“But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” 1 Timothy 6:11–12

There were no team sports in the ancient Greek games. Of course, the competitors were not alone or there would have been no competition! They were not alone in the preparation for the contest. They were not alone in the prosecution of the goal. They were not alone in the spectacle of the race. They were only alone in their thoughts, and in receiving the prize.

As with any sports contest, there is no doubt that individuals benefit from the labors of fellow athletes. For marathon runners there is a great sense of camaraderie—willingly given advice, encouragement to achieve, genuine interest in accomplishments, mutual challenging, coaching, and even assistance during a race are all components of the marathoner’s world.

At each marathon the crowd gathers at the appointed time, each runner bedecked with his chosen equipment for the race. He has done his homework getting to know the course, he has trained his body and mind, and he has fed himself the right nutrition for the long haul. He is full of pent-up energy and focus. He will grow increasingly aware of the other runners, especially during the race. Most of them he does not know, but he knows that the same end goal is shared by all. There is mutual respect for one another.

Though you are bunched in a crowd at the beginning of the race, the runners soon thin out depending upon conditioning and ability, each pacing himself for the long haul. You soon become accustomed to those around you who are plodding along at your level. You may even pick a stranger for a “buddy” to help you keep your pace for a short time. There may be some groups who covenant to run together (perhaps because of an injury of one of the runners) in order to show solidarity in friendship, but the effort expended is all individual. Marathon running is personally intense!

Paul uses the personal intensity of effort it takes to run a marathon to picture the struggle in the spiritual marathon of life. One of the Greek words he uses to describe the believer’s life-marathon is the word agonidzo, the word from which we get our English word agony. It is usually translated “strive” in the Bible—a struggle that is prosecuted with intensity. We see the word in 1 Corinthians 9:24f: “Run in such a way that you may obtain [the prize]. And everyone who competes [strives] for the prize is temperate in all things.”

Strive to enter the race. Our Lord uses the word “agonize” in answer to a question He was asked in Luke 13:23f: “Then one said to Him, ‘Lord, are there few who are saved?’ And He said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.’” This was not an intimation that someone can work their way to salvation, rather it was a plain statement that there really is no such thing as “easy-believism” in coming to Christ, neither is there a “nominal christian category” in following Christ. Scripturally, you are either a disciple or you are not; you either take up your cross or you don’t. Believers are to make their “calling and election sure” by seriously devoting their lives to Him, certainly a rather narrow path (2 Peter 1:10). Every marathoner knows that disqualification comes to those who stray from the path of the race. The road of salvation is a very personal race.

Strive to keep your pace up the long hills. The Christian’s life marathon includes the serious business of striving against sin, both personal and societal. Hebrews 12:1ff, “For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged [loosened out, enfeebled] in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving [implying a terrific fight] against sin.” The compound word translated striving is antagonidzomai, as in antagonist. Biblically dealing with sin is a life-long marathon. This kind of contest requires super-human strength. It can only come from the Lord. Colossians 1:28f says, “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.”

Strive to help others keep their pace. In the believer’s marathon of life there is great camaraderie. Philippians 1:27ff reads, “Only let your conduct be worthy of the Gospel of Christ…striving together for the faith of the Gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries.” Christian brotherhood is the model for good sportsmanship. Jude 3 states, “…exhorting you to contend earnestly [struggle appropriately with skill and commitment] for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (1 Thessalonians 2:2, 1 Timothy 4:10).

Strive to keep your pace on the long stretches. A consistent prayer life is also an imperative part of the struggle of the Christian life (Luke 22:44, Colossians 4:12, Romans 15:30). In no arena is it more evident that the Christian life is an intense, personal struggle than in the arena of prayer.

Strive to keep your mind on the goal. Our text from 1 Timothy 6:11–12 commands us to fight (agonize, earnestly, intensely strive with concentration and extreme effort) the good fight of faith and to lay hold on eternal life. In the marathon race of life, never lose sight of the goal! Trust and obey.