"Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith ..." (Hebrews 12:1-2)
This lesson explains the meaning of the phrases "let us run with endurance," "the race that is set before us," and "fixing our eyes on Jesus" in Hebrews 12:1-2.
Consider. As a believer in Christ, are you enduring, remaining steadfast through the challenges in the spiritual race course that God has set before you?
In today's lesson, the writer of the letter of Hebrews compares the Christian life to athletes running in the contests of the ancient Greek games. The writer begins Hebrews 12:1 with "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us ..." The witnesses surrounding us inspire us not as spectators but by their examples (Ref. 1 below). The writer of Hebrews describes many Old Testament saints who were faithful in their witness for God (see Hebrews 11:1-40).
In Hebrews 12:1-2 the writer encourages believers to "run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus." Let's examine each phrase to understand the rich meaning that the Greek words convey.
1. Let Us Run with Endurance
Run -- The Greek word for run [trechó] (trekh'-o) means to run or walk hastily (Strong's Exhaustive Concordance - Ref. 2). Figuratively, trechó means to advance speedily, like an athlete moving forward with full effort and directed purpose (HELPS Word-studies - Ref. 2). Also see 1 Corinthians 9:24.
Like the athletes in the ancient Greek games, we are to advance with full effort in our Christian lives towards the goals that God sets for us (Philippians 3:13-14).
Endurance -- The Greek word for endurance [hupomoné] (hoop-om-on-ay') means patience, and steadfastness under the challenges that God allots in our lives (Strong's Exhaustive Concordance and HELPS Word-studies - Ref. 3).
As believers in Christ, as spiritual athletes, we are to endure, to remain steadfast, unswerved from our faith by even the greatest trials and sufferings (Ref. 3, James 1:2-4). Jesus himself endured the cross - for the joy that was set before him (Hebrews 12:2 italics added, Ref. 4).
God promises to give us the strength to endure. "They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:31).
2. The Race that is Set Before Us
Race -- The Greek word for race [agón] (ag-one') in Hebrews 12:1 means "a contest (struggle), a grueling conflict (fight)" (HELPS Word-studies - Ref. 5). The Apostle Paul uses the same Greek word in 1 Timothy 6:12, "Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses" (1 Timothy 6:12, italics added). At the conclusion of his ministry, Paul refers to the race he has run as a fight, "I have fought the good fight [agón], I have finished the course, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7, italics and brackets added).
Like Paul's experience, the race that God sets before us may be a struggle or a fight (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). However, God promises he is with us always through those struggles. Moses said to his people, "Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you" (Deuteronomy 31:6). Jesus said to his disciples and says to us today, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).
Set before -- The Greek word for set before is prokeimai, which means to place before, in front of, and to be appointed (Thayer's Greek Lexicon - Ref. 6).
God is the One who sets the race course before us, and not we ourselves. Secular texts and self-help books may teach us to set goals without input from God. However, as believers in God and disciples of Christ, we should seek to know the goals that God has appointed for us, and then we press on to reach those God-given goals with the skills and endurance that God supplies us. The Apostle Paul gives us his example. "Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14).
If you don't know what goals or "next steps" God has in mind for you to accomplish, ask him. "But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him" (James 1:5). "The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps" (Proverbs 16:9).
3. Fixing Our Eyes on Jesus
The Greek word for fixing [aphoraó] (af-or-ah'-o) in Hebrews 12:2 means looking away from all else, to fix one's gaze upon (HELPS Word-studies - Ref. 7). Fixing our eyes on Jesus requires not only looking to Jesus but also turning away from all else that distracts our eyes including worldly lusts (1 John 2:15-17) and the sin that entangles us (Hebrews 12:1).
Hymn writer Helen H. Lemmel captures the meaning of fixing our eyes on Jesus in the hymn, "Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus" (Ref. 8):
"Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace."
As believers in Christ saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9), we are to turn away from all worldly lusts and sins that distract our eyes and turn our eyes exclusively to Jesus who is the author and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:2).
Summary - the Main Principles in this Lesson
1. Like the athletes in the ancient Greek games, as believers in Christ, we are to advance with full effort in our Christian lives towards the goals that God sets for us.
2. As spiritual athletes, we are to endure, to remain steadfast, unswerved from our faith by even the greatest trials and sufferings. God promises to give us the strength to endure.
3. The race that God sets before us may be a struggle or a fight. However, God promises he is with us always through those struggles.
4. God is the One who sets the race course before us, and not we ourselves. If you don't know what goals or "next steps" God has in mind for you to accomplish, ask him.
5. As believers in Christ saved by grace, we are to turn away from all worldly lusts and sins that distract us and turn our eyes exclusively to Jesus who is the author and perfecter of faith.
Apply. Be a spiritual athlete. Run with endurance the race that God has set before you. Complete your race faithfully with your eyes fixed on Jesus.
"Do Not Love the World" (1 John 2:15-16)
1. The NIV Study Bible, Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1985, note on Hebrews 12:1
"They all saw Him and were terrified. But immediately He spoke with them and said to them, 'Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid.'" (Mark 6:50)
This article is the second in a series on the "'Fear Nots' of the Bible." The first article presented the "'Fear Nots' of the Old Testament" (Ref. 1). In the Old Testament, God assured the Israelites, "Fear not, for I am with you" (Isaiah 41:10). Moses encouraged the Israelites about the Lord's presence with them, "Do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you" (Deuteronomy 31:6).
This article presents statements of Jesus where he tells us to "Fear not" or "Do not be afraid." Jesus Christ, the Son of God, assures those who believe in him and follow him that we have no reason to fear.
Consider. In what areas of your life are you afraid? With what circumstances or trials would you like Jesus to give you courage and peace?
Definition of Fear
Unless indicated otherwise, the verses in this article use the Greek word phobeó for fear or afraid (Ref. 2). The New Testament uses phobeó to mean put to flight (withdraw from), terrify, frighten, dread, or reverence (Ref. 2).
Jesus Gives Us Courage in the Midst of Our Trials
Recall the event when Jesus walked on the water of Lake Galilee late at night to come to his disciples who were struggling with rowing against the wind (read here, Mark 6:45-52). In Mark 6:48 the Greek language uses a serious word to describe the disciple's situation. The New American Standard Bible says the disciples were straining at the oars for the wind was against them. The Greek word for straining is basanizó, which means a tormenting trial, to examine by using torture (Ref. 3). Wow.
Jesus took the initiative and came to his disciples during their tormenting trial at sea (Mark 6:48). The disciples saw Jesus approaching, but did not recognize him at first. They thought he was a ghost, and they were frightened (Mark 6:49-50). Jesus said to them, and he says to us in our trial, "Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid" (Mark 6:50).
The Greek word for courage is tharseó, which means emboldened from within (Ref. 4). For the believer, bold courage is infused by the Lord and means "living out the inner confidence (inner bolstering) that is Spirit-produced" (Ref. 4).
By faith, Jesus gives us courage (inner boldness and confidence) during our trials. His presence with us calms our storms (Mark 6:51, Mark 4:38-39).
Believing in Jesus is the Remedy for Our Fear
A synagogue official named Jairus came to Jesus and urgently asked Jesus, "My little daughter is at the point of death; please come and lay Your hands on her, so that she will get well and live" (Mark 5:22-23). While on the way, bad news came from the house of the synagogue official. "Your daughter has died; why trouble the Teacher anymore?" (Mark 5:35). Jesus disagreed with the advice of the bad news bearer to not trust further in Jesus. Jesus immediately said to Jairus, "Fear not, only believe" (Mark 5:36). In the face of bad news, believing in (trusting in, having faith in) Jesus is the only remedy for our grief and fear (Ref. 5, Ref. 6).
Jesus knew that he "had things under control." Jairus only needed to believe. Jesus went on to raise Jairus' daughter from the dead (Mark 5:40-42).
God Knows Us, Values Us, and Cares for Us
Jesus said, "Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:29-31). English Theologian John Gill (1697 - 1771) wrote, "If God takes care of sparrows and is concerned for their lives, much more will he take care of his faithful ministers, and not suffer their lives to be taken away, till they have done the will and work of their Lord" (Ref. 7, Ref. 8).
Jesus Gives Give Us Peace that the World Cannot Give
On the evening before his death, Jesus said to his disciples, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful" (John 14:27). Jesus gives his disciples peace. The peace that Jesus gives dispels our fear.
The Greek word for peace in John 14:27 is eiréné. Eiréné (peace) is God's gift of wholeness including peace of mind (Ref. 9). The invocation of peace (shalom in Hebrew) also was a common Jewish farewell, in the Hebraistic sense of the health (welfare), security, safety, and prosperity of an individual (Ref. 10, 1 Samuel 1:16-18, 1 Samuel 20:42).
The Greek word for fear in John 14:27 is deiliaó, which means to be cowardly (Ref. 11). Deiliaó is used only this one time in the New Testament.
Jesus' presence and his words bring comfort, courage, and peace to his disciples then and now.
Apply. If you do not yet know Jesus, put your faith and trust in him. Believing in Jesus is the only remedy for your fear. If you do know Jesus, and you are going through a difficult time, pray, and put your trust in Jesus. He will provide you the comfort, courage, and peace that you seek.
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