Hebrews 12:1 exhorts us: “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.” Here the writer not only encourages us to lay aside “sin”, but also “every encumbrance.” Sins are those things which are rebellion against God’s commands and are outright evil. But “encumbrances” may be a little more tricky for us. They may include things which most would consider to be “good”, but which may slow us down in the Christian race.
“Good” things may yet be “cumbersome” to us: like a nice house, new cars — most would agree that there is nothing inherently “evil” about them, but these also often come attended with long-term debt and payments. How many people have not been able to even consider God’s will for going to ministry or missions or some other kind of service for the Lord because they are so “encumbered”?
There are many such examples of “good” things which can nevertheless hinder us in our Christian walk:
— Watching so much tv or sports that you do not spend enough time seeking God, reading godly books, or ministering. Sports or television are not “bad” in themselves, but they can become an encumbrance.
— Certain friendships may also encumber you. The people may not be “evil”, but if they keep you from following God’s path for your life, they are an encumbrance.
— There are certain hobbies which no one would consider to be “immoral”, and yet they “weigh you down” with collections of hundreds or thousands of “things” that you can’t take, or move, or think about doing without … and they are an encumbrance.
The examples could go on and on. The point is that anything which keeps you from following Jesus is an encumbrance: it can be family (one particular encumbrance Jesus mentioned in the gospels); money (not evil in itself but the Rich Young Ruler found it an encumbrance); any “person/possession/purpose” (as Avery Willis in MasterLife taught) which you would be tempted to give priority over the Lord.
Notice also that it says “EVERY encumbrance.” This is all-encompassing. We are not just to jettison “some” of the encumbrances, but “every” one. A person may not be encumbered by things by which others are weighed down, but he may yet be holding on to something else of his own. It is not enough for him or her to shed some encumbrances — they are to lay down EVERY one, the verse says — anything which is keeping them from following Jesus.
Jesus calls those who would be His disciples to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Him (Luke 9:23). Anything that keeps you from doing that — no matter how inherently “good” it may be — is what Hebrews calls here an “encumbrance”, and needs to be laid aside, that you may run the race which God has set before you.