The beginning of Hebrews 12 extends backwards before it go forward with these words, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us” (Hebrews 12:1).
The writer is reaching back and gathering all those mentioned from 11:4-40 and stating that each one is an encouragement. Collectively, a world of encouragement is bound up in the examples of these saints who have run the race of faith and crossed the finish line of life faithfully. It is as if our author is saying to all of us, “others have done it, and so can you!” So, let’s contemplate the faithful lives of those in our distant past all the way up to our present day and let’s continually be inspired by their spiritual legacy. Their steadfastness and endurance in the face of such harsh adversity bears witness to the possibilities of the life of faith. It is not so much that they look at us, but we look to them for the encouragement to run the race with endurance. We would all benefit from reading some Christian biographies from time to time. We would profit from studying the lives of the faithful from the pages of Scripture. We would be emboldened by thinking of those in our own family or dear friends who left behind such a sterling example of faith and faithfulness to God. It is never a matter that we do not have examples by which to be inspired. The problem for many of us is that we fail to make the time to be inspired by the lives of others. This practice is such an important discipline for us to acquire if we are going to successfully endure the pressure packed seasons of life.
Another discipline our author mentions in 12:1 is to lay aside every weight. Extra weight of any kind will hold us down or hamper us when we are running. Comparing our lives to a long-distance marathon, the writer reminds us how foolish it would be to carry anything unnecessary along the route. All that does not help us is hindering our progress. Therefore, we are exhorted to remove everything that is superfluous and unnecessary in our lives. In fact, in the original and early Olympic Games, the Grecian runners ran in the stadium nearly naked. This principle of getting rid of superfluous things in our lives is certainly convicting. We all live nowadays in a world of indulgence and excess and it is hard even for Christians not to get caught up in the exorbitance of our culture. But we must learn to heed the sage advice of this verse and become more minimalistic when it comes to living life. It is learning to be content (please read Philippians 4:11-13) and separating the true needs of our lives from the wants of our lives. The less baggage we are traveling though life with, especially when crisis or trouble hits our lives, the more manageable life will become.
What are the weights that we should remove so that we might run our race effectively and efficiently? In general terms, anything and everything that hinders our spiritual progress. These can be good things but have become unnecessary things. A winning athlete does not choose between the good and the bad as much as he chooses between the better and best. So, let’s cast off and strip away even harmless things if they hinder our progress, divert our attention, sap our energy, or dampen our enthusiasm for the kingdom of God. “But above all pursue His kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).