Setting the Pace
Setting The Pace (Pursuing Excellence – Part 4)
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, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
In every race, someone sets the pace. Everyone else is challenged to keep up, run behind, or take over. Great runners have the ability to affect the complexion of every race in which they are entered. Anyone who wants to compete must reckon with the pace that is set by the champion. If they are not willing to match his pace, they will fall behind too far to make a run at the end. If they run out too far ahead, they run the risk of lacking the stamina to finish when the champion makes his final “kick” Jesus is the pace setter for our lives. The writer of the book of Hebrews challenges us to “look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. ” In order to run well, we must run with Jesus. We must “look” to Him for our pace. He has the strategy that will help us to run well and finish. To run with Him is not easy, but it is never impossible. He has set a pace for us that will stretch us to the absolute limit of ourselves but is never, by His grace and power, out of our reach.
The Joy that is set before us
A successful competitor in any race must have a goal greater than simply entering the race. There is someone or something against which he is competing. It may be the champion; the world record holder, that he desires to overtake. For the champion, it may be his own record. Still another may be seeking to improve on his own personal best. For some, the goal is do one’s best against other skilled competitors who will challenge him to grow stronger and more skilled in his sport. In the absence of a driving goal, the runner will not compete well for there is nothing to drive and push; nothing to propel him toward the tape. When his muscles begin to cramp and his lungs feel as if they will burst; when his body cries out for release from the pressure of the running, there must be something for which the runner is reaching that will hurl him past the pain and push him through the “wall.”
For Jesus, our pace setter, the Bible says that “because of the joy that was set before him he endured the cross.” He endured the pain of His scourging and crucifixion because beyond that temporary discomfort was an enduring objective. He was humiliated; shamed through public display and ridicule, but he was propelled beyond that shame by an overwhelming drive to reach his goal. The apostle Paul, another “pace setter” in the Christian’s race for excellence said it this way:
“It is not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after (pursue), If that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. 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 (ahead), I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)
For Jesus, the driving goal which propelled him to a “better” priesthood; that which carried Him to a more excellent ministry was the completing of the covenant of atonement and the establishment of the church. For Jesus, the “tape” at the end of the race was the fulfillment of the ministry for which the Father had sent Him.
Father, the hour is come; glorify your Son, that your Son also may glorify you: As you have given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as you have given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God and Jesus Christ, who you have sent. I have glorified you on the earth; I have finished the work which you gave me to do. And now, O Father, glorify me with your own self with the glory which I had with you before the world was.
Jesus has “set the pace” for us in this great statement, “I have finished the work which you gave me to do.” This was the “joy” that was set before Him that enabled Him to endure the cross and despise the shame of His crucifixion. No agony or humiliation could buy Him away from the joy of completing the task assigned to Him by the Father. No amount of inconvenience or suffering could break His concentration toward the finish line. Jesus came to the point of ultimate accomplishment in His life on earth when with labored breath he rasped from the cross,
“It is finished!”
Jesus has set the pace for the church. He has set the pace for you and me. In the statement of purpose for our church, we have declared that it is our conviction that God has called us into corporate being “to win, equip, and send committed followers of Jesus Christ who will share His gospel to the ends of the earth.” It is this sense of purpose that justifies and explains our existence as a distinct body in a specific location at a particular time in the passage of history. It is this purpose that binds us to the Father beyond our relationship to Him through our salvation into our partnership with Him in the expansion of His Kingdom throughout the earth. Because of the great work of Jesus at the cross and the impartation of Holy Spirit to dwell within us we have been transformed from adoptees into co-heirs of the promise. We have moved from the place of the reveling in the privilege of the saved and gripped by a sense of holy obligation and responsibility to take our place in the kingdom and to accomplish our part of the work.
For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. Wherefore remember, that you being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. But now, in Christ Jesus, you who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 1:10-13)
Paul goes on to declare in chapter 2 of Ephesians:
That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and, of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel. Whereof l was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all the saints, is grace given, that I should preach among the gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; (Ephesians 2:6-8)
Paul now continues to maintain the pace set first by Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith. Paul has grasped the magnitude of the upward calling he presses toward in Philippians 4. Paul has set everything else aside in favor of the attainment of this high calling. The pen in his hand reflects the wonder he feels that he has been so blessed in Christ as to be privileged to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ He admonishes us to do the same in Philippians 4:15 when he says,
“Let us therefore be thus minded: and if you are otherwise minded, I pray God will reveal it to you…..let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing. Brethren be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so because you have me for an example. There are others who walk differently and it saddens me to say, they are enemies of the cross.”
Note the similarities between Paul and Jesus as he sums up his life to Timothy:
For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth, there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge shall give to me at that day: and not to me only, but unto them also that love his appearing.
(2 Timothy 4:6-8)
Like Jesus his pattern, Paul becomes a pattern for us. The sum of his life was in the finishing. The words Paul longed to hear were not the empty and insincere words of his peers admiring his attainments and accomplishments in this life. He cared little for the approval of men. The voice he longed to hear was the voice of His Lord declaring that this good and faithful servant who had completed his course, who had fulfilled his place, was now welcome to enter into the rest and presence of the Master.
This view of the race does not appeal to the one who’s eye is captivated by the glitter of the temporary rewards of this life. The one who runs to obtain an earthly crown will not press in to such commitment. For the one who seeks carnal excellence for temporary reward and momentary satisfaction, it is more important to be pleasing to his peers than to his Master. The cost of the eternal crown is great in terms of earthly matters. One must, like Jesus, come to the place where he can “despise” the earthly shame in favor of eternal joy.
The carnal believer in pursuit of earthy laurels will gladly work overtime at his place of employment as this translates into tangible rewards which will enable him to obtain things that bring comfort, pleasure, or recognition. He will not be so inclined to put extra hours into work of the household of God because it does not translate into immediate reward or recognition. Few will notice and reward him with kudos. To ask in addition, for him to submit to extra hours of training and preparation so that he might be better equipped for effective service is just too, too much. After all, this is volunteer work and we ought to be grateful just to have someone fill the hole and not be so presumptuous as to demand excellence in the performance of that task.
Is it not time that we put to death our careless and ungrateful attitudes toward cross of Christ? The Bible says that you are “not your own, but you are bought with a price.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) It is time we realize that we either serve Christ with our very best service or we live in disobedience and rebellion. There is no middle ground.