“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 our first two articles, we considered three characteristics of the Christian race as highlighted by the apostle Paul in Hebrews 2: 1-2: (1) There is “a race that is set before us”; (2) Learn from past examples of faith; (3) Lay aside every weight. The following is a brief summary of what we have learnt thus far.
In his epistle to the Hebrews, the apostle Paul encouraged the suffering Jews to remain steadfast in the midst of persecutions and afflictions. Comparing the Christian life to a race, the apostle urged them to look to the fine examples of “so great a cloud of witnesses” – the “heroes of faith” – who had triumphed gloriously over their trials and persevered to the end. Undaunted by fiery flame, devouring sword, “cruel mocking and scourgings”, “bonds and imprisonment”, these faithful men and women of God “waxed valiant in fight” and persevered to the very end (Heb 11: 34, 36).
These dear saints paid a heavy price for their obedient and holy witness. But they stood steadfast in their faith because they believed in God and His glorious promises – they “looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb 11: 10).
Paul urged the Jewish Christians to similarly “lay aside every weight” (12: 1b) to finish the course victoriously. This included all worldly entanglements, riches, honours and inordinate affections that might weigh them down and hamper their progress in the race.
“As those who ran in the Olympic races would throw aside everything that might impede them in their course; so Christians, professing to go to heaven, must throw aside everything that might hinder them in their Christian race. Whatever weighs down our hearts or affections to earth and sense is to be carefully avoided; for no man, with the love of the world in his heart, can ever reach the kingdom of heaven” (Adam Clarke).
Paul also counselled them to “lay aside … the sin which doth so easily beset us” (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. Each of us has our own besetting infirmities – particular sins or weaknesses that ensnare us because of our natural temperament or disposition. For one, it may be an evil temper. For another, it may be an ungoverned tongue. For others, it may be covetousness, an envious spirit, slothfulness, ambition or pride. With this exhortation in mind, let us lay aside particular sins that often stumble us and keep us from following the Lord fully.
What other characteristics of the Christian race can we glean from Hebrews 12: 1-2?
4. Run with patience
The Christian race is a life-long marathon. Paul here exhorted the Jewish believers to “run with patience” (Heb 12: 1c). In the original, the word, “patience” (“hupomone”) has the idea of “endurance” – a quality that every athlete must cultivate. This active virtue reflects a spirit that accepts adversities from God’s sovereign hand and valiantly overcomes them by His grace and strength.
As we run the Christian race, we will face trials, temptations, opposition, disappointments and discouragements. The way will be strenuous and hard. Here, the apostle encouraged us to “run with patience”, to persevere and not faint along the way. Like the Hebrew Christians, let us resolve to let nothing deter or stop us from finishing the race.
“There are so many crosses to be borne when we have entered the course, so many disappointments and trials and fatigues, that, except we are enabled to possess our souls in patience, we shall never persevere unto the end. But we must not turn back to Egypt, because some bring up an evil report of the promised land; we must not faint because the journey is long and the way lies through a wilderness, we must press forward without flagging, not murmuring when we are chastened—but saying, with Eli, ‘It is the LORD: let him do what seemeth him good’” (J C Ryle).
May the Lord grant us grace to “run with patience the race that is set before us”. Keeping the eternal goal of Heaven in view, let us press on faithfully to the finishing line.
5. Look unto Jesus
As if the illustrious examples of the “heroes of faith” were not enough, Paul urged the suffering Christians to look “unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb 12: 2a). The word, “looking” in the Greek appears only here in the New Testament. It signifies a looking away from every distraction and earnestly fixing our eyes on our Lord Jesus Christ.
Here, we are called upon to look to Christ Himself Who is the supreme Example of endurance. Why is Christ “the author and finisher of our faith”? Our faith began with Christ when we first believed in Him. As we continue the race, it is Christ Who will grant us the grace, help, strength and wisdom to complete the course. He has “blazed the trail for us and has completed the course” (Homer A Kent Jr).
Another reason for “looking unto Jesus” is His example of patience. He bravely “endured such contradiction of sinners against himself” (Heb 12: 3a). The apostle Peter wrote of our suffering Saviour, “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (I Pet 2: 21-23).
Throughout His earthly life, our Saviour never lost sight of His God-given mission “to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt 20: 28). When the time came for Him to suffer and to die, He submitted joyfully to fulfil God’s will: “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” (Heb 12: 2b).
Brethren, let us “imitate the example of the great Author of our religion. He, in view of the honour and joy before him, endured the most severe sufferings to which the human frame can be subjected, and the form of death which is regarded as the most shameful. So, amidst all the severe trials to which you are exposed on account of religion, patiently endure all – for the glorious rewards, the happiness and the triumph of heaven, are before you” (Albert Barnes).
As we press forward in the Christian race, let us look “unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith”. May our lives be transformed to be more like our Saviour as we look unto Him daily. Let us also follow our Lord’s example of patience and endurance. May we not trust ourselves but rest completely upon Christ alone. May the Lord grant us grace, and guide us safely and victoriously to the end of the race.