As members of the body of Christ we must learn to persevere in times of trouble. Being persistent and suffering the hardships that befall us are a common effort we are to demonstrate. Too oftentimes we give up the struggle and settle for temporary relief. However, many of the problems that we abandon never go away, they simply lie dormant until a season of temptation or testing comes our way. Persevering and struggling through difficulties for the Christian, may be compared to an athlete running in a race. Christians are all in a race. This race the bible speaks of is the race of life. In this race we are not in competition with other members of the church. However, we are to run so as to win. To be a winner you do not need to come in first place but only to participate and finish the race. Paul said, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;" (2 Tim. 4:7 NASB). God expects us to participate and finish the race. No one can come in first place because that belongs only to our Lord Jesus Christ. "He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything." (Col. 1:18 NASB). Our opponents in this race are at least two; the devil and our self.
The devil is an enemy of the Lord and as good servants of the Lord we must resist the devil. James said, ". . . Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." (James 4:7. NASB) Have some persistence in your resistance; be firm. Paul taught in the Ephesian letter, "Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil." and also "that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm." (Eph. 6:11&13. NASB) The devil is a spiritual being and his workings are through mankind. Paul instructed the Corinthians, "And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their deeds." (2 Cor. 11:14-15 NASB). The Corinthian church had to deal with false teachers. A false teacher is following Satan. Jesus taught that to reveal a false prophet (teacher) is as easy as recognizing the fruit they produce. "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. "You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? "Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. "A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. "So then, you will know them by their fruits." (Matt. 7:15-21. NASB)
In our struggle to win the race of life, some teachers might teach us things that the Lord Jesus did not teach. They may affirm, "These are the words of God." As listeners, we must look at what the teachers are producing in word and in deed. Find out if the words they teach are in harmony with what the word of God teaches. This will require of us study and hearing the words of God as written in the bible. If their words do not measure up to the standard of God's word, do not listen to that teacher. A teacher's example of living that is not in harmony with what the Lord Jesus taught, is an example not to follow; it is a false example. A false example can make one a false teacher.
Paul conducted his life in such a way, that in hope, he would remove the influence these false teachers had over the church in Corinth. By looking at Paul's life, the other teachers' lives and comparing them to the Lord's life, it became obvious who was teaching the truth and who were not. These false teachers wanted to be regarded as true apostles. Paul said, "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ." (2 Cor. 11:13. NASB) By Paul's example of living, the Corinthian church could see through the deception of these false teachers. Paul said, "But what I am doing, I will continue to do, that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting." (2 Cor. 11:12 NASB) Paul showed through his examples, his genuine love for the brethren at Corinth. To make firm in their minds his apostolic authority he said, "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles." (2 Cor. 12:12. NASB) It was the responsibility of the church in Corinth to see the difference of what Paul produced verses what the other teachers produced.
We too must be able to see the difference between false teachers and true teachers of Christ. By this, we will partly be on our way to finishing the race of life. One more enemy that stands in our way is self.
Christ said concerning Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's." (Matt. 16:23. NASB) Sometimes we may act like the devil. Peter was not Satan literally; but he acted like him literally. When we set our minds on our own interests rather than on God's interests, we're acting like the devil himself. When Jesus was taken into custody by the Council, Peter was in error when he did not deny himself, rather he denied Christ three times. See Matthew 26:69-75. Jesus said, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. "For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it." (Matt. 16:24-25.NASB) Jesus also said, "But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 10:33. NASB) With these words from Jesus, Peter stood on dangerous ground.
After his denial of Christ, Peter repented of his ways and sought the ways of the Lord. He went on to say concerning Jesus,"And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12. NASB) Now, listen to what Peter said concerning the devil, "Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith," (1 Peter 5:8-9. NASB)
Concerning self, Paul understood what it would take for him to finish the race. He said, "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified." (1 Cor. 9:24-27. NASB)
We too, can finish the race of life by exercising the discipline and control over self. In this, we will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil and we will be successful in our resistance. Jesus said, ". . . In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33. NAS)