Did you know that “rat-race” is actually a bona fide word of the English language? As a matter of fact, it comes just before “rat snake” in Webster’s dictionary. Even though we may not have known “rat-race” to be a legitimate word, we all generally know when we are in one.
You know the feeling; there we are on a treadmill watching as the speed and the incline continue to increase. We are running as fast as we can possibly go, it’s not quite quick enough, and all of our effort is taking us absolutely nowhere. Webster uses these simple words to describe our lives in the fast-lane:
Rat Race: a strenuous, wearisome and usually competitive activity; in a perpetual rush or constantly in motion.
Now what you may not know is that the word “Rat-Race” was coined in the year 1939. I did a little checking this week regarding life in that most hectic of years, 1939, and here is what I discovered…. Time’s “Man of the Year,”for 1939 was none other than Joseph Stalin.
America was just recovering from the Depression of 1929—the longest and most severe depression ever experienced by the industrialized world. The New York stock Exchange watched as the market dropped to only 20% of previous worth. Over 11,000 of the U.S.’s 25,000 banks had failed.
Unemployment was coming back from a record unemployment rate of 30% of the work force—and women did not generally work back then. Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President and the New Deal was begun. Still, by 1939 a full 15% of the workforce was still without jobs. Those with jobs were working night and day to keep them, and to make ends meet for their families.
The term “rat-race” was coined by a generation of people needing to work night and day just to survive. They worked until they could work no more, and it still barely put food on the table. It’s been over 60 years since the term “rat-race” was coined, and the economic circumstances behind the term could not be any more different today.
Never has America been wealthier than right now, yet the “rat-race” is still with us—and it is only getting worse. Americans first entered the “rat-race” in order to survive, our grandparents had no choice in the matter. Now, many of us are realizing we must exit the “rat-race” before it kills us. Yet many of us, like our grandparents before us, feel powerless to stop the treadmill and get out of the “rat-race.”
The “Good News” is that Jesus came to show us how to “Break Free From the Rat Race.” God did enter into our world fully in the person of Jesus Christ. And Jesus knew the pressures of working at a taxing and emotionally exhausting job; he was a carpenter.
Jesus knew the pressure of providing for his mother and his brothers & sisters after his father passed away. Jesus knew what it was like to have people constantly trying to meet with him, to talk with him or to have a few minutes of his time. Jesus knew about the pressure of providing for his co-workers, and had responsibility for feeding even 5000 at one time. Jesus knew the pressures we feel in the “rat-race” even more profoundly than most of us ever will.
When Jesus became a flesh and blood person, he took on the limits of time and space that create the havoc we are calling the “rat-race.” As God, Jesus knew what it was like to live outside the boundaries of time and space, but Jesus entered into our world to show us how to live freely within them. Jesus amazed people by living free from the “rat-race” and the pressures of life. He showed us how to break free from the “rat-race” and live by a different standard.
Jesus came and stood toe to toe with the pressures of the “rat-race” and came out victorious—and he tells us how we can do so as well. We can live above the pervasive and controlling spirit of South Florida, we can be driven by something other than culture, and we can answer to a cry more central to out souls than any “rat-race.” We break free of this “rat-race”, when we follow Jesus into a fresh life found in the Spirit.
The key to discovering the way out of the “rat-race” is to understand it is not about following a plan, but about following a person—Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul described this life in the Spirit, following after Jesus, in a number of different ways.
In Romans he calls it the “transformed life.” In Ephesians he describes it “as the power that works within us.”
In Philippians it is described as the life of ”joy.”
In Timothy Paul says of this new life in the Spirit: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a Spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (II Tim. 1:7)
Paul says we too, in the Spirit of Jesus, can stand toe to toe with the trappings of the “rat-race” and we can overcome by God’s power, love and self-discipline. We join in God’s work, allowing us to break free.
So where do we learn more about this power available to us to overcome the “rat-race”? Interestingly enough, this power available to us and at work in us is the topic of Paul’s letter to a group of people we call the Galatians.
The people in Galatia were caught up in the influences and the seductive grip of the “rat-race.” Now these folk were good folk. They wanted to be free, but they didn’t know how. They were caught up in “rat-races” that found them on the treadmill of life chasing after such things as: wealth, prestige, sexual encounters, infidelity and self-absorption. Paul described this life as “living by the flesh,” trapped in a “rat-race” of gratifying ourselves.
But Paul did describe for them a way out of the “rat-race” maze. He said the only way out was to follow after Jesus, and let his Spirit become our own. He said that Jesus could change people from the inside out, allow them to live differently, and allow them to rise above the cares and concerns of the “rat-race.” When this occurs, a new type of life is being forged inside of us—and new fruit appear on the tree that is our life. Paul calls this the “Fruit of the Spirit” which God allows to take root inside of us.
The Apostle Paul describes the “Fruit of the Spirit” for us in Galatians 5:22. There he writes:
“But the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
Paul continues the contrast between the natural productions of the flesh and Spirit he had begun in v. 19. Here, however, he speaks of the “fruit” of the Spirit (using both a new term and the singular form) in contrast to the “works” (v. 19) of which the flesh is capable.
The term “works” (erga) already has definite overtones in this letter. It refers to what man can do, which, in the case of the works of the law (2:16, 3:2, 5, 10), has already been shown to be inadequate. The fruit of the Spirit, on the other hand, suggests that which is a natural product of the Spirit rather than of man, made possible by the living relationship between the Christian and God (cf. 2:20; John 15:1-17).
The singular form stresses that these qualities are a unity, like a bunch of grapes instead of separate pieces of fruit, and also that they are all to be found in all Christians. In this they differ from the “gifts” of the Spirit, which are given one by one to different people as the church has need (1Cor 12).
The nine virtues that are the Spirit’s fruit hardly need classification, though they seem to fall into three categories of three each. The first three appear to “comprise Christian habits of mind in their more general aspect,” as Lightfoot notes. Their primary direction is God-ward. The second set primarily concerns the Christian in his relationship to others and are social virtues. The last three concern the Christian as he is to be in himself.
Now first of all, we need to notice that Paul describes these nine qualities as the substance of one type of fruit—spiritual fruit. This removes from us the tendency to pick and choose like at the fruit stand—all are needed. This also keeps us from bragging about any one quality we might find in our life—all are needed. This also helps us to see that all the qualities are related, and necessary for good spiritual health. If all you eat are bananas, your Potassium will be fine while your Vitamin C will be low. We need them all in balance.
At the same time we admit a need for them all, it is also possible to prioritize one over all the others. In the words of the Beatles, “Love is all you need.” Love has the pride of place as the preeminent of Christian graces. Everything else in all the Bible rises and falls on love. Love is at the heart and center of what it means to know God, and to follow God.
Love is a commentary on every other quality found in God’s character, just as the poem says:
“Joy is love exulting, and peace is love at rest;
Patience, love enduring in every trial and every test.
Gentleness, love yielding to all that is not sin,
Goodness, love in action that flows from Christ within.
Faith is love’s eyes opened the living Christ to see;
Meekness, love not fighting, but bowed at Calvary.
Temperance, love in harness and under Christ’s control,
For Christ is love in person, and love, Christ in the soul.”
–Dr. Kenneth Moynagh
Because “love” is such an overused word today, we struggle to know how to use it. The same English word “love” can be the cause of getting us deeper into the “rat-race” or helping us get out. That is why it is important to know that the Greeks actually had four different words used to discuss love:
Storge– meant natural affection as between parent and child.
Philia– meant the kindred spirit of friends and family.
Eros– meant the attraction of desire, sexual love.
Agape– was a little used word at the time of the New Testament that meant the self-giving love of one to another.
“Love” between a parent and child can be abused; the “love” of a friend can easily be manipulated. The “love” that is based upon attraction and desire easily gives way to lust and a thirst for more. These ideas come from love, but they are not the pure, distilled, love of the New Testament. John describes the “agape love” of the New Testament this way:
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
That love is found only in the self-sacrificing love Jesus brought into the world. The lower forms of love get us into the “rat-race” while it is “agape love” that paves the way for our exit.
To know “love” is to know the very heart of God. Plenty of religious people stress plenty of qualities about God—and claim they are most important. But only “love” holds the distinction of prominence in God’s eyes.
Paul describes the prominence given to love in that fabulous thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have the faith that can move mountains but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (I Cor. 13:1-3)
Some claim religious experience is most important, but Paul says love trumps religious experience. Some claim truth to be the key to religious devotion, but Paul says love trumps truth. Some people claim faith and “Faith Only!” is the key belief of the church, but Paul says love even trumps faith. Others claim the key to the Christian life is found in service to others, and Paul loves service. But Paul says that love trumps service too. Love trumps everything else because God is love. Love is the key to breaking free from the “rat-race,” because love conquers everything else.
The key then, to breaking free from the “rat-race” must come from learning how love acts and doing what love does. Paul describes love as a matter of choice and as something that alters conduct as he continues discussing love in I Corinthians 13:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres. Love never fails!”
It appears to me that Paul describes love as a choice that requires: patience, compassion, investment in others and a willingness to act its way into feeling a certain way. It is this kind of love that allows us to say “No!” to the “rat-race.” Here is how that occurs: I say “No!” to the “rat-race” in order to say “Yes!” to something I love more than anything the “Rat-race” can ever offer. Love brings out the best in us, and allows us to see the world as Jesus did. If we see the world as Jesus did then we can respond to life in the same manner Jesus did.
As Paul concludes his great chapter on love, he explains the biggest difference between those living in the “rat-race” and those who have broken free. The difference comes in how we view the world. Some see the world as “all there is,” while others as something “passing away.” Paul says that when he was immature, he got caught up in all the trappings of the “rat-race.” Paul talked like someone caught up in the “rat-race.”
He talked like someone obsessed with it. When he plotted his strategy for life it was to win at the “rat-race.” Paul knew the South Florida mindset, and he was driven by it to succeed. But one day all that changed—Paul says he grew up.
Paul began to see the world differently. Dimly at first, but still different. He began to see things through the eyes of love. Love compelled him to get off of the treadmill and out of the “rat-race.” Love caused him to find a new set of priorities and a different way to keep score.
All that was left for Paul were faith, hope and love. And love still stood preeminent! Faith and love will serve no purpose in heaven—but love will reign supreme. God does not have faith; he knows all he can do. God does not need hope; his confidence in himself is sure. But God is love—and love, he says, never fails.
Are you caught up in the “rat-race” this morning? Do you want off the treadmill and out of the race? Try love; it never fails! Is the “rat-race” putting a strain upon your marriage? Let love be your guide to breaking free; it never fails!
Are your kids a struggle and source of conflict in the home? Let love be your guide to bringing them back in line; it never fails! Are you working way too much and does the “rat-race” have you trapped? Let love be your guide; it never fails. Whatever may have you trapped this morning, understand this bit of good news: God has sent love to be your guide, and guess what…love never fails!
Country and Western Music often has a very depressing view of love and life. I believe someone once said that the perfect “country and western” song had to talk about mothers, dogs, prison, lost loved and trains. But mostly it is about love lost and everything going badly.
However, for some reason unknown to me, it is now the most popular form of music in the country. I did, though, find a country and western song I believe is the perfect country and western tune. The song is by an Austin band called “The Geezinslaws”:
“If you take a country song and you play it backwards,
You sober up and you don’t cheat on your wife
And your dead dog comes to life; your truck gets fixed
You get your job back; there’s money in the bank
And you never ever had that fight; and everything’s alright.”
If we spin a “country and western” record the other way it could clean up all the mess. Wouldn’t that be nice! If we could just take our lives in the “rat-race” and play them backwards, then maybe too, everything would be alright.
But there is only one way to do that in the real world—and it involves making a decision to live life differently than the “rat-race.”It means taking the “rat-race” and letting love “play it backwards”.
Imagine letting love turn your life upside and allowing you to take your life and “play it backwards.” What would change if life all of a sudden was played from the other end? When we play it backwards God gets the first part, not the last. When we play it backwards, there is time for our kids, for our friends and for rest. When we play it backwards the job still gets done, but not at the expense of everything else. When we let love take the “rat-race” and play it backwards, everything turns out alright.
Here is the challenge for the week, let love take hold of your life and play it backwards. You’ll find that the tune love plays for your life is far better than the one you’ve trying live out yourself. And the reason why is simple, because “Love never fails!”