Sunday, 7 April 2019
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, Hebrews 12:1
This is a long verse, and it requires precision of translation. The word “also” is, in some translations, tied to the cloud of witnesses –
“…since we also are surrounded by.”
That is incorrect. That would indicate that those in Chapter 11 were surrounded by their own cloud of witnesses, just as we are. That is not the intent. Rather, “also” is connected to the need for endurance –
“Therefore we also … let us lay aside.”
Other nuances of this verse vary from translation to translation, and each needs to be thought through without accepting one – fallible – translation at the expense of proper intent. With this understanding, the author begins with “Therefore.” He is making an affirmation of the facts he has stated in order to exhort his readers (and thus us) to be attentive to his words.
Next, he says, “we also.” That means that he, along with those who read his words, is to act in accord with the exhortation he is making. He is not excluding himself from what is to be stated, and he expects those who read his words would follow suit.
The words, “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” are speaking of those named (or referred to by their deeds, even if not specifically named) in the previous chapter. The written testimony of their lives of faith, being worked out in deeds of faith, is a witness to us which forms “a cloud.” The word is nephos, and it is only found here. It is a mass of cloud which is then equated to a great company of people. Such a cloud is indefinite in size and shape, and it simply forms into a whole. The record of the lives of those faithful souls recorded in Scripture is given to bear witness to what God finds worthy of note. Understanding that each one of them was noted for faith leading to action, he then continues that just as this cloud surrounds us, so “let us lay aside every weight.”
Again, another unique word to Scripture is seen, ogkos. It is a mass, bulk, or encumbrance which causes one to bend from its load. The author is not speaking of physical weights and flabby stomachs though. Rather, he is speaking of spiritual and doctrinal matters. In particular, he has been speaking about the “greater than” nature of Christ throughout the epistle. Worshiping angels instead of Christ would be such a weight. Holding on to the doctrines of the Old Covenant would be such a weight. In fact, Peter, speaking of the law, says this to the Council in Jerusalem in Acts 15:10, 11 –
“Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”
This is exactly what the law is; one big heavy ogkos, hindering people from coming to a right relationship with God through the grace provided in Jesus Christ our Lord. All such weight is to be laid aside. Next, the author says, “and the sin which so easily ensnares us.”
Another unique word is found here, euperistatos. It is a compound word which gives the sense of “well,” “all around,” and “planted.” Thus, “completely encircling” is the idea. Sin, then, is something that encompasses us and keeps us from being able to move in any direction to get away from it. Wherever we turn, it surrounds us. And so the reader is asked to lay it aside. This includes all sins of a physical nature, but it also surely includes those things which are faulty in a doctrinal sense.
Hebrews 13:9 speaks of “various and strange doctrines.” Anything which is not of God, and which is not revealed as proper in His word, and yet which is taught as a doctrine is “strange.” It is something that is added to the gospel, and it is faulty and comes to encircle a person so that they are caught in the sin of false teaching. The author, after asking to have these things laid aside from our lives says, “and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,”
One cannot run with endurance if he carries a heavy burden, and he cannot run with endurance if he is caught in a trap of false doctrine which thoroughly impedes forward motion. The word “race” is from the Greek agón. It is the basis for our modern day word “agony.” It is a contest and a struggle which requires endurance and being fully fit to proceed and to win. We have a contest in this life which is to live for Jesus, live in faith, and to press forward with pleasing God and not getting encumbered by faulty doctrine and faithless living. This is what the author exhorts for his reader; and in the next verse, he will give the surest way of all for it to be effected in the believer’s life.
Life application: After speaking for 40 verses on the exceptional faith of biblical characters of the past, “a great cloud of witnesses,” the author has given us a multi-pointed challenge –
1) “Let us lay aside every weight.” This is speaking of anything which will affect, withhold, or rob us of our faith. How easy this is too! It can surely affect our faith when we see a false preacher lining his pockets with money and then being caught in gross sin. Understand that this will surely happen from time to time and determine not to let it hinder your walk. The same is true with countless other things which can sidetrack you from strong faith. Think about a show you saw on the TV or YouTube which called into question the truth of the Bible. On every such occasion, the speaker either failed to do his homework or he has an agenda to bring disrepute on Scripture and to weaken your faith. Know your Bible, know your Lord, and stand strong in your faith.
2) “Let us lay aside the sin which so easily ensnares us.” Not only do we need to watch out that other’s sins don’t bring us down, but we need to remember that each of us is susceptible to sin. No sooner do we feel secure in our faith than the devil challenges us with temptation.
3) “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” We have been reminded elsewhere that being a faithful Christian is like a race. In a race, one needs to not only start, but to persevere. The only way to make it to the finish line is to focus and not falter.
Dear Heavenly Father! Your word offers challenges which show that our walk in this life is more than just that. And it isn’t a mere sprint either. Rather, it is a marathon. Therefore, be with us each step of the way so that we will not be weighed down, that we will not be tripped up, and that we will pass the finish line with satisfaction that we have been pleasing to You in our run! Yes, be with us, O God. Amen.