THE RACE THAT IS SET BEFORE US
"Therefore let us also seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
For consider him that hath endured such gainsaying of sinners against himself, that ye wax not weary, fainting in your souls" (Heb. 12: 1-3).
The whole gospel is full of life. Its source is God the Living One. Its mediator is Christ the Risen One. Its power is the Spirit of God, "the Spirit that maketh alive."
For this reason God's salvation is not something which has only historically happened and was completed in the past, but it is a continual process. It is not a present received once and for all, but a giving which increasingly presents us with something more. Every grace is a vital dynamic action given to us by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. There is nothing static but everything is dynamic. There is no standing still but a marching forward, no looking aside or backward, but a striving towards the goal. Everything is alive and active, a spiritual working, a holy motion, pulsated and animated by "waves" produced by Spirit-wrought heavenly powers.
God's gifts are not like an anchor which holds the ship of our life firm, but they are rather to be compared with the sails of a ship into which the wind of the Spirit of God can blow mightily, thus carrying the boat forward.
I. THE "APPOINTMENT" OF THE RACE
The author of the Hebrews letter declares that we should run with patience the race "that is set before us" (Heb. 12:1). This is not only mean the race as lying before us from the viewpoint of time or, so to speak, space. What is meant is something dynamic. The race (Gk. agon) is "set before us" as our task. It is our duty to run. The race is God-appointed (Gk.prokeimenon). The phrase Prokeitai agon! (Lat. Propositum est certamen), "The battle lieth before!" was the usual Greek (answering to the Latin) expression for the race which was to be run, and which was publicly announced by a crier, together with the rules of the race and the prize.
You cannot separate your own personal life of faith from being runner in a race. God has appointed that you should run. True sanctification can be experienced practically only in a life a Spirit-energized dynamic effort, and this effort involves our whole being, spirit, soul, and body. He who will not run in the race has from the very start abandoned the crown and the prize of victory. And as Satan, the great adversary, never admits being beaten until his final overthrow (Rev. 20: 10), the battle and the race will never end for us until we have reached the goal of our course.
This means that you must take your personal responsibility very seriously. You must reckon in confident faith with the victorious powers of Christ the Saviour. But on the other hand do not overlook the reality of the enemy. Weigh seriously all the paralysing powers which emanate from him. Concentrate on the goal. Live in the holy energy of a consecrated life. We can never make peace with sin. Never forget that a real life of faith means a running in the race. Remember: "And if also a man contend in the games, he is not crowned, except he have contended lawfully" (II Tim. 2:5). The new birth is not the finishing-post but the starting-post. If you would reach the finishing-post, you must run.
The race is a very serious affair. Demons surround us. Powers of darkness block our way. And these powers are not only around us but endeavour to work in us (Eph. 6: 12). Let us therefore be hard on ourselves. Let us bring our own bodies into subjection (I Cor. 9:27). Let us control our own souls. Let us concentrate and fix our spiritual eyes on Jesus Christ. Only those who strive will be crowned. Only victors will be exalted. Christ Himself says: "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne" (Rev. 3:21).
What is the background of this battle? Our answer is as follows:
I. We must be warriors because the whole universe is involved in a mighty revolution, the mightiest indeed, which has ever taken place-it is the battle between Satan and God; and because, according to the testimony of the whole Scripture, the central battle area of this conflict is this our earth, the habitation of mankind, so that here the decision will be reached. This is the cosmological and super-historical background of our conflict.
2. We must be warriors because, although Christ by His death and His resurrection has won the victory fundamentally, yet historically the full practical outworking of this His victory has not yet been secured. Thus, in the development of God's redemptive plan, our present dispensation lies in the tension between the secrets of the kingdom of God and the openness of the rule of Satan. This is the dispensational background of our battle situation.
3. We must be warriors because it necessarily corresponds to the combined divine and human character of the kingdom of God to allow the creature freedom of will. So that the one who has been called to the kingdom has not only to decide at his conversion which master he will serve but has thereupon to make the same decision every day and in each practical detail of his life of sanctification. This is the moral and dynamic background of our conflict.
For these three main reasons the race is God-appointed.
II. THE ATTITUDE WHICH IS NECESSARY TO REACH THE GOAL
What attitude of mind must we have if we wish to win the race? A poet has rightly said:
To fight is not enough alone;
'Tis only victors mount the throne!
In order to be a conqueror a very definite spiritual attitude of faith is required. The author of the Hebrews letter gives us four main points of view:
I. Looking to the Victor. He who would be victorious must look to Christ. "Let us look unto Jesus." The battle which He fought out on Golgotha is at the same time our example for our own personal battle. His victory is the foundation for our victory. The remarkable thing about the battle of faith is that we do not properly have to strive for the victory but that we possess it already. We have the victory in Christ, our Forerunner, our Conqueror. Therefore we do not have to battle for the victory but we can fight from the victory He has won. For this reason we can live out of His fullness. In Christ is opened unto us an everlasting source of riches. Joy in Him is our strength to conquer.
It was during the First World War. In the German cities was every kind of suffering and need. Many housewives had great difficulty in giving their loved ones enough food from the small rations obtainable. One day a simple woman arrived at the seaside from a north German city. It was the first time in her life that she had been able to enjoy a sight of the vast ocean. She was quite overwhelmed with the magnificence of the view and with the endless waters. In her astonishment she cried out: "At last after all something which they cannot ration!"
We smile at this woman. And yet one can understand her when one considers her circumstances. But the inexhaustible heavenly resources are a thousand times greater, and these the Lord in His grace has placed at the disposal of His children. Here we find truly a fullness which exceeds all earthly measure, riches which God does not distribute in small portions but in mighty overflowing heavenly gifts. God's children are royal children, for which reason they should live royally by enjoying these spiritual riches in their life of faith. Their heavenly Father proves Himself to be a generous royal Giver in all His blessings.
About thirty years ago I took part in a Christian Conference in Northern England and have never forgotten a short Bible exegesis which one of the speakers gave. He spoke of the fullness which is opened up in Christ from the "unsearchable riches" of His heavenly blessings (Eph. 3:8), of Christ Himself, the "unspeakable gift" of God (II Cor. 9:15). And then he pointed to two small and yet very significant words in the Ephesian letter, the words "according to." "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father ... that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inward man" (Eph. 3:14,16). And then he spoke as follows: The expression "according to the riches of His glory" conveys very much more than if the writer had only said: "out of His riches." If a beggar were to meet a millionaire in the street and if the latter were to give him at his request, shall we say, a sixpence, then we should be able to say perfectly correctly that he had given him "out of" his riches. But nobody would think of saying that he had given him "according to" his riches. If he had given him "according to" his millions, the gift would have been very different.
How does our God act? Does He only give us "out of" His riches? Here a little joy and there a little victory? Today a little help and tomorrow perhaps an occasional answer to prayer? No, He the all-sufficient One gives "according to" His riches. His standard is not our daily needs even though if this only were the case that would make us very happy: "As thy days so shall thy strength be" (Deut. 33:25), but He uses the measure and criterion of eternity for our temporal needs and gives us His blessings "according to" His fullness.
This is the reason why the word "abound" is one of Paul's favourite expressions (Gk. perisseuein). He speaks of abounding faith (II Cor. 8:7), of abounding love (II Thess. 1:3), abounding liberality (II Cor. 8: 2), abounding diligence and knowledge (II Cor. 8:7), abounding hope (Rom. 15:13).
Another word which he uses again and again is the word hyper = super.
The apostle has a tendency to build up words using "super" (Gk. hyper) and he does it so often that this is one of the characteristics of his literary style. Of a total of 29 combinations using the word "super" which occur in the whole New Testament no less than I9 belong to him alone and 4 are shared with other biblical authors.
Thus he speaks of
a "super"-growth in faith (II Thess. 1,3)1
a "super"-victory and conquest (Rom. 8:37).2
a "super"-exceeding grace of God (II Cor. 9:14).3
a "super"-fulness of riches (Eph. 2:7).4
a "super"-exceeding greatness of His power (Eph.1:19).5 a "super"-exceeding glory (II Cor. 3:10).
1 hyper-auxanei he pistis.
2 hyper-nikomen, we "hyper" overcome.
3 dia ten hyper-ballousan charin.
4 hyper-ballon ploutos.
5 hyper-ballon megethos tes dynameos.
6 heineken tes hyper-ballouses doxes
Thus he speaks of a knowledge of a "super"-exceeding love of Christ (Eph. 3:19).1
a peace in Christ which "super"-exceeds all understanding (Phil. 4:7).2
a "super"-excelling joy even in tribulation (II Cor. 7:4).3
The foundation of this is however
the "super"-exaltation of Jesus (Phil. 2:9).4
the exceeding "super"-abundant presence of grace (I Tim.1:14)5
the "super"-abounding of grace just where sin had formerly "abounded" (Rom. 5:20).6
1 ten hyper-ballousan tes gnoseos agapen tou Christou.
2 he eirene ... he hyper-echousa panta noun.
3 hyper-perisseumai te chara.
4 ho theos auton hyper-hypsosen.
5 hyper-pleonasen de he charis.
6 hyper-perisseusen he charis.
"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, ways abounding in the work of the Lord, for as much as ye know that your labour is not vain in the Lord" (I Cor. 15:58).
Astounding, indeed, is the fullness which the apostle describes in II Cor. 9:8 in a very few words, in fact in a sentence of less than four lines: "God is able to make all grace abound unto you; that ye, having always all sufficiency, in all things, may abound to every (= all) good work."7
7 Greek pasan, panti, pantote, pasan, pan.
In Christ is not only a full measure but a "super "-full measure divine all-sufficiency. His giving more than meets the needs our daily life. Therefore we do not need to worry ourselves miserably in everyday life but we have the right to be victors Him, yea to be more than conquerors, to be "super-con-querors in Him" (Rom. 8:37).
In the benediction of the second prayer in the Ephesian letter the apostle combines these his two favourite words "abounding" Gk. perisseuein) and "super" (hyper) and thus coins a new word which he then further strengthens by the addition of a second rd (Gk. ek): "Now unto Him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above (Gk. hyper-ek perissou) all that we ask or think ... unto Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all the ages Amen" (Eph. 3:20). We can perhaps come closest to the surprisingly rich and deep meaning of the Greek word by translating: "Exceeding abundantly more" or: "Far beyond all measure more," "More than overflowingly," "Far beyond all that we need, and even then exceeding abundantly more than that."
God does not merely wish to fill the vessel of your life up to the brim. He does not only even pour in His fullness of blessing so that it just comes to overflowing. No, even the word "overflowing" is not adequate. God makes us to "more than overflow." Such a "super-mighty" redemption is given us in Christ.
And now, my reader, place your own experience against these God-given possibilities. Must we not humble ourselves before the Lord-you and I-and be ashamed of ourselves that we have drunken so little from these fountains? How often we are like a foolish beggar who should stand before a wealthy benefactor begging for gifts which this generous man had already offered and held out to him 1 And yet at the same time this beggar complains of his misery, bewails his poverty, begs and begs, but does not stretch out his hand to take the gift which has been long proffered him, in fact immediately after he had begun to beg l So the bewailer continues bewailing and the giver remains the profferer; but in spite of all the begging on the one side and the willingness to give on the other side the situation remains unchanged. How different the situation would be if we adopted the attitude of faith: "And if we know that He heareth us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of Him" (I John 5:15). But this can be experienced only by looking unto Christ in genuine faith.
"Let us look unto Jesus!"
The moment however we look away from Christ our experience of His fullness ceases. There is no power to overcome. Things become important for us which, seen in the light of eternity, are of no consequence. Then the deceiving power of sin bewitches us. And if, in our opinion, we are not properly honoured or respected, if our own self-will, our desire to possess, our own presumed importance does not receive satisfaction enough, then we slip into sin. We are easily hurt, become loveless, are filled with an earthly mind, or become fretful and anxious. We have lost our sense of proportion because of not looking unto Christ. The centre of gravity has been changed and is no longer in God but in ourselves. We have lost our way because we have lost our sense of direction in Christ.
In this condition only one thing can help us: Looking afresh to Jesus Christ. Repentance and humiliation before Him and then continuing steadfastly to keep our eyes upon Him. This purifies and restores us, and only this attitude of mind brings with it growth in grace and blessed happy sanctification.
In a West European city there was once a royal visit and the streets were lined with crowds of people. In the foremost line, waiting to see the royal visitor, stood a mother and her little boy. At last the royal guest arrived, and with him the pomp of his court, and drove by. Everything happened relatively quickly. Suddenly the young mother stretched out her arm and enthusiastically pointed to the king as he drove by, so that her little boy should see him. And with a loud voice she cried: "Look at him and never forget it all your life!"
How do we act in respect of Christ, the King of all kings? Let us take for our motto in life: "Look at Him and never forget it all your life!" Let us look unto Jesus! He is our salvation, our helper, our example, our strength.
2. Looking to the comrades in arena. The author of the Hebrews letter founds his admonition: "Let us ... run the race" on the example of the heroes of faith in the Old Testament. " Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses . . . let us run" (Heb. 12:1). This means: "Ye witnesses of Jesus Christ in these New Testament times of the church, look back into the history of the Old Testament. Think of all that has been endured, suffered, and fought for: think also of the victories. Always, at all times, there have been heroes of faith. Ye are not alone. Ye are not the first to have suffered for the truth.
This is the real meaning of Hebrews 11, this mighty and imposing chapter on the victors of faith. If we had to invent a title for this chapter to express that which the author of the letter obviously wishes, we could think of no better one than the three short words: "Faith is able." Hebrews ii is nothing less than a proof from practical experience, covering more than four millenniums, that men and women of all times, in various lands, in all positions, exalted and humble, in the most varied situations, in war and peace, have been able to stand the test and prove the reality that living faith is the power of God. This however means at the same time that what others have been able to do, you also can do. Your God is not only a God of yesterday but the very God of today. Your God.
And if Hebrews 11 introduces such a long list of heroes of faith, this is done in order to give the proof that true faith has not only been exercised in exceptional times of revival or a relatively short period, but also in the long periods between these special times of blessing. In fact it is a power giving spiritual victory at all times, in fact in your times, in your life and my life, in your circumstances and all your trials and testings, so that there is no excuse if you fail.
Thus looking to our fellow-runners brings us encouragement and at the same time a deep consciousness of our responsibility. "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses ... let us run!"
When it is pointed out that this large number of men and women of faith "compasses us about" (Gk. perikeimenon), and when they are compared with a thick "cloud" of witnesses, it is intended that their large number should be emphasized. Just as the historical frame of more than forty long and weary centuries during which these battles of faith were fought should serve to emphasize the time factor, so the expressions "compassing about" and "cloud" should emphasize the great number of these heroes of faith and this at the same time, so to speak, under the view-point of spiritual "space" and region. Wherever you look you will see witnesses of faith. They "compass" you about. That, however, means you are encouraged from all sides. You are actually surrounded by irrefutable proofs that true faith never fails.
The expression "witness" scarcely means that these men of God are "spectators," from a position outside the earth and its affairs, of our present race and strife. It is not as though they watch from their exalted seats the battle in the "arena" here below. There are no scriptures which tell us that those who have left this earthly life take an active conscious part in the things concerning the church militant. They are characterized here as people who gave witness in their generation, and who, when we examine their life, are an example for us today of "faith in action" winning victories in God. Although death has taken them away from this scene, their testimony remains. So that by this means and in this sense these heroes of faith of yesterday are, as it were, present with us today. In fact, they "compass us about" and encourage us in the faith.
Finally, the high dignity of all active service and sacrifice for Christ is thus brought into its true Biblical light. The witnesses of faith of the present are thus brought together with the witnesses of the past, which, so to say, raises the confessors of the present to the peerage attained by the prophets of the past. They are made members of the great army of God's heroes, of those who bear God's highest honours and whom God Himself confesses (Heb. 11:16). They are people who indeed went through shame and who were despised, but of whom, of a truth, the earth is not worthy (Heb. 11:38). And this, too, is a reason why we should take courage, even though the doings of our personal life are incomparably smaller and most unimportant compared with these heroes, and even though our service and witness, and the whole frame of our life, according to the appointment and the leading of God, is but very humble.
3. Looking to the enemy. In all this the Bible is exceedingly sober. It nowhere favours unhealthy eccentricity. For this reason the Scriptures speak quite honestly of the opposing enemy forces which stand in the way of the race of faith. The Scriptures never utter things which one sometimes hears from fanatical over-spirituality, such as "You do not need to fight against sin any more. Only look to Christ alone. Then all will be well." Not at all, in fact, just the opposite. Perfectly clearly and in detail the Scriptures warn us that "our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6: Ii). The Bible directs our attention to both sides: to the victor and to the enemy, to heaven and to hell, to Christ, Who gives us all things, and to Satan who denies and opposes all things intended for our good.
But with all our faith in Christ we should not think too lightly of the power of the enemy. He is a sombre reality who would interfere forcibly in our life. Without question, the enemy is great. But thanks be to God, Christ, the Victor, is greater. Luther was right in saying of the "ancient foe":
The ancient prince of hell
Hath risen with purpose fell;
Strong mail of craft and power
He weareth in this hour;
On earth is not his fellow.
But he was just as right when he triumphantly added:
With force of arms we nothing can
Full soon were we down-ridden;
But for us fights the proper Man
Whom God himself hath bidden.
Ask ye, Who is this same?
Christ Jesus is his name,
The Lord Sabaoth's Son;
He, and no other one
Shall conquer in the battle!(translated by Thomas Carlyle).
This state of war will continue until the fullness of the times. For the "flesh" is a rebel. It is not subject to the law of God (Rom. 8:7). It even makes the law of God "weak" and ineffective (Rom. 8:3). It never will die here below. It cannot be sanctified but must be overcome in strenuous conflict, in the battle of faith. "For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh" (Gal. 5:17). Thus power is opposed to power, will to will, and lust to lust. And this insurgent against the will of God will never capitulate in his rebellion. He is like a spiral which at once springs up when the pressure resting upon it is taken away. He is like the woman in the "ephah," the "wickedness" of which the prophet Zechariah writes in his night visions. The moment the weight of lead was removed from the mouth of the ephah she sprang out and exposed herself and could only be cast back into the ephah by force (Zech. 5:6-11). The wicked one is like a captive revolutionary in the Christian who only waits for the moment when he can escape his prison and who has sharp eyes to search out every imaginable opportunity to get out.
Therefore resist sin from the beginning. Never play with sin. To be tempted by sin is indeed not yet sin itself. Thinking of evil things is not the same as "evil thoughts." But in no case must we permit sin to find a lodging in our mind. Learn to say "no" right in the moment sin approaches you. Only thus is victory possible. Think of the truth of the proverb: Sow a thought, reap a deed: sow a deed, reap a habit: sow a habit, reap character: sow character, reap destiny.
The spiritual mind is always on the watch, for it knows the dangers and watches and prays. The spiritual mind knows that our way is not a bed of roses but an arena, a racecourse. The full is yet future. We do not dwell at the moment in Immanuel's land but in a foreign country. We are strivers, fighters, wanderers who are hurrying away. We have been brought into a holy movement. Our Christian life is a "way" (Acts 9:2; 18:26; 19:9), a course which we have to run. We are a pilgrimage to the heavenly Jerusalem in "Christian's armour."
Three hostile powers can hinder us in the race of faith: the world, sins, and burdensome weights.
The "world" with her contradiction,
"Sin" with her power to entice,
"Burdens" with their paralysing pressure.
The world hated Christ. Her "contradiction" brought Him to the cross. As Christ's disciples we should therefore expect to be rejected. Intimate friendship with unbelievers, marriage between converted and unconverted, striving after earthly goods or to attain recognition and human honours at the cost of a clear confession of Christ-all this may indeed lessen the contrast between the world and Christ's followers, but at the same time it makes it impossible for us to be real "runners" in the race. In the end every one who compromises is in a serious measure a loser. He will never reach the goal and will never be crowned (II Tim.2: 5).
Sin strives to encircle us from all sides. Its strategy of war is exceedingly skilful. The Hebrews letter uses a very impressive word saying that sin is completely enclosing us (lit. standing well around us from all sides, Gk. eu peri-statos).
It is as though the runner finds himself in a crowd of people and must clear himself a way before he can run. Sin blocks the way for us inwardly and outwardly, and if we are not to be brought to a stop it requires a manly and earnest effort. It is possible that the author when using the expression "sin being around" thinks of the long heavy robe which would have to be laid aside if the runner is to run unhindered. This would also fit into the context. In any case the sense is the following:
Sin wishes cunningly to encompass and to lay siege to us. It attacks us concentratedly from all sides, tries to effect a kind of military "encircling movement," and is exceedingly skilful. The Greek word peri-istamai, which is etymologically related to the word euperi-statos, which the writer of the Hebrews letter uses here for "beset," is, as Professor Franz Delitzsch remarks, a common military word used in war, sieges, and in hunting, meaning "to encompass."
Sin has two chief methods of procedure:
It pretends to be the "generous friend" and promises gain or at least the prevention of a loss, a pleasure or at least the possibility of avoiding a difficulty. It offers an advantage or at least the lessening of an inconvenience. Sin uses sensuousness, tyranny, avarice, or "white" lies. Sin is able to adopt ever new forms and to transform itself with regard to its tactics in a remarkable manner. It can completely camouflage itself and can even deny the existence of its own master, Satan. "The gate of hell is decked with garlands." If this were not the case no man would be seduced to sin. The Wicked One clothes himself in the clothing of something "useful" or "good." Every lie lives from a certain element of truth which is in fact contained in it and which it misuses. A mere lie, that is a lie which is only a lie, cannot exist.
The second method of procedure used by sin tactically is the following. Before the deed has been done its wickedness is minimized. Afterwards however it is magnified so as to rob us of our courage in order that we may lose hope that we can ever again become pure and free. "My sin is greater than can be forgiven me" (Gen. 4:13 lit.). So sin deceives us first of all into frivolity and then into melancholic depression. Its aim is to make us give up the battle so that we may serve it in worldliness and slavery. Thus it is first of all a friend and then a tyrant, first a liberator (Psa. 2:3) and then a jailor; first of all it dazzles us and then surrounds us with darkness. These are its tactics in "cunningly encircling us."
But what a strong encouragement! There is a still greater power which surrounds us! This power is God and the power of His salvation. Although it is true that sin is always ready to attack and is most skilful in lurking in most unlikely places and surrounding us from all sides, that is even more true which the psalmist exultantly confesses of his Saviour God: "Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance" (Psa. 32:7). It is a fact:
He, the Lord our God, is "round about His people" (Psa. 125:2). The name of the Lord is a strong tower (Prov. 18:10). The redeemed are kept safe therein.
The Lord our God rules over us in perfect love. "As an eagle that stirreth up her nest, at fluttereth over her young, the Lord alone did lead him" (Deut. 32:11-12).
The Lord our God protects us from below, that we may not fall for: "The eternal God is thy dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms" (Deut. 33:27). "He bare them on His pinions" (Deut. 32:11).
The Lord our God is by our side. "I have set the Lord always before me: because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (Psa. 16:8). "A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee" (Psa. 91:7).
The Lord our God goes before us as our Leader. He is our Forerunner and Pioneer in the battle. He is the One Who has enrolled us as His soldiers (II Tim. 2:4). "The breaker is gone up before them: they have broken forth and passed on to the gate.... Their king is passed on before them, and Jehovah at the head of them" (Micah 2:13, cf. Ex. 13:21).
The Lord our God protects us from behind as our rearguard. "And the angel of God who went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud removed from before them, and stood behind them: and it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel ... and the one came not near the other" (Ex. 14:19-20). And finally:
The Lord our God dwells in us as the power from on high. "If a man love me he will keep My words: and My Father will love him and We will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (John 14:23). "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27).
So Christ is the Lord on every side of our life. He is above us and underneath us. He is before us and behind us. He is at our side and in us. He is "all, and in all" (Col. 3:11), the foundation and the goal, the author and perfecter. For this reason we may have at all times a perfect certainty of victory: "As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people from this time forth and for evermore" (Psa. 125:2). Thus, even though sin may beset and surround us on every side, it has found in Christ, the great Immanuel "God with us," Who reveals Himself from all sides, its Match and Master.
In the book of the Prophet Zechariah we read of a remarkable night vision of the prophet. Four horns appeared. Then four smiths followed, each obviously armed with a heavy hammer. These four smiths smash with their four hammers the four horns to pieces (Zech. 1:18-21).
The interpreting angel shows the prophet the meaning of this vision: The four horns represent the hostile world-powers which attack the people of God from every direction. The horn is a symbol of strength. The four smiths are the powers of God which the Lord uses to save His tried elect.
Let us note: It is not a case of three powers of God against four of the enemy but four against four. No power of the enemy is forgotten and no adversary is omitted. All of them are to be destroyed. The triumph must be a total one.
Further: it is not the case that four scribes or tailors or businessmen arrive on the scene but four workmen (smiths). This means: God's measures against the enemy are not without strength. They are most powerful. He is not merely equal to His adversaries but far superior. For this reason the city of God can be glad (Psa. 46: 4). For she will win a complete victory finally. The four enemy horns will be totally broken and God's people saved.
And all this by God's power. He won the victory. "The right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly" (Psa. 118:15,16).
Remember: You are without power; the enemy is a strong power, but God has all power. Therefore come with your utter lack of power to Him Who as the Almighty has eternal abundance of power, and you will be able to conquer the enemy's strong power. God's omnipotence is able to make your impotence triumph over all the energy of the adversary.
"Burdens" are not the same as "sins." But even burdens hinder us in the race and must therefore be laid aside.
Cares are burdens; for they exhaust spiritual strength. They are an unnecessary load foolishly taken up by ourselves, and they make real running in the race impossible. Certain claims or pretensions are burdens and cripple our activity for Christ. False claims on money hinder missionary sacrifice and practical love and charity. False claims on time encourage selfishness and indolence, make us lazy in going to church, especially to prayer meetings, in visiting the sick, or in exercising other activities of love. False claims on honour weaken our witness and make us cowardly. They hinder us in the happy confession of our faith and in the willingness to take upon us the shame of Christ.
Without doubt earthly things are a necessity. Time, money, as well as civil and personal honour, are certainly of value for our human existence and are in no wise to be denied on principle. But true spiritual-mindedness will be able to draw the line in each case and to decide what is good and allowable and what can be a "burden" when over-emphasized. The decisive factor is that our inward life should be "apprehended" (laid hold of) by Christ (Phil. 3:12), so that our heart is an "occupied area." Then we receive a delicate sense for all these differences, so that we remain free as well as bound, realistic with regard to this world as well as ready for sacrificial action for God's Kingdom, natural and spiritual at the same time. Then earthly things will receive their share and heavenly things their fuller portion. Everything depends on temporal things being seen from the standpoint of eternity.
This brings us to the fourth aspect of the right vision of a runner in the race.
4. Looking to the Goal. Only if the runner keeps his gaze fixed and concentrated on the goal has he any prospect of victory. For this reason Paul says (and the Hebrews letter moves in just the same lines of thought as the apostle Paul): "Forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:13,14).
Men are not only formed in character by their past (family descent, education) and present circumstances (environment, work and profession), but also very markedly by their future. Man inwardly grows the higher his ideals are. So also in spiritual life hope and sanctification belong together. "And every man that hath this hope set on Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure" (I John 3:3).
Thus Christ suffered on Golgotha with His eye kept on "the joy that lay before Him" (Heb. 12:2). As He entered the sombre valley of death His gaze penetrated the darkness around Him and saw already the light of the coming triumph.
This attitude of heart must be ours too. When you suffer shame for the sake of your testimony, rejoice over the future crown of glory. "Every one therefore who shall confess Me before men, him will I also confess before My Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 10:32). If you renounce the enjoyments of the pleasures of sin for the sake of sanctification and holiness, you may be sure that one day you will be privileged to enjoy the hidden heavenly manna (Rev. 2:17). If you sacrifice money or goods for the sake of the spread of the gospel be assured that God is no man's debtor. Everything which we take out of our earthly account for His sake is paid into our heavenly account. Not that I seek for the gift; but I seek for the fruit that increased to your account" (Phil. 4:17). All such expense is in reality income.
This striving towards the goal thus comprises every outward and inward realm of life. The prize is indeed such as to make it well worthwhile to give ourselves up wholly to attain it.
In the opening words of Hebrews 12 the writer uses in the original Greek three remarkable words: "Therefore ... we also!" (Gk. toigaroun kai hemeis). The first of them is especially impressive (toigaroun). In other places the New Testament writers, expressing a very similar thought, use a shorter word for "Therefore" (Gk. only ara or oun or dio). But in our context a strikingly emphatic intensification is added to this word (Gk. toigar which serves to emphasize oun).The idea is to emphasize as heavily as possible the necessity that we New Testament believers shall draw the practical consequences of the example of the Old Testament heroes of faith, and especially of the example of Jesus Christ our Lord. As if the idea of the word "therefore" were expressed by three parallel terms following immediately one upon the other: Therefore, on this account, for this reason, we also!
Since the Old Testament saints dedicated themselves fully to the faith, Therefore ... we also! Since victory was possible in previous history at all times, even in times of suffering and trial, Therefore ... we also! Since in the long gallery of faith our forefathers showed heroic courage and endurance in keeping their eye on the goal, Therefore ... we also!
And above all: Since Christ our Saviour proved it possible to be victor amidst the sufferings of the cross, and hoped and endured and sacrificed Himself to the end, Therefore ... we also!
And now we must change the plural into the singular, the 'we' must become a 'thou'. Because others have been enabled, Therefore thou also. Since Christ is thy example, Therefore thou also! And finally we must get quite personal and changeover from "thou" to "I." Since Christ has prepared the way for me, Therefore ... I also!
In the arena of faith: "Let us look unto Jesus!"
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