Summary: Carefully examine the lives and especially the deaths of your leaders for encouragement to finish the race!
We’re continuing our study through Hebrews and we’re building on the command to run with patience the race set before us. The emphasis being on patience, we’re pointed to Christ who endured everything set before Him because He could see beyond the trials to the end result—He could see the inheritance and the salvation of many people.
We also have to see beyond our experiences now and look ahead to the joy on the other side.
And so we asked, what does it mean to run your race? Well, the first 12 chapters focused almost exclusively on obedience to Christ and not forsaking Him as our only hope. It doesn’t matter what atheists or evolutionists say or what Orthodox Jews say or what other religions say—we know that Christ is the Son of God and the Lord of all, so we gladly bend the knee to Him now.
But there’s more to running the race: In chapter 13 we see that believers love each other with brotherly love. You know, we don’t give up on each other and we take care of each other’s needs.
We’re also careful to entertain strangers. We don’t mean that we trust everyone in society and let them sleep in our houses or give just anyone rides, but we do mean that we help even people we don’t know. If we see someone hungry or thirsty or in need of shelter we help them out.
Part of running this race also means that we remember our brothers and sisters all over the world who are in prison or who suffer because of their faith. We pray for them and send them aid if possible. We contact their government on their behalf and we just do what we can.
We also live in sexual purity. The marriage bed is pure, but we don’t go beyond those bounds. We recognize that as the bride of Christ we hope for His faithfulness to us and we walk in faithfulness to Him. This pure union is demonstrated through our faithfulness to each other in the marriage bed.
Finally, we talked last time about being content with the God who promises to never leave or forsake us. We don’t love money and we’re not chasing after more. We know God will provide all our needs and so we walk by faith.
These are all part of running our race, and now we come to 13:7.
If I had to summarize this verse in only a few words I would say that this is doctrine for life and death. Verse 9 says “it is a good thing that the heart to be established with grace” and verse 7 is leading up to that. We’re to remember our leaders who have lived and died well because of a heart established with grace in good doctrine. This is an encouragement to us to finish our race.
And so we begin:
Remember them which have the rule over you,
What do we see here? Well, the command is to remember, and that’s simple enough. You want to run your race? Call to mind the people before you. And that’s just what he did earlier when he wrote chapter 11. Here are all these men and women who by faith obeyed and were transformed and did mighty things by God. But faith didn’t end with the Old Testament examples; these Hebrews had their own examples of faith and he points to them.
Now, who were they? They were the men who had “ruled” over the Hebrews. These are leaders or shepherds who provide for God’s sheep. These are the men who devote themselves to the word and to prayer and who give their lives working in the ministry, and he says look to and remember these men. But I want to show you something here. We’re not looking to them because they’re leaders. That’s not the point. No, we’re looking to them because they are the ones:
who have spoken unto you the word of God:
Now, he could have said, “Remember those who have performed miracles” or “those who have done great things.” But instead he focuses on the fact that they have preached and taught the church true doctrine from the Scripture. Why do you suppose he chooses this specific example in encouraging the Hebrew saints to finish their race?
I’m always amazed by the power of words in Scripture. Think about it: the serpent didn’t force Eve to do anything. He didn’t put the apple in her mouth—he just spoke to her (Gen. 3:1). In Romans Paul asks, “How can they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14) In John 6:68 Peter tells Jesus “You have the words of eternal life.”
You know, people like to quote St. Francis of Assisi saying, “Preach Christ always and when necessary use words.” I understand what he’s trying to say, but that’s really not a great quote. Paul’s preaching was in action, but it was nothing without words. He was always going to the synagogue (Acts 9:20) or some pagan meeting place (Acts 17:22) and debating with the religious people there. I mean, what is the Bible? What are the letters of Paul? These are all records of spoken words! When Paul wrote to Titus about the people teaching false doctrine he said their “mouths must be stopped.”