A good friend of mine was a marathon enthusiast in his younger years. As opportunities to participate became available, he ran to the starting line with eagerness. He is a bible teacher now and you can hear him reflect back to his experiences of the races. One memory of his serves well as an illustrative story for our lesson this week. In fact, the bible uses a similar story to deliver this same lesson. So it would only be beneficial if we continued in the path that Scripture lies before us.
A marathon is more of a race of agility instead of speed. While other races clock the fastest time in a short distance, a marathon stretches several miles lasting hours at a time. And in most cases people are running not to finish first, but to simply finish. Such was the attitude of my friend. Finishing the distance was reward in itself.
Along the way were obstacles that served to slow down and tire the runner. As if going the distance was not hard enough, these obstacles made it even tougher to hang in until the end. These obstacles came in many forms. Too much liquid from the sideline assistants can cause cramping that easily makes the finish line unattainable. Also, the wrong clothing can serve as a heavy weight that hinders the runner’s strength. And there are also some barriers that arise during the preparation stages that have crippling effects during the race. An unhealthy diet puts a quench on endurance. A lack of training would cripple your chances to complete the race. All of these make a run much more challenging than it actually is.
The Bible calls our spiritual journey a “race of faith.” It is the illustration of living with a most high prize insight – seeing Christ in Heaven. It implores believers to struggle for the end result by not to giving way to the noise and distractions and the excess weight that might slow us down in the run.
Hebrews 12:1 reads, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
This passage proceeds immediately after the famous “Hall of Faith” portion of the Bible where Paul recognizes the heroes of our faith. He points out how each of them endured through torment, turmoil, and temptation. Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice then Cain by giving what pleased God (v11:4). Enoch had a true faith that believed in eternal reward (v11:5). Noah prepared the ark while others ridiculed him (v11:7). Later, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and others are mentioned for their undying faith to reach the finish line in Christ (v11:8-40).
They all had the Christ mindset as the following verse in Hebrews reads, “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls” (v12:2-3). Before thinking about the peer pressure, the hardships, the ridicule, they considered Christ who endured much more for them.
These Hall of Faith heroes laid aside the excess baggage that served as opposition to their end goal. The Bible describes “excess” (or “weight”) as “carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life” (Luke 21:34-36) and “anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language” (Colossians 3:8; 1 Peter 2:1-2; James 1:21). Such things can slow you down in the race if they are not laid aside.
The “cloud of witnesses” refers to those who lived the life of faith before us. They succeeded in providing us an example to follow as well as the encouragement to persevere. So while study their lives, they cheer us on to “lay aside every weight” and “the sin which so easily ensnares.”
It is worthy to note that there is a difference between a weight and a sin. The writer here is teaching that some things (as Paul has called “lawful”) can be things that slow us down in our race. They are not altogether sinful, but by slowing us down, they are not helpful. These things are different from what we understand sin to be. They are things that we are at liberty to have and do. However, it is wise for us that some of these things be set aside and left alone.
First Timothy 6 verses 6-10 and 17-19 should provide us with some additional help. It reads:
“Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”
Here, Paul is writing this letter to Timothy, his son-in-the-faith (v1:2). Paul was traveling through cities carrying the message of the gospel. He left Timothy behind at Ephesus to train the believers in his absence. They apparently were struggling with false doctrine (v1:3-7; 4:1-3; 6:3-5), disorder in worship (v2:1-15), the need for qualified leaders (v3:1-14), and materialism (v6:6-19). So Paul was leaving behind some instructions on what Timothy should do.
In verse 6 we read the most profound statement as it relates to our lesson, “godliness with content is great gain.” The opposite of excess is contentment. It is the formula for successful racing. The Greek word means “self-sufficiency,” and was used by philosophers to describe a person who was unmoved by external circumstances.
Paul has a remedy for those things that weigh us down. He says to be content with having Christ and your salvation. This is because the things of this world can often distract us of the end goal. They can and will eventually cause us to place less trust in Christ and more trust in them. The remedy is to be satisfied in Christ alone.
The basic necessities of life are what ought to make Christians content. Paul does not condemn having possessions, as long as God graciously provides them (v17). He does, however, condemn a self-indulgent desire for things, which result from discontentment. In our decision making, we can sort out those things that are useful from those that are luggage. If they slow you down from attaining the promise – a rewarding life with Christ – then they should be laid aside. In the coming week, ask God to make you aware of those things that are obstacles in your life and pray that you can lay them aside for God’s glory.