Most of us have run races in our time, be it at school or be it belonging to a club. On our travels yesterday, we passed a school preparing for their “annual inter-house athletics event”. You might recall being at school and placed into a “house” and all your athletics were performed under that house colour. Points were awarded to first, second and third place, with the house having the most points winning the “annual inter-house athletics event”. Humorously, I think more effort goes into those not performing but practicing singing, chanting and raising their voices! In the Bible we read:
Heb 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Naturally, the writer is referring to “Games” or even the “Olympic Games” that people of his day knew so well. In verse 1, we find spectators (witnesses); discarding excess weight (throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles); intentionality (run with perseverance) and a clearly marked out course (race marked out for us). In verse 2, we find the race judicator (Jesus); the athletes focus is on him (Let us fix our eyes on Jesus). In verse 3, we find method and perseverance (not grow weary and lose heart).
In the First Century, running was one of the most popular sports of the Olympic Games. The facility wherein they ran was called a stadium because it represented six hundred Greek feet in length. This is equal to 180 meters. As in today, the stadium was oblong. On the long side was a high, straight wall with an entrance gate and on the other the wall was high and rounded and completely closed. On either side was tiered seating much like a rugby or soccer stadium. The spectators or witnesses would be seated here. On the entrance side was a square pillar that marked the start. On the other side was the end (the goal or the mark) where the judicator or judge sat with the prize in his hands. The competitors or runners had their eyes fixed on him.
All athletes would engage in vigorous training. They carried no body fat at all. They even shed their clothing to the bare necessity to prevent excess weight that might hinder them. Races could vary between once distance between the start and the goal or anything up to 24 lengths. The longer the distance, the more strength, focus and energy was required. A good race plan with patience before bursting forward was required. The writer puts it like this … “let us run with perseverance.” Irrespective of the length of a race today, a race plan and carefully worked out strategy is required so that one does not burn out and drop out of the race.
It is very easy to see how the writer uses the concepts of this well-known race that his readers can picture to illustrate how serious and intentional the Christian life needs to be. Like in any church, his congregation also contained people who were aflame for the Gospel whilst others were less intentional whilst still others were mediocre. Others were just pew warmers without any intent of being anything else than entertained.
The spectators or witnesses that the writer refers to are those found in the Hall of Fame documented in Hebrews 11. They are already in glory. Whether they are able to see what happens on earth is uncertain, because if they could see, they would see all our sin too and that would tarnish heaven. Perhaps the audience (witnesses / spectators) is more spiritual in the sense of their faithful intentional running their race is the witness or the yardstick for us.
Are you actively running the race? In other words, are you set on the pathway towards glory through being Born Again? You see, all true Christians are “in the race” … all moving towards the “prize” … that of the Paradise of God. After all, there cannot be a better, greater and more glorious prize than that!
Are you shedding excess weight? The words “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” call for intentional Christianity. That is, the Gospel needs to shape our life to the point where we have a Biblical Worldview on every aspect of life. The Word tells us to:
Mk 12:30 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”
Every aspect of life is covered by “all your heart” … all your emotional sphere; “all your soul” … all your spiritual sphere; “all your mind” … all your intellectual / academic sphere; and “all your strength” … all your energy. The more you love God, the more you will shed as much sin as possible to live a holy life. Holiness is the key to running the race.
Are you running with perseverance? This means you keep to the rules of this race. These are found in the Bible. As you read them and become familiar with them, you apply them to your life through prayer!
Are you keeping your eyes on Jesus? When running a road race, irrespective of the distance, you run with your head up. You keep looking where you are going, especially when the race is shorter and the speed is 4 minutes or less per kilometer. If you don’t keep the head up and look, you will trip and fall and injure yourself and not complete the race. Keeping your eyes on Jesus means keeping your spiritual head up … He is the prize, and when eyes are on Him you won’t stumble and fall and injure yourself spiritually!
Dear God, thank You for every encouragement in Your Word to keep me persevering in the faith. The obstacles and traps of the enemy abound … but when my focus is on Jesus, the spiritual terrain becomes easier. Blessed Lord, help me Your servant to remain intentional as I run the race in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.