January 8, 2020
There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
It’s important to know that these closing verses of Hebrews 11 come after a much more inspirational section. Starting in verse 32, the author says,
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith 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. Women received back their dead, raised to life again.
If I had my choice, I’d prefer the life of faith described in these earlier verses. Where I’m conquering kingdoms, escaping the sword, receiving back the dead to life – I’ll take that kind of faith, please. The kind of faith people write books about and make movies of. But we end this passage in a very, very different place. We read of suffering and death. The faithful are described as destitute. That means they lived in abject poverty. The definition of destitute is literally, “without the bare necessities of life.” They wandered and lived in caves and holes – against their will.
And yet, the world was not worthy of them. When is the last time you walked past a homeless person, and thought to yourself, “the world is not worthy of her?” This, in conjunction with our reflection from Monday, make us realize that, not only does God keep score in a different way, he’s playing an entirely different game than most of us. God tells us to hold up as models those who were stoned or sawed in two or lived on the edge of starvation – every bit as much as we hold up the heroes and warriors. How are both of those extremes considered the winners?
As we’ve said before, it’s because their hearts, not their actions, are the real measure of their worth. In this chapter, we’ve seen people do simple things like move or live below their means and have it be called faith. We’ve seen people sacrifice tremendously without a payoff and have it be called faith. And here, we see people rise victoriously and die humiliatingly. Both are called faith. Clearly, it’s not the actions themselves that define what is or isn’t faith.
If you want to live by faith, the first thing you need to do is begin to evaluate your motives. In the same way that being the victor doesn’t assure faith, suffering does not automatically qualify you, either. Sacrifice should be a result of pursuing God, not a means by which to achieve his favor. Today, pause and reflect on the “why” behind what you are about to do. If you don’t find faith at the foundation, that’s okay. Evaluation and reflection are the first steps towards rebuilding. Ask God to shift your motivation in the direction of faith.