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QUESTION: What Does the Saying, “The Race Is Not to the Swift But to Those Who Endure to the End” Mean?


RunnerWhat does the saying mean that the race is not given to the swift but to those who endure to the end?

Many people ask about this “saying.” Most of these ask where to find it in the Bible; you are the first  to ask me about its meaning.

The only problem is that this “saying” is not in the Bible. The first part of your quotation comes from Ecclesiastes 9:11.

I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.

The final part might come from Hebrews 3:14.

We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.

Many times we conflate two passages of Scripture in our minds – and come up with something that is no where actually said in the Bible.

The idea of enduring until death is found in a number of passages, though that is not what is in mind in Ecclesiastes 9:11. There the wise man is talking about the uncertainty of life. It is not always the best, the strongest, or the fastest who reap rewards in this life.

Holding out in a race is one of the key thoughts of 2 Timothy 4:7.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Enduring to the end is an important Biblical concept. “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

The idea here is that we do not allow anything, even the threat of death or suffering, deter us from our faithfulness to God.

So, the thought of your quotation is Biblical – though the particular wording is not.

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14 Responses

  1. i love this proverb..inspirational

  2. You state that “Holding out in a race is one of the key thoughts of
    2 Timothy 4:7. ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.'” Why, in your opinion, does Paul HAVE TO SEE life in terms of an athletic competition, requiring special exertion or sacrifice or more than natural behavior? Beating one’s fellow man, which is the purpose of competition, is hardly “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Note, he says, “I have finished the RACE.” He does NOT say that he has finished “a run” (a non-competitive challenge). The life-as-race metaphor seems absolutely contrary to the jesus teachings regarding the being saved and the “boasting” that goes along with winning in competition is contrary to them as well. Nor in the bible do we see that entering into ANY physical competition or exertion or competition is mentioned as having ANYTHING to do with spirituality except, perhaps, Jacob’s wrestling with the angel which doesn’t really fit the picture of “competition” in the normal sense. I don’t think anyone asked to be born to participate in a life long “RACE,” nor should they be judged as if they were. I, myself, think that trying to run faster than someone else is a fairly stupid waste of time unless you know you can win without too much effort and are in desperate need of an ego-boost.

    • Duane,

      This is an interesting observation! My response is that this is not a race with only one winner’s crown. In the context he says the crown “is for all who love his appearing.” Paul does stress the need for faithfulness and effort in our Christian walk, unlike some who proclaim a gospel devoid of such things. Remember that Jesus calls us to a life of self denial, and I know of few things moe difficult for the human race than to deny One’s self. Do not press the metaphor too far! What if you had asked instead about the other metaphor in that text where he said, “I have fought the good fight”?

      Thanks for your comment.

      • Also you need to remember what Jesus said about putting your hand to the plow and looking back or that we are to be faithful unto death. We do not enlist in the service of Jesus as 90-day volunteers, but as life-long servants who will continue to serve Him in eternity. It is not a competition, nor is it a matter of boasting when a man of God who nears the end of a life filled with toil and trouble and says he has finished the race. Remember the Olympic runner a few years back who finished his race even after he pulled his hamstring? He finished with his father’s support. I think that is a picture of how we also can finish our race of life!

      • Thank you very much. I appreciate your interpretation. Actually, no, I don’t remember the Olympic runner you refer to. He was, of course, entitled to do as he wished , but I’m not sure I would have given special credit for his decision. Maybe it might be said that having his hamstring pulled was a divine way of his being taught a divine lesson, but the “lesson” I’d get from it was one should measure carefully the amount of effort one puts into any particular goal. In fact, the nature of this reality system–divine or not–is that there are overwhelmingly more losers than winners and, as inarguable proof, regardless of how one might wish to assess blame for it, the “lake of fire” prophecy makes that absolutely clear. (Sorry for being so long in reply.)

  3. Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you writing this article and the rest of the site is really
    good.

    • Thank you for your kind comments. Come back for another visit at any time. This article, the most visited on the site, is not one that I consider the most important article here by any stretch of the imagination – but if it is helpful, I am happy.

  4. Good article, so I would I be wrong if I quote “the race is not for the swift but for those who endure to the end? in my preaching?

    • As I said in the article, this “quotation” conflates two different passages; the concept is Biblical though the words themselves are not – at least are not found in a single passage.

      • Thanks for the speedy reply, I am preaching in the morning at my church(Dublin, Ireland) I am preaching about faithfulness to God and not giving up, this has helped me loads.

      • Best wishes for your message tomorrow!

  5. praise the ‘LORD I to have quoted both passages in my prayer telling them to run this race with me for its not giving to the swift to the one who endure to end . I always check where the scripture are found. once I check I saw where you mention “the thought of your quotation is biblical . Thought of a particular word is not”

    Are you saying not to put them together for if anyone check they will not find the passage together ? I do put the scripture so they can read it for them self . The scripture came to me 2 Timothy 4:7
    God Bless

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  7. After the due consideration of many years, I have become an unbelieving atheist. I do not claim that there is NO god–bible god or otherwise–but simply that not even persuasive, let alone convincing proof has EVER been provided by a supposed, all-powerful super- entity to which (not “whom” but “which”) the presentation of such proof would be as easy as the snap of a divine finger. The lines of woud-be proof I have pursued evaporate into the mist of equivocation, contradiction, absurdity, falsification, factual inaccuracy, non-demonstrability, unprovable anecdote, clear delusion, and simple ignorance.

    Even given a self-proved god, I would find the nature of a “proved” superbeing who, in addition to the many O.T. bible-recorded god-ordered and/or commended atrocities, would have planned from “the beginning” an unrelieved eternal torture for resistant human beings because or their unwillingness to surrender without reservation total “worship, love, obedience,and repentance ” to a non-material, invisible, and non-sensate ghost.to be very repugnant and a violation of MY OWN STANDARDS of what is good and evil.

    I find no divine proof or divine wisdom or divine anything about the bible of Moses and Jesus and Paul and its claims and its three-in-one god.” If the bible god exists and has the supreme intelligence claimed, this bible god KNOWS and HAS ALWAYS KNOWN the precise nature of the here-and-now proof that would meet the tests of credibility that would satisfy an open heart and intellect and provide human beings who are not cognitively impaired or experientially rendered delusional with a fair, honest, and decent chance to accept or reject the credibiity of such a super-being. I stand a a door waiting for a knock, quite sure there will be none but somewhat fearful that if there is a knock, I may open it to find myself facing a MONSTER! .

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