Running with Endurance – a sermon on Hebrews chapter twelve (Pt. 2)
In my last post, I shared a part of my sermon manuscript which looked at the phrase, ‘so great a cloud of witnesses’, which comes from Hebrews 12.1. In this post, I consider a second key phrase: ‘lay aside every weight’. What is a weight? Is it different from the ‘sin which clings so closely’ (which comes in my next post)? I hope you are blessed by this post.
v. 1b: ‘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,
The term ‘every weight’ is a subtle one – it isn’t ‘sin’ as you see in the phrase which follows. It something that I refer to as ‘initially innocent, but potentially or personally problematic’.
A colleague of mine at Oxford made an interesting observation about this passage. He said that when one is relaxed, sitting down, and not running a race, the clothing one wears is hardly noticed. It’s there for comfort, protection against the elements, etc. But when you are running a race – when you are engaged with the work of the Kingdom – then every little innocent item becomes an unbearable weight! Have you noticed that swimmers have absolutely no hair on their arms and legs? Even the men shave! Something as innocent as hair could be a hindrance, a weight.
Likewise, when we are running hard for Jesus we see more clearly all the things which weigh us down. It’s hard to see how heavy a weight really is when you don’t have to move. It becomes easy to justify another $30 spent here, another wasted 30 minutes, another 3 hours less at the library – it’s hard to feel these as weights.
Like what Paul says in Romans 14 where there’s a discussion about eating meats sacrificed to idols. Is it sin to eat the meat? Toward the end of this passage in Paul concludes: ‘Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean’ (v. 20); then, ‘But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin’ (v. 23). If we wonder whether it’s permitted, then it’s not of faith and the weight becomes sin. What is initially innocent becomes personally problematic. As athletes, there is no room for doubt. If we have to wonder whether another movie, or owning a Smart Phone, or wearing this or that item of clothing might get in the way of enduring the race, ‘lay it aside’, because, for you, the weight is a sin.
In other words, as athletes we need to move from questions not of permission (Am I allowed?) to questions of purpose (Is it in line with my Kingdom calling?). As Jesus says, ‘If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away . . . And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away’ (Matt. 5.29-30). The race of faith is sometimes run without limbs.
During my masters program, I took a class with Dr. William Lane Craig who would begin in each class session with a brief comment on what he called ‘sage pieces of advice’. At first he discussed things like how to study well, how to do morning devotions, how to prioritize marriage over study and study of ministry, etc. One morning he gave us advice about working out. There are two points to be made here: (1) physical workouts are important and vital for the Christian’s life, for running with endurance; and (2) this is an illustration of the idea that there is a shape to godliness, a form it takes on – i.e., running with endurance has a way of showing itself externally.
I was once at a conference which I helped to organize where Pastor John Piper was a keynote speaker. I saw him walking back, it must have been from the bathroom, and for 50-100 yards I saw him walk; and I notice there was a godliness to his walk. After years and decades of devoting himself to, wrestling with, fasting for, hungering after God, you would expect that this holy intimacy would carry over into the very way he carries himself – and it did.
It is very much like what Paul writes in Colossians: ‘Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience’ (Col. 3.12). You are chosen by God – now walk in a manner which reflects this reality. And it’s like what CS Lewis said about the Nazi German soldiers and the Jews they killed: At first the Germans killed the Jews because they hated them; later they hated them because they killed them: a vicious cycle of violence and hatred. Conversely, we are called to a virtuous cycle of godliness whereby we put on certain virtues – even the very clothes we wear – which befits and makes fit a godly Christian man or woman.