Letter To CLGrews (Hebrews 12:1-2)

11:32 I could speak more of faith; I could talk until time itself ran out. If I continued, I could speak of the examples of Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah, of David and Samuel and all the prophets. 33 I could give accounts of people alive with faith who conquered kingdoms, brought justice, obtained promises, and closed the mouths of hungry lions. 34 I could tell you how people of faith doused raging fires, escaped the edge of the sword, made the weak strong, and—stoking great valor among the champions of God—sent opposing armies into panicked flight.

35 I could speak of faith bringing women their loved ones back from death and how the faithful accepted torture instead of earthly deliverance because they believed they would obtain a better life in the resurrection. 36 Others suffered mockery and whippings; they were placed in chains and in prisons. 37 The faithful were stoned, sawn in two, killed by the sword, clothed only in sheepskins and goatskins; they were penniless, afflicted, and tormented. 38 The world was not worthy of these saints. They wandered across deserts, crossed mountains, and lived in the caves, cracks, and crevasses of the earth.

39 These, though commended by God for their great faith, did not receive what was promised. 40 That promise has awaited us, who receive the better thing that God has provided in these last days, so that with us, our forebears might finally see the promise completed.

12:1 Therefore, since we stand surrounded by an enormous cloud of all those who have gone before, let us drop every extra weight, every sin that clings to us and slackens our pace, and let us run with endurance the long race set before us. Now stay focused on Jesus, who designed and perfected our faith. He endured the cross and ignored the shame of that death because He focused on the joy that was set before Him; and now He is seated beside God on the throne, a place of honor.

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These first two verses of chapter 12 are ridiculously theologically rich. I decided to write you a letter rather than try to put it all into an outline. This letter is full of what pastors and theologians and writer have said about this section. I’m calling it the Letter to CLGrewsbecause while I want it to capture the imagery used for the original audience, I want to update and expand it with all that has been said.This version doesn’t replace your Bible J It is only meant to add light to it. 

LETTER TO THE CLGrews (Hebrews 12:1-2, with commentary)

Do you remember how Philo, a beloved Jewish philosopher, wrote 250 years ago that Abraham took good runners as an example, finished life without stumbling, and was rewarded crowns and prizes?[1]I want to run with this analogy (run with it…never mind) as I talk about life in the Kingdom of God, but let’s apply it to the running that you know and have observed: the Olympic Games.

First, in order for athletes to enter they have to be citizens, right? The race I am talking to you about now is not a race toward salvation, or citizenship in heaven. You are citizens of heaven already; you are qualified to run in the discipleship race – and in fact, you are running now, ready or not. 

Getting ready to run the race islike standing in the starting block at the Olympic Games. The rising amphitheater that is full of spectators for the Olympians is, for us, full of righteous runners from our history who bear witness and inspire us. What God did through Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, and Rahab reminds us of what He is ableto do in and through us today.[2]

The stories of their faithful obedience are a testimony[3]to the faith God gave them, and now gives us. If their obedience could be counted as righteousness for them, our obedience can be counted for our righteousness us as well. [4]All of them were people just like us through whom God demonstrated His power and faithfulness. You don’t need to be a hero to run; you only need the faith and the endurance that God gives to all of His children.

So, let us drop every extra weight like all wise runners do when they get ready to run. The Olympians in Greece ran practically naked in an attempt to get rid of anything that would slow them down. Today, Olympic athletes wear the lightest shoes; swimmers wear the slickest body suits; bikers get the most aerodynamic helmets and bikes. They cut down to the smallest percentage of body fat. Every little thing matters.  

 “We cannot win if we are weighted: the pace will have to be very swift, and we cannot get to it, or keep it up, if we have weights to carry. Unloaded, we shall find the race taxing all our powers; but weighted, we shall be doomed to failure. Oh, to lay aside all burdensome care, fretfulness, ambition, anger, greed, and selfish desire! These were never worth the labor they have cost us; but now that we have become runners, we must have done with them. Down they must go… we would diminish even our own bulk, that we may fly along the course.”[5]

What then are the “weights” that we should remove so that we might win the race? Anything and everything that hinders our spiritual progress., even “good things.” So strip off and cast away even harmless things if they hinder your progress, diverts your attention, saps your energy or dampens your enthusiasm the goal of the upward call in Christ Jesus. All that does not help, hinders.[6]

You are in a race which calls for the best that is in you. What is the weight which is slowing you down?. Ask yourself in everything you do, Does this help or hinder my spiritual life?[7]

"Is it in the way of greater faith and greater love and greater purity and greater courage and greater humility and greater patience and greater self-control? Does it help me run! Is it in the way? Don't ask about your music, your movies, your parties, your habits: What's wrong with it? Ask: Does it help me RUN the race!? Does it help me RUN - for Jesus?”[8]If you aren’t sure how to do that, try this Weight Test:

1.   THE WORLD TEST.Will it encourage me toward loving Jesus or the world more? 

2.   THE QUALITY TEST.Is it good for me physically, emotionally, mentally, relationally and spiritually? 

3.   THE TEMPLE TEST.Can I do it when I remember that I am one of the ‘living stones’ that builds the church, the temple of God? 

4.   THE GLORY TEST.Will it glorify or shame the reputation of God? 

5.   THE BLESSING TEST.Can I honestly ask God’s blessing on it?

6.   THE AVOIDANCE TEST.Will I want to hide, minimize, or lie about this when others find out?

7.   THE REPUTATION TEST.Will it damage my testimony for the Lord? 

8.   THE CONSIDERATION TEST.Am I being considerate of others and the effect this might have on them? 

9.   THE COMPANION TEST.Would I invite Christian friends to go with me and participate with me? Would my non-Christian friends be confused?[9]

Some of these “weights” can be good things that we misuse. However, some we know to be sinful in and of themselves. “We must… cast off every sin that clings to us, surrounds us, slackens our pace and trips us up. We are all prone toward “the well circumstanced sin; that which has every thing in its favor, time, and place, and opportunity… a sin in which all these things frequently occur, and consequently the transgression is frequently committed.”[10]

·      the sin over which we hate to be reproved

·      the sin which has the most power to control our thoughts, money, energy, time and actions

·      the sin which we most easily or defiantly justify

·      the sin which we promise to give up when we are desperate for God’s help

·      the sin which we can’t see but everyone around us does

·      the sin that makes us angry that we are even talking about it.[11]

Having cast our weights and our sins away, let us run with endurance the long race set before us. "God sets the course. If you’re running a marathon, you can’t make up your own course. If you stray from the course, you’ll be disqualified. The race is “set before us,” just as Jesus had “the joy set before Him.” God is the Sovereign One who sets the course for each of us, just as He set the course of the cross for Jesus. To finish the Christian marathon, it’s important to keep in mind at all times that the Sovereign God sets the course. 

You may not like parts of the course. You may be prone to grumble, “Why did the course have to go over this hill, or through this swamp?” The answer is, “Because the Sovereign God planned it this way.” You won’t be able to run by faith unless you submit your will to His will.”[12]“The raceis that life of faith and obedience, that pursuit of personal holiness, to which the Christian is called by God. The Christian race begins at the new birth, and ends not till we are summoned to leave this world.”[13]

In addition God has prepared a “lane” for each of his children to run in on the way to this ultimate finish line. All of us have a lane that is for us and not for others as we run. “God has a work for everyone that no one else can do quite as well. A race has been set before me; and it is my duty to find out what that race is, and run it, and not waste life in regrets that I cannot run a different one, or life’s energies in unsuccessful attempts to do so.”[14]

I have my family of origin, my extroverted or introverted personality, my school and community, my friends, my history of beauty or pain, my spouse, my children, my job, my talents, my issues I am passionate about in ways others are not, my resources, my health, my opportunities…. You get the idea. If I were to look around and try to run in someone else’s lane because it looks cooler or more important or easier, I would be a fool and best and a rebel against God’s plan at worst. 

We must all run with patience the race toward Christ with Christ, but we all run in a lane. How do we know what the lane of the race is for us? There are a lot of ways to think about this, so try this as a starting point:

·   For what has your past prepared you?God is famously good at working all things into something good for those who are called according to His purpose for them, and turning what Satan meant for evil into good. 

·   In what circumstances have you been placed?What are your “gravity” issues, limitations that cannot be changed by your power?[15]What are your “freedom” issues, things that you can change? #knowthedifference 

·   What kind of person are you?Math or music? Big Picture or Detail? People or Projects? Work with your hands or your head? Ex/introverted? Can you make money/plants grow/people flourish/ houses into homes?

·   What is a meaningful thing that you love to do?Not just what do you do for fun  that you like; what does the world/family/church need that you can do and love to do?

·   What do you and others believe you do well?Maybe get an opinion other than yours JSometimes we mistake our lane for someone else’s. Find out how other people see you run. 

Let’s be honest. This is asking a lot. “If every weight of care must be laid aside, and every rag of sin, who is sufficient for these things? How can we poor limping mortals run in such a race as this? Even the starting is beyond us: how much more must perseverance in it outreach our strength! See, my brethren, how we are driven to free grace, how we are driven to the power of the Holy Spirit! 

The race which is set before us most clearly reveals our helplessness, and our hopelessness, apart from divine grace. The race of holiness and patience, while it demands our vigor, displays our weakness. We are compelled, even before we take a step in the running, to bow the knee, and cry unto the strong for strength. We dare not retreat from the contest; but how can we begin a struggle for which we are so unfitted? Who will help us? To whom shall we look? [16]

That is why we must stay focused on Jesus, who designed and perfected our faith. He is like“ the judge in the games, whose business it was to admit the contenders, and to give the prize to the conqueror.

He is the finisher, by awarding the prize to those of us that are faithful unto death. He is the author or the judge under whom, and by whose permission and direction, according to the rules of the heavenly race, we are permitted to enter the lists, and commence the race, and he is the finisher, by awarding and giving the prize which consummates the combatants at the end of the race.”[17]

He endured the cross and ignored the shame of that kind of death because He focused on the joy that was set before Him – that is, the joy of fulfilling the will His Father, which was the work of reconciliation accomplished on the cross. Now He is seated beside God on the throne -  a powerful image for how he has taken his place of honor.

A marathoner named John Akhwari finished last at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. More than an hour after everyone else was done, he hobbled in with a bloodied and bandaged leg. When asked why he didn’t drop out, he said, "My country did not send me to Mexico City to start the race. They sent me here to finish."

Jesus did not give us faith simply to start.We were not placed in a kingdom and sent to a lost world for us to simplysit or stand. We have been called to runand we have been equipped to finish.This is an impossible task on our own, but we are not alone. 

 “In the Christian life we have a presence, the presence of Jesus.He is at once the goal of our journey and the companion of our way; at once the one whom we go to meet and the one with whom we travel. The wonder of the Christian life is that we press on surrounded by the saints, oblivious to everything but the glory of the goal and forever in the company of him who has already made the journey and reached the goal, and who waits to welcome us when we reach the end.”[18]

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[1]Phillip Hughes, Commentary On The Epistle To The Hebrews

[2]From S Lewis Johnson, who also notes: “If I knew that Moses, and Paul and all the prophets were there watching, that would indeed be an incentive for me. However, that is not what he is talking about.Rather it is the lives which faithful men have lived and the stories found in the Scriptures which are witnesses to us.”

[3]Joseph Parker: “The witness therefore, in this case, is one who bears witness, who testifies, who (so to say) stands forward and declares that he is prepared to make declaration concerning certain doctrines, truths, practices, claims, and demands. So the witness is not an observer, but a testifier.” (Hebrews 12 The People's Bible by Joseph Parker)

[4]The Greeks used this term a lot: “a dense cloud of shields”; “a cloud of spearmen;” “a cloudof footmen, a cloudof Trojans.” Themistocles said of the armies of Xerxes that they were “so great a cloudof men.” (Hebrews Commentary). B F Westcottwrites that, “They are spectators who interpret to us the meaning of our struggle, and who bear testimony to the certainty of our success if we strive lawfully” (Hebrews 12 Commentary). The Bible Knowledge Commentaryagrees, noting of witnesses,"This does not mean that they watch believers today.” (Bible Knowledge Commentary)

[5]Spurgeon

[6]Hebrews Commentary

[7]M R De Haan, Studies In Hebrews

[8]John Piper

[9]An unattributed list from Precept Austin

[10]Adam Clarke

[11]My paraphrase of a list from Puritan writer Thomas Watson

[12]Steven Cole

[13]A.W. Pink

[14]From The Biblical Illustrator

[15]Thanks to Terry Porter for this language

[16]Spurgeon

[17]Adam Clarke

[18]William Barclay