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.)
• When we experience spiritual drooping hands/hands that are weak and weak/feeble knees, the source of our only hope is in “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (12:2).
Please turn to Isaiah 35 (p.595)
The metaphor of drooping hands and weak knees is from Isaiah. The faithful in Israel had been through a lot. They had many evil kings, some false prophets, generally disobedient and stubborn fellow Israelites, powerful enemies who threatened them, and seemingly no prospect of ever living in their own land in peace. They were bitter, discouraged and despondent, ready to give up. So the prophet reminds them of the coming kingdom:
Isaiah 35:1-2 [35:1]The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God. (ESV)
Then he counsels them to counsel each other:
Isaiah 35:3-4 Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, "Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you." (ESV)
• In other words, “Don’t give up now. A better day is coming. Look to that and you will have the encouragement and strength you need. Victory is ahead!”
The emphasis of Hebrews 12:12 is the same as that of Isaiah 35:3–4. We are not told to strengthen our hands or our weak and feeble knees, but the hands and the knees, regardless of whose they are. It is expressed in the plural form of `your` here. The plural imperative (strengthen, Gk “lift up”) implies a joint effort by many. We can help each other draw upon the resources of Christ by offering encouraging words and mutual prayers, sharing our experiences and sometimes simply being with someone who is under going trial (Stedman, R. C. (1992). Hebrews. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Heb 12:4). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.)