Every 4 years the Summer Olympics comes on television. The second week of coverage is always dominated by track and field events. On occasion, I will watch some of these incredible athletes compete in various races. I am always impressed by their speed, stamina, and skill. Running was never my strong suit and I didn’t participate in track during high school. That said, I admire and respect those who are able to run - whether it be sprints, hurdles, relays, or marathons. I sure can’t do it…
The reason I mention this is because a portion of our morning’s message involves a comparison between Christians and runners. This analogy is used elsewhere in scripture too, especially in the letters of Paul. Anyway, the sermon is titled “A Better Example”. It is the 24th installment of our current series through the book of Hebrews. That said, runners take your marks because it's time to get started….
I. RUN WITH ENDURANCE (v1-4)
This verse refers back to chapter 11 and to all of the great men and women of faith who have already passed away. Collectively, these numerous saints are called “a great cloud of witnesses”. Based in part on this verse, many Christians believe that those already in Heaven are looking down upon and cheering for believers on the earth - like spectators in a grand stadium watching runners compete. Others interpret this phrase to mean that their lives of faith provide a compelling testimony or witness for those who follow to emulate. Perhaps both of these explanations are true.
The text counsels Christians to “lay aside” every weight and sin. Those who continue to practice such things will surely be weighed down by them, which will hamper their ability to run as God intends. Even those who live do righteously will need “endurance” to run and finish the race of life well. This world is broken, cruel, and filled with obstacles. The course is not easy, and it becomes even more difficult for those who run while encumbered with sin.
Believers should focus on Jesus, “the Author and Perfecter of faith”, who has already completed the race and is waiting for them at the finish line. He voluntarily “endued the cross”, its “shame”, and “hostility by sinners” and then “set down at the right hand… of God”. Following His example, Christians can run the race of life and “not grow weary” or “lose heart”. Runners should fix their eyes on Jesus, realizing that He endured far more suffering than they have.
II. APPRECIATE THE FATHER’S DISCIPLINE (v5-11)
This passage begins with the repetition of Proverbs 3:11-12. It advises Christians to not despise the Lord’s discipline or resent His rebuke. Rather they should realize that such discipline is an act of love. If God didn’t care for His children, He would let them doing whatever they wanted, without any consequence. But He does love them, and therefore corrects them whenever they do something wrong.
Studies have repeatedly shown that children who grow up without any boundaries, who are left largely uncontrolled and undisciplined, most often develop into lawbreaking, self-serving, and unproductive adults. Therefore, it is imperative for a father to lovingly discipline his children. It is not always an easy thing to do, especially in the short-term, but the long-term benefits are critical for the child’s well-being. Kids need parents who love them enough to discipline them when they misbehave, just as God does to His children.
The pain of discipline is typically short-lived. The soreness of receiving a spanking may last a few minutes, the shame of being placed in time out may linger for an hour, or the discomfort of being grounded might continue for a couple of weeks or months. This temporary sorrow, though unpleasant, produces lasting character. The discipline of the Lord produces endurance and - if received rightly - “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” in those whom He loves that they might “share His holiness”.
III. BEHAVE RIGHTEOUSLY (v12-17)
In the previous verses, the writer has compared Christians to athletes running in a race and children receiving their father’s discipline. Now he begins to provide some practical, straightforward advice for them to heed. This instructive comments are intended to help believers run faster and better, while staying out of trouble.
Those who have placed their faith in Christ should encourage one another to press on, to persist, and to never give up. They should lovingly reach out to and bolster those who are “weak” and “feeble”. They should aspire to live godly lives by running a “straight path” which others can easily follow. “Lame” believers move slowly, are prone to turning aside, or perhaps even quitting altogether. But these spiritual injuries which impair them can be “healed” through sincere love and encouragement.
Furthermore Christians should pursue peace and sanctification. As they aspire daily to become more like Jesus, individual believers should also look out for one another to ensure that “no one comes short of the grace of God.” In other words, the members of God’s church share a degree of mutual responsibility for one another. They should be careful not to allow any “root of bitterness” to spring up between or amongst them, which would certainly cause trouble and perhaps even the “defilement” of some.
The church should not blindly or blissfully allow “immoral or godless” men, like Esau, to abide within it. They can cause great damage to the Body of Christ. These are people who reject the blessing of God the Father in exchange for their own carnal lusts and desires. After his sin, Esau tearfully sought restoration and longed for Jacob’s blessing, but it was too late. In the same way, those who are confined in Hell for their rebellion against the LORD now regret their decisions - but their opportunity to repent has passed.
Jesus is our example of an athlete running with endurance. He showed us how to run the race of life successfully. If we run as He did, we will finish as winners. I am reminded of a statement that Paul made to Timothy in the final days of his life. He wrote, “I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7, ESV) How well are we running our races today?
God is our example of a loving father who disciplines His children. He has established limits and given us commandments to follow in order to protect us from harm and to train us in holiness. Remember the story of Job? He experienced great suffering and calamity, yet even he said to his friends, “Do not despise the discipline of the Almighty; for He wounds, but He also heals.” (Job 5:17-18) The LORD is more concerned about our character than our comfort. How kindly do we accept and appreciate the Father’s discipline?
Finally, we ourselves are to set an example for others by living righteously. We should encourage one another - especially those in the faith who are struggling. We should be at peace with each other, not divided or embroiled in conflict. We should deal with issues promptly and carefully, so that they do not become larger and cause division or defilement within the church body. What type of example are you setting today within your home, your school, your workplace, your congregation, and elsewhere?