Run Without Burdens
When struggling halfway through a marathon, the last thing you want to do is make running harder than it has to be. No sane runner would stop mid-race, put on a 30-pound weight belt, and then keep going. It is true that some runners train with weights to increase their strength and stamina, but they would be foolish to do so in a race that they want to win. On the contrary, athletes shed excess body weight through diet and exercise before a race because they want to be at their optimum weight. When you run to win, you run without any burdens: no weight bags or belts, no extra body fat, no bulky clothing.
This is what athletes did in the first century AD. After training for their race, they would enter the stadium wearing “long flowing, colorful robes.” Before they would line up for the start of the race, they would take off their robes to run their race “virtually naked.” They ran without any excess burdens. It is this image that the author of Hebrews uses in verse 1 to describe how we are to run the Christian race: “…let us also lay aside every weight…and let us run…” We need to get rid of whatever makes it harder for us to trust and obey the Lord, even if it is good in and of itself. Throw it to the side so that we do not slow down, become discouraged and quit.
Agur asked the Lord to give him neither poverty nor riches, lest he be full and deny the Lord or poor and steal, thereby profaning the name of the Lord (Prov. 30:7-9). Agur is not saying that it is sinful to be poor or wealthy. Rather, he is asking the Lord not to place him in position where he would be inclined to sin, no doubt due to his own particular frailties and tendencies.
What are your own frailties and tendencies? What are your burdens that should be discarded?
As Richard D. Phillips has noted, they could be “career ambitions, hobbies, associations and friendships, habits and preoccupations.” Or, as is the case for some, it could be alcohol. Enjoying a glass of wine or a cold beer on a hot summer day is not sinful. Indeed, God gave alcohol for our enjoyment (Ps. 104:14-15). Nevertheless, if it inhibits you from running your race, you should lay it aside and stop drinking altogether.
If I were to venture a guess, spending time at the synagogue or associating with their old unbelieving friends might have been burdens for the Hebrew Christians. After all, they were being tempted to leave Christ and his church for the synagogue, and that temptation would have increased greatly by visiting the synagogue. Although it would not have been wrong per se for the Hebrew Christians to return to their old stomping grounds, even as it was not wrong for athletes to wear their long flowing, colorful robes during the race, it might have been foolish, and even possibly in some cases, detrimental to have done so.
Lest we become judgmental and pharisaical, it is important that we do not judge others according to our preferences, choices, and weaknesses. Our decision to abstain from alcohol does not mean that everyone else should too. People are different and will have different temptations and desires. Moreover, they will have differing levels of Christian maturity. Thus, we must be careful not to judge others according to the hedges that we establish to make our path smoother to run. Jesus said to cut off your right hand and throw it away if it causes you to sin (Matt. 5:30). He does not tell everyone to cut their right hands off, but only the person who is having trouble putting his sin to death.
If something is hindering your race, and it can be discarded, then it should be discarded: “Let us also lay aside every weight…” Run without any burdens.
Patrick Ramsey (@dprmsy) is pastor of Nashua Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Edinburg, Pennsylvania. He has written and contributed to numerous books and periodicals, including A Portrait of Christ, An Analysis of Herman Witsius's The Economy of the Covenants, and Samuel Rutherford: An Introduction to his Theology. He and his wife Rachel have five sons.
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