Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…
Health agencies came up with a way of determining health by classifying what weight class individuals are in: Normal, Overweight, and Obese. The index is called the Body Mass Index (BMI), and whether or not it is perfectly accurate, it gives us a guideline for our health.
If you want to get an idea of “encumbrance” as Paul calls it here, calculate your BMI, split the difference between your top normal weight and the top of the overweight scale, and arrange to carry that weight around for a half-day or so. If you’re overweight, and the weight you must carry happens to be close to the amount you’re overweight, you’ll get a good idea of how much of a drag your excess weight is.
Being overweight isn’t always, or even usually, a sin. But it does hamper us in daily life. And the encumbrances Paul refers to here hamper our spiritual life. We have an overabundance of encumbrances in our culture, amenities which become weights when we overindulge in them. They can be as simple as … food. There is a tendency to perhaps “live to eat,” rather than eat to live. That encumbrance can affect our spiritual impact in both the social and financial realm. We even have a term for unnecessary food: “Comfort Food.”
We may be encumbered by a desire to shop. Whether or not we buy anything, we may spend hours pursuing items on Amazon or other online shopping services. We may be encumbered by a fascination with social media. We may be encumbered by television, or bingeing on series on one of the seemingly dozens of entertainment outlets.
There is no need to expand this nearly inexhaustible list of things in this world that can encumber us. Remember that even the most innocuous encumbrance divorces us from one of our greatest assets: Time. Psalm 90 speaks of the finite amount of years given to us and tells us to ask the Lord to “teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.”
Many parts of the country have some sort of bramble, such as the blackberry bushes of the Pacific Northwest. Imagine now, you are backpacking with your pack full, perhaps with a few necessities, but mostly weighed down with items unnecessary to your sustenance or survival. And you stumble off the path into a patch of blackberry bushes. The thorns entangle with your pack, your clothes, even your hair and skin.
And so, along with these encumbrances, we have the entanglement of sin. Many of the encumbrances we carry eventually become idols, when they supplant our focus on Jesus. Here, the test of Time comes into play. How much time do we spend on our encumbrances (and sins) compared to the time we focus on our relationship with Jesus? How much of our spiritual calling do we waste fighting through the brambles of sin, weighed down by the useless attachments to worthless things and habits?
Paul does not want this to be our spiritual experience. He is encouraging us to run a race with endurance, which is only possible if we shed those things that make it impossible to run.