The author of Hebrews broadens this athletic metaphor by using the word agona, a Greek athletic term that refers to a contest. Consequently, the author could be referring to a foot race or to other Greek games involving intense competition and self-discipline, such as fighting wild beasts, boxing, wrestling or throwing the discus.

Lay Aside Every Encumbrance
To compete effectively in these games, an athlete had to “lay aside every encumbrance.” The athlete must “throw off everything that hinders” (NIV). The Greek word is ogkon, which refers to “bulk” and “mass.” It can refer to excessive weight of any kind, including our own body weight.

Most overweight people have difficulty competing effectively in athletic activities that call for quickness, speed and endurance. For example, I love downhill skiing. But I learned a rather startling lesson several years ago. I allowed myself to put on 10 pounds beyond my normal weight. While skiing, I noticed I had trouble breathing, something that hadn’t bothered me before. In fact, at extremely high altitudes where I had skied without any difficulties on previous occasions, I actually thought I was going to hyperventilate. Before, I loved to lead the pack down the mountain, but now I could hardly keep up. Furthermore, my skills had deteriorated. I couldn’t trust my abilities.

Then it suddenly dawned on me why I was having so much trouble. I was overweight. To test my theory, I went on a weight-loss program the next month and then went skiing again. The difference was remarkable. I could breathe again. My endurance was back. I could concentrate and stay in control.

Let Us Run with Endurance
The author of Hebrews immediately identified any excessive weight as “the sin which so easily entangles us.” Paul called this sin “the deeds of the flesh … immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” (Gal. 5:19-21).

However, what about those weights that aren’t so flagrant and noticeable? To be perfectly blunt, are you 10 pounds overweight in your Christian life? Have you developed habits that keep you from being on the cutting edge spiritually? Are you spending too much time watching television and movies or reading worthless literature? At the same time, are you neglecting your prayer life, church attendance and Bible reading? To be even more specific, have you developed habits of laziness? Do you lack self-discipline?

Fix Our Eyes on Jesus
“Fixing our eyes on Jesus” is perhaps the most important lesson in this athletic metaphor. Any runner in the Greek stadium who took his eyes off the goal and either looked at the crowds or his competitors would lose valuable time and concentration. So it is in the Christian life. When we take our eyes off the Lord and focus on others, we are in danger of getting sidetracked spiritually.

I remember going through a difficult time in my own life as a young Christian. Several key spiritual leaders I looked up to let me down. They didn’t measure up to my expectations. Unfortunately, the experience became disillusioning, so much so that I was tempted to forsake my goal of serving Jesus Christ in full-time ministry. Consequently, I spent a number of months marking time; worse yet, I was losing time.

In retrospect, I learned a valuable lesson. I had taken my eyes off Jesus Christ and focused on others. Unfortunately, these men weren’t the best examples in the world. I eventually learned that there is only one perfect man — Christ Jesus. He would never let me down.