Summary: In order avoid becoming bitter in running the race of faith, the author of Hebrews in verses 12–17 gives three exhortations for: 1) Continuance (Hebrews 12:12–13), 2) Diligence (Hebrews 12:14), and for 3) Vigilance (Hebrews 12:15-17).
During extended times of great physical exertion, like a marathon, an athlete must train themselves to overcome the natural physical obstacles. The first thing that happens to a runner when they start to tire is that their arms drop. The position and motion of the arms are extremely important in running, to maintain proper body coordination and rhythm. Your arms actually help you pull through your stride, and they are the first parts of the body to show fatigue. The second to go are the knees. First the arms begin to droop and then the knees begin to wobble. But if you concentrate on the drooping or the wobbling, you are finished. The only way you can hope to continue is by focusing on the goal.
One of the strategies that experienced runners use is running in packs. In doing so they are better able to gauge the pace they are traveling at and mitigate the drag by rotating with other runners who will bear head on brunt of wind resistance. There is often an emotional component as well. In the pack, runners will encourage one another to press on towards the goal. Everyone is exhausted but the commaradie and mutual encouragement become a great motivator to continue.
For the believers addressed in the book of Hebrews they were at a critical juncture. Many had come out of the practice of Judaism and now were experiencing resistance. Hostility from other Jews and the lure of going back to the life of Judaism was taking its toil. People began to question if being a follower of `the Way` was still worth it. They wondered if they would have the strength to continue and began to get off track.
After explaining `The Way of faith, the writer was encouraging the Hebrews to run the race of faith. He explained to them not to get bitter over the difficulties they were presently facing and run with the pack together towards the goal. He warned them of the dangers of going back or going it alone.
In order avoid becoming bitter in running the race of faith, the author of Hebrews in verses 12–17 gives three exhortations for: 1) Continuance (Hebrews 12:12–13), 2) Diligence (Hebrews 12:14), and for 3) Vigilance (Hebrews 12:15-17).
They are addressed first of all to believers, although they apply to unbelievers as well. The writer is saying, “On the basis that you should be in the race of faith to win and that your suffering is part of God’s loving discipline for your good, here are three things you should concentrate on doing.”
1) Continuance to avoid Bitterness (Hebrews 12:12–13)
Hebrews 12:12-13 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (ESV)
The readers are allowing themselves to grow disheartened amid the persecutions that have been coming upon them. This laming, paralyzing discouragement they are fully able to shake off and so are able to straighten themselves up again in the full strength of faith (Lenski, R. C. H. (1938). The interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and of the Epistle of James (441). Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern.)