step out in service to the Lord, you will face opposition. While the believer is a passive believer, Satan does not attack as much. But when the believer starts being an active believer, which is what we are really challenging each other to do, that is when Satan comes in. That is when he tries to destroy the works of the Lord.
TRP With running, it often involves being in a race. And what is the objective of being in a race? I know that one object is to win, but in the divine sense that is not the objective, is it?
VNC Does not Paul speak about the crown that awaits us at the end of the race? When Paul speaks about that he is referring to the athlete. (2 Tim 2:5) What Paul is suggesting there is that we should have the same commitment, the same involvement to make sure that we are winners.
TRP And what a reward when the Lord says to us, “Well done, thou good bondman” (Luke 19:17).
VNC Very good.
MM Why does the Scripture not give us any instance of the Lord Jesus Himself running?
VNC I do not know that I can answer that, except that if running is a type of service I think the Lord was serving all the time. For example, He was living the gospel – He was not just preaching the gospel, He lived it day by day. Which is a big challenge to us because I think as believers we can run every single day.
KHW Paul speaks to the Philippians of “forgetting the things behind and stretching out to the things before, I pursue” (Phil 3:13‑14). Are those words not illustrations of the way the believers continue in exercise?
VNC That is good. It really shows how the believer has an object, and the object is a heavenly one.
KHW It goes on to say, “looking towards the goal.”
VNC Yes. That is the way in which we move gradually, in a certain sense, we get out of this world and enter into the kingdom of the Lord, which is not of this world. The more we get understanding as to how to run the race, the more we will be involved in divine purposes for each one of us, individually and collectively down here.
SGP So the ones that have run, we are missing but, as I think you said before, we need to have our eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to have our objectives beyond this scene.
VNC I feel that, when the Lord calls home His servants, it is to stir others up to take up service. I think running is an individual exercise. It is a personal thing, something that we all need to do. I am trying to suggest that running is not just taking up service in ministry or taking up service in preaching the gospel. There are other things. There are sisters that have run for years daily by praying for saints. I think that running involves all aspects of service for the Lord.
AWGS Do we not see in Luke’s Gospel the way in which the Lord started, “Did ye not know that I ought to be occupied in My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). Is that not the way He moved right through His life until He went to the cross, and God raised Him from amongst the dead?
VNC That is good. He was an obedient child, and from the moment He took up responsibility, He was involved in service for His Father.
PJC I was just thinking a bit more about the Scripture, “lest in any way I run or had run in vain.” It seems to me that Paul’s concern was that he was not to be a lone runner. That is not the idea at all. We do not run this race on our own, do we? We want others to run with us, otherwise our running is in vain. I just wondered if that is really what Paul is drawing our attention to here, that he needed others with him, and that is why he did what he did.
VNC That is an interesting aspect, and that brings us back to Ephesians where it says, “so that we all.” So it is a collective matter. I suppose the energy for running comes from the Spirit Himself. But we can encourage one another. If we see others involved in service, it would encourage us to take part and to move on in service as well.
MSB Where Paul speaks at the end of Timothy about he had finished the race, he was encouraging and exhorting Timothy to take it up. He says, “be sober in all things, bear evils, do the work of an evangelist, fill up the full measure of thy ministry” (2 Tim 4:5). He had finished his race, but there were others to take up the baton.
VNC So it is a really interesting opening there in terms of a servant who had reached the end of his race and was encouraging a younger one to take up service.
MJC You get the thought of a relay race in that sense.
VNC That confirms running together as well, does it?
AND Could you say something about the awards, or the rewards? I was thinking about “we must all be manifested before the judgment-seat of the Christ” (2 Cor 5:10).
VNC Well, I do not know that I can answer completely that thought, but an athlete will run to win the race so that he will have the glory, human glory, of that race, and his name will be put in the history books and people will know and he will always be famous. I do not think the believer has the same object. The believer’s object is to be faithful to his Lord. The Lord ran the race perfectly. At the end of His prayer to the Father He says, “I have glorified Thee on the earth” (John 17:4). I think there is something of that there, so that our race may be for the glory of God, and our reward comes, if God is glorified then we are fully rewarded as believers.
AWGS Does not Philippians tell us what the prize is? “For the prize of the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Is that not the reward?
VNC To be with Christ for ever?
MJC I was wondering a little as to the question earlier as to the Lord never running. The Lord was perfect and holy, and He did not have to contend with the flesh. And I am wondering if the thought of energy, running, and so on is given to us because we are so easily held down, weighed down, or drawn back by what is within.
VNC Well it really brings it back to the fact that we need to be concerned as to what we spoke of before about putting to death what is not suitable because we so easily risk becoming lazy. So we have got a whole set of exercises that are placed before us so that we may be encouraged to walk and to run that race.
MM So if I am fit, as a believer, I am able to have part in the service of God, bearing some fruit from the exercise.
VNC Very good.
MJC I think that is good to consider, because all of these things ought to contribute to our liberty, our joy, and our praise and worship together.
VNC Our final aim is, really, the worship of God. If we may say, that that is the top level of service for God – which is available to everyone. So worship is seen not only in the occasion of praise and worship, but also in our life daily. I often like referring to worship as a state of heart. Is our heart a worshipping heart for God?
So, just to close, here in 2 Corinthians 4, verse 16 says, “Wherefore we faint not; but if indeed our outward man is consumed, yet the inward is renewed day by day.” I just thought it was very striking that, in spiritual exercises, in a certain sense we never grow tired. We may feel the need of more nourishment, and that is a positive thing, because that will bring us to have fellowship, and to have communion with the Lord Jesus Himself first, and times of prayer for that, and reading of the scriptures to find food, the right food. But our inward man is renewed day by day.
MJC Do you think Caleb of old experienced that?
VNC He is a good example of that.
MJC And he it is a challenge to those of us who are now older.
VNC He is a challenge, but he is an encouragement. However, our inward man is renewed. It is not a question of whether we feel it or not: we might have low moments or high moments, but the inward man is renewed.
PJW So there is a reward now and in the future?
VNC Very good.
PJW Our inward man is renewed now, and then there is an eternal weight of glory. So that far surpasses any physical exercise, does it not?
VNC I think that is very helpful, yes.
RM Despite the physical exercises, it remains true what we read in 2 Corinthians 5:7 that we walk by faith. Even if we are older, we walk by faith.
VNC That is where the energy comes from, really, is it not? I think we have got to remember that we are walking in the faith pathway. We are speaking of the fitness of the believer, and the believer is characterised by faith in the Lord Jesus. That is why I wanted to say the christian’s fitness, but I think nowadays “christian” is a term that is misused, so I like the thought of believers – it is somebody that has faith in the Lord Jesus Himself.
TRP Going back to the rewards, the 24 elders took their crowns and they cast them at the feet of the One who sat upon His throne. Our rewards are given to us to glorify Christ.
VNC That thought links to the spoil in the battles of Israel. The spoil was to be given to the Lord Himself, was it not? Everything goes, heads up, to Christ Himself.
So I just hope that it would encourage us, young and old, to be active believers in the pathway. I trust nobody thinks these thoughts are too high for us. I mean, they are very basic. I am a very basic believer. What we need is encouragement in simple things. But it is in the simple things of spiritual life that then we get, as we said, ready to be brought into the spiritual realm of things. God gives us the greatness, the surpassing greatness of His kingdom.
9 November 2019
Key to Initials
Philip J. Alexander, Hampton
David W. Bond, Worthing
Michael S. Bond, Worthing
Vittorio N. Casavecchia, Novi Ligure
David A. Chapman, Birmingham
Marcus J. Chapman, Croydon
Philip J. Coldrick, Cambridge
Adrian N. Deacon, Basildon
Bernard E. Deacon, Basildon
Trevor J. Gidlow, Sevenoaks
Timothy J. Knappett, Croydon
Ralf Maurer, Cologne
Mark Metcalf, Findochty
Oliver J. Painter, Yeovil
Stewart G. Painter, Yeovil
T Roger Pons, Sevenoaks
Andrew W. G. Spiers, Defford
John P. Wheeler, Oxted
Philip J. White, Worthing
Keith H. Wickens, Eastbourne
* Letters of C. A. Coates