We (Ekklesia Bible Fellowship) recently celebrated our fourth (4th) anniversary as a local assembly in Jamaica. Ours, have been a journey of F.A.I. T. H (Fantastic Adventures In Trusting Him). Our journey has not always been easy though. As a new church plant, we have had our teething pains – moments when we questioned ourselves and worried about what was going to happen next. Yet, we persevered because we know the God we serve is bigger than any of our circumstance and the vision that He had given us, He is able to make pro-vision for.
On the occasion marking our fourth anniversary, under the theme: “Persevering in Faith: Impacting the Future”, our senior pastor, Barry Hall Jr., challenged a filled to capacity hall to persevere and finish well.
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
The context of the letter to the Hebrews is one where the Jewish Christians were facing intense persecution for having “abandoned’ Judaism and believing on the Gospel of Jesus. Many found themselves abandoned by their families, homeless and destitute and the temptation was to return to the comforts and privileges that Judaism afforded them. It is against this backdrop that the entire book of Hebrews is written – to help them to realize the superiority of (their faith in) Jesus and why this new covenant in Him was better than the former.
In chapter 11, the writer to the Hebrews spends the time outlining many stalwarts of the faith; some who held on to the promise, many who were sawn in two, martyred in coliseums – all dying, holding on to the promise. They never gave up. They kept running. They kept striving. They are the ones who make up the cloud of witnesses spoken of in verse one of chapter twelve.
Paul likens this faith walk as a race and he says as we prepare ourselves to run this race we must:
- Throw off everything that hinders and the sins that so easily entangle us. If we look at athletes running in a race, as they make their way to the tracks, they are in full track suits. But as they prepare to out under starters’ orders, they remove those suits, removing that which will hold them back and slow them down. Sin slows down the walk of the believer. The sad thing is that many believers find reasons to explain away their sin. “Oh, it is a struggle”, “The devil, made me do it.” The truth is, we sin because we want to. We have developed an appetite for it. But through Christ, we have been set free from sin’s power and penalty. We must now choose to walk in this liberty that we now have by fully submitting ourselves to God’s Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) and walking in obedience to His Word. God has already given us the ability to walk in righteousness (2 Peter 1:3).
- Run this race with patience: sticking with the writer’s analogy of athletics. An athlete puts his body through rigorous training in order to compete and finish well. It is often, a painful experience. Interestingly, the Greek word used for race, ‘agon’, is the word from which we get ‘agony’. This walk of faith will sometimes be arduous but we cannot give up. That is why we must run it with patience. Those who are now witnesses, who are not simply spectators but persons who ran before us, ran right up to the end under real persecution but they never gave up. We must never give up either. It will be hard but keep running.
- Keep your eyes on Jesus as you run: Don’t be distracted by whatever is happening around you. Keep your eyes on Jesus. And when you consider what He, Himself, endured just for you and considered a joy to have endured such, it should motivate you to keep running. A cross was before Him but for Him it did not merely represent shame and torture. It represented purpose.
The advent of the prosperity and name-it-and claim it teachings have distracted believers from the understanding the value of suffering and the need for believers to endure it. Athletes endure whatever pain they must to win a reward that will fade. But we run and endure for one of far great value. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17 “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” So run the race that is set before. Run and finish well. Persevere in faith.