Ye DID Run Well- When Christians Fall Short
I once saw a skit on YouTube for a Monte Python-style Olympic announcer. They were calling out events that were just outlandish. One such event was the 100 yards race for people with no sense of direction. The runners stepped to the line, the starter pistol was fired, and then every runner took off in a different direction. People with no sense of direction aren’t going to run towards the finish line in a straight path, now are they?
Christians with no sense of the Bible’s direction for their lives have an equally hard time running right. If you want to finish the race hearing well done thou good and faithful servant, you need to know the rules of the race and be ready to lay aside both weights and sin.
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us 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.”
One of the first things you learn in track is the rules for racing. There are not many, but the ones there are become essential if you want to run. Once the basic rules and objectives are apparent to a runner, a good coach will work with the runner on form and endurance. Most of us can quickly grasp the importance of endurance when running a race, but unless you have spent time in the sport, you might not understand the importance of form.
A good track coach will talk with you about your posture, the cadence of your run, your stride, and even the position of swinging your arms or the position of your feet as they hit the ground can make a difference. The goal is simple, maximize the speed and distance produced from exerting the physical energy to run.
Many things can go wrong from the beginning of the race until the end, which would cause the runner to do less than his or her best. It takes a great deal of self-discipline to develop the proper form for running a race. I think it is essential to also include at this point that different races require different forms. A marathon runner has an entirely different form than the fastest man alive running the 100-meter dash. We will never be able to stress enough that each Christian race is unique, and each runner needs to prepare specifically for the race God has laid out before him or her, but there are universal things that can hinder a runner regardless of the path laid out before them.
The Bible warns Christians to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us,” while running the Christian race. One of the most studied aspects of this warning includes breaking down the difference between a weight and sin. The Bible did not accidentally separate these two things or for rhetoric style. A weight is not necessarily a sin. Hopefully, the illustration of adding weight to a runner is an obvious negative. If you want to go farther faster for Christ, then you need to get away from as much sin as possible. Sins such as lying, stealing, lust, gluttony, idolatry, pride, bitterness, coveting, and vulgarity will all hinder a Christian’s ability to run. The Bible warns us that it is possible to grieve and limit the Holy Spirit inside of us (Ephesians 4:26-30, I Thess 5:19, James 4:6). The weight of sin is not just a disadvantage; it can be permanently crippling. There are multiple examples in the Bible of people whose sin knocked them out of service and robbed them of the joy God intended for their life. Let’s take a look at just one, Samson.
The book of Judges tells the tragic race of the judge Samson. Chapter 13 explains the miraculous birth and commandment from the Lord for how Samson was supposed to live. He was to be raised as a Nazarite, which means he was never allowed to cut his hair, drink wine, or become spiritually unclean by coming in contact with a corpse or grave. His life was sanctified or set apart, even before birth. The rules for his “Christian race” were precise. Samson let sin enter his life, and it ended very badly for him. His sin led him to break the rules. His life as a Judge for Israel and a Deliverer from the wicked nation of the Philistines became tragic. Samson coveted women his parents did not want for him, he ate honey out of a corpse of a lion, and then, in the end, his time with the infamous harlot Delilah saw the final breach of his Nazarite’s covenant when she cut his hair while he slept. Samson lost his connection to the strength of the Holy Spirit from his sin and became a prisoner to his enemies.
“And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep…And he wist not that the LORD was departed from him. But the Philistines took him and put out his eyes…and he did grind in the prison house. Howbeit the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven…And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes…So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.”
Samson’s “Christian race” was forever altered by sin. He lived a life God did not want for him, weighed down and sent off course by sin. Maybe your life has been riddled with sin since you got saved? God can work all things together for good (Romans 8:28). That does not mean that all things ARE good, or that God allows your sin because it was part of His plan. It means that if you return to the course and lay aside sin, you can continue to run the Christian race and finish well.
Romans 8:28 also means that other people’s sins, while they can alter your course, they can’t prevent God from getting the glory from your race if you keep running right (Genesis 50:20). God allowed Samson to return to his purpose as a Deliverer for the nation of Israel even in at the end of his life. Samson’s faith was so strong that it is listed in the Hebrews Hall of Faith. Chapter 11 of Hebrews includes Samson’s life as an example of mighty works done through faith. Samson had to lay aside his sin and return to his faith to finish his race well. He accomplished more at the end with a repentant heart than he did his whole life doing as he pleased.
Going back to Hebrews 12:1, “let us lay aside every weight.” We already talked about how weight is not a sin. Weights can be good things that cause Christians to run less than their best race. I think of two very clear examples found in the New Testament to see a weight that is not a sin. Weights are personal and different for each person. A weight for Paul was marriage (I Corinthians 7:7-9, 32-33). Paul wanted to be able to focus on the things of the Lord and how he could please the Lord. Marriage would have required that Paul give concern and care for the things of a family instead of God.
Is marriage a sin? No.
God created marriage.
Was marriage a weight that Paul felt he needed to lay aside to fulfill his Christian race? Yes.
Another example of a weight that had to be laid aside, which was unique to the man, can be found in Simon Peter. After Jesus rose from the grave, he visited the disciples multiple times in His resurrected glorified body. In John chapter 21 we see the third time Jesus came to them was on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias. The disciples had been fishing and caught nothing when Jesus yelled from the shore for them to cast their net on the right side. They obeyed, and they brought a load on to shore too big for the net! John knew that the man on the shore was Jesus and when he told Peter, Peter jumped into the water and swam to shore. While they ate Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him more than the fish three times. Peter had to lay aside his profession and his love for fishing to become a fisher of men. Peter’s task of leading the church, or as Jesus called it “Feeding the sheep” required laying aside his own wants and ambitions. A desire to provide for your family or to work a job is not a sin, but if it keeps you from running the race God laid before you, then it becomes a weight.
February is known for love. Hearts in stores and restaurants remind us that love is an action word that requires heart. This month is a great time to search your heart like Jesus called for Peter to do.
Lovest thou me more than these?
Love is what will empower you to lay down weights and sin to run with patience the race that is set before you. Love is what will guide you to stay within the lines of your race. I’ve often heard people push back against teaching on “rules” in the Bible as legalistic. The thought stems from the view that rules date back to living under the Law and have no part in building a New Testament relationship with Jesus.
However John 14:15 Jesus states,
“If ye love me, keep my commandments.”
There is no relationship with Jesus without love and faith.
John 14:21 Jesus went on to say,
“He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”
I challenge you to find anything more constraining than love. It is one of the most beautiful paradoxes in all creation. Love is equal parts freedom and constraint. Read 1 Corinthians 13 and see all the things that Love constrains us from doing and being. You can pull apart those verses and see that love keeps us from pride, envy, lies or deceptions, doubt, fear, cruelty, selfishness, or any other unbecoming behavior. Love is far more constraining than the Law. The law gave lists of dos and don’ts that mostly focused on actions. Love constrains us at a baser level withholding and fighting our sin nature at its core, in our hearts and minds.
Lovest thou me more than these weights and sins? Lovest thou me more than your own control? Lovest thou me more than your own life?
Christian, if you want to run right this year, you must first decide to condition your heart and mind to follow the first and greatest commandment of all while you run,
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.”
That love will give you the strength and endurance to end your race with a well done thou good and faithful servant, instead of, “Ye did run well, who hindered you that ye should not obey the truth?”
Run Well, Run Right, Stay in the Fight Christian