Although it was over twenty-five years ago, I still remember a track race one of my older brothers ran during his senior year. He was scheduled to run the final 800m race at the Nova Scotia Provincial Track Meet. There were two heats for the final and unfortunately, my brother was placed in the slower heat. This put him at great disadvantage, because he wouldn’t have the strongest runners to push him to the end. He would have to do that by himself, which isn’t easy.
My brother knew that he had to run the race of his life if he was going to win. He wasn’t the favorite, but he had a chance. Being placed in the slower heat disappointed him, yet I think it also motivated him because he ran with grit and determination. He essentially ran the entire race on his own, finishing far ahead of the other runners in his heat, accomplishing a personal record, and setting a time that put the runners in the last heat on notice. They knew they would now have to run a strong race to win.
To my brother’s chagrin, his time was not good enough. The top runners in the second heat knew they had to beat not only each other but also my brother’s time, which they did together. Since they were close in ability, they ran together, spurring each other on to the end and to the medals. I can’t remember what place my brother came in, but I think it might have been fourth.
My brother’s race illustrates the importance of running in a pack. Running by yourself puts you at a severe disadvantage. The same is true with the Christian race. You don’t want to run alone. It is all too easy to slowly drift away or fall into temptation, heresy, and apostasy when we isolate ourselves from the church. Jay Adams rightly says, “It is doubtful that, unless there are extraordinary circumstances, for which God sends extraordinary grace, one will firmly maintain his faith apart from the stimulation he receives from being a vital part of a vital congregation.”
Being an active member of a faithful church enables us to run well because it provides us with help and encouragement. Hebrews 10:24 says that we are to consciously think of ways we can stir up one another to love and good works. We are to motivate and inspire one another to trust and obey the Lord. We are to be each other’s cheerleaders. One way we can do that is by being an example to others. The principle “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” works both ways. As we faithfully serve the Lord, we will positively encourage, and influence those around us.
A second way we can help is to provide aid and comfort during trials and tribulations. Paul was in prison, awaiting his trial before Nero, when he wrote to the Colossians. He did not know if he would live or die. Moreover, he had fellow Christians work against him, who even preached the gospel to make prison life harder for him (Phil. 1:17). Paul, however, did not have to endure his suffering alone. He testified to the Colossians that Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus were a comfort to him (Col. 4:10-11). The Hebrew Christians showed compassion to those who were in prison and helped those who were mistreated (Heb. 10:32-34). We can make a tremendous difference in someone’s life by coming alongside them in their time of need.
A third way we can help is to pray for one another. Paul knew that he would need the Spirit’s help if he was going to stand firm on the day of his testing. He also knew that God helps us by the Spirit in response to the prayers of his people. This is why he wrote: “for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance (Phil. 1:19).” We are empowered by the Spirit to run the race set before us by the prayers of God’s people. No one came to Paul’s first defense, but the Lord stood by him and strengthened him because the Philippians (and others) were praying for him. Satan sought to destroy Peter’s faith, but Peter returned to the Lord after he had stumbled because Jesus had prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail (Luke 22:31-32). We must not, therefore, underestimate the importance of praying for one another. There is a sense in which we are all dependent upon the prayers of the saints.
A fourth way we can help is by holding one another accountable through correction, instruction, and exhortation. My third son when he was young had a tendency to wander off, so when all three of them would go outside to play, I would ask the older two to keep an eye on their younger brother. If they saw him go where he shouldn’t go, they were to stop him and make sure that he stayed within our property. That is one of the benefits of multiple siblings; they can look out for one another and keep each other accountable. Likewise, God wants us to look out for another, to make sure that no one is hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and that no one fails to obtain the grace of God (Heb. 3:12-13; 12:15).
If we are left to ourselves with no proper oversight and accountability, then we won’t have anyone to call us back when we go astray or to correct us when we make a wrong turn (whether formally or informally). The Christian life is a struggle, as we wrestle with the world, the flesh and the devil. Trials and temptations of all sorts may draw us away from the Lord. Sin, particularly when it is allowed to roam freely, will harden our consciences, blind us to the truth about ourselves and put us on the road to apostasy. Moreover, we will be susceptible to unbiblical views of our own making or those of false teachers if we don’t have the church—past and present—to correct us from error and teach us the truth of the Scriptures. Consider what would have happened to King David if God had not sent Nathan the prophet to confront him over his sin, or to the Galatian Christians if Paul had not written to them about the false gospel of the Judaizers, or to the man caught in sexual sin in Corinth if they church had not disciplined him.
The benefit of running together is highlighted by John Bunyan in his classic work, The Pilgrim’s Progress. At one point in their journey to the Celestial City, Christian and Hopeful entered a place called the Enchanted Ground. The air there naturally induced sleepiness if one was not acclimated to it. Hopeful quickly became sluggish and sleepy. He suggested to Christian that they lie down and take a nap. Christian rejected the idea out of hand because he knew that if they fell asleep in the Enchanted Ground they might never wake up. Once Hopeful came to realize the truth of what Christian was saying, he said, “You’re right, and had I been here alone I would be asleep by now and in danger of death. What the wise man says is true, ‘Two are better than one.’ Your company has been God’s mercy to me, and ‘you shall have a good reward for your labor.’”
God urges us not to forsake meeting together, which includes times of worship and fellowship (Heb. 10:25), in part because we need each other to run the race he has set before us. Encouragement, comfort, prayer, and exhortation are essential.
Don't go out on your own. Be sure to join and actively participate in a faithful church. Run together.
More from this series:
Patrick Ramsey (@dprmsy) is pastor of Nashua Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Edinburg, Pennsylvania. He has written and contributed to numerous books and periodicals, including A Portrait of Christ, An Analysis of Herman Witsius's The Economy of the Covenants, and Samuel Rutherford: An Introduction to his Theology. He and his wife Rachel have five sons.
Growing in Grace, ed. by Joel Beeke
Grace Alone: Salvation as a Gift of God by Carl Trueman
"The Gospel for Bruised Reeds" by Dan Doriani
Sanctification, a series from Place for Truth:
"The Spirit's Influence" by Jeffrey Stivason
"Different From Justification" by Tim Bertolet
"The Definitive Aspect" by David Smith
"Singing Praise to God" by Stephen Unthank
"Eschatology" by Stephen Unthank
"Glorification" by Martin Blocki
"Keep Advancing!" by Joel Wood
 Jay Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Commentary: Hebrews, James, I & II Peter, Jude, pg. 95.
 John Ball: “The Holy Ghost is given to the Elect before they ask: but a greater measure of the Spirit is obtained by prayer.”
 J.A. Motyer: “Paul even sensitively suggests that the sufficient supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ for my brother or sister in Christ depends directly on my prayer for them, and that failing my prayer the supply will dry up also.”
 Bunyan, John; Lovik, C. J.. The Pilgrim's Progress: From This World to That Which Is to Come . GoodNewsPublishers - A. Kindle Edition.