When I hear the word “weight” I think of two things initially. One is, of course, the fact that I’ve been losing (and gaining) the same twenty-five pounds for about forty years. The other thing I think about is the voice of Levon Helm singing the old (1968) song from The Band. It seems rather universal that the songs from our youth tend to stay in our minds. The weight around my middle seems determined to stay where it is also.

     But of course, there are more important things. The Book of Hebrews has seemed to me to be a great long sermon which I believe was preached by the apostle Paul. I know about the differences in the way it is written from the letters we know to be Paul’s. But these technical issues are resolved by thinking that the inspired secretary who recorded his words for Hebrews was not the one who recorded his other letters. At any rate, even a casual reading of the great letter shows its sermonic nature and rhetorical power.

     One such example of that power is the great faith chapter, eleven. The heroes and events listed there continue to inspire us. As that chapter closes and chapter twelve begins Paul uses these words, “So therefore” (rendered “wherefore” in the KJV and “therefore” in the NKJV). He is asking his audience (and all of us reading and hearing the words of the book to this point in time) to consider his argument and do something to make a difference in our spiritual lives.

     Consider the passage: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1 KJV). I would not attempt to number the sermons which have been preached out of these few words. I have done more than a few myself. It meets the challenges of living a life of faith effectively, even today.

     The old translation is powerful in it expression, “compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses.” Paul was asking us to allow the record of faithful people in the past (from chapter eleven) to surround us in our minds. We start with Abel and end with the unnamed faithful who were “stoned and sawn asunder.” Just think again of their description: “Of whom the world was not worthy” (11:38). As we see by faith that great circle of faithful ones we are reminded that we as Christian people have something better, indeed, something that is the best. We have received the promise.

     And because of that great blessing we have a responsibility. We are to lay aside “every weight.” The nature of this weight is described: “the sin which so easily ensnares us.” We know about sin. It is common to man (Romans 3:23) and it exacts a great price (Romans 6:23). Christians are forgiven because of the sacrifice of Christ. But we must continue to identify our own sins and repent of them (1 John 1:5-10). The blood of Christ will keep cleansing us if we remain faithful. Paul here is asking us to look to the Biblical past and see these examples of what it means to be faithful and lay aside the weight of sin.

     It is not enough to get rid that weight. Once we are in spiritual good shape we must run the race. I like to walk. I do not like to run. But the image here is plain. Paul lived in a world where there were people who ran for a living, delivering important messages and moving great armies from place to place. The folks hearing this message knew about running. They knew that the race was not always to the swift (as with Ecclesiastes 9:11). Finishing was the thing. The word translated “patience” here has in it the idea of endurance. Faithful living is not a sprint. It may even be a little bit of plodding along a times. But we just keep going, shedding the weight of sin with each step.

     The verse closes with an important thought: it is “the race that is set before us.” We cast aside our own weight and we have our own race. Let us run our races in faith.