Hebrews 12:1-2 – Running to WIN
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Running to win…
Too many times, we settle for average. Too often - we make excuses for why MORE cannot be expected of us.
But not Wilma.
- She was born prematurely…
- Because of that, she suffered complications that resulted in double pneumonia on two separate occasions.
- As an infant, she contracted a severe case of scarlet fever and almost died.
- In early childhood she was afflicted with polio which left one leg crooked and her foot twisted inward. Forced to live with metal leg braces, she was ridiculed by her peers.
- While other children were playing on the playground, she spent most Saturdays in the hospital receiving treatment.
But in spite of these adversities, Wilma kept dreaming. She would not allow her disability to get in the way of her ability.
When interviewed as an adult, she attributed her tenacious spirit to her Christian mother, who often told her, “Honey, the most important thing in life is to believe and keep on trying.” By age 11, fully persuaded of better things for herself, she learned to walk without the aid of braces.
By age 12, she decided she would learn to play basketball. Though not good enough to make the team, she WAS allowed to travel with them. THERE she developed a relationship with the coach. One day she built up the courage to confront him with her dream. She blurted out, “If you will give me 10 minutes a day, only 10 minutes – I will give you a world-class athlete.”
He accepted the challenge.
With his encouragement, she decided to take up track. In her first competition, she came in next to last. But in the following competition, she beat every girl in her school. She went on to win regionals… and at the age of 14 was crowned Tennessee State Champion.
After graduation she went on to college, pushing herself to train harder and longer than her peers…and she became an all-American. Discontented with THESE achievements, she set her sights on the Olympics… a stage that demanded commitment, sacrifice, and discipline.
When this trim, young, black woman of 20 years walked onto the track, no one would have believed that just 9 years prior she couldn’t walk without assistance. She had paid the price… THIS DAY would be HER DAY. Breezing through three competitions, she became the first female athlete EVER to win 3 gold medals. Each race set a new world-record.
All by a crippled girl who refused to make excuses for herself.
Though Wilma Rudolph’s story is inspiring, it doesn’t take us long to dismiss it. “Yeah, but our circumstances are different…” we say. “If you knew what I was UP AGAINST, you would understand…”
These are the excuses of the weak …people who shrink back from hard things – easily frustrated by adversity. Like water, they choose the path of least resistance. Whenever they hit a rough spot in life, they would rather quit than pursue a life of excellence.
But if you are a Christian, YOU have been called to excellence! No more excuses. THIS is the challenge of our text.
The writer of Hebrews likens the Christian life to a race… familiar imagery to his first century audience. Athletic competitions were common in Rome. His readers were well acquainted with the Isthmian Games – the precursor to the Olympics. His readers understood the analogy.
Paul ALSO compared the Christian life to a race on two separate occasions. In 1 Corinthians 9 he talks about the DISCIPLINE required of the champion athlete – and how the Christian, with much more at stake, should likewise be self-disciplined.
And at the end of his life, Paul alluded to those victorious athletes who mount the platform to receive the victor’s crown … and he said of himself, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day.”
The writer of Hebrews has just walked his readers through the spiritual hall of fame in chapter 11; calling us to remember those great men and women of God who kept the faith and accomplished extraordinary things for God.
AND NOW challenges us to crave that same spirit of excellence!
So I ask you - Have YOU settled for “average?” Have you contented yourself with mediocrity in your walk with Christ?
have you made it your life’s mission to run to win? This passage tells us how to do just that. Notice:
1. First, if you would run to win - there are Instructions for this race, when he says, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
There ARE instructions for running the Christian race. And the writer gives us two:
First, to run this race so as to WIN, he cautions us against encumbrances.
You know what an encumbrance is? Anything that would HINDER your ability to run. And he mentions two in verse 1. The first is referred to as a “weight.” The second he calls “sin.”
“Weights” are those things that the Christian might be involved in that may not be sinful in and of themselves, but nonetheless hinder us in our race. It might be a possession ... a hobby or job that challenges your commitment or competes for first in your life. Anything that would prevent you from serving the Lord to the best of your ability - is a weight. It might be something we enjoy… something we are good at – but the energy required by that thing prevents us from giving our all to the Lord… it leads us to sacrifice serving the Lord.
What is the solution??? “Lay it aside.”
We tell ourselves these weights “aren’t a big deal.” We get defensive and ask, “Why can’t I have both?” Whenever the subject of personal sacrifice comes up and we are challenged to be more faithful, we think the church is making “too many demands.” Too often, when faced with the challenge of priorities... the FIRST thing we sacrifice is the Lord.
It's time to rethink that… it’s time to lay it aside.
But not only are we challenged to lay aside those weights, he then talks about laying aside sin, too. You would think that would be obvious, wouldn’t you? But the problem is, Christians are good at spiritual gymnastics, justifying wrong choices that are clearly prohibited by God’s Word.
Anything that I allow in my life that compromises God’s standard for me is sin.
Society may say, “it’s ok so long as nobody gets hurt.” Or, “it’s ok because everybody is doing it.” But God has a HIGHER standard for me. And if we want to please HIM, then we must lay aside those things that hinder our ability to serve the Lord.
Some might wonder, “How does sin hinder our race?” Sin’s power is not limited to offending God – though it does and THAT in itself should be reason to avoid it. Sin offends US too. Sin has tentacles that reach into our total personality. It affects us emotionally, physically, and spiritually. The writer says it “clings to us.” It trips us up, it interferes with our ability to run. Sin can make your life so complicated that you CAN’T serve the Lord. It will cause you to put “SELF” first every time.
How often have we heard people say, “It’s time I started thinking about ME. It’s time I did something for MYSELF.”
That’s SIN talking.
And here’s the kicker:
what begins as a weight has a way of eventually becoming sin.
That’s why he says “lay these aside.”
SO, is there anything in your life right now that needs to be laid aside? Maybe it’s something innocent – but when you look at it through the eyes of God you see it hindering your ability to run this race. You have a decision to make – WHAT is more important to you? Serving God – or keeping that thing?
Second, after instructing us about encumbrances, he refers to our need for endurance. He says, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
THIS race demands ALL that we have. It’s not a sprint – but a grueling marathon. The only way to win is to have endurance. Runners know - your body will tell you a thousand times to “quit.” “It’s too hard!” “I didn’t know how HARD this would be!” But you have to make a decision – am I going to finish this thing or am I going to give in to the desires of my body?
As a Christian, you are going to experience that same internal conflict. When things get hard, will you have the discipline necessary to ignore the pull of the flesh?
THESE are the instructions for this race.
2. But, after the Instructions, the passage offers Inspirations for this Race.
He says in verse 1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so GREAT a cloud of witnesses, and then in verse 2, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”
When we get discouraged, we are tempted to think we are alone and that no one understands. Like Elijah, in 1 Kings 19, who ran three days journey into the wilderness, collapsed under a shade-tree and cried, “Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” After getting some rest, Elijah complained to God, “I am the only one left who is serving you!”
His discouragement was real – but his facts were wrong. He was NOT alone - for there were THOUSANDS back in the city who had not stopped trusting the Lord. Elijah needed what all of us need when we are going through hard times – inspiration.
There are two sources of inspiration offered here:
First, we have the Saints to inspire us. That’s what he means when he talks about “a great cloud of witnesses.” All those named and unnamed saints of old who have been promoted to glory listed in chapter 11. Heroes like Abraham, Moses, and David – people who were human, just like us; people with the same weaknesses and faced the same difficulties WE face – and YET THEY finished this race. It ought to encourage us to know that they made it through adversity because God was faithful to them in their time of need. And He will be faithful to US too.
And it isn’t just the saints of old that inspire – look around you. Seated all around are people who have battled cancer, faced death, experienced financial problems, suffered divorce, had rebellious children, but have remained faithful. You are NOT alone – be inspired by the Saints!
Second, be inspired by the Savior. You can only get so far by looking at men. Though they kept the faith, there is but ONE “founder and perfecter of our faith.”
When we study the lives of men and women recorded in God’s Word, we will see the many times they stumbled and fell in this race. That’s why we must keep our eyes fixed on this One who NEVER failed. In fact, the word “looking” he uses here is a remarkable word. It only occurs this one time in all of the NT. It means “to focus your attention so intently on Jesus that you shut out all distractions.”
Looking at our circumstances, faith grows weak. Looking to other saints, if they fail, we will falter. But looking unto Jesus, we will never fall. HE is the one who pioneered the way of faith through temptation, through a world of sin, through death and the grave, through principalities and power, right on to the very throne of God.
HE is our inspiration.
3. And then finally, after sharing our instructions and on our inspirations, the writer then mentions our Incentives for this Race in verse 2, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Think about what it says, “who for the joy that was set before Him…” What is he talking about? Certainly not the cross. Being crucified was nothing to JOYFUL about. No, the thing that kept Christ persevering through all of the pain of being beaten and nailed to a tree, the thing that kept Him committed through the shame and reproach of our sins being placed upon Him, was the reward at the end. To finish the race, He had to look beyond the cross to the results. He would be reunited with His Father in heaven… and He would successfully reunite fallen man with the Father.
That’s what WE have to do – THAT is our incentive for enduring every hardship.
We are not in this for recreational pleasure. No, we are in it for the reward at the end! We remain faithful, because we know that one day it will be worth every hardship, every trial, every sacrifice.
I can endure a lot when I keep in mind that one day ALL THIS IS GONNA END. And for the Christian, what an end it will be! When our race is finished, we will have heaven, with Jesus, never to suffer again!
And while THAT is incentive enough – I’m not running this race JUST FOR ME AND WHAT I WILL GET OUT OF IT. No. The greatest reward I could possibly enjoy is having others join me there. My children, my friends and family, others - how great it will be to walk through heaven and realize that my faithfulness ⇒ made a difference in the lives of others!
So you want to WIN this race???
Consider the Instructions – lay aside those things that hinder you from running this race effectively.
Consider the Inspirations – Both the saints and the Savior, inspire us to keep pressing on.
And The Incentives – think of the reward that awaits you, and think of the people who will be in heaven because you didn't quit!
So again I will ask you: Are you running to win? Do you need His help?