Every four years the Olympic games bring together the world’s best athletes. (The games were postponed from last year until this summer because of COVID.) Some athletes are known for their strength, others for amazing speed and agility, and still others for style and grace, but one principle is common in the training regimens of all of these athletes. That principle is endurance. You will also hear words like patience or steadfastness. One does not reach the Olympics by means of a casual, haphazard training program. Successful athletes appreciate the benefit of dedication and hard work.
The same is true in the Christian life. Challenges that Christians must face vary greatly, but all who remain faithful to God must be steadfast. The significance of this principle is highlighted in Hebrews 12:1-2 – “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
The word “endurance” is defined by Thayer as “the characteristic of a man who is unswerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest of trial and suffering.” Perhaps like no other, Olympic athletes demonstrate the indispensable nature of steadfastness. Years of dedicated training are endured and unending preparation is made, often for events that last only seconds and the differences between winning and losing is often less than the blink of an eye.
This exhortation in Hebrews 12 recognizes the possibility of our steadfastness and endurance. We are reminded of others who ran the race with patience as “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” These are not witnesses in the sense of being a group of spectators, as if we run steadfastly because of the cheering crowd. Instead, a “witness” is one who can bear testimony to what he has seen. When Stephen was stoned, the “witnesses” laid their coats at Saul’s feet (Acts 7:58). The apostles were “witnesses” of the resurrected Christ (Act 2:32) having seen him alive following his crucifixion. Also translated “martyr,” this term refers to one willing to bear testimony to the point of death. Stephen (Acts 22:20) and Antipas (Revelation 2:13) were martyred because of their steadfastness to the faith of Christ.
The witnesses under consideration here are those stirring examples of faith in Hebrews 11 who bear witness to the fact that one can remain faithful in the midst of persecution and trying circumstances. That they persevered in their faithfulness to God is testimony to the fact that we also can be steadfast in our faith. These witnesses are not spectators of our lives – rather, we should be “mental spectators” of theirs as we reflect on the scripture’s account of their lives.
On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister ran the first sub-4-minute mile breaking a record that had stood for eight years and which many thought would never be broken. Within months of his achievement, numerous others also broke the four-minute barrier, underscoring the fact that it was more of a psychological barrier than a physical one. Just as Bannister demonstrated the possibility of a sub-four-minute mile, so these Old Testament witnesses prove that every Christian can be steadfast in the faith.
One step necessary to be steadfast is to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so.” Athletes may train with weights, but they lay them aside to compete. Equipment, such as bobsleds and bicycles, has been developed using lighter materials, thus aiding the competitors to post faster times. Likewise, we must “lay aside” that which hinders us from running the Christian race with steadfastness. So that we can receive God’s word Peter instructs, “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Peter 2:1). James teaches, “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). And Paul exhorts us to “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22).
Encouraged by faithful witnesses and unencumbered by sinful practices, we then are prepared to run with patience. We must never underestimate the necessity of this quality. While not everyone will preach, or serve in a leadership role in the church, all must have patience. Steadfastness is an integral part of the Christian graces that we add to our faith so that we are neither barren nor unfruitful (2 Peter 1:5-8). Jesus said of the seed sown on good ground, “As for that good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15). Patience is developed when our faith is tested (James 1:3) and patience is the support upon which our hope rests (Romans 8:25). In order to receive the promises of God, we must have patience (Hebrews 10:36) and when patience is demonstrated in our lives, the result will be eternal life (Romans 2:7).
Steadfastness is essential to Olympic success, but it is only for worldly acclaim. We train steadfastly for eternal glory (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).