Running the Race, Part 1
by Gil Rugh
The letter to the Hebrews was written to a fellowship of believers that had experienced persecutions, imprisonments, and had their property confiscated. They had been faithful, but with the passing of time they had grown weary. At the time of this letter they were facing growing persecution and suffering. Some did not want to go through it again.
The writer exhorted them,
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:23-25).
The writer goes on in Hebrews chapter 11 to list several men and women from the Old Testament who had lived their lives in faithfulness to God. Because of their faith, the men and women in Hebrews 11 saw marvelous things, they were able to accomplish great things, and they suffered great things. Although they all had God’s approval, they all died without experiencing the ultimate fulfillment of what God had promised. The transition at the end of Hebrews brings the focus from Old Testament saints to New Testament believers.
And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect (Hebrews 11:39, 40).
Why didn't Abraham receive what was promised? These other individuals? Because God's plan of redemption included us, and He didn't intend to bring to fruition all that He had promised until His work of redemption would be brought to its fullness.
Hebrews 12 begins with the word “therefore.” This will provide the connection from the Old Testament saints to the readers of this letter.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1, 2).
These Old Testament saints are testifying to us. Remember God declared that they were pleasing to Him, they were approved by Him. They act as those who are testifying to us of the blessing of living by faith, of believing God.
What are we to do? The writer continues with, “Let us.” This is not a command, but more of an exhortation. He includes himself in this group and encourages those living by faith to continue the pattern: “Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us” (Hebrews 12:1).
The picture in this context is a runner in a race. It's not a short race; it's a long race. The first thing the runner does, is to lay aside every encumbrance. The word “every” indicates anything that would weigh us down. We must not fill our lives with things that distract us from God’s plan for our lives.
We need to consider: “Would this in any way keep me from running as intensely as I could in the race that God has set before me? If so, then I don't want it. The activity may not be bad in and of itself, but if it’s a hindrance that keeps me from running the race with endurance, I must set it aside.