Shelby G. Floyd
How many of you have participated in the Indianapolis Mini-Marathon? How many of you would like to? How many of you plan to run some day? That would be a great challenge would it not? In order to run in that race it would require a lot of training in order to be in good shape to finish the race.
I was involved in track when I was in high school. I ran the 220 yards, 440 yards, and 880 yards race, which was a half-mile. I remember that I was always able to finish the race. Sometimes I won the blue ribbon, sometimes the red ribbon, and sometimes not so good. But I always finished the race.
Today I speak to you about “Running the Race of Faith.” This is a good time at the first of the year to consider a subject like that. Everybody loves sports. Many times we talk about sports fanatics. The word sports “fan” came from the word “fanatics.” A fanatic is someone who does unreasonable things in regards to sports. But a fan is someone who does reasonable things in support of his favorite team. Therefore it is a good thing to be a fan and support the team that we love.
I always enjoyed competing in sports contests when I was young. I lettered in football, basketball and track and field events. But I must admit that in the 50s and 60s we were not as fanatical about sports as the young people are today. I liked sports and I participated in all the practices and so forth. But I had a lot of other things that I was interested in at that time also. When I was 16 or 17 I worked on a farm and I was making money. And I saved up my money and I was able to buy my first car with cash when I was 16 years old. So I was interested in working, buying an automobile and participating in sports. And at that age there was also that interest which we call dating. But today I have to admit that the young people who participate in sports are much better and more devoted than we were in the 50s and 60s because they put more into it. Oftentimes they cannot work jobs while they are participating in sports because the coach wants them to give all of their time to that sport.
And God is the same way. He wants us to give everything that we have to serve him. There are some things that we can learn from sports fans that can be applied to our service to God and the church:
1. Sports fans are always very faithful. Therefore when we run the race of life above all else we should be faithful. The apostle John wrote, “Be faithful unto death and I will give you a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
2. Sports fans are usually big spenders are they not? They will travel down to New Orleans, Chicago or Cincinnati and spend hundreds of dollars and sometimes thousands of dollars to support their favorite team. If we are truly devoted to Christ and the church we should be willing to liberally contribute financially because of Christ.
3. Another thing about sports fans is that they are tireless and hardly ever seem to flag or fail in their support. They don’t seem to run out of energy. They can work all day and then go to a game at night and stay up till very late and then go to work again the next day. Those of us who are running the Christian race of life need more energy to do our work of evangelizing the world and living the Christian life. As the politicians sometimes say of their opponents, “They are low energy and not able to do the job!”
4. Sports fans are very loyal. Some of our members are loyal to the Steelers; others are loyal to the Packers, while most of us are loyal to the Colts. Everyone has their favorite team. And even when they are losing the contest they are loyal. We ought to be loyal and faithful to Christ and the home congregation regardless of what’s going on in and around us.
THE CHRISTIAN RACE IS LIKE A MARATHON
Running the race of life is more like a marathon than a sprint. Some runners in their physical makeup are designed to run a sprint while others are designed to run long distance and maybe even a marathon. The Christian race is not a 100 yard dash. It is more like a marathon or maybe even a relay race. We run our leg of the Christian race and then when we die we pass the baton on to the next generation.
A few years ago I read about the longest marathon that has ever been run. Greece proper was attacked in 490 BC. The Persians were making a sea attack upon Athens. The Persian fleet landed near Marathon in the area called Attica. Athens had been betrayed by Hippias, who was to rule Athens if the Persians won the war. The crisis was so great, that the runner Pheidippides ran over 100 miles from Athens to Sparta under 48 hours. His message to the Spartans was, “Lacedaemonians, the Athenians make request of you to come to their help, and not allow a city most anciently established among the Hellenes to fall into slavery by the means of the Barbarians…” (Outline of History, H. G. Wells, 1961, pp. 250-251). Can you imagine that in 48 hours he ran 100 miles to ask for help? And as I remember they did overcome the Persians on this occasion.
Please open your Bibles this morning to Hebrews 12:1-3:
1 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, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
3 For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls (NKJV).
WE ARE SURROUNDED BY SUCH A GREAT CLOUD OF WITNESSES
As we enter this race of faith and life there are at least four things which I wish to get over to all of you today. And the first of these is, “We are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.” This great cloud of witnesses would include such great people of faith as Able, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Rahab the harlot and many others. Why do I say this? Because “therefore” looks back to Hebrews Chapter 11, the great chapter on faith. Those great people back there had their crises, troubles and their problems, but they were all faithful to God and they finished their race. The writer says, “Wherefore seeing we are encompassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run the race with patience…” The picture conveyed to us is the idea of a great stadium (Like Lucas oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis) where 60,000 or more people surround the contest that is being pursued in that stadium. The writer seems to be saying to us Christian people that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses as we run our race of life. And you cannot help but think that figuratively they are all cheering us on to finish the race and gain the victory.
And what is a witness? A witness bears testimony. And the testimony of this great cloud of witnesses is found in Hebrews 11 where we read the testimony of these great people of faith who finished their race of life with God’s approval. And their witness or testimony is from Genesis to Malachi. When we read their story of faith and struggle, they never gave up and finally finished their race of life. Basically they say to us, “Don’t give up, it’s a marathon, not a sprint—keep running the race until you finish in faith!” And if we like them finish the race, when our life is over we shall receive the crown of life. We will obtain the reward of glory and eternal life.
And so this great cloud of witnesses was people who lived by faith. One of those people was Moses and the word of God declares, “24 By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, 26 esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26 NKJV). Moses wanted that reward that God would give him for finishing his race. Moses is one of those great witnesses that are cheering us on to victory. Moses received the promise of God and so can we.
This great cloud of witnesses overcame all obstacles by their faith. And they finished this great marathon race of life by their faith. What is faith? “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is the foundation of everything that we hope for and it is based on evidence of things that we do not see. Can anyone finish this race without faith? No! Why? God tells us plainly why we cannot finish the race without faith: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Therefore, I want all of you to remember that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses and they are cheering us on to victory. They were faithful, they overcame all obstacles, they finished the race and all of us can too!
WE MUST LAY ASIDE EVERY HINDRANCE
But next we notice that we must do something very important before we can finish the race. We must lay aside every hindrance, every weight and every sin in order to finish the race and win the victory. Notice what the word of God says, “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).
As all of you know Alexander the Great conquered the world and then he wept because there were no more worlds to conquer. But there was one thing that he had never been able to conquer. After he became the great conqueror of the world, he could not conquer his insatiable appetite for strong drink. And he accepted the challenge of drinking the Herculean cup to the last drop and died in a drunken stupor. Therefore one might conquer the world but if you cannot conquer the sin which so easily besets you and your shortcomings in life, you will never win the race of faith.
But I want to tell you another story about Alexander the Great. While he was sweeping across the world conquering everything in his way his soldiers became burdened with the spoils of war and their bounty was so great that they were not able to protect it and also fight in battle. He commanded all of his army to bring their spoils of war and pile them together in a heap. Then he set fire and destroyed all of it. It was only after the Army had laid aside the great weight of bounty that they were able to fight the next battle and win.
What is the lesson from this for us? Christian people cannot carry around all the baggage that people are carrying today and expect to win the race. We have weights and we have sins that we must get rid of in order to serve Christ faithfully. The writer says, “Let us lay aside every weight and sin which does so easily beset us and let us run the race with patience.” So must we lay aside everything that would hinder us in order to run the race of faith and enjoy the crown of life? What is your besetting sin? Is it lying, selfishness, is it gossip? To sin means to miss the mark or bullseye! Sin begins in the intellectual realm and becomes reality when it issued forth in deeds of disobedience. We must put all of the weights and besetting sins away from us. How do we do that? The way we do that is to express our faith in Christ through repentance and confession unto salvation and water baptism into Christ for forgiveness of sin. This will take care of all of our past sins and then we’re ready to begin the race of faith.
The apostle Paul declares many things we should put off or away, “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth” (Colossians 3:8 NKJV). Today one of the most common things that we observe in the public arena is people using filthy language. It is used by the movie actors, political candidates for high office, all the television shows and by common people. Christian people must be very careful lest we be caught up in this negative lifestyle. Let not one of us be guilty of using filthy and suggestive language. Also in the same context he even specifies many other things that we are to put away or put off: “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5 NKJV). If we don’t put aside all of these weights and sins that ensnare us, we will be like this picture of the overloaded donkey—we will just be treading the air and not going anywhere!
WE MUST RUN THE RACE OF FAITH WITH ENDURANCE!
What does it mean to run the race with endurance? It means we must train ourselves for the long haul. I remember when we would start training for track, the first time you ran the mile you were exhausted. But after we would do that every day for a month or so, it would be a breeze. One of the traits of being a long-distance runner is that you do not give it your all at the beginning. We see contestants in some races give it their all at the beginning and then when they reach midway they “hit the wall.” The thoughts in their mind are like this: I have been running fast and I am only at the middle of the race. That means I’ve got to run again as far as I have come. And psychologically it destroys them from finishing with everything they have. What a person must do instead is “pace oneself” for that last half of the race.
And many of us are in that last half of the race of faith right now. And we know it won’t be long until we will be nearing the finish line. Therefore we cannot give up, we must give it all that we have, and in track and field events that is called “the final kick” or “homestretch.” You are exhausted, you don’t seem to have any more strength, but you reach down inside of you and pull up stamina, energy and determination that you didn’t even know you had. And you give it the final kick, and press toward the homestretch to cross the finish line. Therefore to run the race of faith with endurance means that we must have the determination to keep on keeping on! To run with endurance means that run under great stress, we do not complain, we get into good shape, we offer up no excuses, and we never give up.
There is another biblical text that relates to our lesson today. We cannot expound upon it presently because it will provide a lesson on another day. To the Corinthians Paul declared, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25 NKJV). When we run this Christian race with endurance we must be temperate with self-control. That means that we must stay away from excess and live with moderation in all things.
WE MUST LOOK UNTO JESUS AS OUR HERO
In order to run and finish the race of faith we must look unto Jesus as our hero: “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
Eric long recently put out a new website and one of the first articles that he published was on the need for everybody to concentrate on things that are most important in our lives. He came up with the word FOCUS to be the one word that will help us to concentrate on the important things—first things first. I am proud of Eric and Carissa and all the work they do at Heartland with our young people. Focus on the goal and focus on the Lord Jesus Christ and focus on the race that we are all running by faith.
In our text the author uses the word “looking” unto Jesus. The word looking [aphorao] means “concentrating your gaze,” like a lost child would focus on his mother. It means to look away from other things so you can focus all of your attention on one object or person. In our lesson that person is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the “author [pioneer] and finisher of our faith.” What do we focus on? Not ourselves, not someone else, not how much money we can make and how much pleasure we can enjoy. The word “looking” is in the continuous present tense and means that it is a continuous responsibility throughout our life to concentrate on our Lord and what he has done for us. He is the pioneer and the finisher of our faith and we need to follow him. Like a great field and track event we all must start at the beginning with baptism, run the race and never look back, but always concentrate and look unto Jesus as our hero who himself finished his race by complete obedience unto the Father. Look forward and never look back. Jesus said when we look back we are not fit for the kingdom of heaven.
WE MUST CONSIDER THE HOSTILITY CHRIST ENDURED
Now I must tell you as we run the race of faith that everything will not always be good and wonderful. I will not tell you that you will always be optimistic, upbeat and everything will be going great in your life. Those of us that have lived for many years know that there will be setbacks and discouragements. There will be health problems; there will be members of our family and friends that die suddenly from accidents or disease. There will be family and friends that will never return from war. These are some of the things that will set a person back on his heels and will even destroy some people. It is very sad that some people give up when they undergo a little stress. I have never understood that since that is not my mindset. When I am in a battle for something that is right and good I look forward in meeting and dealing with the problem. We should never run away from our problems—we should run to our problems and deal with them. That is my philosophy and I believe that is what God intends for us to do. Do not be a coward and run away from things that we must face and deal with courageously.
What is our motivation as we run the race of faith and concentrate on our Lord Jesus Christ? The writer of Hebrews declares, “For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin” (Hebrews 12:3-4). When we face the problems of hostility and hatred from the world we must simply stiffen our back and endure some suffering as did our Lord Jesus Christ. The great men and women of faith have suffered for doing the right thing. Jesus suffered, the apostles suffered and many faithful Christian people have suffered hostility from sinners down through the ages and are even suffering now in many places. So as we consider the hostility that Christ endured, let us give it our all and when we come through days of dark clouds the sun will burst forth and we will be a better person for having endured our faithfulness in serving Christ. We do not really know how strong our faith is until we have run the race and finished with endurance. Only then can we say that our faith is strong and that we are able to endure all things through the strength that comes by Christ. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
And now we encourage anyone that has never started the race to let it be known that by faith you have repented of your sins, you are willing to make the good confession that Jesus is the Christ the son of God and be immersed in the waters of baptism for the forgiveness of sin. Then start the race, endure the race, but the most important thing is to finish the race. Near the end of his life the apostle Paul said, “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous judge shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).*
Copyright © 2016 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved
*Shelby G Floyd delivered this sermon January 10, 2016 at the Heartland Church of Christ, 1693 West Main St., Greenwood, IN 46 142
Shelby G. Floyd
Heartland Church of Christ
1693 West Main Street
Greenwood, Indiana 46142