Surrounded then as we are by these serried ranks of witnesses, let us strip off everything that hinders us, as well as the sin which dogs our feet, and let us run the race that we have to run with patience, our eyes fixed on Jesus the source and the goal of our faith. For he himself endured a cross and thought nothing of its shame because of the joy he knew would follow his sufferings and he is now seated at the right hand of God’s throne. Think constantly of him enduring all that sinful men could say against him and you will not lose your purpose or your courage. (Hebrews 12:1-3, Phillips Paraphrase)
The Phillips Paraphrase is my new favorite Bible version to read. I have gained much fresh insight on some of the passages I know best. This passage from Hebrews is one of my go-to verses when I need encouragement, and J.B. Phillips’ rendering of it is especially stirring to me. Let’s look it over together, and maybe you will gain some encouragement too.
The first stopping point for me here was the word, serried. This was a word I had never heard before, so I had to look it up. It means rows of people standing close together, so I envision a crowded multitude of people. The passage says they are witnesses, so I imagine them watching you and me as we run this race toward heaven. Looking back to chapter 11, we see that this crowd in the grandstand is made up of the Old Testament saints who have already run this same race we are running. I can almost hear them cheering me on from their own experience. This encourages me to review the accounts of these witnesses, and pick up speed in my race.
The next phrase that gave me pause was the sin which dogs our feet. Some may think of big, angry dogs growling at their heels, and this can be a good picture of the temptation of sin. But I happen to have a tiny little dog who loves to run circles around my feet as I walk through my house, so that’s the image that came to my mind. She wants my attention! She may nip at my heels or keep putting her little self in my path, but if I am single-mindedly determined to get my chores done, she will not prevail. This is the attitude we must have when sin dogs our feet. Though it is tempting to stop (the little dog is adorable and the temptation to sin is strong), we must persevere in obedience and not be hindered. Just as the chores have to be done, the commands of God must be obeyed. We must resist that sin that dogs our feet.
Moving on, we read that Christ thought nothing of the shame of the cross because he knew what joy would follow his sufferings. In the same way, as we suffer here on this earth, we must think of the joy that will follow when we are with Him. While it is difficult for us humans to think nothing of our sufferings, we can get closer to that by thinking much of the joy that awaits us. It is easy to get focused and fixated on our trials in this world, isn’t it? But the writer to the Hebrews urges us to think nothing of those trials, and to think everything of the joyful eternity that awaits us in heaven.
The last phrase of this passage tells us to think constantly of all that sinful men said against him so that we will not lose our purpose and our courage. How often do you think about the details of Christ’s suffering? It was much more than the crucifixion and separation from God, neither of which could you and I endure, even for a moment. He also suffered greatly for the entirety of his ministry from the things that people said about him. Have people said unsavory or untrue things against you? Have you been slandered, lied to, and betrayed? Then rejoice, because you’ve had a small taste of Christ’s suffering! He modeled patient endurance so that we would have his example of perseverance and obedience to God.
This is such an important passage for us who are struggling to persevere in this life—and let’s face it, that’s all of us at some point. I’d like to encourage you to meditate on this passage for yourself, and perhaps read it in several different Bible versions. Do you have some “go-to” passages that are particularly encouraging for you? Why don’t you try reading those in other versions, too? You may find, like me, that you gain new insight, courage and purpose just by reading a fresh interpretation.