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Jesus told them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." Luke 10:2 (NIV)
The Best Object of Faith
The Lord gave Habakkuk an unpleasant task as a prophet. He got to tell the nation of Judah that they were wicked enough that God was going to punish them by means of the Babylonians who were ten times worse. Habakkuk was convinced that God had made a moral error in deciding to punish the bad by means of the worse, and told Him so. When the Lord failed to change His mind, Habakkuk did some serious soul searching.
As a result of his inner struggle Habakkuk, the prophet with the goofy name, reached a staggering conclusion—a conclusion that shaped all of the theology of Paul and later all of the Reformation of Martin Luther. Habakkuk said, “The just shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4). And to show that he knew what he was prophesying about, Habakkuk ended his prophecy with this prayer:
Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls —
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer's feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills.
Hebrews 10:37 and 38 quoted Habakkuk 2:3 and 4. The writer of Hebrews then devoted the longest chapter of the epistle to the importance of faith in Christ to his readers who were struggling with the temptation to revert to their former Jewish religion.
I. Real Faith and the Reality
The first seven verses of Hebrews 11 describe faith and illustrate how faith in God and His Word provide a basic framework for understanding and dealing with reality.
The remainder of Hebrews 11 traces how various Old Testament characters and many anonymous saints trusted God regarding “things hoped for” and “things not seen” (v. 2). The writer wanted his readers to determine to imitate this faith.
The elders (Heb. 11:2) were the Old Testament saints, many of whom are mentioned in this chapter. They obtained a good report, not because of achievements, personal holiness, or passive acceptance of divine promises, but by an active certitude expressed in obedience, persistence, and sacrifice.[Spirit-Filled Life Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991), 1884, note on Hebrews 11:2. ]
“This chapter centers on and focuses upon what faith is.…It might help to show, first of all, what faith is not. Faith, for instance, is not positive thinking; that is something quite different. Faith is not a hunch that is followed. Faith is not hoping for the best, hoping that everything will turn out all right. Faith is not a feeling of optimism. Faith is none of these things though all of them have been identified as faith.…
“Faith is believing there is another dimension to life other than those which can be touched, tasted, seen or felt.…Faith believes that God, in His grace, has stepped over the boundary into human history and told us some great and very valuable facts. Faith believes them and adjusts its life to those facts and walks on that basis.”[Ray Stedman, What More Can God Say? (Glendale, CA: Regal Books, 1974), 182, 192. Used by permission.]
II. Real Faith and the Best Promise
When faith turns from foundational issues of reality to personal issues of salvation, people find out whether they trust God to make and keep His promises with them. It's one thing to believe that God has established a physical, moral, and spiritual order in the universe. It's another matter to believe that He wants to direct my life, and still another for me to let Him direct my life.
Faith's Confession Is Steadfast (Heb. 11:13–16). This chapter records glorious victories of faith's champions, yet vv. 13–16 speak of those who died, “not having received the promises.” Even then, the Bible says “these all died in faith,” being content to confess that they were only strangers and pilgrims traveling, as it were, through the land: “For true believers, to live by faith is to die by faith” (Wycliffe).
The key to the “confession” (v. 13) of this admirable group in Hebrews 11 is that when given a promise by God, as were Abraham and his descendants, they became “fully persuaded” that the promise was true. Thus they embraced (literally “greeted”) that promise in their hearts. The word “confess” helps us to understand how easily these of the gallery of faith established their ways before God and left the testimony, which His Word records with tribute.
While each of these persons did receive many victories through faith, the text says that none of them received everything that was promised. Whether or not we receive what we “confess” (ask, pray, or hope for) does not change the behavior or attitude of the steadfast believer. Faith's worship and walk do not depend on answered or unanswered prayers. Our confession of His lordship in our lives is to be consistent—a daily celebration, with deep gratitude.[Spirit-Filled Life Bible, 1885, 1886, “Kingdom Dynamics: Hebrews 11:13–16, Faith's Confession Is Steadfast.”]
Although they received only a partial fulfillment of what God had promised, these elders maintained their faith that God would do what He said. Because of their close relationship with God, they could not feel at home in earthly surroundings. They looked for something better; and because of their longings, God gladly acknowledged them as His own people.[Ibid., 1885, note on Hebrews 11:13–16.]
The Greek word translated promise (epangelia) differs by only one letter from the word translated gospel (euangelia). While the “gospel” is a good and pleasant announcement from God, the “promise” is a sure and certain announcement from God. In Hebrews “the promise” is synonymous with the New Covenant or testament by which people of faith inherit the purification of sanctification. The promise is established through the High Priestly ministry of Jesus on the basis of His once-for-all sacrifice of Himself for sins.
III. Real Faith for Real Victories
Faith perceives what is real, and faith grasps the promises of God that bring His blessings to bear on the believer's life. Furthermore, faith is the basis for all victories in the conflicts and conquests of the spiritual life.
If Moses had remained in the court of Pharaoh rather than identifying with the people of Israel, he would have become a man of great worldly power. He had received the finest education of the day and demonstrated unusual ability as an orator and leader (Acts 7:22). In time Moses would have distinguished himself as a well-known man in the mightiest empire of the world—and been lost in the obscurity of history.
Instead Moses regarded such a choice as sin against the will of God (Heb. 11:25). He lay aside his claim to fame and power to obey God's call with a bunch of slaves. In the process, he became one of the most famous and influential men who ever lived. He was the friend of God (Ex. 33:11) and the inspired author of the first five books of the Old Testament.
Looked (Heb. 11:26) is a graphic word combining apo, “away from,” and blepo, “to see.” The word literally means “to look away from everything else in order to look intently on one object.” Moses looked away from the wealth of the world systems toward a messianic future.[Ibid., 1886, “Word Wealth: Hebrews 11:26, looked.”]
VI. Real Faith brings Real Conflict
The Hebrew Christians who received this epistle were experiencing conflict because of their faith in Jesus. It was uncertain whether they would experience victory over their persecutors. In fact, it was much more likely that the persecution would continue indefinitely.
The fact that others were tortured and suffered in various other ways indicates that faith does not provide an automatic exemption from hardship, trials, or tragedy. Furthermore, the experience of such difficulties does not mean that the people undergoing them possess less faith than those who are not afflicted. The same faith that enables some to escape trouble enables others to endure it. The same faith that delivers some from death enables others to die victoriously.
Faith is not a bridge over troubled waters, but is a pathway through them. Discerning the pathway and the source of any hardships encountered requires aggressive prayer and worship. Through these means, God's perspective becomes focused.[Ibid., 1887, note on Hebrews 11:35–38.]
1. What do you think is the difference in meaning between “things hoped for” and “things not seen”? (Heb. 11:1)
2. The word “substance” has the idea of foundation or basis. The word “evidence” has the idea of test or proof. How do you think faith provides a foundation or basis “of things hoped for”? (Heb. 11:1)
3. How do you think faith provides a test or proof “of things not seen”? (Heb. 11:1)
4. What aspects of faith's role in grasping reality is illustrated by each of these Old Testament incidents?
4a. Creation (Heb. 11:3)
4b. Abel's sacrifice (Heb. 11:4)
4c. Enoch's translation (Heb. 11:5, 6)
4d. Noah's ark (Heb. 11:7)
5. How do Christ and His work fit into the category of things hoped for and things not seen?
6. Why do you think God values your faith (Heb. 1:6) more than any other attitude you can direct toward Him?
7. Which area of reality illustrated in Hebrews 11:3–7 would you like to see strengthened in your spiritual understanding? Why?
8. According to Hebrews 11:8–12, how did Abraham trust God to keep His promises to him in each of these areas?
8a. His destination
8b. His place
8c. His posterity
9. How do Hebrews 11:10 and 12 illustrate the basic description of faith given in verse 1?
10. What is the universal confession of men and women of faith? (Heb. 11:13–16)
11. What would Hebrews 11:13–16 mean to first-century Hebrew Christians considering abandoning faith in Christ and returning to their former Jewish religion?
12. In Hebrews 11:17–22, how did each of these patriarchs of Israel demonstrate faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”? (v. 1)
13. How did the promises of God as the object of the patriarchal faith distinguish their faith from wishful thinking or blind optimism?
14. What promises of God make your saving faith and daily faith more than wishful thinking and blind optimism?
15. How are faith in the Person of Christ and faith in the promises of God related to one another?
16. According to Hebrews 11:23–31, how did faith at each stage in the following sequence contribute to the redemption of Israel and the conquest of Canaan?
16a. The concealment of infant Moses
16b. Moses' identification with Israel
16c. The Exodus from Egypt
16d. The conquest of Jericho
17. What would the choice of Moses to suffer affliction mean to Hebrew Christians considering rejecting their faith in Christ to avoid affliction? (Heb. 11:25, 26)
18. Why was it necessary for faith to see “Him who is invisible” when Moses was facing “the wrath of the king”? (Heb. 11:27)
19. Why do you think Rahab was such a good example of someone who exercised faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” as a means to victory? (Heb. 11:31; see Josh. 2:8–14)
20. How has your faith in Christ already given you victory over sin, death, and the world?
21. What do you need to look away from in order to keep looking in faith toward the Lord Jesus and the Word of God?
22. According to Hebrews 11:32–35a, what sorts of achievements against overwhelming odds did judges, kings, and prophets in ancient Israel experience in these areas?
22a. Spiritual achievements
22b. Heroic deeds
22c. Personal accomplishments
23. According to Hebrews 11:35b–38, what sorts of achievements against overwhelming odds did a multitude of anonymous Old Testament heroes achieve through faith?
23a. Those who died
23b. Those who survived
24. What would this catalog of suffering and death have meant to the Hebrew Christian recipients of this epistle who were considering apostatizing from their faith in Jesus?
25. According to Hebrews 11:39 and 40, what were the accomplishments of the heroes of faith?
25a. Relative to their reputations
25b. Relative to God's promise
25c. Relative to the Hebrew Christians
26. Why do you think the faithful saints of the Old Covenant need the company of the faithful saints of the New Covenant to be perfect? (Heb. 11:40)
27. How can your faith in Christ—who is the best object of faith—sustain you through times of persecution?
28. What worldly attitudes do you need to deal with to give your faith freedom to resist persecution?
29. Who have you known that was a person of such faith that “the world was not worthy” of him or her? How did he or she show this faith?
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