It is embarrassing to admit how carelessly I once had read the twelfth verse of the twelfth chapter of Hebrews: “Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble.” At one point, I had believed erroneously that the “you” understood as being addressed in this statement was being commanded to aid his weaker brethren. Of course, that is not at all what the writer of Hebrews is saying; rather, he is commanding us to strengthen our own weak hands and feeble knees as is indicated by the following clause: “and make straight paths for your feet” (v. 13). The author has taken up the race metaphor he began with in the first verse of the chapter: “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, fixing our eyes on Jesus . . .” (vv. 1, 2). Consider what this command, explained in terms of a race, entails.
1. We must realize that our hands are weak and our knees feeble. We do not bother to strengthen what we believe to be sufficiently strong. But the reality is that at one time or another and to some degree even the strongest among us feel weakness. The race referenced here is not a 100-meter sprint that might last for ten seconds; it is a marathon requiring “endurance.” In a physical race it is easy to recognize weakness. The arms and hands play an essential role in running. They may often be the first bellwethers of weariness. As fatigue sets in the arms tend to droop and the hands hang down and forward progress is impeded. As the legs tire, the knees become rubbery and the stride tends to waiver. In the race that believers run, evidences of exhaustion, particularly early, may be more subtle. So it is critical for us to anticipate the weariness in order to stave it off and when inevitably it strikes be prepared to deal with it. Spiritual stumbling is often far less obvious than physical stumbling, but in the end, it is much more devastating.
2. We must recognize the signs of weakness. Evidence of weakness varies but surely includes one or more of the following. The Word of God ceases to speak personally to us. Reading it becomes a ritual, then a duty to be performed, then a chore to be endured. Similarly, prayer ceases to involve blessed fellowship with the Lord and becomes a mechanical obligation. Petitions are spoken but without any faith or sense that they are being heard by a real person. And they remain unanswered. Church services become a duty to be tolerated rather than vital instruction from God. And being around other believers is boring, convicting, or annoying—in other words, uncomfortable. When any of these indices crop up, we need strengthening.
3. We must restore our strength. That point is the thrust of our text: “strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble.” At this point, the author of Hebrews does not tell us how to strengthen what is weak in us. But we should recognize that the omission is not an error because he has already explained the strengthening process in the second verse of the chapter. We are to run the race while “fixing our eyes on Jesus.” While the necessity of keeping one’s eyes fixed on the finish line is most obvious in a sprint, it is, nevertheless, true that someone who tries to race a marathon while running backwards or one who constantly looks behind him or back and forth around him will invariably slow down, even if he doesn’t stumble and fall. Yes, we must keep our eyes fixed on the finish line and “keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” and we must “set . . . [our] mind[s] on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:1, 2).
We must pursue the Lord, that is, a loving relationship with our Savior and Lord. We must know and obey the commandments of the Lord—not out of legalistic necessity, but from a love that wishes to please the One who loved him and gave Himself for him. To some degree, that pursuit of the Lord is the race itself—denying our fleshly desires and seeking to please the Lord. Then, “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then . . . [we] also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4).
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