We are all familiar with Hebrews 11 and the heroes of faith listed there: Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Samuel, Rahab, Gideon, Jephthah, David and the prophets. Many books have been written about Hebrew 11 and many sermons preached about the heroes of faith who “conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies” (v. 33-34).
Reading their feats ignites our excitement. It makes us want to leap over the pews and shout from the rooftops: “Amen, Hallelujah! Glory!!” And unfortunately, a number of “Faith teachers” have majored on verses 1-34 of Hebrews 11 but curiously set aside the proceeding verses. Is there something wrong with those verses? Let’s see:
“Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheep skins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated — the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised” (vv. 35-39).
Okay, I see why this part hasn’t been equally emphasized. It’s not “exciting” stuff. It doesn’t make people want to jump over the pews. More so, they refute the theory taught by Word-Faith teachers that: “Once you are born again, all your problems will disappear because you are now a god.” Or “Once you have the key of knowledge and key into my formula of the God-kind of faith, you will never again suffer; you will never fail or become poor or fall sick.”
Hence, in order to sustain their novel theological structure, these folks screen out uncomfortable parts – like unsavoury parts of a mega million movie edited out to soothe fray nerves. But the Bible presents us with truth and reality. Heat and cold are opposite, yet both are real. We can’t set one aside for the other because it’s not palatable to us.
Biblically, faith is not only about receiving breakthroughs, wealth, success, victory or supernatural power from God, but also about standing up for Christ, enduring hardship and opposition, being faithful to Christ to the point of death, being joyful in suffering and refusing to deny the faith even when you have no money, no job, no home, no friend and not receiving what God promised to give you. These are the two sides of faith.
Hebrews 11 presents us a balanced picture of the heroes of faith: those who enjoyed the exploits of faith and those who endured the outworking of faith. “Positive” Christianity has replaced the latter with the former. Thus, many Christians who have been fed with sugary teachings and motivational philosophies end up with spiritual diabetes; a skewed perception of reality.
When these Christians suffer opposition, experience crisis or financial setbacks, they start to flounder. They start to think that maybe God has forsaken them or they have committed an unpardonable sin. Some backslide and begin to doubt if Jesus, God or the Bible was ever real. But these experiences are normal, because the Bible prepares our minds about them:
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own … No servant is greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also...” (Jn. 15:18-20)
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33)
“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41)
“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (Phil. 1:29)
“All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God for which you are suffering” (2 Thess. 1:5).
“If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Peter 4:14-16)
Jesus didn’t promise us a free ride as some people teach. In life, our faith, patience, integrity and hope will be tested. We must not give up in defeat because our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:17).
As I type this, I think of that young man who lost his job for being honest; that lady who has had her official benefits withheld for not committing sexual immorality with her boss; that woman standing up for Christ in the face of Islamic persecution; that Christian father or mother diagnosed with a terminal disease. By the world’s standards, they are “losers,” “fools,” or “pathetic”, but in God’s record, they are heroes of faith.
I look into the Bible and I don’t see any Godly man or woman who had a perfect life. They were all tested in God’s furnace. It’s not about what you are passing through in life, but your attitude to it that matters. We can’t really know how great, powerful and merciful God is unless we’ve failed before.
Personally, I don’t think I would have known God as I do today if I hadn’t been whipped with life’s lashes. But in everything remember: “And surely I am with you always, to the every end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). One of my favourite Bible verses is Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
In life, we will pass through the fire or wade through the waters, but let us remember that God is ever present with us and He will give us victory.