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  • Writer's pictureGODVERSITY

Run With Endurance


Hebrews 12:1 tells us to “run with endurance” the race set before us.

George Matheson wrote, “We commonly associate patience with lying down. We think of it as the angel that guards the couch of the invalid. Yet there is a patience that I believe to be harder—the patience that can run. To lie down in the time of grief, to be quiet under the stroke of adverse fortune, implies a great strength; but I know of something that implies a strength greater still: it is the power to work under stress; to have a great weight at your heart and still run; to have a deep anguish in your spirit and still perform the daily tasks. It is a Christlike thing! The hardest thing is that most of us are called to exercise our patience, not in the sickbed but in the street.” To wait is hard, to do it with “good courage” is harder!

The Book of Hebrews was written to a group of confessing Christians who were tempted to ditch their faith in Jesus due to persecution, and return to the relatively safe haven of traditional Judaism. So throughout the book, the author proclaims the superiority of Jesus, in His Person and Work. Chapter 11, the one preceding this one, comprises “The Hall of Faith” of those who walked with God by faith through various trials.

It is in that context, then, that the author encourages all of us who are following Jesus:

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith …”.

Hebrews says: “Therefore, since we have so great a crowd of witness surrounding us …”. It is speaking of all of the people who have run the race of faith before us. Hebrews 11 tells of the faith of Abel, and Enoch, and Noah, and Abraham, and Moses, and others, and how they endured sufferings, and overcome obstacles, and ran the race of faith which was before them. We each have obstacles, in our personal lives, and in our churches. But you and I are not the first to run the Christian race; others have gone before us, and like many can share, we have the resting and the turbulent periods.

I think it will be helpful to approach verses 3–11 like this:

1. We will notice the pain and sorrow in this chapter.

2. We will ask what kind it is and where it comes from.

3. We will ask if it has a purpose or design and what it is.


Rest - Suffering - Rest

There is a restful side to the Christian life and a suffering side to the Christian life.

“Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest,” Jesus said in Matthew 11:28. “Be anxious for nothing . . . let your requests be made known to God . . . and the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7). There is rest and peace in the Christian soul.

But there is also suffering and struggle. Jesus said in Luke 13:24, “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” And the word “strive” is agonize — to wrestle and struggle. At the end of his life, Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”

Keeping the faith is a battle to be fought and a race to be run.

These two sides are not related in such a way that you rest one day and struggle the next. They are interwoven in two ways:

1. The purpose of our struggle is to seek rest — in God and not in money or position or looks or achievement; the aim of our battle is to rest in the promises of God and not the promises of sin.

2. All our struggling and running are done with a deep restfulness of spirit that Christ himself has already won the decisive victory for us and is sovereignty working in us and will bring us to glory.

The book of Hebrews is a very mature and sober book when it comes to the pain and stress of Christian living and the endurance that it takes to run the race and fight the fight and finish well.

It’s not a book that people (especially teenagers and strong young adults) gravitate toward — unless they have suffered and struggle for some explanation of how that relates to God. In other words, the more easy and pain-free your life has been, the less you will cherish the kind of spirituality taught in this book. And the more you have suffered, the more you will cling to the precious teachings of this book — if you are willing to believe them.

That is a big if. I was talking with one of our members at the baptism service Wednesday evening, and he was telling me about recent conversations he had had with people who simply do not believe what this chapter teaches. It’s not a little feel-good chapter about how to make the best of your troubles — or even about how God makes the best of your troubles.

It is a massive statement about the gracious sovereignty of God over the evil that befalls his people. And the big “if” is: will you believe this?

Will you accept the mystery of God’s providence in the pain of your life, and be trained by it (as verse 11 says) for the sake of good and peace and holiness and righteousness and life? Or will you kick against this chapter and demand in the season of suffering that God give a greater account of himself than he does in this chapter?

1. The Legacy of Suffering

In verse 3 he says, “Consider him who has endured such hostility by sinners against himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.” The first glimpse of suffering we see in this church here is that something is threatening to make them “grow weary and lose heart.”

It is normal for Christians to have experiences of stress and suffering that threaten their faith and press too hard, or last too long and feel almost intolerable. Losing heart is a great spiritual danger. And these Christians were in that danger, as are many of you.

Another glimpse of their suffering is the reference to the hostility against Jesus (verse 3): “Consider him who has endured such hostility by sinners against himself.” Why consider this? Because the same kind of thing is happening to you and you need to get strength from Jesus.

Another glimpse is in verse 4: “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin.” The point here is that things are bad, but not as bad as they could be. There is hostility and trouble and stress and suffering, but evidently no martyrs yet. We know from Hebrews 10:34 that some had been imprisoned and some had been plundered. But it is not yet martyrdom, though that could come. The stress level here is huge. How do you sleep at night when being a Christian may result in mob violence?

Another glimpse of their suffering is in verse 11: “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful.” In other words, the present experience of these Christians was sorrowful. Joy had been covered with a dark cloud of pain. The word “seems” (discipline “seems” not to be joyful) hints that there is a kind of residual joy of hope that hangs on beneath the cloud, but the tears and the sighs and the groans are so many that it looks like sorrow has the upper hand — at least for a season. As it does when a child cries after a spanking.

So I think it is fair to say that the believers in this passage are under tremendous stress; they are enduring some form of hostility; they are wrestling with great sorrow and are in danger of growing weary of the battle and losing heart. This whole book is written to keep that from happening.

2. The Source of Suffering

Now the second thing to ask is what kind of suffering this is and where did it come from. The first answer is that the suffering is coming from hostile adversaries. This was true in chapter 10:32–34; and it was true of the Old Testament saints in 11:35–38; and you can see that it is true here in the connection between verses 3 and 4. “Consider him who has endured such hostility by sinners against himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin.” The link with Jesus and the hostility shown against him shows that this is what the Christians are dealing with. He endured hostility from sinners . . . you too have resisted, but have not yet had to shed your blood. So the suffering in view is mainly persecution in various forms, short of martyrdom.

But where did it come from? Who is doing this? Who’s in charge of this? The first answer to that is seen in verse 3: “Consider him who has endured such hostility by sinners.” This is what Jesus endured, and this is what you are enduring. The suffering comes from the hostility of sinners. The suffering is coming from the hostile will of sinful adversaries. That is the first answer.

It is not the main one, and it is not the decisive one. This whole passage is built on another answer to the question: Where does this suffering come from? And who’s doing this? And who’s in charge? The main answer of the passage is that God is in charge here, and that he is in ultimate control of these afflictions and that they are in fact the loving discipline of a perfect heavenly father. That’s the burden of this passage.

GOD, our Great Healer

Verse 5–7 says that one of the reasons you are growing weary and losing heart is that “you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord. For those whom the Lord loves, he disciplines, and he scourges every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you endure.’” (see Proverbs 3:11–12). In other words, what adversaries do to you out of sinful hostility, God is doing out of fatherly discipline.

This is extremely important for knowing your God and for living by faith through the suffering that is coming sooner or later into your life. Notice very carefully: this text does not say that God looks on while hostile sinners hurt his people, or while Satan ravages the elect, and only then steps in to turn all this evil for good. That is not what the text says. It has a totally different conception of what is happening to us.

It says that God is disciplining us; he is teaching us and correcting us and transforming us. In other words, God has a purpose and a design in what is happening to us. God is the ultimate doer here. Verse 6 goes so far as to say, “[God] scourges every son whom he receives.” Who is scourging? Who is whipping? (See 11:36). God is. God is not a passive observer in our lives while sinners and Satan beat us up. He rules over sinners and Satan, and they unwittingly, and with no less fault or guilt, fulfill his wise and loving purposes of discipline in our lives.

This is what I said earlier some Christians simply will not believe. They say that God is not in charge of the evil that happens to us. That he has given the world over to Satan and the free will of man. But it will not work in this passage. The hostility of sinners is real and it is wrong and responsible and guilty. But it is also and this is a great hope for us — it is also the loving, painful discipline of our Father in heaven.

God is not coming to his children late after the attack, and saying, “I can make this turn for good.” That is not discipline. That is repair. It’s the difference between the surgeon who plans the incision for our good, and the emergency room doctor who sews us up after a freak accident. This text says, God is the doctor planning our surgery, not the doctor repairing our lacerations.

Are Natural Calamities God’s Way of Discipline?

Someone might ask, does this principle of discipline apply to things like natural calamities and sicknesses that are not caused by the hostility of sinners? Should we see these things as part of God’s overarching discipline of his children for their good?

Which is harder to attribute to God’s design: the hostility of sinners against God’s people or the destruction of a hurricane? I believe the hostility of sinners is more difficult to attribute to God’s design. The reason is that in both cases — hostility and hurricanes — you have to deal with the pain caused by the event. But in the case of hostility you have the added difficulty that people’s wills are involved, whereas in the case of a hurricane you don’t have that difficulty.

No human agent is causing the hurricane, but a human is willing the hostility. So if we say that God is governing the hostility of sinners against the saints, we imply that He governs not just natural effects but human wills, and what harm they bring to the saints.

And that is what this passage teaches. What hostile sinners mean for harm, God means for good. What people will as hurtful, God wills as helpful. What they plan as destruction, God plans as salvation. What they design as a deterrent to faith, God designs as discipline for faith.

The upshot then is this: if it is more difficult for God to govern the hostility of sinners against his people, and yet this passage teaches that he does just that, then why would we even think of denying the less difficult act of God’s rule over natural things like hurricanes and sickness? Especially when God himself says in Exodus 4:11 “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?”

So I see in this passage the precious teaching that God reigns over the hazards of our circumstances and over the health of our bodies and over the hostility of our adversaries and he designs all of life ultimately as a loving father’s discipline.


References: 1. Pastor Shawne Thomas - served as pastor of Southern Baptist churches in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana for almost 30 years before taking a medical leave from the pastorate in February 2013 due to dysautonomia (POTS) and moving to Norman, Oklahoma. 2. John Piper is founder and teacher of and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota.


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