We just finished the first chapter of James. I ran across a commentary from Dr. Harold Sala from last June that I want to share. I believe this solidifies so much of what we learned in the first chapter of James, and I love that we receive the same guidance in different books of the Bible, with a different flavor or accent. For me, it helps to implant the Word of God. I’ve added a notes, and they are in red. Dr. Sala’s commentary below is in black.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3). The great cloud of witnesses were the faithful in the Old Testament listed in Hebrews 11. Their faithfulness is a constant encouragement to us. We do not struggle alone, and we are not the first to struggle with the problems we face. Others have run the race and won, and their witness stirs us to run and win also.

The Christian life involves hard work. It requires us to give up whatever endangers our relationship with God, to run with endurance, and to struggle against sin with the power of the Holy Spirit. To live effectively, we must keep our eyes upon Jesus. We will stumble if we look away from Him to stare at ourselves or at the circumstances surrounding us. We should be running for Christ, not ourselves, and we must always keep Him in sight. Long distance runners work hard to build endurance and strength. On race day, their clothes are light-weight and their bodies lean. We must also strip off the excess weight that slows us down. Much of your weight may result from the crowd you run with. Make wise choices. Drop certain activities as the time and energy involved may be weighing you down. If you have secret “weight” such as pornography, gambling or alcohol, admit your need and get help.

“And mark out a straight, smooth path for your feet so that those who follow you, though weak and lame, will not fall and hurt themselves, but become strong.” (Hebrews 12:13)

Anyone who viewed the 400-meter semi-finals in the Olympics of 1992 will never forget it. Derek Redmond, a British runner, tore a hamstring and then collapsed on the track. Immediately it was all over for him. The thought of a medal was dashed into a thousand broken pieces. His hopes, his dreams, and his years of training had all been betrayed by the weakness of his body. For a few seconds, he lay there, then slowly got to his feet and began dragging himself towards the finish. Why bother? He had no chance at this point. Every step was painful, very painful.

His father, thinking that his son was trying to get off the track, came out of the stands, ran to the track and then put his arm around his son. But Derek wasn’t about to quit the race even though he could not win. Instead, with his dad supporting him, he slowly began to walk and half-crawl towards the finish line. The crowd sensing what was happening began to cheer and applaud. I still can’t watch that video clip without my eyes filling with tears. OK, so I see my son in Derek, but I also see a loving God who comes from the grandstand of heaven and puts His arms under us to support us in our weakness and helps us to the finish line.

Why doesn’t God prevent the hamstrings of life? Wrong question? Better [to] ask, “Why does He love us enough to support us in our pain and problems?” In Hebrews 12, there is a phrase which is loaded with meaning. The writer says, “Endure hardship as discipline…” That word endure is interesting, to say the least. It means “stand one’s ground, hold out, endure in trouble, affliction or persecution.” It means you don’t quit when you are down and can’t win the gold. James said it this way: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-3)

Nothing could better illustrate that truth than the noble example of Derek Redmond. “God is treating you as sons,” says the Word. These difficulties, says Scripture, produce godliness and peace. Of course no one would chose to go through tough times, but tough times produce tough people. My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” (Proverbs 3:11-12)

“Therefore,” concludes that passage, “strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. ‘Make level paths for your feet,’ so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.” (Hebrews 12:12-13) A call for upright conduct that will help, rather than hinder, the spiritual and moral welfare of others, especially the “lame” who waver in the Christian faith. As ambassadors for Christ, we have the God-given responsibility to live in such a way that others see Him in us by doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God.

What does the crippled or handicapped have to do with it? Plenty! How you respond to difficulty can either cause people to stumble, or to gain strength and put their lives together again. There are lots of people who are crippled emotionally and spiritually. They are the ones the book of Hebrews is speaking of, and God is saying, “Make straight paths for your feet,” or don’t yield to the temptation to quit. Keep moving, and go straight ahead because then those who may be weaker than you won’t stumble over your example.

A closing thought: When someone falls and is in trouble, scores of voices are raised. “Isn’t it terrible?” people scream, anxious to get to a phone and pass on the salacious bit of news they heard from a neighbor. Those are not the ones who get hurt. The one who really gets hurt is the individual who watches from a distance, who never says a word, but reasoning, “If he or she can’t make it, neither can I,” and with quiet resignation gives up and heads in the wrong direction. This is the weak brother—the one who stumbles over your example and becomes spiritually disabled.

OK, you admire a Derek Redmond, who didn’t quit when he could have, right? Then when you are felled by something in life, get back up, and start making tracks towards the finish. You’ll also discover the strong arms of your heavenly Father will be there to support you and keep you from being a stumbling block to a weaker brother or sister.

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