Summary: Conclusion of this series on Hebrews 11 which looks at what is required of us now that it is our turn, we are in the field of play.
Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets – they have all run their race, they have retired and according to the writer to the Hebrews are now a great cloud of witnesses. They are no longer in the field of play, they are in the stands, and they are spectators, watching us, cheering us on. The people who received this letter had been reminded of the great acts of faith against all the odds, now it was their turn. Now it is our turn. Think of it – is heaven watching with baited breath, with cheers and applause? There is difference of opinion – are people who have gone before us watching us as spectators (would that always be pleasant viewing consistent with a heavenly existence?) or are they witnesses in the sense that they have left a great example? Leon Morris suggests that the language may refer to a relay race, in which the “witnesses” are those who have already finished their leg of the race and have passed the baton on to us. [Leon Morris. EBC p 133] I don’t know, but it is our response that really matters. What should be our response? I want to finish this series on faith on trial by looking at how the writer calls for a response from us, from all these fantastic examples and he uses the illustration of a race.
1. Get ready for action
When the athletes come out to race the have layers of clothes on. By the time they run they are wearing shorts and a vest. They could run with the rest of the stuff but it will hinder them. Get rid of hindrances - things that are legitimate but which will hinder – may be different from person to person. Let me give you an example: Some people feel that for them the television is a hindrance and that their lives would be better without it and so don’t have it in their homes. Which is fine. However what some people do is try to make that into some sort of rule that says that we should all do that and that it is a hindrance to all of us. When really if a person feels they should get rid of their TV – do it. But for someone else it may be something else, they may find that their Christian life is hindered. The question to ask here is what is there that hinders me from following Jesus? From the bible and prayer? From witness, from fellowship, from fulfilling God’s purpose for my life? Those are the things we need to look at.
Athletes are focussed – there are things that just do not fit with a disciplined athlete’s lifestyle. The writer says… get rid of entanglements – things that are not legitimate i.e. sin. The trouble with sin in the life of a believer is not that God won’t love us or use us – God is remarkably gracious in this respect. There are many notable examples of people falling into sin still greatly used by God. But it entangles us and slows us down; sooner or later it will trip us up and mess up our race. So let’s get rid of things that are liable to do that. What are the things in your life that might do that? Greed? Lust? Unforgiveness? What is the Holy Spirit bringing to your mind?
2. Make a start
Imagine the scene someone is limbering up, stretching muscles ready for some serious exercise. Then once they are ready they sit down and have a cup of coffee and some cake, put their feet up and watch telly! That is what some Christians are like, they are disciplined in the Christian lives, they keep their lives clear of sin as much as they can and then do nothing with it! God is saying, “Go ahead! Run! Do something!” We need to find ways to serve God, to witness to let our faith have an impact. It seems obvious but it is often overlooked, sooner or later we need to start. We may have a dream or vision, a goal or something we feel God wants us to do for him. Or it may just be something the bible says we should be doing – praying, reading the bible, tithing, witnessing etc. We have thought about it, prayed about it (praying about praying!) – for goodness sake in the words of the prophet Nike “Just Do it!” Make a start.
3. Never quit
People who achieve and do well in any sport have a gritty determination that carries them through time of injury, poor form etc. The going is going to get tough but I like the way The Message translates v.4: “In this all-out match against sin, others have suffered far worse than you”. Whatever we are going through there are and have been those who have endured much worse. So get on with it is one of the arguments here! Not terribly sensitive but nevertheless true! We must not grow too attached to our comfort – we are in a battle after all! He goes on to say that the hard times are discipline in the sense of training, again I like the Message’s way of putting it: “God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training”. So don’t give up, don’t give in. I am a great believer in perseverance. I have tried to teach my children not to be a quitter in life generally. I think they both have a stubborn streak – I like to call it perseverance it sounds much better! Young William Wilberforce was discouraged one night in the early 1790s after another defeat in his 10-year battle against the slave trade. Tired and frustrated, he opened his Bible and began to leaf through it. A small piece of paper fell out and fluttered to the floor. It was a letter written by John Wesley shortly before his death. Wilberforce read it again: "Unless the divine power has raised you up... I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that (abominable practice of slavery), which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? Oh, be not weary of well-doing. Go on in the name of God, and in the power of His might."