Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 36. Faith is being different
Heb 11:37.38 They went about in sheepskins 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.
For those of us who seek to be good Bible students and always think, “Now how can this apply to me today?” the good news is that I am not going to suggest this is how we as Christians are to behave today! But what picture does these two verses conjure up of some of those who appear in this hall of faith?
Well the first and obvious thing, which I have picked up in the title, is that they were different; their values, their aims in life, everything about them was different from the rest of the population. Now I have to say that I worry sometimes that in this affluent world that we in the West experience, it seems that many Christians appear very little different from those around them. Now I would be the first to encourage Christians to be part of the culture in which they live, to fully appreciate the wonder of all God’s provision and to enjoy it, but I wonder sometimes if we have gone too far and end up going to one extreme or another – one end of the extreme is being so ‘holy’ (but not) as to be no earthly use, taken up with religious things and only religious things, and the other end of the extreme is so enjoying the things that God gives us that we forget who we are, rarely share our faith and certainly (and this is probably true of both extremes) rarely if ever move in the power of the Spirit to bring the love of God to this world. Now there are four things, I believe, in these verses that might speak to us as to how we may regain balance.
“They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute,.” These were people who did not get their values from things, did not make the focus of their life getting things, getting more money and so on. Now I am not going to praise poverty because there is nothing romantic about being poor and God clearly shows through the lives of such people as Solomon that He is not against riches, but these people who the writer to the Hebrews has in mind, when it came to it, chose a lifestyle of poverty. Now we don’t know exactly who he had in mind but there have often been groups of people in the history of the church who have forsaken wealth and taken a vow of poverty to serve others. This is highly commendable but I do not find a call anywhere in Scripture for this to be the thing everyone should do.
Yes in Acts 4 there is a lovely example of how the early church was working at that point in time: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need,” (Acts 4:32-35) but there is no command for everyone to do that; in fact if everyone did that we would probably find ourselves with a state where everyone was in need. In fact, a careful reading of that passage does not say they sold everything they had, although some might want to imply that. The big question about wealth is revealed in Jesus’ words to the rich young man: “Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mt 19:21) In other words if your wealth has become the guarantee of security for you and you are unable to let at least some of it go, and it is stopping you reaching the spiritual goals you sense are there, then you need to do something drastic like getting rid of it. In the teaching that followed that Jesus makes it clear that wealth can be a real hindrance to knowing God. The reason for that is what I mentioned first above, that it becomes our security and we dare not step out in faith which relies on nothing but God’s word to us.
The first challenge therefore has to be where our security is. For these people that the writer has in mind, their security was not in the things of the world – it’s all right to have them, but only if that is not where our security is.
The second thing about these people is they kept on going despite the fact that they received opposition: “persecuted and mistreated.” They stood for God and refused to stand down. When the hostility and opposition came, they still refused to stand down. There people persisted in their faith even if they were the only believer there. Therefore the second challenge to us is can we be faithful regardless of who or what faces us? We will only be able to say ‘yes’ to this if we realise and experience the grace of God that can keep us in the face of opposition. That grace may come in the form of wisdom to know how to answer our detractors or it may come in simple perseverance and love that will keep on and love our enemies.
You see we started out by saying they were different, they had different values to the world around them, which is why the writer now says, “the world was not worthy of them.” This is the third thing we need to pick up on. The world around us places great value on appearances and success and wealth. To keep it simple, the third challenge is whether or not we will hold to Biblical values rather than the world’s values that we see portrayed day after day on TV. Our standards are to include righteousness, truth, integrity and honesty when it comes to dealing with others. Our standards are to hold to one member of the opposite sex for life, rejecting all the other distorted life styles of today’s Western world. Our standards are to espouse humility over pride, modesty over boasting. Our standards are to maintain contentment in God’s good provision rather than constantly striving for more and more wealth. If it comes, great, but it is not to be the goal of life.
Finally, these people were not tied down by the ties of the world: “They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.” Again, I believe this will be a calling for some, but not a general rule for all. Some will feel it right never to have a mortgage, others will see it as providing for the next generation. Either is good; it depends on what you feel your calling is. The fourth challenge is do not get forced into confirming to what other people think it right. Listen to God for what He thinks is right for you. There are some things in life that are absolutes, for example it is wrong to murder. There are other things that are not absolutes and will depend on God’s unique calling for you. For some of us, we may be called to singleness; others will not. Some of us will be called to handle riches, others will not. The most crucial issue, when it comes to faith, is what is God saying?