Union University R.G. Lee Society of Fellows

"Victory in Adversity"
Hebrews 12:1-3

by Dr. Joe McIntire
Poplar Heights Baptist Church, Jackson, TN

Dr. Joe McIntire
Lucy, in the Peanuts cartoon, once said, "I don’t want ups and downs. I want ups and ups and ups!" Sometimes it seems the downs outnumber the ups in life.

Difficulties in life are common even to the Christian. Speaking about pastors, Dr. R.G. Lee quoted the words of Jesus, "Many are the afflictions of the righteous," and then added, "The days of the man of God are sometimes days filled with troubles. Well-thronged the road of trouble - traveled by many who find the road rough and the going tough. Many, like Job, man of God, have had troubles a-plenty."

Like these believers in Hebrews, pastors can testify that the road is rough and the going is tough for them. Fuller Institute conducted a survey of pastors in 1991 that provides startling statistics about the struggles pastors face. The survey revealed that:

  • 80 percent believe pastoral ministry has affected their families negatively
  • 33 percent say that being in the ministry is an outright hazard to their family
  • 75 percent report a significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry
  • 50 percent feel unable to meet the needs of the job
  • 90 percent feel they were inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands
  • 70 percent say they have a lower self image than when they started in the ministry
  • 40 percent report a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month
  • 33 percent confess having been involved in some inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church.
  • 70 percent do not have someone they consider a close friend.

John Maxwell states, "This year, one-third of all local church pastors will consider resigning under the weight of the responsibilities. In America, one denomination alone sees an average of four pastors resign every single day because of discouragement, personal and professional failure, and loss of purpose."

A pastor on the West Coast has a plaque in his study which reads "Hangest Thou in There." Using the comparison of the Christian life to a race, the writer of Hebrews urges believers to hang in there, to stay in the race, stay in the running. This passage calls us to persevere in spite of the hardship and adversity we experience.

God’s Word tells us four actions we should take that will enable us to persevere and be victorious despite our adversity.

I. Remember 12:1 "Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses."

The "witnesses" in verse one refers back to the many named and unnamed heroes of the faith mentioned in chapter eleven. They are not mere spectators in the crowd who watch us as we run the race of life. They are more than mere participants who once traveled the path we trod. They are even more than examples - they are evidence of the victorious Christian life we can enjoy even in the midst of adversity. They are evidence that the life of faith works. They testify to the grace, strength and peace we can experience. They stand before us as clear-cut evidence that God gives victory and sees His people through the most difficult circumstances of life.

No matter what you may be going through in your life and ministry at this time, remember that other people have experienced victory in similar situations and so can you.

Magazines like Success, Men’s Fitness, Good Housekeeping, and others constantly present feature articles of people who have succeeded in various areas of life. Whether the success has been in the battle of the bulge, establishing a business empire, or building the kitchen of one’s dreams, their stories inspire and encourage others to keep their dream alive and take action. Their victories inspire and stimulate the "I-can-do-it-too" attitude necessary to success.

The heroes of chapter eleven are held out in front of us. They had flaws and fears just like you and me. They experienced adversity but overcame. They are held before us as if to say ,"Take heart in the difficulties you are facing. These people experienced victory and so can you. God saw them through tough times and He will see you through."

II. Remove 12:1 ". . . lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us.. . ."

The Christian race is not like a 100 yard dash, it’s more like a marathon. It takes an enormous amount of effort and energy to run the race in a way that honors Christ. And if you know anything about running distances, you know that the one thing you don’t need is any more weight.

In the imagery of the race, God challenges us to remove anything that would hinder or halt our progress in the Christian life. A "weight" is anything that would keep us from running our best, giving our best effort. A "weight" may not be inherently evil or bad in and of itself. It becomes bad for us when it keeps us from giving our all to Christ. For instance, life is built on relationships with other people. But a relationship where we yoke with an unbeliever in business or marriage can compromise and restrict our work for the Lord. Recreation, hobbies, careers, and personal goals can also be "weights" that take time, effort and energy that should be given for Christ and His kingdom. Ask God to pinpoint any weight in your life that needs to be removed.

The "sin which doth so easily beset us" is another matter. The sin that encircles us, and entangles us and ensnares us in life is the sin of unbelief. The sin of unbelief or doubt will bring our running to a screeching halt. Look at the Israelites at Kadesh-barnea. The land of promise before them, the presence of God with them, the provisions of God supplied to them, the power of God experienced by them and promised to them as they entered the land. But fear gripped their hearts. Instead of trusting God they turned from God and all the evidence of His faithfulness. In their doubt, their sin of unbelief, the faith march to their land of promise became a death march in the wilderness.

The sin of unbelief is a failure to trust God. This always leads to disobedience, refusing God’s direction for our lives. Consequently as we fail to go on with God we forfeit the victory He has for us.

Is there a sin of disbelief about any area of your life? Like the songwriter penned, "Trust and obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey." There is no other way for you to experience victory. Anything that keeps us from that victory should be removed immediately.

Dr. R. G. Lee, preaching on the attitude of the man of God toward evil, said "He hates evil as the ranchers hate the lobo wolf that ravages the flock, as a teacher hates a rattlesnake on the children’s playground." That’s the attitude we should possess. We should consider as evil, abhor and remove anything that would keep us from doing our best for the Master.

III. Resolve " . . . and let us run with patience the race set before us"

If we are going to persevere we must resolve to run, make up our mind to stay in the ministry, stay in the race regardless. The phrase "fair weather" has been used to describe golfers and runners who only play or run when the weather is fair or good. God calls believers to live for Him and run the race set before us whether the conditions seem right or not. Often we are guilty of running well when the circumstances of our lives are good but when adversity comes we get discouraged and disheartened.

Jesus said in John 16:33 ". . . in the world ye shall have tribulation. . ." Adversity is a fact of life for everyone. According to this verse, Jesus says we as believers can expect it to be hard at times in our lives and ministries. But we can not allow ourselves to be distracted, discouraged or disheartened. We must press on, keep going and stay faithful in our walk and work for Christ.

Over the door of my high school locker room was a sign the football players read every time we left the locker room to go out onto the playing field. It left an indelible impression on my mind and life. It read "Quitters never win and winners never quit."

There is no crown without a cross, no victory without a battle and no winning without running. Resolve not to quit! Don’t give up! Stay faithful to your calling! Those who experience the thrill of victory are those who stay faithful and press on in spite of the problems and pressures of life.

IV. Rely 12:2 "looking unto Jesus..."

The confidence, courage and strength to press on is found only in Jesus. The New International Version reads "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus."

In 1991 a virtually unknown heavyweight boxer named Buster Douglas was given a chance to fight the champion then known as "Iron Mike Tyson". The gaming business in our county didn’t give Douglas a chance from the start. During the week before the fight, Douglas’ mother died. The experts questioned how he could maintain his focus on the fight with the loss of his mother. The boxing world was shocked as Buster Douglas evidently kept his focus and knocked out Mike Tyson for the heavyweight championship of the world.

Focus is what the writer of Hebrews is talking about when he exhorts us to fix our eyes on Jesus. We have all been guilty of looking at our circumstances rather than looking to Jesus and relying on Him. Like Peter walking to Jesus on the sea, if we look to our circumstances, problems and situations we will sink in the waves of despair. Only as we focus on Jesus can we prevail.

The description of Jesus in verses 2 and 3 gives several reasons we should focus on Jesus. We should focus on Jesus because of:

  1. The perfecting He does "the author and finisher of our faith"
    Jesus will complete the faith he pioneered and the faith he put in our hearts. Phil. 1:6 "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." He works continually to perfect our life and ministry and to make us victorious.
  2. The price He paid "who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame"
    Jesus deserves our focus, our reliance, our obedience because of what He has done for us. The songwriter said it best, "Love so amazing, so divine demands my soul, my life, my all." Jesus gave His life for our salvation and victory.
  3. The position He holds "Is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father to be our Advocate when we sin (I John 2:1). He intercedes for us as our Great High Priest so that we will be supplied with all we need to be victorious (Hebrews 7:25).
  4. The power He gives "For consider Him. . . lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds."
    We must continually focus on Jesus if we are to experience power over the discouragement that can occur when difficulties come. We are to draw our strength from Him who was victorious in spite of the opposition he faced. The New International Version translates the last phrase "so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." That’s what focusing on Jesus will do for you - it will keep you from growing weary and losing heart in this difficult race. He will supply the grace, the comfort, the guidance and the strength to keep you faithful to Him.

Rick Mears, Indy 500 winner, once said, "To finish first, you must first finish." You can finish! You can persevere! You can be victorious! Keep your focus on Jesus!

The classic film, Ben Hur, contains an exciting chariot race. It was reported that in this movie Charlton Heston had great difficulty learning how to drive the chariot. Even after much work and practice, Heston went to director Cecil B. DeMille with his anxiety about the race. Heston said, "I think I can drive the chariot, but I’m not sure I can win the race." DeMille responded, "You just stay in the race - I’ll make sure you win." As you stay in the race, focusing on Jesus for the power you need, Jesus will make sure you win.

Written by Dr. Joe McIntire
Pastor, Poplar Heights Baptist Church
Jackson, TN

Joanna Moore, Campus Ministries & Church Services

R.G. Lee Center for Christian Ministry