The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Most of us have heard this statement in one form or another many times in our lives. We understand it to mean that we cannot reach any goal, no matter how near or far, until we have taken a step toward that goal. This makes perfect sense, but it is not the whole story.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle, who lived about 300 years after Lao Tzu, said, “Well begun is half done.” This statement is less well-known, but perfectly complements Lao Tzu’s proverb. Aristotle understood human nature. He knew that we often content ourselves with the fact that we’ve begun something, but then never complete it, or complete it inadequately. Thus, he admonished against being satisfied simply with a good beginning.
As useful as these proverbs may be in secular matters, neither of them adequately addresses the most important issue of all: the journey to eternal life. The scriptures, not surprisingly, cover every aspect of this journey. In Mt. 7:13, 14 the Lord said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” This is the beginning of the journey to eternal life. This step is taken when one obeys the gospel by being baptized for the forgiveness of his sins (cf. Acts 2:38; 22:16, et al). If one does not take this step, he will never reach heaven.
Then, in Mt. 24:10-13 the Lord said, “At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” This statement covers the completion of the journey to eternal life. Taking the first step begins the journey, but only those who remain faithful to the Lord until the end will reach heaven (Rev. 2:10).
In between the first step and the last step, the scriptures offer this admonition from the pen of Peter: “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them” (2 Pet. 2:20, 21). This is the inspired equivalent to Aristotle’s “Well begun is half done.” Peter tells us that having begun the journey to eternal life, we must not turn off the path until we reach heaven. Those who begin well, but do not finish, will suffer condemnation from the Lord.
A modern proverb says, “Winners never quit, and quitters never win.” We understand that this refers to one’s heart, rather than to the results on the field of competition. We use it to encourage each other in whatever endeavor we might undertake, and it fits that purpose well. When we reflect upon this proverb in a spiritual context, however, we discover that it applies both to one’s character (heart), and to the results of his efforts. In 2 Tim. 4:7, 8 Paul told Timothy that he anticipated receiving the crown of righteousness because he had been faithful to the Lord to the end. He also said that this reward is reserved for all who would do as he had done.
Here’s the point: All who are faithful to the end will enter heaven, just as Jesus said: “But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.”