How Are We To RUN?
Hebrews 12:1-2 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, 2 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.
Two vacillating attitudes have come to mind when looking at my own attitudes about Christianity over the years and the attitudes of others. Although sometimes displayed in a many different ways, there are two contrasting attitudes (or postures) often displayed regarding our Christianity. The first is an all-put-together façade of fear (the bad kind) rooted in the dread of being truly known by others – “Look at me. I’m a Christian. I have it all together” – the fear being internal, “I hope nobody looks too close and finds out what I really struggle with inside”. It is an unfortunate isolation of self within the crowd. The second is an authentic proclamation of the reverent fear (the good kind) of the Lord; a fear rooted in reverent awe – “Here I am. I’m a Christian. Can you believe it? God loves me despite all my flaws and struggles, but is making me whole day by day. Let’s all walk together with Him.” This attitude best serves God and the community around us. Isolation and community are not my focus, but they are important indicators of what is going on inside us regarding these contrasting attitudes.
From the devotional by Paul Tripp, New Morning Mercies, he says, “Here’s the bottom line when it comes to moral candor – denial is rooter in fear (the bad kind) and confession is rooted in hope. You cannot embrace the radical hope of the person and work of Jesus Christ and make sense out of our drive to present ourselves as less than needy.” I always love the way P. Tripp faithfully throws down the gut check.
I believe, in and out of season (2Tim 4:2), we all struggle to not give in to the fear façade attitude and at other times we struggle believing and feeling safe with the authentic reverent fear attitude. I think it is because we are Gospel Amnesiacs (another Tripp term). It may be that we have forgotten ALL of who Christ is and ALL of what He has accomplished and given to us. Or maybe we have never really been taught what our call in Christ is and where our ability comes from to walk it out.
More evidence of this amnesia is that we tend to decorate sin with either our ornamental works to make our sin and ourselves not looks so bad. Or we comparatively drape the sin of others with hideous gore as though it shows a stark contrast to what we look like on the outside, dismissively claiming “at least I am not that bad”. Not all are fooled, but you can be sure, if that is your attitude, you are among the ones being fooled. Now don’t get me wrong. All sins are hideous and vile transgressions against our Creator. What I want to get at is the simplicity of the meaning of the word sin and how Hebrews 12 can help us address all our sin.
To do so, I want to first look at what the word sin means. It means, “to miss the mark”. Here is where correct perspectives become eternally critical. What is “the mark”, in missing the mark? Before we answer that question we must first answer another question – who sets the standard? In other words who places the mark? The answer – it is not you or I, it is not the church or any human leader in it, it is not the government or any university and it is not any other person or group that claims to be spiritual, enlightened or morally superior.
The One who sets the standard and places the mark is our triune God who gave us His word, illuminates it on our hearts through His Spirit and who came in the form of Jesus Christ to “mark it out” for us. As we look through Hebrews 12:1-2, commentary(a) will help us define key words and phrases.
Cloud of witnesses – The writer of Hebrews begins chapter 12 with the familiar race metaphor, presenting a forceful challenge for Christians to endure in a “marathon” commitment to Christ. With 12:1 he turns the spotlight on his own community of faith, using the first person plural “we” to challenge this community to recognize themselves as part of the “great cloud of witnesses” called to live by faith. “We” professing Christians are witnesses in the sense that we bear witness to the Christian community and the world of God’s faithfulness and of the effectiveness of faith. God has given witness to us, and we, as examples, bear witness to Him before present and future generations. In this way, the great cloud of faithful Christ-followers through history offer the community motivation in its current struggle to stay the course of commitment.
Turning now to “the race” let us not forget how important community is. A race is best run with others, not against a clock you cannot see. In this sense, my point is not to focus on which of us is the best runner, but to realize that in “the cloud” of runners, the pace is set for all. Those that are falling behind are exhorted (pushed, pressed, urged) to keep pace and stick with the pack. And those in the lead are focused on the course marked out ahead of them. Being “faithful” to the path “set before them”, the leaders give some direction, motivation and a reason to press on for those that are following the same path. But again, don’t think of this as a competition. (More on that next)
Lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely – The writer calls his hearers to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.(NIV)” An ancient writers sometimes used the word onkos to mean “mass, weight, heaviness, bodily fat”. In line with the sports imagery of verse 1, the word could refer to a runner stripping off burdensome clothing or losing excess bodily fat. For success one had to get rid of anything that would hinder breathing or free movement. So the Christ-follower must lay aside “everything that hinders” if the faith race is to be run triumphantly. It is important to understand “triumph” in its context here and also identify who the competition is. In the faith race ALL that run triumphantly win! But it is a wise runner who understands that his only competition is ourselves. Having fellow runners competing with themselves too is beneficial in this regard. “Let us lay aside every weight…” comes with a individual responsibility that has a community effect. We are personally responsible to cast off our own hindrances that are contrary to our faith. As we then run with more endurance, our “laying aside” will have a positive “witnessing” effect on those around us and encourage them to do the same thing. It helps us as well to witness others casting off what we ourselves ought to cast off. This is an open display of removing the power of sin in our lives. When sin is exposed and laid aside it loses its power over us. Hidden sin clings to us. It clings to us through shame and the fear of being found out. But, when others around us show how to expose it and lay it aside, together we are unhindered and given a greater endurance to focused on what is set before us all.
Because our enemy blinds the minds of the unbelieving (2Cor 4:4) sin holds out a false promise that is all to easy for our fallen hearts to cling to. Collectively they can completely take us out of the race. Too many times we think that less obvious and seemingly good things (possession, positions, habits, people, etc.) are helping us, but in reality they have become our functioning lords and saviors that hinder us from what the true God intends for us. Along with the most obvious, these less obvious things are what we are to lay aside. Super obvious sins like addiction and destructive behaviors typically get dealt with one way or another by us or those around us. But it is the multitude of the less obvious things that cling so close and “so easily entangle” (NIV).
The word euperistatos possibly refers to something that clings so closely that it impedes movement, but its meaning is uncertain. The NIV translation understands the term to derive from periïstemi (“to surround”). The author does not seem to have a specific sin in mind, but rather understands any sin as hindering progress in the faith. Be clear that our influence on those around us works in an entangling way as well. What causes us to stumble will always cause others to stumble. It may be that we lead each other astray with the same sin, or we may cause others to stumble in other ways when we fall. Think of a pack of runners or bicyclists racing; one goes down and the many around him go down; not because of their failing, but because of the one who first fell. But the vigilant ones who are not only watching the path, but those on the path, can avoid crashing when others go down around them. Better still, they can stop and be a help instead of being a part of the collective crash.
Run with endurance the race The main clause of 12:1–2a is translated with “let us run.” This image of “running” emphasizes that Christ-followers have a course to complete or a goal to reach, and must exert effort if the Christian life is to be lived faithfully. The author has in view, however, a marathon rather than a sprint, as seen in the phrase “with endurance.” The effort called for, consequently, is a sustained effort that goes the distance, following through on one’s commitment with dogged determination. This is how we must run “the race marked out for us.” Running any distance requires the internal fuel to do so. The fuel must be spent on running. It bears repeating that hindrances can either eat fuel needed in the race or will poke holes in your faith tank or both. Speaking to men on Godliness, Crawford Lawrence once said, “Character is not casual. We need to be serious about our holiness”. Running a race is not done on a whim. To run well you must train. Training is best done with a predetermined regiment and a trainer or training partners who guide, evaluate, help you make adjustments and encourage. Again, it is such a subtle underlying theme, but community is so very important. But the best trainers, the most stringent regiment and the most supportive community can do no good if the runner expects “the cloud” around him to do for him what he must do himself. There is a time for healing, reconditioning and mental preparation, but running the race triumphantly is the goal. All must run. Without the proper attitude, determination and commitment you’ve not even stepped into the starting blocks.
Running the race includes:
- The right attitude – I will give my all. God will be with me. Others will be along side of me. But I will run whether they are with me or not. (Rom 5:3-5, Heb 12:3-4, James 1:1-7, Ps 23)
- The right aptitude – I will read, learn, and nurture those things in my heart and mind that are true treasures. I will choose to fill myself with things that are good for me, consistent with the Gospel and point me down the down the race set before me. (Rom 12:1-2 & 9-12, Col 3:16, Phil 4:8)
- Fortitude – I WILL RUN. While I run I will invest my faith, hope and love in the Lord with all my mind, soul heart and strength daily. With humility I will look to others who are running the race well and who will encourage me in the Lord. (Luke 10:27, Phil 4:12-13, Rom 5:3-5, 2 Cor 12:9, Ps 3:5 & 28:7, Ps 46)
- Solitude – Running as best I can I will take time to rest in the Lord, spend time with Him daily in prayer and in studying His word. There I will find my strength, my truth, my peace, my purpose and my path. While I run I will retreat in my mind to rest in Him when the hills of the race are high, when the valleys are dark and when the road is rough. However long the road may be I will take time to rest in Him in solitude away from what distracts me, away from what hinders me or challenges me and away from the people or things that call me off the path set before me.
(Lk 5:16, Ps 139, Mt 6:5-6, Ps 46:10-11)
- RUNNING THE RACE REQUIRES ALL OF THE ABOVE not one or a few.
The race that is set before us – Prokeimai, translated here as “set before us” or in the NIV “marked out,” can also be translated “lie before, lie in view, be at hand”; the author has already used the word at 6:18 to speak of the hope that has been “offered to” or “placed before” the believer. The picture evoked in 12:1 is that of runners looking down the track at the course they must run. They know where they must go and now must bring their training and commitment to bear on the task of running the race successfully. As runners see the path lying before them, so Christians see the path of the faith life stretch into the future. Yet, thankfully, the path is not all the believer sees.
We are called to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (12:2). Looking to a king or leader as a model, or to God for inspiration was a common motif in various rhetorical literatures of the ancient world. In the context of the “race,” Jesus is the one who has run the path before us, and he offers the preeminent example of how the race is to be run. But he is more; that he is the “author and perfecter of our faith” sets him apart from all the examples enumerated in Hebrews 11.
But are we as believers running the same race as Jesus? Yes and No. Yes, it is the same path we are to run. But, knowing that He has done what we could not do to atone for our own sin; and knowing we are given His righteousness because we have no righteousness of our own – we must repent of our own way of running and give ourselves to running “in Christ” to find the “perfection” He promises.
In a sense, the race has already been run and won for us. However, we are to still run – not for the prize, but because of the prize. It is a tricky difference. We can be sure that race we are to run will be hard (1Peter 1:3-8). Yes, Christ has won the ultimate race, but we have not been perfected yet. That work in us will go until the end of the race. It was necessary for Christ to finish and win the race on our behalf, so that He could perfect our faith along that same path that He “marked out” for us (Rom 8:17, 1Pt 4:13). Down this path, knowing what lies ahead, Jesus “sets before us” what is to perfect us. He is not insensitive to do so, as though our running were some penance we must pay to earn the prize.
Heb 4:15 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
He Himself endured what we will never have to endure, yet calls He us to endure His perfecting process. We will not run perfectly, but we will run to be perfected.
The unanswered question – In the opening paragraphs we asked the question, “what is the mark in missing the mark?”. Simply put, “the mark” is God’s existential standard of holiness for His children. Left to ourselves, hitting “the mark” is impossible, not only on a short term basis, but on a continual basis. Praise Him, that Jesus ran the ultimate race we could not run, holds the prize we cannot earn and loves us to perfection. No wonder why we say “Glory to God” and “His grace is amazing”. So here is our answer to the unanswered question above – Missing the mark is missing the path to perfection Jesus has “marked out” before us. When we miss that, we altogether miss Jesus, what He has done for us and the perfection He has in store for us.
The founder and perfecter of our faith – The word translated “author” is rich with meaning and can communicate variously the idea of a champion, leader, forerunner, or initiator. The word has already been used in Hebrews in the context of Christ’s bringing of salvation (2:10). These various nuances may overlap in the present context. Both these of words forerunner and champion fit the athletic imagery of the passage. Contrasted with the word “perfecter,” however, it also may indicate the idea of an initiator. That he perfected our faith means that the Lord accomplished fully what it would take for new covenant faith to be a reality.
Donald Hagner comments: As perfecter of faith, he brings it to its intended goal. Thus, whether one talks about faith as a possibility or as the experience of fulfillment, all depends upon Jesus. For this reason, Christians must keep looking away from this world to Him. He is not only the basis, means, and fulfillment of faith, but in His life He also exemplifies the same principle of faith that we saw in the ideals of chapter 11. Ultimately, Jesus accomplished the perfection of our faith by his sacrificial death on the cross. In keeping with the race imagery, he has cleared the path of faith so that we may run it. The way is open, and although hurdles exist, the roadblocks have been removed.
As Hagner notes, Jesus not only perfected faith but also provided the preeminent example of endurance because he looked beyond immediate, painful circumstances to the reward that was ahead. The verb kataphroneo, translated here as “scorning,” means to treat someone or something as if he or it had little value. Paul uses the same word in Romans 2:4, where he speaks of “scorning” God’s kindness. It also occurs in Jesus’ proclamation that no one can serve two masters; rather, one will be loved and the other scorned (Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13).
To understand what it means that – Jesus “scorned” the shame of the cross – should boggle the mind. It means that he treated it as insignificant or of little consequence. The author’s choice of words here in Hebrews is powerful. The cross was the lowest form of capital punishment in the Roman world, reserved for slaves and criminals and involving both torture and public humiliation. On the cross Jesus was treated as valueless, being mocked and ridiculed—in short, being “scorned” or “shamed.” He, however, turned the experience inside out, “scorning the scorn,” or in the author’s words here, “scorning the shame”; the cross was insignificant compared to the joy set before our Lord. The end result of its shame was his exaltation to the right hand of God (Ps. 110:1). Thus, Christians are encouraged to look beyond their present difficulties to God’s promised rewards.
Clarity on “the joy set before Him” – This may ruffle a few feathers, and I think that is good. Too many times I have heard well-meaning Christians preach that “the joy set before Him” in Heb 12:2 is you and I (set before Him). It is a nice thought, a comforting thought, but not an altogether true interpretation. When we look at the words of Jesus leading up to the crucifixion, we don’t see Jesus wanting to please us. He wasn’t praying in the garden to us. He was praying “Yet not as I will, but as You will” to His Father. Jesus’ main motive in loving us through the cross came from his true joy and desire to please his “Father’s will” and take his place seated at His right hand. Taking His rightful place at the right hand, would mean that our sins were atoned for at the will of God the Father. Paradoxically our “sinful will” is what nailed Jesus to the cross. This amazing race ends with the fulfilling the will of The Father. This was Jesus’ joy and we are beneficiaries of that joy.
Isa 53:4-10 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief…
Our salvation is not the source of Christ’s true joy, but is evidence of it and so is His promise for our eventual perfection. And so, in the context of all the above, read all of Hebrews 12 once more. Rejoice and then give yourself to “the race that is set before you”.
Hebrews 12 Jesus, Founder and Perfecter of Our Faith (ESV)
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, 2 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.
Do Not Grow Weary
3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.
A Kingdom That Cannot Be Shaken
18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.
a. The NIV Application Commentary found on Biblegateway.com has been referenced for a portion of the commentary with much added to clarify our subject.