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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.

27 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. Very very helpful to this young Christian who had got caught up in the rat race of life. Praying that you and I endure to the end.

    God bless you brother.
    Thank you for the kind words! I join you in your prayer for the two of us – and add all who follow our Lord. Jerry

  8. Well, if people want to think of life as a RACE because Paul wanted to think in those terms, they’re free to do so. I can think of much more sensible ways of thinking about this existence.

    • Note that Paul was not thinking of a race with only one “winner.” After saying he had finished his race and that there was a crown laid up for him, he added, ‘and not for me only, but for all who love his appearing.’

      If you can think of a better way to think about life than that, I’d like to hear it. – jerry

      • Well, I think the best way to think about life is to be content with the comfort, peace, acquisition of new undestandings, enjoyment of positive moods, friendships, loves, etc.,, that I have always enjoyed. I do not need to think of some reward –either tangible or intangible– BEYOND this “life” as I have experienced it so far. If I can be quietly and peacefully relieved of this mortal life on earth when the time comes, WITHOUT FURTHER ADO, I will be quite satisfied. I find nothing scary about the state of NON-BEING I was in before I was conceived and born, just as I find nothing scary or unsatisfactory about going to sleep at night. Why should I NEED or REQUIRE “something” that is called a “CROWN” in some posited future existence to make my existence meaningful and beautiful here on earth as I have lived it? What’s your problem with this perspective–SPECIFICALLY? Can you REALLY conceive of being locked into a state of ceaseless consciousness for a thousand, million, or BILLIONS of years? I truly believe that such a state would drive one crazy after the first thousand years or less.

  9. What you have written is a good statement of Epicurean philosophy. Epicurus believed that pleasure, primarily through avoiding pain, is the greatest good. He did not believe that the gods existed, or that if they did they were far away and did not interfere with human affairs.

    Ultimately, life was purposeless. Yet, the cosmos shows at least some signs of intelligent design. Could it have designed itself? Highly unlikely. At the same time, the cosmos – including humanity – shows that something is horribly broken.

    Paul, the apostle of Jesus (whose comment about his life having been a ‘race’) saw himself as a fellow worker with his God seeking to fix what was broken. He spent his early life opposing Jesus – until his life was turned upside down (though he would’ve said ‘turned right side up) by seeing the crucified, but resurrected, Jesus. He then lived to introduce people to the Jesus whom he knew had been dead, but was now alive.

    In his new life, he suffered the same kinds of persecution he had meted out to followers of ‘the Jesus Way’ earlier. He said in one of his letters to a church he had planted that if Jesus (whom he saw as the long-awaited Messiah or Christ) was not raised from the dead, ‘we are of all men most miserable.’

    But in the resurrection of Jesus he found hope, not simply as eternal consciousness, which (if it were simply like our present lives extended indefinitely) could certainly become boring to the point of insanity, but as meaningful work in the ‘new heavens and new earth.’

    As you have probably guessed, I think Paul was right. Really.

    Jesus is the most important thing that has happened to this plantet. More than a prophet with a new twist on an old message, he is the embodiment of absolute goodness. And in hid goodness, we can become good by walking in his way. Now and forever.

  10. Well, I certainly do not agree with any Epicurean belief that life is purposeless and also do not believe that one needs to live a Pauline belief that life should be regarded as a RACE of specific goal-oriented ambition with regard to any specific popular this-life or possible after-life rewards.

    The issue of “intelligent design” has not been settled. Any “at least some signs” of design are more than brought to severe question because of the waste of thousands of species going extinct and the absolute failure of the supposed “designer,” the bible god, to create human beings by the billions apparently destined from the beginning
    to suffer torment in the flames of hellfire FOREVER. There doesn’t seem any purposeful design in this.

    At the same time, the apparent necessity of the conversion of Paul to reach the gentiles even after Jesus had spent 33 years on earth with
    first twelve and then some 70 disciples seems to be very strange evidence of lack of design in efficient delivery of the “kingdom message” to earthlings.

    Surely, if the bible god is all powerful, he would not have needed Paul nor Moses nor John the Baptist to serve as “co-workers” to fix a “broken reality” which an all powerful god would not have needed to
    let happen in the first place.

    Re “work in the new heavens and the new earth,” why are no persuasive examples of such work given. How, under the auspices
    of an ALL POWERFUL GOD would any human work be needed at all? These are typical of questions that have always been puzzles to me.

  11. I did not mean to imply that you consciously got your philosophy of life from Epicurus – only that your statement, “I think the best way to think about life is to be content with the comfort, peace, acquisition of new undestandings, enjoyment of positive moods, friendships, loves, etc.,, that I have always enjoyed.” is very like something that gentleman could have said. Actually, much of Western Civilization since “The Enlightenment has adopted what is essentially an Epicurean world-view, in which the chief purpose of life is one’s own pleasure.

    God is pushed out of one’s thinking as either a non-entity or as being irrelevant to how we live our lives.

    I find this view of life inadequate for two major reasons:

    1. It is, to me, inconceivable that the cosmos could either have existed eternally or have spontaneously come into being without a creative power. As the Hebrew poet wrote even 3,000 years ago, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork.” The thousands of years of knowledge gained since then have only shown the intricacy and magnificence of his handiwork at both the micro and macro levels.

    2. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, which shows that the Creator has not abandoned his creation, but is acting to rescue it from the folly of its human inhabitants.

    In view of these things, I personally take the message of God’s Word (both the incarnate Word and the written word) seriously – and try to encourage others to do the same.

    • Thank you for your response. My MAJOR problem with belief in the bible god is that a complete reading of the Old Testament shows the god-figure to be absolutely vicious in his tolerance and, in fact, directives with regard to the treatment “his” people should mete out to adjacent tribes and peoples–murder, mayhem, rape, pillage, use of captured virgins as sex slaves–in fact “his” CLEAR advocacy of slavery (not just indentured servitude). “He” demands the death penalty for disobedient children, for adulterers (who can’t achieve relief from impossible marriage situations), for brides proved not to be chaste on their wedding night. Vicious, indeed!. He curses BILLIONS of individual beings thousands ir not billions of years before they are even born with a prescribed death because of the “questionable disobedience” of forebears they had nothing to do with! In fact, “he,” who claims to be all-knowing and all-powerful, proves incapable of “correcting” the earth population he has created in a sensible way and has to destroy all land-living things on earth (except for an ark-full) has “his” ONLY option! What about all the innocent children destroyed in complete injustice in the “Flood”?!

      This is NOT the kind of entity one can reasonably be expected to believe in. As far as Jesus is concerned, he “claims” to be one with his father (i.e., another version of himself) and, hence, MUST BE (secretly) as vicious as he appears (as his “father self) to be in the Old Testament. He DOES change the law given to Moses (contrary to his claims) and servces as another example that the “original form of himself” is NOT perfect at all. How about the waste of 1.5 million human beings in their lifetime trek after the exodus from Egypt for the
      sole “future-seeing” god’s purpose of allowing only two or three persons to enter the “promised land”–not even Moses!

      As far as the “creative power” of the universe is concerned, I see no reason why this “power” has to have a human-like personality with a “body image” similar to that of human beings. Indeed, of what use would the features of a human anatomy have in a :pre-material earth state of existence–the 13.5-minus 4.5 BILLION years–from the scientifically determined beginning of the universe until the formation of earth?

      Personal pleasure surely should not be the ONLY purpose in life. At the same time, one can hardly hold up the life-style of the monks through the dark ages–including self-multilation and CASTRATION (for those who “can accept the teaching”)–as a “sane” alternative. If one wants to “carry his own cross” for a lifetime, fine, for those so inclined. If the bible god truly is responsible for the cursed suffering of so many–a cause for the more fortunate to devote themselves to allevating, then “he” could have surely created a “reality” in which personal pleasure was available to ALL PEOPLE AND ALL ANIMALS
      instead of the predator-prey, survival-of-the-fittest rat race with which
      life on earth has been encumbered from the beginning.

      May I suggest that you might begin to take the bible claims more skeptically and realistically, and ask yourself why Jesus DID NOT RETURN DURING THE LIFETIME OF SOME OF HIS LISTENERS as is clearly claimed in Matthew, and why this supposedly all powerful “father-son” duality has been able to do no better than continue the mess that earth history seems to have been from the beginning–a mess of things going ABSOLUTELY WRONG IN JUST ABOUT EVERY WAY IMAGINABLE, IN SPITE OF “THEIR” SUPPOSEDLY ALL-KNOWLEDGE OF THE FUTURE EVEN BEFORE IT HAPPENED.

      • Duane,
        In your comment I see a superficial acquaintance with the Bible that accepts distortions as reality. For instance, the God of the Bible is not made in the Image of man, although anthropological language is sometimes used to describe him. It is true that man is created in the image of God, but I know of no believer – Christian or Jew – who believes God is a physical being. His son took on the form of a man in order to live as a man, but God is spirit, not flesh and blood.

        The monks of the Middle Ages distorted the mission Jesus gave his disciples. Jesus said to go into the world, not to retreat from the world. He gave us a job to do in the world without being caught up in ‘the predator-prey, survival-of-the-fittest rat race’ which you say ‘life on earth has been encumbered with from the beginning.’ Right there you show a superficial, incomplete understanding of the Bible, which begins with the creation of a world where humans and animals lived together in perfection until people rebelled against the Creator, a rebellion that continues even to this day.

        In the primeval Garden of Eden, humans were given dominion over the earth with its animal inhabitants to use and subdue it. I understand this to mean that as the population of the earth would grow, they were to extend the Edenic Paradise to all of the earth. After the rebellion, they entered into trying to have dominion over each other and to subdue (or kill) each other. In other words, the dog-eat-dog rat race did not begin until after the Fall of Man.

        I have often suggested that Genesis chapters 1-11 describe how we got into the mess we are in while the rest of the Bible tells us how the Creator God of Love is rescuing his creation without violating the power of choice he has placed within us. Instead, he woos mankind with love.

        You have a clear vision of the evil that is in the world, and see that as an indictment of God as being vicious or incapable of changing things for the better. I suggest to you that the unbeliever who would sit in judgment of God because of the evil he sees in creation needs to look deeper. There is not only evil in the world; there is also goodness and beauty, love and laughter. Is the world as it is perfect? Of course not. But where the message of Christ has been taken seriously, things begin to improve.

        Epicurus reacted against the capricious gods of Greco-roman paganism. People lived in fear of what some god or other might do to them, either in life or after death if they were not careful to propitiate the gods at all times. Epicurus told them that the gods were probably not there, but that if they were they were far away and took no interest in the affairs of man. He said the world is the result of chance colisions of atoms, not a creation of any god. So, men should forget about the gods and just enjoy life.

        Epicurus was rediscovered c. 250-300 years ago at a time when the Medieval Church that had in many ways ruled with fear and exploitation was beginning to lose its hold on people. Many people adopted anew this ancient philosophy and much of the worldview of modern Western Civilization is rooted in Epicurian philosophy. If there is a God at all, he is far away and has no relevance to our lives, so let’s just get on with doing our own thing.

        The biblical God of Abraham, Israel, and Jesus is much different from the gods of the pagan world. He is the reconciler, who reconciles us to himself in Jesus. We do not placate him with sacrifices; instead, he sacrificed his Son (who offered himself willingly) for us, showing the depth of our rebellion and the extent of his love. With the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the New Creation began to break into the present world, as one Christian philosopher of the mid-20th century said, “as the true ruler coming back to claim his rightful place.” His suffering love continues to wait with patience for humans to come to their senses and turn from their rebellion. Until his return to make all things as he intended them to be, his people are to grow in his grace and knowledge that we may become more and more like him.

        Are we perfect? Far from it. We are still ‘a work in progress.’ While we wait with a longing hope for his return, we are learning from his grace to reject ungodliness and the ways of the prince of darkness to live soberly, righteously (but not self-righteous!) in this age.

        It is with sadness that I see vicious distortions of the true grace of God, whether in attacks by unbelievers or by those who turn the good news into a way of gain for themselves or a way to think of self as superior to all others because we have things all figured out! No, I do not try to defend all who call themselves Christian. I do worship the one whose name I wear with joy and love – and gladly invite others to join with me and all who serve him in that worship.

        Jerry Starling
        Committed to Truth

  12. I didn’t really see a response to points I raised in my first several paragraphs. I would appreciate your reaction to these before I respond to your overall reply. Thank you.

    Re your opening remark, i.e., “Duane, In your comment I see a superficial acquaintance with the Bible that accepts distortions as reality. For instance, the God of the Bible is not made in the Image of man . . . “, the bible god is CHARACTERIZED as having human features. It’s both as simple and ridiculous as that..” I did not say that the bible god was/is made in the image of man.” You seem to have seen an assertion that wasn’t there.

  13. Duane, at this point we seem to be talking past each other instead of conversing with each other. Evidently, I missed your meaning when you said:

    As far as the “creative power” of the universe is concerned, I see no reason why this “power” has to have a human-like personality with a “body image” similar to that of human beings. Indeed, of what use would the features of a human anatomy have in a :pre-material earth state of existence–the 13.5-minus 4.5 BILLION years–from the scientifically determined beginning of the universe until the formation of earth?

    You also seem to have missed mine when I wrote: …anthropological language is sometimes used to describe him [God]
    Apparently I did not make my point clear in the paragraph beginning, “You have a clear vision of the evil that is in the world….” either, for it was a response to the tenor of your first couple of paragraphs. I meant by this that the unbeliever has as much, if not more, problem explaining goodness, beauty, and functionality in the world than the believer has in explaining the presence of evil. Most of the evil that is present is through man’s activity and choices that are counter to God’s will. That is how evil entered the world and how it continues to multiply.

    I suggest that if we are to continue this conversation we select a single topic instead of talking in generalities – and talking past each other. What do you think?

    Jerry

    • In trying to post replies in the last few days, I have found that twice your “reply device” would not recognize my email address, v88z@aol.com, as “legitimate.” Right now, I have no idea whether THIS post will “go through.” It may or may not. I have found this problem on several other sites. Obvously, SOMETIMES this email address is “recognized,” but the reality is that the situation is absolutely as unpredictable as “prayer.” Suggestions?

      • I have no idea why word press is filtering your messages out. If I put you on a “Block” list it was accidental. Maybe we can take this conversation private to continue it. My email is eemjerry (at) gmail (dot) com – written in the normal way with no spaces, the @ symbol and the period for the dot.

  14. Duane, at this point we seem to be talking past each other instead of conversing with each other. Evidently, I missed your meaning when you said:

    As far as the “creative power” of the universe is concerned, I see no reason why this “power” has to have a personality with a “body image” similar to that of human beings. Indeed, of what use would the features of a human anatomy have in a :pre-material earth state of existence–the 13.5-minus 4.5 BILLION years–from the scientifically determined beginning of the universe until the formation of earth?

    You also seem to have missed mine when I wrote: …anthropological language is sometimes used to describe him [God]
    Apparently I did not make my point clear in the paragraph beginning, “You have a clear vision of the evil that is in the world….” either, for it was a response to the tenor of your first couple of paragraphs. I meant by this that the unbeliever has as much, if not more, problem explaining goodness, beauty, and functionality in the world than the believer has in explaining the presence of evil. Most of the evil that is present is through man’s activity and choices that are counter to God’s will. That is how evil entered the world and how it continues to multiply.

    I suggest that if we are to continue this conversation we select a single topic instead of talking in generalities – and talking past each other. What do you think?

    Jerry

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