A Profile of Enduring Faith - Endurance|
"Looking Back They Pleased God" (Hebrews 11:6-40)
We've been looking at what it means to have a faith that goes the distance, a faith that hangs in there when the going gets tough. Our main focus has been the book of Hebrews, specifically chapters 10-12. We tend to think that the messages about encouraging our faith are in Hebrews 11 only. But, chapters 10 and 12 are like bookends on either side. They help to frame the context of those encouraging words about faith.
We've spent some time learning about enduring faith. We've looked at how we can develop the kind of daily trust in God that grows stronger even as the trials grow stronger.
Let me ask you a question about the 11th chapter of Hebrews. Have you ever read about all of these courageous men and women of faith, and thought that the kind of enduring faith they exemplify in their lives is "rare," only for a few select believers?
An Exclusive Faith Club?
Some people, probably more than many will admit, think that the kind of faith we see on display in this chapter is only for a special class of Christians. Some of us believe that it's for those who've never blown it in their walk with God. Others believe that the kind of faith pictured for us in Hebrews 11 is for those who've taken some sort of Seminary or Bible College training. Still others feel that the special sort of enduring faith we see displayed is reserved for those who claim to have heard the audible voice of God.
But, is it available to those of us who are less occupied with hearing the audible voice of God than with listening to the cries for help or assistance from others, or with the hum of machinery, or the hum of computers, or even dealing with the noise of noisy customers in a business?
The answer is found in Hebrews 11 itself, and it might surprise some of you. I'm hoping, ultimately, that it will encourage many of you. As we go about finding those answers, I want to look at three areas:
1. Things worth noticing
2. Topics worth considering
3. Truths worth remembering
I. Things Worth Noticing
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of this chapter, I want to acquaint you with three important concepts you will need master in order to understand Hebrews 11 the way God intended - the overall context, the theme, and the structure of the chapter.
The context of Hebrews 11 is really set back in Hebrews 10. If you remember, the author encouraged his readers who were undergoing persecution and severe trials, to remember how God had enabled them to make it through tough times in the past (Heb. 10:32-36).
That encouragement was meant to help them to continue to live by faith in the middle of their present circumstances. All of that sets the scene for Hebrews 11 where the author offers additional encouragement by giving them all kinds of examples of Old Testament men and women who had lived by faith. That's the context.
The theme of Hebrews 11 also originates back in chapter 10. Sometimes we forget that the chapter divisions and verse numbers are not "inspired" like the sacred Scriptures themselves. The theme, begun in chapter 10 is the importance of having a faith that goes the distance - enduring faith. God takes extreme pleasure in us when we learn to hang in there rather than drop out in the middle of a trial. That's the theme.
The structure of Hebrews 11 is really simple. The chapter is easily divided into two sections. In verses 2-32 you have a total of seventeen men and women of faith whose lives extend from creation up to the time of the prophets. Then from verses 33-40, you have a general description of great achievements accomplished by faith and great suffering that were endured by faith.
Those are the "things worth considering." Next, in Hebrews 11, we want you to see some topics worth considering.
II. Topics Worth Considering
At the beginning I asked some questions that I believe a lot of people deal with when they look at the kind of faith pictured for us in Hebrews 11. I want us to look at four important topics related to faith that will help us answer some of those questions:
A. Faith As It Relates To People
There's no doubt in my mind that when some of you read Hebrews 11, you will think something like,
Ain't No Preacher-Type
"It's wonderful that all those people had the faith to do the things they did. But me, well, I'm just not the faith type. I'm a career-oriented person. I make my living based on facts, not faith. God hasn't called me to shut the mouths of any lions or perform great acts of righteousness, and He probably never will. I'm just not the preacher type."
Does that sound vaguely familiar? If it does, here is an important principle for you to remember,
No specific type of person qualifies!
You have missed something very crucial in this chapter if you think that you have to be a certain type of person to live by faith. Look for a moment at some of the names here in this passage.
In verse four, we have Abel. He was nothing more than a sheepherder. He never attended seminary, never received his ordination, and never preached from behind a pulpit.
Last week we considered Noah in verse seven, who was nothing more than a sod farmer who took up ship building for 120 years.
Next, look at Abraham in verse eight. He was a business man. The list goes on:
Sarah - homemaker
Joseph - little brother, slave, prisoner, prime-minister
Moses - shepherd, also graduate of University of Sinai
Joshua - soldier
Gideon, Barak, and Sampson - judges
David - shepherd, songwriter, fugitive, and king
One Who Trusts God&His Word
These people had mostly common, ordinary, and even undesirable backgrounds. Yet, they all learned to live by faith. Their occupation, gender, heredity, environment, color, economic status, age - didn't have anything to do with ability to live by faith. No specific person qualifies to live by faith with the exception that you have to be a person who will learn to trust God and take Him at His Word.
But I'm Different
Some of you are probably saying to yourself,
"Yea, but he doesn't know all of the mistakes I've made, or the sins I've committed. With my track record, no one would consider me to be a man or woman of faith."
Don't count yourself out too soon. There is another important principle that this list of names teaches us. It is this,
No special type of record qualifies you.
God's Motley Crew
Think back over those names. Noah built the Ark and made it through the flood. But, many of you forget or don't know that when the flood was over and they exited the Ark, he built a vineyard and got "blitzed."
Abraham continually lied about his wife and placed her in grave danger each time. Sarah laughed when God told her she was going to have a baby. That was not exactly a model response of faith, was it?
Then there's Jacob the chiseler, Moses the murderer, Rahab the harlot, and Samson the promiscuous.
Do you see the point? Everyone has some type of blemish on his or her record. But, that does not disqualify us from pleasing God. In each of these instances listed in this chapter, these people exercised the kind of faith described in verse six,
"And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those that earnestly seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6).
If you will exercise that same kind of faith in the unique circumstances of your own life, you can still qualify as men and women of faith.
B. Faith As It Relates To Circumstance
Now, I think it's becoming abundantly clear that ordinary people like us can live extraordinary lives of faith. It wasn't Moses' background, Noah's skill, Sarah's age, or Rahab's reputation that got them into the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith. It was their enduring faith…a faith that illustrates for us how faith relates to circumstances. They had every reason not to walk by faith or trust, given the circumstances they faced in their lives.
For example, let's take Noah's situation in verse 7:
"By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith" (Heb. 11:7, NASB).
Rain? Boat? You're Kidding!
Up to this point in history, there had never been rain, much less a flood. But, Noah continued day after day, month after month, and year after year, measuring, sawing, and joining this humongous contraption in his backyard, which must have been the brunt of much humor. Face it, they probably howled at him on a daily basis. Why did he keep going on with the project? Because, by faith in the Lord he could see "things not yet seen."
I'm sure Sarah didn't need an obstetrician to explain the odds of having a baby at age ninety. Joshua didn't need a structural engineer to tell him the mathematical improbabilities of a fortress wall crumbling due to loud shouting.
Some of the men and women mentioned knew that the immediate outcome of their trusting God would be very unpleasant. Look at verses 13-14 and 35-38,
"All of these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own" (Hebrews 11:13-14, NASB).
"Women received back their dead by resurrection. And others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection. And others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword, they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground" (Hebrews 11:35-38, NASB).
Faith Changes Us - Equips Us
There were lots of reasons not to live by faith. But, these people still did it, and their faith was just as pleasing to God as David's and Enoch's. Their stories bring a balance to our understanding of what it means to live by faith.
Faith doesn't necessarily change circumstances. It changes us so that we can handle them.
Faith may not keep that spouse from leaving or from going their own way. Faith may not keep that relative from dying. Faith may not keep that cantankerous boss from being a "pill" to work with. But, that daily, firm trust in God, can give us the endurance we need to make it through the difficult circumstance and bring glory to God.
The next area of faith I want to look at is faith as it relates to God.
C. Faith As It Relates To God
In addition to telling us how faith relates to people and circumstances, Hebrews 11 also reveals how God responds to our faith. Let me mention two things:
1. First, our faith brings God pleasure. We learned that in verse six. "And without faith it is impossible to please him…"
When the Lord witnesses our willingness to trust Him, to wait on Him, to lean on Him as no other, it pleases Him.
Scripture says, "For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him" (II Chronicles 16:9).
2. Second, faith brings honor to God.
Look at Hebrews 11:16 where it talks about those who lived and died by faith. It says, "Instead, they were looking for a better country - a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God."
Faith that endures, that hangs in there, brings honor to God. God is very comfortable being associated with those who believe that He exists and will reward those who seek Him (Heb. 11:6).
D. Faith As It Relates To You
One final lesson we can draw from men and women of Hebrews 11 is that God will use our faith as a testimony to Himself just as He did theirs. In His own time, He will place us on display and receive glory from us just like He did Abel, Enoch, Noah, and so on.
III. Two Truths Worth Remembering
What an encouraging portion of Scripture this eleventh chapter of Hebrews is for us. If we come away with anything, it is that it's possible for ordinary people like us to live extraordinary lives of faith before God.
I hope you have been encouraged and challenged by Hebrews 11. As we prepare to go about our daily lives and exercise that same kind of faith, we need to remember two truths:
1. Faith is not a substitute for common sense and wisdom.
The reason Abraham left his country without a map or a destination was because God told Him to do so in a clear, audible voice (Gen. 12:1-3). That was faith. It's not faith, however, to pack the moving van with all your belongings and take-off trusting that God will show you your next inheritance. That's "presumption" - presuming God will do something He never promised you in the first place.
2. The proper use of faith will turn your life right-side-up.
As a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, if you are not living a life of faith, you are living upside down. Faith is the way you need to follow Him. If you're handling your finances and business affairs according to your wisdom and not God's, your thinking is going to be upside down. If your attitude is based on sight and not on trust in God's Word, you've got things turned upside down. If your home life doesn't reflect the grace, truth, and love of the object of your faith - Jesus Christ - your life is upside down.
Ask God to help you turn it around today.
Having attended Multnomah Bible College, Kurt Krowel is the former Senior Pastor at Applegate Community Church in Oregon. This article, "A Profile of Enduring Faith," is the second-part of seven messages designed to encourage and motivate Christians to "finish the race set before us" (Heb. 12:1).