You are smarter than I am. You realized this a while back, while I am just now seeing there is one level of faith in Hebrews 11 and then there is a second level of FAITH in Hebrews 11.
Years ago when I preached through Hebrews 11, I was fine with the first 36 verses. Hebrews 11 describes what was achieved through trusting God. By faith Abraham was enabled to become a father. By faith Jacob blessed each of Joseph’s sons. By faith, this was done and that was done. In each circumstance, the person experienced victory, success or completion of a given task.
But at verse 37, the writer hits a minor key. There is a shift. Winning disappears. Victory is not forthcoming. Some believers were stoned, others sawn in two, put to death by a sword, went about in sheepskins, or were persecuted or mistreated.
A Faulty Definition I had equated “by faith” with “success will be forthcoming.” But I wondered, “How does ‘wandering in deserts and mountains and in caves and holes in the ground” pull off a win” (vs. 38)? Where is the victory in hiding in caves?
Hebrews in a Minor Key Now I realize that the minor key of Hebrews 11:37-40 was in effect saying, “Your faith will not always result in spiritual success, positive completion, or mental rest. There is a faith that becomes God’s means of bringing success and then there is also a FAITH that endures through harsh circumstances when victory does not happen and is not even on the far horizon.
This second kind of faith is not for sunshine patriots or fair weather followers. It is for those who have taken the long look. The steady, C+ plodders who simply continue to obey and continue to worship through the mysteries God allows.
An Example As I was musing on these things over the course of few days, I phoned Steve Bell (real name; a genuine saint) on January 8, 2022. Steve & Anita and their son, Matt, live in Vancouver, Washington. In a 40-minute State of Our Friendship, wide-ranging conversation I had asked him, “What’s happening?” Without meaning to pat himself on the back, he factually shared about what was occupying their time. Small Group leadership . . . a semi-annual retreat for men in a wilderness location . . . him answering Focus on the Family questions from the listenership.1 Discipling a number of specific individuals. Anita shepherding her Bible study ladies. Matt persevering on his job.
As we talked, he also shared some hardships they have been through – Anita having knees and hips replaced and two cornea transplants . . . the disappointment of a family retreat being canceled . . . the health of a daughter making parenting her three active children difficult . . . Matt’s serious, debilitating illness . . . Steve’s unhealthy heart condition and a couple in their Small Group who – after 43 years of marriage – were calling it quits.
What struck me was, “Some people who have faith and ‘win,’ others who have as great a faith or an even greater faith do not win. God is glorified by both, but possibly the latter more than the former.
Psalms 31 A recent reading of this Psalm shows the same chocolate – vanilla swirl of victory, then discouragement. The same winning and losing that appears around us and in us.
- Verse 1 says, “In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge.”
- But by the time we come to verse 10 & 11, the Psalmist is in the pits: “My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning . . . . those who see me on the street flee from me.”
- By verse 19 (and 24) he is back on top as he writes, “How great is your goodness, which You have stored up for those who fear You.” “Be strong and take heart, who you who hope in the Lord.”
When you read David’s life, you are not thinking, “Oh, it must have been horrendously painful to David that his son, Absalom, rebelled against him,” or “It was so sad when Ammon was killed,” or “Doeg was so wrong to talk to Saul.” What you look at is the sweep of his whole life and you conclude, “God was with David. Look how his faith kept him.” A single victory or defeat is not in view. We see the whole life – the life of faith and FAITH.
So the issue in Hebrews 11 was not, “Did he always win,” but rather was, “Through victory and defeat did he still had faith to trust God about his circumstances?” The faith is in focus, not individual situations of winning or losing; success or failure. But faith as a continuous, sustaining, energizing reality in David’s life. You look back over David’s life and say, “Wow, God sustained him.”
The Bells and the Psalmist were experiencing normal spiritual life. Some victories, some defeats. Some aches and pains. Some joys.
It becomes clear that winning, achieving, accomplishing, completing is not the issue. Those things are not the ultimate result of what faith can bring into our lives. To see the bigger picture – to gain perspective – to “get it,” we have to back up and ask, “Does a given person continue to direct the allegiance of their will and the affection of their mind toward the Living God – regardless of whether they winning or losing?”
God is pleased by faith and FAITH. I am grateful the Holy Spirit spoke to me through Steve and Psalms 31.
- Averaging about 10 letter per week for one year = 520 letters!