“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith; Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12: 1-2)
In the opening verses of Hebrews Chapter 12, the apostle Paul likened the Christian life to a life-long marathon. We learnt from our article last week that it is a “race that is set before us” by none other than the Lord God Himself. Many will be the obstacles and distractions along the way, conflicts from within and without, trials to endure, foes to face, temptations to be resisted, worldly snares to be avoided, and sinful habits to overcome. Only those who possess true faith will endure to the end.
What other characteristics of the Christian race can we glean from the above passage?
2. Learn from past examples of faith
To encourage them in the Christian race, Paul urged the Jewish believers to look to the examples of the “heroes of faith” who had triumphed gloriously over their trials and persevered to the end: “we also are encompassed about with so great a great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12: 1a). These faithful witnesses were the Old Testament saints mentioned in Chapter 11. These included Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon and Samuel.
These ancient worthies were people who, like us, were weak and frail of flesh. But by God’s grace, they overcame and “obtained a good report through faith” (Heb 11: 39). By faith, they set their minds and hearts on things above and looked forward to the glorious day of Christ. By faith, they endured indescribable tortures and violence.
Paul described their sufferings in verses 33-38: “Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens … others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” Despite their immense sufferings, these saints of old kept their faith and valiantly endured to the very end. Like the apostle Paul, they could confidently declare, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (II Tim 4: 7).
In application, let us consider some pertinent questions from “The Christian Race”, a sermon by J C Ryle: “Are we frail earthen vessels? so were they. Are we weak and encompassed with infirmities? so were they. Are we exposed to temptation and burdened with this body of corruption? so were they. Are we afflicted? so were they. Are we alone in our generation, the scorn of all our neighbors? so were they. Have we trials of cruel mockings? so had they. What can we possibly be called upon to suffer which they have not endured? What consolations did they receive which we may not enjoy?”
When tried and tested for our faith, let us not faint, but draw courage from the fine examples of these “heroes of faith”.
3. Lay aside every weight
In his exhortation to continue the race, the apostle urged the suffering believers to “lay aside every weight” (Heb 12: 1b). In the original, the word, “weight” has the idea of “mass” or “burden”. To run well, contenders must not be encumbered with long and flowing garments which might impede them in the race. To “lay aside every weight” is to put away all worldly entanglements, riches, honours and inordinate affections which “oftimes are a peculiar obstruction to constancy and perseverance in the profession and practice of Christianity; this dead weight must be laid aside, by mortifying our hearts and affections towards the world, for it is inordinate love to these things which gives them their weight and encumbrance” (William Burkitt).
Paul also counselled the believers to “lay aside … the sin which doth so easily beset us” (Heb 12: 1b). Here, the apostle was referring to besetting sins – the sinful habits and tendencies which are hard to give up because they are so much a part of our depraved nature.
We all have particular besetting sins that hinder our walk with the Lord. J C Ryle illustrates this truth well: “One man is beset with lust, another with a love of drinking, another with evil temper, another with malice, another with covetousness, another with worldly-mindedness, another with idleness—but each of us has got about him some besetting infirmity, which is able to hinder him far more than others, and with which he must keep an unceasing warfare—or else he will never so run as to obtain the prize.”
Brethren, let us check our lives. Determine to lay aside all worldly encumbrances as well as sinful habits and tendencies that might hinder us as we run the race of faith. We end with this pertinent warning from commentator Adam Clarke: “This is a race which is of infinite moment to us: the prize is ineffably great; and, if we lose it, it is not a simple loss, for the whole soul perishes.” (… to be continued)