Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Faith Shows Out: Hebrews 11

In Summary:

We come to the most famous portion of the book of Hebrews: the “Faith Hall of Fame” chapter. Throughout Hebrews 11, our author recounts story snippet after story snippet of those who have walked with God in past times. Each one is mentioned, briefly, and summarized as having faith in some way or another. Particularly telling is the inclusion of multiple women, both named and unnamed. This reflects a willingness on the part of the early church to recognize the contributions of both sexes to the heritage of faith.

Also telling, as we contemplate the writing of Hebrews, is that the list stops with examples from the time of the Judges (ending with Samuel, the last judge) and then switches to a summary. Even the listing of names from Judges is prefaced with “time will fail me…” in Hebrews 11:32. What does that tell us? That the author is a preacher of some sort, seeing how he goes on for another 8 verses, approximately 20% of the chapter, after he says time is failing. It’s the great “in conclusion” that makes you start thinking about the potluck…and then the rolls are cold by the time you get there.

Returning to our summary of the chapter, make note that each event mentioned involves looking at how the actions of individuals demonstrated their faith. Further, it is the faith of the individuals themselves that are featured: Rahab is credited with faith, not “Rahab’s cousin…” Faith that we see in this chapter may be shared, but it remains an individual possession. The faith of one may encourage the faith of another, but it does not substitute for it.

In Focus:

Let us turn the focus to Hebrews 11:30 for a moment. Here we see that the walls of Jericho fell, not because of loud trumpets, but because of faith. Joshua 6 gives us this story, and you would do well to read it. In fact, that’s true of the entire passage. You would do well to read the stories of those mentioned, and see how their faith showed outwardly through their actions.

Reading Joshua 6, though, little is said about the faith of the people. Instead, only the actions are mentioned. The people walked with the Ark of the Covenant, the visible reminder of the presence of YHWH, the God of Israel. (And the God of All Things, but the covenant is more specific.) They marched, the kept quiet, they marched, they shouted. And then they won. Hebrews says it happened “by faith.” Joshua doesn’t seem to mention faith at all…

In Practice:

This should give us pause as we consider how faith looks in action. So often, we want to wait until we can check off how much faith we have before we get started doing what God has put in front of us. Where does that line up with this chapter?

It doesn’t.

Instead, we need to see this reality: obedience demonstrates faith. Obedience to the Word of God. Obedience as we face the challenges that are in front of us. Just as the people of Israel demonstrated faith by walking in the presence of God. They walked and did what was commanded of them.

God then honored His commands, and the result was the collapse of the walls of Jericho. What walls stand in front of you as you try to walk with Jesus? Have you considered whether you are waiting for faith instead of taking the first steps of obedience?

This is true for us as individuals and as churches. What we do shows what we believe, and how we do it shows Who we believe in.

In Nerdiness: 

First, it’s somewhat funny to me that Hebrews 11:2’s term for “men of old” in NASB is the same word we get “Presbyterian” from. One could make a tongue-in-cheek translation that “by faith, the Presbyterians gained approval.”

Second, the “gained approval” is also translatable as “were testified favorably about.” The word used in Greek is the word from which we get martyr. That word refers to bearing witness or testifying. Here, though, it’s passive so it speaks of faith bearing witness about the men of old. (Or the Presbyterians.)

Third, it’s intriguing that Barak is mentioned but Deborah isn’t. Is this because she did everything without fear, while Barak had to be persuaded? (Judges 4-5)

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