Text: Hebrews 13:5-6
I’d like for you to open your Bibles to the book of Hebrews, chapter 13, and I want to read two verses. Hebrews 13:5-6,
Let your way of life be free from the love of money; being content with what you have: for he himself has said, I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you. So that we confidently say, The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What shall man do to me?
There are only two kinds of people in this building tonight. I wonder which kind you are. There are those tonight in this building who are covetous, and there are those who are content. Really, every person falls into one of these two categories. You are either covetous, or you are content. You can’t be both. There are no two things that are so mutually exclusive as covetousness and contentment. Like oil and water, fire and water, they won’t mix. You are either covetous or content.
I was thinking today, is there anything that a person could desire more than contentment? As a matter of fact, that is why a fellow is covetous. The only reason a person becomes covetous is because he wants to become content. So he feels if he is able to gain whatever it is he covets, that will make him content. Everybody may not call it this, or use this terminology, but everybody is looking for contentment.
The word contentment here means to be sufficient within yourself. It means to be possessed of a strength that is sufficient. One translation says to be strong enough for anything, to ward off or defend against anything—to be self sufficient, to be self sustaining. Another word would be satisfied, in the total sense of the word. To have such contentment, such sufficiency within yourself that if any covetousness comes knocking on your door, or any dissatisfaction comes to attack you, you can defend against it. You can ward it off.
One of the big problems in most Christians’ lives is that we have no defense against covetousness or dissatisfaction. Yet the writer of Hebrews is saying that the person who is content is a person who is possessed of such an inner strength and sufficiency that he can ward off and defend against any of these things.
Some of us are like a fellow who one day is satisfied; he thinks he now has everything he could ever want. He is perfectly satisfied. But the next day he is absolutely miserable. I wonder how many of us this describes in our Christian life. The only reason a person becomes covetous is so that he might become content.
The word covetous translated in the New American Standard is free from the love of money. Normally, that is what the word means—a love of money. It doesn’t mean having money. It means loving money, having such an emotional attachment to money that it dominates us, possesses us. But the word really is broader than simply a love for money. It simply means a dissatisfaction with what you have and an obsession to obtain something you do not have. It may be things, friendship, something tangible, something intangible, money, may not be money. It is to have such a greedy and grasping spirit that you are never satisfied with what you have, and you always want more. You burn every bit of energy. It occupies your mind. It absorbs your thoughts. It drains your energy. Your heart is the path to it. Jesus says that where your treasure is, there is your heart also.
Let’s not just think in terms of money because some of us really aren’t covetousness after money, but we are covetous after other things. We are not satisfied. There is a grasping spirit about us. This type of person never has enough; you can never do enough for him. No matter how much you do for him, he is never satisfied. No matter how much you give him, he is never satisfied. He always wants more. Nothing is enough!
Which person are you? Are you covetous, or are you contented? The writer is saying that we are not to be covetous, but rather we are to be contented. This simply means that we are to have within ourselves such an inner strength that there is nothing that can rob us of that soul satisfaction. If we could just move into this tonight, it would eliminate all envy. Do you know why a person is envious?—because they are covetous. This would eliminate all criticism. Do you know why a person has a critical spirit?—because he is covetous. You ask what he is coveting. He is coveting the good things you are saying about that other fellow.
I’m thinking of a man I know. If he is in a group and we start talking about a person who is not with us in a good way, saying what a fine fellow he is, this man will invariably have something bad to say about him. We were having lunch together not long ago. Somebody at the table began to talk about a pastor and what a fine man he was and what a gracious spirit he had. I knew what was coming. I knew he wasn’t about to let that go by. He never does. Immediately he began to say well, yes, but . . . . This is true of him, and he doesn’t have this. You see, he cannot stand to hear something good about anyone else. He is covetous, not after money but after flattery and applause; therefore, he is not content. A covetous person can never be happy because the main pain of a covetous person is that he has a gnawing anxiety and fear that he is not going to get what he wants, or that somebody else is going to get it first. He wants to be the first kid on his block to have one. He lives in a gnawing anxiety and fear that he is not going to get what he wants, or that somebody else is going to get it and be complimented for it.
I pray today: Lord, I want you to make me content. This word actually refers to any kind of circumstance. Do you remember what Paul wrote to the Philippians in chapter 4? He is in prison, and he doesn’t know what is going to happen to him. As far as he knows, he is going to be executed. Actually, that what he thinks is going to happen. He has himself all primed to have his head cut off. So he says, but I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. This is the same word. Every time I read this, I say, Lord, you have made me content in a lot of places. If you could make me content in a Roman prison, facing death, being criticized and lied about by my colleagues, I think that would be contentment indeed.
I want to tell you something that goes along with contentment. Do you know what goes along with contentment? Confidence! I want to show you something in this Hebrews passage that is beautiful to me. In verse 5 the writer says let your way of life be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for he himself (God himself. There is an emphasis in the text here. Who is it that said this? It is God. What has he said?) has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” (Notice this in verse 6.) So that we confidently say (or we say with confidence), “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What shall man do to me?”
When a person is content and has learned the secret of that inner sufficiency that makes him satisfied in any circumstance, he is a person who always has a confident confession. You can come up to him in the midst of the greatest battle and say how goes the battle, and he will give you a word of confidence. You can meet the Shunamite woman as she comes from the prophet’s room where she has laid her dead boy on the bed, and say to her, is it well with thy boy, and she will give a confident confession. It is well. You can talk to a person as I did today who is lying on a hospital bed, seriously ill, but yet has found the secret of contentment. You can say to him, how goes it? And he will give you a confident confession—a courageous, confident confession. The amazing thing about this word confidently is that it has the idea of being cheerful, of being of good cheer.
I hope you are tying all this together. A person who is contented, who has found the secret and source of contentment is one who is always of good cheer, always cheerful. Concerning the person who has not found that, who is covetous, you may thank him, but you didn’t thank him enough. He may have gotten applause, but not applause enough. He lives in fear that somehow, somebody is going to get ahead of him. He always “down in the mouth.” He does not know the secret of joy and of being of good cheer.
I’ve said all that to say this: would you like to know the secret and the source of a confident contentment, no matter the circumstance. You can always have that inner sufficiency that wards off any dissatisfaction and malcontent. It comes from two things that God has said.
Look at the Hebrews 13:5, Let your way of life be free from the love of money; being content with what you have: (notice the next word) for (or because. He is giving to us the basis of contentment.) he himself has said, (the secret and the source of a contentment and a confidence is knowing what God has said, of believing what God has said. God has said two things. When we hear God say these two things to us, I’m not talking about reading them out of the Bible. By the way, you do know that there is a difference in reading God’s Word out of the Bible, and having God speak it to you as you read it. You didn’t know there was a difference? Yes, you know there is a difference. I pray that God will show you the difference, and how to make the difference. There is a vast difference between reading and knowing that God has said this, and then having God say it to me personally. That is the thrill of it all. There have been Scriptures that I have read, and I have read this one before. But, do you know what? God spoke this word to me today. I have read this a lot of times. I’ve read through the book of Hebrews. There was a time when I even thought about preaching on that passage, but God never said that to me. But in the wee hours of this morning, do you know what? God said this to me. Suddenly, this became my personal word from God. It couldn’t be any more personal than if God had written me a special delivery letter and said this is to you, Ron.) I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you. (It was no more just ink on paper; it wasn’t just what God has said; it was what was saying to ME. That’s what makes all the difference.
When this written Word becomes the living Word, and the Word becomes flesh and is translated into reality in your heart and life, God is speaking to you in your Spirit, and you know that it is true. That is where faith comes from. Faith comes from what?—hearing the Word. When God speaks his Word to you, faith is born. A lot of verses that I have faith in, and they help me to put my faith in God, and I can believe God, I’ve known those verses all my life, but I have never been able to believe God for them. Do you know why? Because I didn’t hear them, I just read them. But there came a day in my life, a moment in my extremity when God said to ME, the same thing that I had read and heard and heard preachers say. But suddenly God spoke to me through this book and made it personal. Suddenly, that is where faith was born.
What does God say? This is so much introduction, I may never get to the middle of it! He said two things: 1) I will never desert you. 2) Nor will I ever forsake you. The Revised Version has it like this, and it brings out better the idea of the word: I will never fail you. He said I will never fail you; I will never forsake you.
First of all, he says I will never fail you. Let me mention this. I found something today that I didn’t know was there. Bro. Ed Harris came in the office about the time I discovered that, and I shared it with him to see what he thought about it, to see if he felt like that was anything worth sharing. I didn’t know this was in there. I got so excited I almost shouted, but there was somebody in the next office, and I was afraid they might think I had taken leave of my senses.
As I looked this passage up in the Greek New Testament, I discovered that there are three negatives before each verb. When he says I will never desert you, there are three negatives there. When he says nor will I ever forsake you, there are three negatives there. Now, people, that is highly unusual and irregular. I’ve run across a lot of double negatives, but I don’t think I have ever run across a double triple negative in the same verse. Here is what he is saying. I will not, I will not, I will not fail you. I will not, I will not, I will not forsake you. Do you think God meant what he was saying? I don’t know about you, but that impresses me because God is of such a nature and character that he rarely ever repeats himself. I have this vision of God Almighty whose word is eternal, and he needs only to speak it once and it becomes eternalized. But he says three times, twice in that same verse, I will not, I will not, I will not fail you. I tell you what. That gives me confidence. After awhile, it begins to get through to me that God is trying to say to me I will not fail you.
This word fail is an interesting word. What God is promising here in this situation is his power. This word means to withdraw a hand that sustains us. It means to let go, to release a grip on somebody, to give somebody up. Here is what God is saying. The Bible says that I am in God’s hands. Jesus says no man can pluck thee out of my hand. My Father which gave them unto me is greater than all, and no man can pluck thee out of my Father’s hands. The writer comes along and quotes what God has said. He said I will never withdraw my hand that holds you up. I will never release or loosen my grip upon you. I used to think that my stability and success in the Christian life meant how firm a grip I had on the Lord. I used to hear people pray “just hang on, brother, hang on.” I don’t to get too far off here. I don’t know if this is theological or not. I’ll have to check this out. It might be correct to hang onto the Lord. Is there a verse of Scripture somewhere that tells us to hang on? That might be all right to hang onto the Lord. But I get in such straits that I lose my grip. It is not my hanging onto the Lord; it is the Lord hanging onto me. That makes all the difference in the world.
Years ago I heard a little illustration that I heard so much. It is so trite that I haven’t used it in twenty years so it will be fresh. A little girl was walking with her daddy. They were going to walk across a river on an old rickety bridge. The little girl was scared to death. As they started to walk across the bridge, the daddy said, honey, you just hang on to daddy’s hand and you’ll be all right. The little girl said, no, daddy, I’m afraid to hang onto you. I might not hang on strong enough. Daddy, you hang onto me. That is what God is saying here. That’s what gives a person confidence. If you believe tonight that you are hanging onto God, then the only way you can keep God in your corner or on your side is to get such a tight grip upon him that he can’t get away. When you begin to get weak and come to see yourself as you are and know you are, as worthless as God has known you were all along, you suddenly begin to lose confidence because you realize you are not strong enough to hang on. But he says I will not fail you. I’ll not let you go. You are in my hands, and I am never going to lose my grip on you. That gives me confidence.
He says a second thing that is even better. He says not only will I not fail you; I will not forsake you. The first one is a promise of God’s power, God’s protection. The second one is a promise of God’s presence, and that is so much better. He says I won’t forsake you. The word forsake means to leave in the lurch. Have you ever been left in the lurch? It means to abandon someone who is in dire straits. Have you ever been in dire straits? When people lose their contentment and their confidence, it is when they think in the midst of dire straits God has gone on and left us behind. He has abandoned us. Honestly, some of you think if you can ever manage to pull yourself out of those dire straits, God will come back and get hold of you again. God is saying not only will I not fail you; my power is going to be with you. I myself am going to be with you. That is why you ought to be content. You ought to be content because I am with you. If I’m not with you, you wouldn’t be content with everything, but when I am with you, you will be content with anything. I’ll never leave you behind. My presence shall go before you.
Do you remember over in Joshua 13, and again in Ezekiel 44, it is mentioned that when the people of Israel came into the promised land there were 12 tribes. God begins to partition the land off and to give to each tribe an inheritance of that land. Do you know what God said in Joshua 13:14? God said to Aaron, you can give an inheritance to the tribe of Dan, to the tribe of Beersheba, to the tribe of Judah, but you will not give anything to the tribe of what? Levi. What was the tribe of the Levi? They were the priestly tribe. Do you know what you are? You are a kingdom of priests. God has made you priests. You are Levites. You didn’t know that, did you? You thought you were Irvingites. He said to Aaron, you will not divide and not give an inheritance to Levi for I am their inheritance. God gave them nothing because they had everything. God said you can give the rest of these people a plot of land, but you don’t need to give the Levites anything. They have me. I will be their inheritance. They are not to take roots in ground; they are to take root in me. They are not to live off the land. They are to live off me. They are not to get their security, stability, contentment, confidence from owning a plot of land. They are to get it from me. I am their inheritance. They don’t need anything because they have everything in me.
I am amazed at how the Bible always points to Jesus Christ, always points to God himself as the solution to every problem. Moses prayed and said, Lord, show me thy glory. I don’t know all that Moses wanted, but he wanted something spectacular, something that nobody else had ever seen or had. Moses had just been commissioned for a terrific task, and I guess he thought he needed a little extra shot of something. God said, my presence shall go with thee. That’s all you need Moses. You don’t need anything else.
Philip in John 14, speaking to Jesus, said show us the Father and that will be enough. Jesus said he that hath seen me hath seen the Father. In Luke 1 when the angel came to Zacharias to bring the message that Elizabeth was going to bear a son, Zacharias found it difficult to believe. He said whereby shall I know that this thing is going to come to pass. In other words, he was asking for some additional information, some outside confirmation. Gabriel didn’t give him any additional information. He said I am Gabriel that stands in the presence of God. You are going to be dumb because you haven’t believed what I told you. What was Gabriel saying? He was saying, Zacharias, you do not need any more evidence than the fact that I am in the presence of God.
Jesus makes these audacious, remarkable statements. He said if any man thirst, let him come to me. All ye that labor and are heavy laden, come unto me and I will give you rest. Jesus always pointed to himself as the source of all the sufficiency. That’s all you need. You got that when you were saved. You received everything you needed when you were saved.
I want to share with you one passage of Scripture before we are finished. I will not read it because it takes up the whole sixth chapter of the book of John. In John 6 Jesus performs a miracle. Do you know what that miracle was?—bread. He fed the people with bread. Everybody is absolutely at what Jesus Christ has done. He has done the impossible. He has performed a miracle. Immediately, they have seen the miracle, eaten the bread, they begin to follow Jesus. Notice what they say. They have seen the bread. They like the bread. They are impressed with the bread. They follow Jesus and ask for more information. Show us another miracle. Do a sign that we may see and believe you. Does that sound familiar? We can’t really be sure you are with us, and that you are really who you say you are. You need to give us some additional information, confirm everything you said, show us a sign that we may see and believe. Their belief was based upon what they could see—a sign.
They said our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness. As it is written he gave them bread out of heaven to eat. They said Moses did that. Can you do better than that? Jesus answered and said for the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven and gives life to the world. That sounded so good to them they said therefore to him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life. They didn’t understand it. He said you don’t believe it. They said, Lord, give us this bread. Feed us again. Give us another miracle. Gift us this gift, this experience. Jesus said, I am the bread of life. Lord, you don’t understand what we are asking. He said, I am the bread of life.
So he goes on in that passage of Scripture and points out that they are following him because of the bread. Jesus said unless you eat of my flesh and drink of my blood ye have no part in me. The Bible says in verse 66 when he said that many of his disciples withdrew and walked no more with him. Do you see what Jesus was doing?
We have a lot of miracle-mongers today. We have within us this insatiable desire for bread. We see Jesus perform a miracle. We see that bread and take that bread. We are so excited about that bread. We come to Jesus and say do it again. Do more. These people came in after you made the bread. Make some more or they won’t believe it. Jesus said, no. Jesus was trying to draw their attention away from the miracle and focus it on him. He said, I am the bread of life. You don’t need miracles; you don’t experiences; you don’t need gifts; you don’t need anything else. I am the bread of life. Unless you feast on me, find in me your all and all, eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you. The minute Jesus began to de-emphasize the bread aspect of Christianity, and began to emphasize himself, the Bible says many of his disciples withdrew and walked away from him.
That is what is happening today. There is no contentment because so-and-so has a better gift than I, or so-and-so had a better experience than I had. He got and gave his testimony after I gave mine. His experience was so much greater. He had twice as many chill bumps playing leapfrog on his back than I had on mine. He had a miracle—a leg lengthened, an arm straightened. I didn’t have that. I don’t have what you have so I become discontent and (he said un-confident) lack confidence in my Christian life. Jesus said it’s me. It’s me. It’s not the miracles. It’s me. Unless you eat of my flesh and drink of my flood, you have no life in you.
If we are not careful, we find ourselves walking with Jesus because of the bread. Do you know what God said to me sometime ago? God blessed our church so much and did so many things. The power and anointing of the Spirit of God was on our church so much that you just drive on the parking lot and immediately fall under conviction. I remember one day I was driving down Rochelle thinking about all those things. I had written an article for the church paper that day and I had talked about all the things, the bread that Jesus had given us. As I was driving down the street, God came to say to me, would you still do all that and praise the Lord if I took away the bread—if you walked in and there was no feeling of excitement, no miracles, no ecstasy, no excitement? What are you following?—the bread or me.
A person who is won because of the bread will apostatize when Jesus goes out of the bread making business. I had supper with a young man, older than I am. For two hours we talked. His face shone like an angel. I’m not saying this to do anything but give you an illustration of what I am talking about. He is a Baptist, and also what is called a charismatic. I don’t like that word. It has become a technical term for some people. It is a good Christian word, and I don’t like to label people like that. He was caught up. For two hours he talked, and his expression was “the beautiful manifestations of the gifts that I have seen.” He went on and on about the manifestation of this gift. There is nothing wrong with the manifestation of the gifts. You know what I believe. I believe in the gifts. They are precious because God gave them. We finished, walked out. For two solid hours he had talked about the bread. He never once mentioned the name of Jesus. Never once did the name of Jesus fall from his lips.
Are you saying that he didn’t love Jesus? I’m not saying that at all; I’m just saying that he was more impressed with the bread than he was with Jesus. I will tell you what is going to happen. God has a sense of humor, an ironic sense of humor. There are a lot of us tonight who have been guilty of following the bread. God always invariably withdraws the bread to test our commitment. If he were to withdraw the bread tonight, would you withdraw from him? He says two things that ought to make you content. I will never fail you, and I will never forsake me. You have my protection and my presence. I am your inheritance. When we hear God say that, we can confidently say, the Lord is my helper. I will not fear. What can man do to me?
I wish I had time to preach the second part of this message, what God says and our echo. We say confidently, the Lord is my helper. These Christians at this time were going through severe persecution, but they said the Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid. The word afraid means I will not run from anything. I will not be put to flight. What can man do to me? Well, they will burn you at the stake! What can man do to me? The Lord is my helper. You may burn me at the stake, but that only brings me into the fuller presence of the Lord. What can man do to me?
I just want to acknowledge tonight and say with confidence, the Lord is my helper. That word is made up of two words. One means a shout, and the other means to run. I’m really not certain of all that means, but I get the picture of a huge giant of a soldier running to the defense of somebody and shouting victory, terrifying the enemy. He says you better leave me alone. The Lord will come running with a shout. Why should I run? Do you see the picture? This all fits together so beautifully. He said why should I be afraid? Why should I be put to flight? Why should I run in that direction? The Lord is running in my direction to help me, to save me. What can man do to me?
I want to say with confidence tonight that I am content and that the Lord is my helper. What shall I fear? What can man do to me?
Let’s pray together.
© Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2006
Text: Hebrews 12:5-17
The people to whom the writer was addressing himself were having fainting spells…spiritual fainting spells. And much of the Book of Hebrews deals with trying to encourage these Hebrew Christians…trying to cure their disheartenment because of trials, tribulations, sufferings and difficulties that have come their way. In the passages preceding this one he’s been giving why they should not be disheartened because of adversity. Remember chapter 11 is that great faith chapter and the writer there is pointing out to them the example of the great men of faith…their faith was brought out through suffering and trials and adversity.
Then, in chapter 12, he uses the example of Jesus as one who suffered…therefore they should not be disheartened when they suffer. There is a third reason that they suffer and much of their discouragement and disheartenment is a result of their forgetting a primary truth in the spiritual life and in verse 5, he picks up this third reason that Christian suffer…this thing that they have forgotten which has led to some doubt and frustration which in turn has caused some disheartenment in their own Christian life.
So, let’s begin reading with the verse 5 and read through verse 17…
“And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou are rebuked of him: for whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the Father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure: but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, thereby many be defiled; lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected; for he found no place of repentance though he sought it carefully with tears.”
One of the greatest mysteries that faces Christians is this mystery of suffering. Why do Christians suffer? That used to be one of the favorite sermon topics among Christians. You let an evangelist come into a church for a week and announce that he was going to preach a message on why Christians suffer and there would immediately be a built-in audience, because not any of us is exempt from asking that question… “Why is it that after I have given my life to Jesus Christ, and have done that not in a nominal way but have really given to Him the obedience of my life, and as much as in me is, have acknowledged Him to be the Lord of my life, and striving always to please Him…” Why is it then that so much trouble comes into the life of a Christian?
You’ll not read the Bible very much until you discover that a great person of the Word of God struggled with this mighty mystery of divine providence and human suffering. Why do Christians suffer?
You know, David almost backslid, well, as a matter of fact, he did, because he said, “My feet were well nigh slipped, because I became I envious of the wicked.” He said, “I looked at the wicked…that man who cares not a thing about the Lord and man, he seemed to have it made. Everything went smooth for him! There seems to be no problem surrounding his life,” but he said, “I knew nothing but trouble, sorrow, tears,” and he said, “I began to think that maybe I was serving the Lord for nothing…that I was making a fool of myself.”
Why do Christians suffer? I think there are three reasons illustrated by three Biblical characters as to why Christians suffer. Some Christians suffer like Job, who was a perfect [an upright] man and God allowed the devil to afflict and inflict him as a trial, as a test of his faith. And 1 Peter 1 says that God is going to test…that God is going to try our faith that the Father might be glorified through our stability of believing. So many times a Christian will suffer as Job suffered. Job illustrates that kind of misfortune and tragedy and sorrow and suffering that comes into a Christian’s life in order to exhibit that this man’s faith is sound and firm and steadfast and to increase this man’s faithfulness and stability in the Lord. Many Christians suffer as Job and God allows this to happen. Paul, the apostle, and his thorn in the flesh is another example of the Job-type of suffering.
Then, there is the Jesus-type of suffering. Jesus suffered simply because He was godly. Jesus suffered because He was Truth. And Peter says again in chapter 4, “Don’t be surprised when you suffer as Jesus suffered.” In John 15, Jesus said, “If the world has hated me, you know that it will also hate you.” In Matthew 5, as Jesus was giving the Beatitudes, Jesus said, “When you are persecuted for My sake, rejoice and be exceedingly glad…” And so, Christians suffer like Jesus suffered simply because Jesus was obedient with the Heavenly Father…He was identified with the righteousness of God and the world reacted to that with suffering and chastisement, and so Christians suffer like Jesus suffered, simply because they’re identified with Jesus. When a Christian suffers this way, the Bible says he ought to be happy, because it identifies him with his Lord.
But, then there is a third kind of suffering and that is the Jonah-type of suffering. Jonah suffered not as a test of his faith…not because he was identified with the righteousness of God…but Jonah suffered because he was disobedient and rebellious to his Lord. Now, the Bible calls that chastisement and discipline. The Hebrew Christians had forgotten that. And the writer of Hebrews is saying, “Some of you are suffering like the heroes of faith suffered…you are suffering the ‘Job-kind’ of suffering. Some of you are suffering like Jesus suffered, simply because He was righteous and some of you are suffering the ‘Jesus-kind’ of suffering…” But, now in verse 5, he says, “…but some of you are suffering because of your disobedience….because of the sin that’s in your life…you are experiencing the ‘Jonah-kind’ of suffering.”
This message this morning is “the ministry of chastisement” or “the ministry of discipline.” And the Bible very clearly teaches that God is going to discipline His children. God has a right to do it as any father has a right to chasten and to whip and to spank and to discipline his child. As far back as the Book of Deuteronomy God warned the people that this would be…He says in Deuteronomy 8:5:
“Thou shalt also consider in thin heart that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the LORD thy God chasteneth thee.”
Again in 2 Samuel 7:14, the Lord says:
“I will be his father and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the stripes of the children of men.”
God said, “I’m going to be a Father to you and if you commit iniquity I’m going to chasten you just as any father chastens the son that he receives…the son that he loves…” So the Heavenly Father is going to chasten us.
Now, not every time suffering comes is it an indication that I have sinned. It’s not always chastisement. This is why, dear Christian, it is important for you to always live right with God so that when adversity comes and difficulty comes you will be able to know whether or not this is simply God’s trying your faith, or is it God’s punishing you, chastening you, disciplining you because of sin in your life.
The ministry of chastisement…we’re going to look at the ministry, the manner, and the message out of these verses. You follow along as we study what God has to say about this matter of chastisement.
I. The ministry of chastisement.
God not only has a right to chasten us, but He has a reason. God never does anything without a purpose. Notice in verse 10…He’s using a contrast between our earthly fathers and our Heavenly Father… He says our earthly fathers chastened us for a few days…that means while we were living with them…while we were under their leadership, they chastened us “after their own pleasure…” Now, that is an unfortunate translation. That doesn’t mean that the dad got a kick out of doing it. And I say this because I have a feeling some young people are sitting there saying, “I knew it all along. I knew it all along…now I’ve got Scripture to prove the only reason my dad spanked me was because he enjoyed it.” Well, that is not a good translation. Sorry about that. What that means is they chastened us as seemed right or as seemed good to them. And the writer is saying, “Now, they were not always correct in doing it.” And any parent knows that there are times when he chastens the child and he chastens him for a wrong reason more because he’s angry than because they’ve disobeyed…and that’s a sin. And sometimes they’re punished wrongly.
I could write a list of times that I got spanked for something I didn’t do. But I could also make a longer list of the times that I did something when I didn’t get caught and didn’t get spanked for. So, I really have no right to complain about those times that my father and mother misjudged me and misinterpreted the circumstances and perhaps punished me wrongly. It didn’t happen very often, but I have no right to complain about that because actually they were just kind of catching up for all the things they didn’t know about.
This is what the writer is saying. An earthly father and an earthly mother are human…they will err…they punish us…they chasten us as seems good to them and once in a while, they make a mistake, but he says that God never does. The Heavenly Father knows all things, and He chastens us for our profit, for our good. He chastens us in order to make us better, and in order to perfect His purpose within us.
Now, there are basically three reasons the writer gives why God chastens a Christian. There are times in a Christian’s life when God is going to lay the rod to you. Now, chastening is not the everyday trial that you just fall into by circumstance. This is something that God lays on you. This is something God instigates. This is something the Lord inaugurates. He does it! He takes up the whip. He takes up the rod…and He chastens His children.
a) God chastens us in order to prove our sonship.
What is the ministry of chastisement? It proves our sonship.
Over and over again in this passage he says that every true child will share in this chastisement. Verse 8 says that if there is no chastisement then we are illegitimate children. Back in the New Testament days, if a man had an illegitimate child he never gave that child any love, he never gave that child any nurture, he never gave that child any care…he felt no responsibility towards that child. He completely ignored and neglected it.
You know, the Book of Proverbs says that if a man spares the rod and doesn’t chasten and discipline his child, the Bible says he hates that boy. He hates that child. And sometimes I’ve heard parents brag about the fact they never discipline their children. The Word of God says you don’t love them! You know what you love? You love yourself. You love taking the easy way. The difficult way is to take the responsibility and to discipline and to become unpopular with them and to incur their anger and their misunderstanding, but you must do it because you love them and you want them to grow in the way that God wants them to grow. And the parent that does not chasten his child treats his child as an illegitimate child whom he neither loves nor feels any responsibility towards.
God says, “You’re My son! And if you be without chastisement, then you are not My son!” Now, I think you need to stop just a moment. You say, “Preacher, I’ve been listening to you preach for nigh onto six years and you’ve preached this and you have taught this and you have said we’re supposed to live certain ways and be a certain kind of people…I want you to know that I live any way I want to, I do as I please…I come to church once in awhile if it pleases me…I live my own life…I do my own thing…I’m my own boss and I want you to know God has never ever chastened me.” Then, friend, you classify yourself according to verse 7…you are not a child of God. If that professing church member can persistently rebel against God and suffer no chastisement it is evident that he is not a child of God. He’s never been saved. He’s an illegitimate child, spiritually speaking.
I may walk out in the front yard and there are two boys standing out on the street corner, both of them cursing. One of them is my son, and the other one is a neighbor’s boy. Now, I’ll go out there and I’ll punish my son. I won’t fool with the neighbor’s boy. He’s not mine. I may go out in the back yard and there are two children and they’re telling lies. Both of them telling lies. One of them is my child and the other is the neighbor’s child…I’ll leave the neighbor’s child alone…I have no responsibility for that child! I have no right to chasten that child. I will only chasten my child! And the explanation why some people can live a godless life and a careless life and never have any kind of chastening…never have any kind of adversity…everything runs right for them…the explanation is that God never chastens anybody but His own children. The chastening is a proof of our sonship and that ought to be a warning because, dear Christian, you are not going to be able to persistently rebel against the known will of God in your life without suffering the chastening rod of God. Some of you have already felt that…some of you are going to feel it. If you’re a child of God, you’re going to be scourged. You’re going to be chastened when you willfully, knowingly, deliberately persist in your rebellion against God. It is proof of our sonship!
b) God chastens us in order to purge us from our sin.
Look at verses 10 and 11… For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, [and that’s an understatement if I’ve heard one] but grievous: [now, notice…] nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.
Why does God chasten us? To purge us from some unrighteousness in our lives! To purge our sin. Jonah is the great illustration of that. If God had not laid the rod of chastisement against the back of Jonah, Jonah would never have repented. He would never have become obedient. He would never have preached to Nineveh. Nineveh would never have repented. The whole city would have been lost forever! And God had to chasten Jonah in order to purge out that sin of rebellion.
Is there some sin in your life that you continue to hang onto…cling to…love and practice and participate in against all the warnings of God…against all the gentle reproofs of God? Then, what you’re doing…you are forcing God to pick up the rod and to lay it to you in order to purge you of your sins.
c) God chastens us in order to promote our sanctification.
Now look at verse 10:
“…He chastens us for our profit…that we might be partakers of His holiness.”
And this goes onto to say [verse 14] without holiness no man shall see the Lord. Listen, when you came to Jesus Christ and received Him as Lord and Savior God said, “Alright, here’s My plan for you…My plan for you is not to take you to heaven, but to make you holy.” Heaven is thrown in as a dividend…as a fringe benefit. Did you know that? Did you know that heaven is a fringe benefit of salvation? It’s not the main thing! Did you know that? I read in Ephesians 1 where he says He has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy before Him in love without blame…that we should be holy. Well, I thought God predestined me to go to heaven! No, He predestined you to be holy…to be like Jesus…to be a sharer in His holiness and God is going to see to it that you are, whether you want to or not!
I don’t think we’ve ever really realized this. When we come to Jesus Christ, we’re locked in! In other words, if you’ve ever been saved, you’re going to go to heaven whether you want to go or not! And if you’ve ever been saved, you’re going to be holy whether you want to or not! You say, “I will stiffen my neck and I will harden my heart and I will refuse to be exercised by the chastening of the Lord.” Alright, then you’re forcing God to do more. You are His child and our Heavenly Father is not like the sweet namby-pamby, scared, intimated, weak parents we have so much of today who are afraid of their own children.
God isn’t afraid! And God is going to see to it that you become a partaker of His holiness! He wants to make you like Jesus! Because He knows that only as you are holy are you going to be happy. The most miserable person in this building this morning is that Christian, that true born again believer who is outside the will of God!
I emphasize the fact that that true, born again believer, because a professing church member can be just as happy outside the will of God as he can be inside the will of God. And God chastens us and lays the rod to us in order to promote our sanctification. That’s the purpose for which He saved us and He uses every means available to make us holy. The indwelling Spirit, as we yield to His guidance and His leadership makes us holy. But, many times we will not yield to that gentle pressure…that gentle friendly persuasion of the Holy Spirit who indwells us and so God must take up the rod. He says, “I want you be a partaker of My holiness…I’m not going to allow you to dishonor My name…you belong to Me…you’re My son, I’m your Father…I love you and I’m going to chasten you in order to promote your sanctification.” That is the ministry of chastisement.
Okay, let’s look briefly at…
II. The manner of chastisement.
In verses 5 and 6, he uses three different words to describe the discipline of the Father. …do not faint when thou art rebuked of Him… The rebuke is one manner of God’s chastisement. That’s the easiest. That’s the gentle kind. The word of rebuke…this word means to reprove or to convict. How many times when we kneel in prayer all of a sudden God begins to chasten us with a word of rebuke. He begins to convict us and He begins to bear upon us the sorrow for our sinfulness. Now, I believe God always uses this method first. The word of rebuke…from the Bible…from the pastor…from conscience…from the indwelling Spirit…from the feeling of conviction…God first of all uses the gentle word of persuasion…rebuke, conviction.
But, He moves on… My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord… Now, we get our word education from that word chasten. It means to correct and that’s a little bit more severe than just the word of rebuke. Sometimes the word of rebuke is not enough. There has to be some discipline…some measures have to be taken. Some penalties have to be erected.
Then, He uses the word scourge… For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. Now there is nothing gentle about scourging. There is nothing tender about scourging. But when the gentle word of rebuke will not bring us into line with God’s holiness…when the correction of chastisement will not bring us into line with God’s holiness…then, God is forced to pick up the scourge, the rod and He scourges us!
Many times God rebukes us with just our thoughts, our emotions. And then God has to resort to more severe means with physical illness…many times. And yes, even death. You say, “Preacher do you really believe that God will take a Christian, remove a Christian from this world and take him to be with Himself?” I most certainly do! There is no doubt in my mind about it as I study the Word of God.
Listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5. There was a problem in that church at Corinth. There was a man living in immorality and he would not repent and moreover, the church wouldn’t do anything about it. So, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:4-5:
In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Now, he’s not talking about the spiritual flesh, that was crucified on the Cross two thousand years ago. He’s talking here about physical flesh…a man’s life! Paul says that this person who is living in persistent immorality and will not get right and the church will not do anything about it…in the power of the Lord Jesus Christ…we will turn that one over to the devil for the destruction of the flesh that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
Alright, again in 1 Corinthians 10:8-10, here are some illustrations from the Old Testament:
Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, [and tempt means to see how far we can go in sin before God does anything about it…neither let us see how far we can go with Jesus] as some of them also tempted and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.
In 1 Corinthians 11:28… he’s talking about the wrong use of the Lord’s Supper…they’re taking it lightly…:
But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, [there is physical illness and weakness because they were blaspheming the Lord’s table…they were taking the Lord’s Supper with sin unconfessed in their lives…] and many sleep.
For this cause [what cause?…eating and drinking the Lord’s table unworthily, without spiritual examination] many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.
That doesn’t mean they’ve fallen asleep. That means they’re dead. I read in Acts 5 where Ananais and Sapphira came in and they had lied to the Holy Ghost and they were trying to deceive the church that immediately they fell dead…God’s judgment and God’s chastisement upon them!
You say, “Do you really believe that God will take a Christian’s life…take him from this earth?” I say, “I most certainly do!”
God wants you to be a partaker of His holiness and I pray that God will impress upon you the seriousness of this. In verse 5, he says, “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord,” and that word despise means “don’t treat it lightly.” You better not treat lightly the chastening of the Lord! When a child of God persists in his backsliding, in his rebellion, in his disobedience, and God reproves him, God rebukes him, and he doesn’t take it…and God chastens him and he isn’t corrected by it…and God scourges him and he does not repent…the Bible teaches in many cases, God, in order to spare His holy name, will take that child unto Himself and deal with him at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Several years ago I heard a minister illustrate it this way. He said, “Say I go and visit someone and I take my child with me. While we’re sitting in the living room visiting, this child begins to climb on the coffee table and knock over a lamp, get crayons and color on the wall and I tell that child, ‘Now, don’t do that.’ But he still persists in doing that. And after awhile I say, ‘If you do that again, I’m going to spank you.’ And he continues to be unruly and disobedient and so I take off my belt and I spank him. And after awhile he still is unruly, he still is rebellious and finally I cannot control him and it’s embarrassing to me and to my host…I cannot control him and finally I say, ‘Get up. I’m going to take you home. I can’t do anything with you…I’m just going to take you home.’” And I believe that’s what God has to say to some Christians. I believe He has to say, “I’ve tried every way I know to make you behave yourself. I have loved you. I have nurtured you. I have given you every good thing. I have rebuked you. I have chastened you. I can’t make you behave yourself…I’m just going to have to take you home in order to save My holy name.”
This is why he says, “Despise not thou the chastening of the Lord.”
Don’t you treat it lightly!
III. The message of chastisement.
What’s God trying to say to me?
a) It’s a word of comfort.
Verse 6: For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth…
The scalpel that cuts into us is held by the hand of our Heavenly Father who loves us. And no chastening for the present seems to be joyous and we misunderstand…just as a child misunderstands his father’s correction and thinks that the father is correcting him because the father doesn’t love him or because he just enjoys seeing him mistreated and it’s only years later that the child understands that had it not been for the correction, the discipline, imperfect as it may have been, of the father, he would not have grown up to understand and to know how to behave himself in society.
Afterwards, we understand God is doing this for my good. And I want to say this morning that I praise the Lord for the chastening He has dealt out in my own life. If God had not laid the rod to me and chastened me I wouldn’t be here this morning. I thank God that He loves me…and He knows what’s best for me. The message of chastisement is a word of comfort! He is our Father. Notice it always says “father”. The idea of a father-son relationship moves all the way through this passage – not some unknowable, unreachable, uncaring, unfeeling fate…it’s a Father who loves His son!
But, it’s also
b) It is a warning against carelessness.
Notice verse 12…
“Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet…”
“Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.”
The message of chastisement is a warning against carelessness and against careless living…because the Father loves us and chastens every son whom He receives and He scourges us.
There is a ministry of chastisement and God many times must use the chastening rod in my own personal life. I do not believe that God will chasten you for something I’ve done. And I do not believe that God will hurt you for something that I have done. When God chastens, He chastens me personally. Now, in order to make my faith stronger, in order to have the Job kind of suffering, He might allow something to happen to a loved one in order to teach me and strengthen me…but when there’s iniquity in my heart and sin in my heart and rebellion in my heart…God chastens me, not someone I love. He chastens me! He breaks my heart. He puts the rod to me, because of my iniquity.
And many of you here this morning could stand up and give testimony of God’s chastisement. Many of you this morning are going to in later years be able to stand up and say, “God has chastened me. God had to do it. I forced God to do it by my rebellion.”
So, this is the message that I want to leave with you this morning…a word of comfort and a warning against careless. Dear Christian…dear teen-ager…adult…DON’T FORCE GOD TO CHASTEN AND TO SCOURGE…TAKE THE GENTLE WORD OF REBUKE AND CONVICTION.
Let’s pray together…
© Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2005
Text: Hebrews 11:6
By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation, he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith: it is impossible to please him for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
There are some verses in the Bible that stand out as strategic above other verses. All verses, of course are important, but there are some verses that hold a strategic position and are meant to be like a compass to keep us on course. I’m not a pilot, but I have always wanted to be. I could never did get up enough nerve to try it. I have a pilot friend who has a plane, and occasionally, he will fly me to a meeting. When we are in the air, and everything is all right, there are times when he will let me “drive—steer.”
We were going to Oklahoma, and it was a beautiful sunny day. The main thing I wanted to do was keep it upright, I didn’t want to fly upside down. After a while, he said you had better let me take this for a minute. I asked what I was doing wrong. He said, well I told you to watch this instrument. If you keep on going in this direction, we are going to end up in Miami, Florida. That’s why the instruments are there. It seemed to me like I was going the right direction. He said, yes, that is one of the problems. It feels like you are doing right, but you have to watch the compass. I was way off course and going the opposite direction.
You know there are times in the Christian life when you feel like you may be going in the right direction, but you have to keep coming back again and again to the instruments to check yourself to make certain you are on course. It is so easy for us to get off course. There is a way that seems right unto man, but the end thereof is the way of death. There are some verses that I think we need to come back to again and again as our compass to make certain we are on the right course.
It is remarkable that you and I can be pleasing to the Lord. He says in Hebrews 11:6: but without faith it is impossible to please him for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. I know there are some words and phrases we use so frequently that after awhile they lose their cutting edge with us. If familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, it can breed complacency. We are so used to using phrases like pleasing God that I think sometimes we fail to realize what that really means. If you stop and think about it for a moment, it is quite a remarkable feat, that it is possible for you and me to please God; God, who is holy and righteous, so holy the Bible says that he is too pure to even look upon sin, and has such an infinite moral standard. Then you realize how weak and frail and sinful we are by nature. Do you mean to tell me there is a way in which Ican be pleasing to a holy and righteous God whose standard is absolute perfection?
This is even more remarkable when I remind myself that I can’t even please men. Have you ever tried to please people? By the way, that is one of the occupational hazards of a minister, of a pastor. One of the things you must be accomplished in is pleasing everybody in a local Baptist church. They don’t have a course in seminary on that, but they should because that is what you are expected to do. Of course, I found out a long time ago that trying to please people in the church is sort of like trying to put hub caps on a car. Have you ever tried to do that?
A year or so ago we had a new car, and my wife and I had been up in Oklahoma for a meeting, and we were driving back about 1:00 a.m. in the morning when all of a sudden something went wrong. The back end started sagging and fishtailing. I pulled over to the side, and there it was. The tire wasn’t flat, it was just gone—disintegrated—brand new tire. It had just come apart. That will make you lose what little victory you have left. I took off my jacket, got the jack out and pumped the car up and got the tire off. You know how it is. You get that old black dirt all over you, and your white shirt all messed up. I threw the old tire in the truck and put the spare on. Then it was time to put the hub cap back on. I placed it on the tire and hammered it in at the bottom. It went in real nice. So I went up to the top and hammered it in—and it popped out at the bottom. I pounded the bottom in, and it popped out at the top. I tried it from another angle. I went over to the side and hammered it in, and it went in real nice. I started hammering it in on the other side, and it popped out over here. By this time, the sweat was pouring down my face and burning my eyes. My legs were aching, and I was getting frustrated. I was upset and mad at this new car and new tire that had disintegrated. I kept trying to get that hubcap on. Finally, I got so frustrated I stood up and started to throw that thing across the field into a cow pasture. Then I remembered that it cost $135 so I wasn’t going to do that. So I threw it in the trunk and went on. Do you know that the car rode just as good without it. I think the devil invented hubcaps.
Trying to please people is just like trying to put on a hubcap. You try to get crowd A over here pacified and settled down and pleased. About the time you do that, crowd B is upset. So you come over and start working on crowd B. By the time you get crowd B all settled down, crowd A is upset again, so you go back and work on crowd A. About this time, up pops crowd C that you didn’t even know was there.
I found out one day that when I was trying to please men, I was trying to do something that even God himself couldn’t do. But I realized that I could please the Lord. Isn’t that amazing? I can’t please men, but I can please the Lord so I decided to concentrate on pleasing God. I discovered that when I am pleasing to him, he is able to take care of crowds A, B, C, and whatever others may pop up. The fact is that you and I can be pleasing unto the Lord. By the way, that is the purpose for which God has created us. The epitaph upon every Christian life ought to be this: he was pleasing unto the Lord. It doesn’t make any difference what else you may accomplish in your life. I don’t care how active or busy, well liked, or applauded you are in your church. If it cannot be said of you that you are pleasing to the Lord, your life is a failure. That is the test by which you and I need to size up and evaluate our lives. Am I pleasing unto the Lord?
The method by which we please him is remarkable. He says without faith it is impossible to please him. I think if I had been writing that verse, I would have said that without going to church it is impossible to please him. Or without tithing it is impossible to please him. Or without reading your Bible it is impossible to please him. But God says that without faith it is impossible to please him. Notice he doesn’t say that without faith it is hard to please him. He says it is impossible. The tense of those words indicate that it is impossible to please God a single time apart from faith. In other words, apart from faith, there is not a single moment when my life is pleasing to the Lord– regardless of what I may do. I may preach great sermons and sing great songs and lead a great church. But apart from faith not one single thing I do is pleasing and acceptable unto the Lord. The only person or persons in this building who are acceptable unto God and pleasing unto the Lord are those people who know what it means to live in faith. Without faith, it is impossible to please him.
Well, what do you mean by faith? What do I have to believe in order to be pleasing to the Lord. One of the things that I like about the Bible is that it understands our frailty, and God always make it very clear what we are to do and how we are to do it. He opens this statement with these words: without faith it is impossible to please him. And then comes this statement: for he that comes to God must believe. Those two statements can be reversed. In other words, you could turn this verse around and read it in an opposite way, and it would still mean the same thing. You could read it like this: he that comes to God must believe for without faith it is impossible to please him. Pleasing God and coming to God are the same thing. Believing and having faith are the same thing. The phrase coming to God was a worship term. It was used of a priest as he came into the presence of God to worship and offer sacrifice. The life that is pleasing to God is that life that is lived in constant and consistent fellowship and communion with God. In order to do that, he must have faith. He must believe.
Well, what am I to believe? The writer says we must believe two basic things: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. So my sermon has two points.
1) I must believe that God is.
If my life is to be acceptable to God, and if I am to be able to look into the face of God and know that God is pleased with me and accepts me, I must believe that God is. I must believe that God is real. Now, if you just read that carelessly, you might get the idea that the Scripture is saying that we must believe that there is a God—that God exists. But that is not what he is saying at all. He says that he that comes to God must believe that God is. You see, it wouldn’t make any sense if the writer was saying, he that comes to God must believe that there is a God to come to. Friend, you wouldn’t come to him if you didn’t believe there was one to come to. Last week a friend asked me where I am going next week. I said, I am going to Spring, Texas. They had never heard of that city. They didn’t say, is there such a place. If they had, I would have said, no there is not such a place. I’m just going there anyway. The very fact that I say I am coming here indicates I believe there is such a place to come to. You see, it would be superfluous for the writer to say, anybody who is going to come to God must first of all believe there is a God to come to. That doesn’t make sense. Besides the people to whom he is writing are already Christians. They already believe in the existence of God. Folks, there are a lot of people who believe there is a God who are not pleasing to the Lord. Simply believing that God exists really doesn’t mean much. Even the devils believe, and they do more than we do. They tremble over that belief.
I want to read this two different ways, and I think it will help us to understand what he means. First of all, let’s read it like this: He that comes to God must believe that God still is, that God still is. Now, these people to whom the writer is addressing these words were Hebrew Christians. They were undergoing a terrific time of persecution. Actually, the whole passage begins back in chapter 10, verse 32. If you read that last passage, you’ll find these believers are going through a time of persecution, so much so that some of them are about ready to give up. It appears that God has abandoned them. They have committed their lives to Jesus Christ and have been trying to serve him. Now persecution has invaded their lives, and God seems to do absolutely nothing about it. They are weakening and are about to give up and throw in the towel. The writer is penning these words in order to encourage these people to hold on and be steadfast. He says, you must believe that God is. What he means by that is that God still is.
Throughout this eleventh chapter, in order to encourage these people, he is going back in times past to remind them how God has always been faithful to deliver his people. He will go back all the way to Abel, and Enoch, and Noah, and Abraham, and Isaac, and Joshua as examples. Listen, don’t give up, don’t lose heart, don’t faint in well doing. God has always been faithful. Remember what he has done. I think the author had the thought that even while he might be saying those things, there are some people who might be saying, yes, but that’s all history. I know God used to be that way, and God used to work miraculously and supernaturally that way. But, after all, this is a new day. We are a different people. All those examples happened hundreds and thousands of years ago. God doesn’t operate that way anymore. What the writer is saying is that you must believe that God still is. He hasn’t changed one bit. He is still the same God he always was.
I don’t know of many things that modern day Christians need more than this. We somehow have an idea that the God of the Bible is no longer the same God that we worship today. Oh, he’s the same person, but he’s not the same person in his activity. I remember sometime ago I was reading the book of Hebrews, and I came to the eleventh chapter. Over close to the end of the chapter the writer really gets to flying. He really takes off in verse 32 when he says: And what shall I more say? For the time would fail me to tell of . . . so-and-so and so-and-so. Then he does what most preachers do. He talks about what he doesn’t have time to talk about. He says that he doesn’t have time to tell them all this, and then he goes on and tells them. In verses 33- 35 he says: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again . . . .
I got to reading that and I began to soar in my spirit. About that time, that little voice that always seems to be lurking in the back of my mind said, well, of course, you don’t expect God to work that way today, do you. Immediately, I agreed with him. Of course not! We don’t expect God to work that way today. It is one thing to read about the miraculous works that God did on behalf of his people thousands of years ago, or even several hundred years ago when we hear about these great saints of the past. But, the majority of us somehow have the idea that God no longer works that way today. If we are going to get out of a mess we are in, it is going to be because of our cleverness, or our ingenuity, or our education, or our sophistication, or our new formulas or plans. We don’t really expect God to work that way.
As I sat there that night, I wondered where I got that idea and started searching the Bible. If I didn’t believe that idea from God, then I am going to stop believing it. . Do you know what I discovered? I never got that idea from the Bible. I got that idea from preachers and teachers who were trying to somehow explain away a powerless life and an impotent church. . I decided it was time for us to stop interpreting the Bible in the light of our experience and start interpreting our experience in the light of the Word of God. It is time that we tried to bring our experience up to the level of the Word of God. You and I are contemporaries with Abraham, and Isaac, and Moses, and Joshua, and Paul, and Peter.
When you pray tonight, you are praying to the same God. He hasn’t changed one bit. He still wants to do for you what he did for them. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But I know how it is when you and I pray. We pray from a position that God really has somehow semi-retired, and he has abandoned those former methods and is now working some other way. The majority of us never, ever expect God to work in a supernatural, miraculous way in our lives. What the writer is saying is this: you must believe that God still is.
I love that Scripture where he says that he is running to and fro over the face of the earth, looking for someone in whom he can show himself to be strong. I’ll tell you the reason God doesn’t seem to be doing those things today is because he can’t find anybody who will believe him for it. I think the first thing the writer is saying is this: you have got to believe that God still is.
2) I must believe that God is, even when it looks like he isn’t.
But there is something that I think is even more important. If I am going to live a life that is pleasing to God, not only must I believe that God still is, but I must believe that God is, even when it looks like he isn’t. God is. That is an affirmation of faith. That is an affirmation made in the dark when you can’t see. It is standing in the midst of the rubble of your life, when there are no visible evidences that God is anywhere around, and still by faith saying: God is, even when it looks like he isn’t.
You see, to these people, it looked like God wasn’t. Where was the evidence of God? Where were God’s miracles? Why isn’t God delivering us? Why isn’t God protecting us? To all these folks, it began to look as though God was not. I think the writer is primarily saying that the kind of faith that pleases God is the kind that says it still believes that God is, even when it looks like he isn’t.
I have news for you. There are going to be some times when it is going to look like God isn’t. Oswald Chambers wrote that there are times when God withdraws his conscious blessings in order to teach us to trust him more perfectly. I don’t think God ever withdraws his blessings, but I think there are times when God withdraws his conscious blessings where we are not as aware of God’s work and God’s presence. But the kind of faith that pleases God is the kind of faith that doesn’t need constant additional information or confirmation, but believes that God is, even when it looks like he isn’t.
One of my favorite Old Testament characters is the man by the name of Gideon. Over in Judges, chapter 6, they are under the Midianite yoke of bondage. Gideon is there one night, hiding some food, and it is a very dangerous time for them—almost at the point of famine. Gideon is risking his life out at night hiding that food. Suddenly, there appears an angel of the Lord. The angel said, hail, thou mighty man of valor, the Lord is with thee. And Gideon said, Oh my Lord, if the Lord be with us, then why have all these things befallen us? and where are all his miracles? You see, Gideon’s theology was very simple. He said that if God is with us, then nothing bad will happen to us. If the Lord be with us, then tell me why have all these things befallen us. You see, Gideon no longer believed that God was with him. Why? Because it didn’t look like God was with him. From all appearances it looked as though God had somehow abandoned him.
Do you remember what Habakkuk the prophet said? They were in a terrific situation. The Chaldeans had surrounded the city and were laying siege to it. If God didn’t intervene, they were going to be lost. You read over the first chapter where Habakkuk begins to pray to the Lord. Well, it’s not as much as a prayer as it is a complaint. He says, how long, O Lord, will I cry unto you? Lord, why don’t you do something? I have been praying and praying. Lord, the Chaldeans are at the gate. God, if don’t do something about the Chaldeans, they are going to destroy us. In verse 5 God says, I have been working, and I am going to tell you what it is, but you won’t like it when you hear it. Here’s what I have been doing. I’ve been raising up the Chaldeans. The point is that the very thing that caused Habakkuk to think that God wasn’t at work was the very work that God was doing. I have been working. I have been raising up the Chaldeans. What we need to understand, friend, is that God is always at work—whether we see him or not.
Every once in awhile, someone will come to me, and say, Oh, Bro. Dunn, God has finally started working in our church. God is always at work. What we mean by that is that God has finally started behaving himself the way we want him to behave. God has finally started doing the things we wanted him to do. Listen, God is always at work. You may not see it. You may not recognize it, but God is always at work. I am telling you that there will come times in your Christian experience when it is going to look as though God isn’t. That is going to be the real test of your faith.
I remember a few years ago we had a family in our church. One of their boys had gotten into trouble again and again.. This time he got into really big trouble. They put him in jail, and were going to bring him to trial. That father called meone day and said, I want you to go down to the jail with me. We are going to meet with the judge, and the lawyer, and the probation officer. What he wanted me to do, of course, was try to get the boy off—didn’t want him to be sent to prison. I had a little problem with that. One of his problems might have been that he had gotten by with too much. I didn’t really know the right thing to do. I went down, but I knew we couldn’t get him released because he was in real trouble. We talked, and, of course, nothing was accomplished. As we drove home, the father said, I’m just praying that God is going to deliver my boy from this. I’m believing and praising God and thanking God in advance. He did all the things the books tell you to do to get what you want out of God.
About a week later I got a telephone call, and the voice on the other end of the line said, I want you to take my name off the church roll. I asked who it was, and it was that father. They had sentenced his boy to prison and he was through with God.
You see, some of us will serve God as long as God jumps through our hoops and does exactly what we want him to do. Then when it looks as though God isn’t walking according to our schedule and marching according to our drumbeat, and we cannot see the evidence of God’s blessing, we give up But the kind of faith that God wants is the kind of faith that says, I believe God is, even when it looks like he isn’t.
Don’t ever doubt in the dark what God told you in the light. There will come times of darkness. I love that hymn that says: When darkness seems to hide his face, I rest on his unchanging grace. Charles Spurgeon said: When I cannot trace God’s hand, I can always trust God’s heart. He says the kind of faith that God accepts, and is pleasing to the Lord, is that kind of faith that remains steadfast and believes that God still is, even when it looks like he isn’t.
So the first thing that he says is that you must believe that God is real. The second is this: and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. You’ve got to believe two things. 1) You have got to believe that God is real. 2) You’ve got to believe that God is a rewarder.
We aren’t going to take time to talk about the fact that God is a rewarder, but he is. I know that there are times when we don’t like to think about that because it seems to be a little bit trash and commercial. But, folks, God makes it very clear that God is a rewarder—that God does have a reward. I think what the writer is saying to these people is this: Listen, it may look as though you are wasting your time to serve God. It may look as though you are wasting your time in seeking the Lord, but nobody ever wastes their time in seeking God because God is no man’s debtor; he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him. It is always worthwhile to turn your heart to the Lord. I don’t care what happens, how bleak the circumstances may be, it doesn’t how much it may seem that God isn’t doing anything. God is a rewarder of those who will faithfully and diligently seek him.
You remember that day when the rich young ruler came to Jesus, and Jesus told him the qualifications? Finally, he went away. Jesus said it is mighty hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven for it is so hard for them to give up their possessions. Peter said, Lord, what about us? Look how much we’ve given up. What about us, Lord?
I like Peter. He never missed a chance to make a few points. It was as though he thought the Lord didn’t know, that he had to keep telling the Lord how good he was.. By the way, have you ever noticed how much of your praying is your trying to convince God to see things your way? Analyze your last prayer. I guarantee if you are an average Christian that most of your praying is trying to get God to see things as you see them.
Jesus looked at him and said, nobody has given up houses or lands or children or wife but that it will not be restored in this life one hundred fold, and in the world to come, life everlasting. Jesus was saying, Peter, don’t talk to me about giving up. Don’t talk to me about sacrifice. You’ve not given up anything. Whatever you’ve given up, I am going to see that you get it back a hundred fold in this world, and in the life to come, life everlasting.
In the final analysis, there is no such thing as our ever giving up anything for the Lord. I have never really given up anything for him. He has given me back so much, it is impossible for me to really sacrifice for the Lord because he refuses to be any man’s debtor. He is a rewarder of those that diligently seek him.
Now, there are two things I want you to notice.
1) He is a rewarder of those that diligently seek him. Some of the other translations have left out the word diligently, and just say, they that seek him. The word translated seek there is a very intense word. It means to seek out, to keep on searching until you find it. He is a rewarder of those that diligently seek him. The Lord will not allow himself to be found, and he withholds his blessings from those who just make a half-hearted search, a half-hearted effort.
Every once in awhile, I will come back to a church where I’ve been a meeting before. Occasionally somebody will come up to me and say, preacher, when you were here last time, I listened to everything you said, and I did it, and it didn’t work. Invariably, as I talk to them, I discover that what they made was a half-hearted search.
We have had three children. When they were small, I wasted a lot of money on Christmas gifts. I wish I had known years ago what I know now about buying Christmas gifts. Around Christmastime, we would say to our kids, you make out a Christmas list so we’ll know what you want and we’ll try to get it for you. It would take a train to carry their Christmas list. Do you know what they were doing? They would sit in front of the television, and every time some game or toy was advertised, they would write it down. Even if they didn’t know what it was, they would just write it down. How do you know what your child really wants, what is really important to them, what is really a heart’s desire, or what is really a passing fancy? I discovered that my kids looked upon me as a slot machine. There are two kinds of slot machine players. I know none of you know anything about this, and I just read it somewhere. There are those that just happen to pass by a machine. They are not real gamblers and will just throw in something. Who knows? You might get lucky and hit the jackpot. Then there are those who pull up a chair between two of those slot machines, arm themselves with a bucket of coins, and go at it. Well, I discovered something. I might be sitting reading the paper, and one of my kids would come by and say, hey, dad, can I have such and such.. I would say no, and it was the last I would hear about it. I knew then that they didn’t really want it very badly. One night I was sitting in the den, reading the newspaper, and my son Steve (then about seven years old) came and asked me for something. I forget now what it was, but I said, no you can’t have that.. I went back to reading my paper. After a moment, I realized that Stephen was still standing there. So I lowered the paper, and he was standing there rocking back and forth on his heels, and just playing with his fingers. I said, son, what are you doing? He said, waiting for you to change your mind. If they just ask once and take an easy no as an answer, I know they didn’t really mean it. But when they refused to take no for an answer, and say I’m going to hang in there no matter what, I know then that means something to them.
Both parables that Jesus gave us concerning prayer emphasize that stubborn persistence that refuses to let go, and refuses to take no for an answer, and says I will grab hold of the horns of the altar, and I will cling to them until God meets my need and answers my prayer. That’s what he is talking about. It is the desire that is so intense and deep that we refuse to settle for anything less than what God has for us. I am convinced that one reason that God will delay giving us the answer to our prayer and delay meeting our needs and solving our problems is that he is testing us to see how strong is our desire.
You see, God may have rebellious children, but he doesn’t have any spoiled children. You know how you spoil a child, don’t you? By giving them everything they want too easily, and they don’t appreciate it. God doesn’t have any spoiled children. He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
The other thing that I want you to notice is that the Scripture says, he is a rewarder of those that diligently seek reward. Now, do you realize that I read that wrong? That is not what it says. It says he is a rewarder of those that diligently seek, not the reward, but him. This is crucial. Interesting thing! The Bible never tells us to seek anything other than him. Over in Jeremiah 29 the people are in captivity, but he says, you will be free when you seek me with all of your heart. He didn’t say that you’ll be free if you seek freedom. I find that today we are seeking everything else. You say if you need healing, what you ought to seek is healing. If I need financial help from God, that’s what I ought be seeking. If I need a blessing, that’s what I ought to seek. No, the Bible says he is a rewarder of those that diligently seek, not the reward, but him. It is simply the kind of faith that recognizes that God is better than anything he can give you. The Giver is greater than the gift. The Blesser is greater than the blessing. I know that there are times when God has had to withhold the blessing from us because what we have been wanting above all else is the reward.
I was in Memphis, Tennessee, a few years ago in a meeting. I got an interesting phone call from a man in that city who was a member of a Baptist church. He asked me if I would come over and anoint him with oil and pray for his healing. Baptist preachers don’t get too many calls like that. It’s not the common thing for us. He wanted the singer and me both to come over. We got there and began to talk to him and found out the man had a physical problem that had something to do with his hip and leg. He had been operated on two or three times, but he still didn’t have any relief and had to walk on crutches. Eery time some preacher came to town, it didn’t matter what brand he was, whether it was brand X or brand Baptist, he would call them to come over and anoint him with oil and pray for him. I believe God heals, but if he wants to heal somebody, he can do it. He doesn’t need 73 different men to come along. He had done everything and still wasn’t healed. I asked him, why he wanted to be healed You may think that is sort of a ridiculous question, but it wasn’t. He said, well, I belong to a prayer group. We meet every Monday night. Everybody in that prayer group has a healing testimony except me. Do you know what was happening? The rest of his prayer group was beginning to doubt his spirituality because he couldn’t get healed. I believe the reason God wasn’t healing that man was because he was seeking the reward and not the rewarder.
I talked with a woman in Mobile, Alabama. Her husband had left her five or six years ago. She said that for five years she had prayed every day and every night that God would bring him back to her.. She prayed earnestly, and believed as best she knew how to believe. She said he remarried a month ago. God didn’t answer my prayer. You know, that’s tough. I said, well, you spent five years praying and in the end God didn’t answer your prayer. Do you consider that you have wasted five years of praying. She said, oh, no, during that five years of seeking the Lord and praying, I got so much from the Lord, and learned so much about the Lord, and he has done so much for me. Oh, no, it’s not wasted. I don’t understand why God did it this way, but I have come to know him well enough now not to question what he has done.
All my life and my ministry I have preached that when you pray, God answers. I believe that. I think there are times when he does not answer because it has something to do with his will that I may not understand. But, you see, I’ve always been of the opinion that my faith feeds on those answers, and for my faith to be sustained, I have to have answers along the way. Boy, there is nothing that increases my faith like seeing God answer prayer but I believe I am partially wrong on that. I don’t think faith needs answers to survive; all it needs is prayer, whether God answers it or not. The kind of faith he is talking about here is the kind of faith that keeps on praying when God doesn’t answer.
Someone came to interview me a while back. They asked me some theological questions. I said, wait just a minute. I must confess to you that I do not know the answers. As a matter of fact, I think I know less of the answers now than I have ever known. They said, doesn’t that bother you. I said, no, it doesn’t because when I lost the answers I gained a greater knowledge of the Lord so that the answers are not as important as they used to be. When you know somebody, you don’t need to know that much about him. This kind of faith—the life that can walk with God in any situation—is the kind of faith that sings while it is in prison. It doesn’t wait to sing when it gets out of prison.
I went on reading in this eleventh chapter of Hebrews one day, and I stopped too soon. Beginning in verse 35 he says:
Women received their dead raised to life again: and others (You ought to underline those two words: and others.) were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (I wonder how some of these people that preach health and wealth are going to handle some verses like these.) (Of whom the world was not worthy: they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
You see, what God showed me there is that some people’s faith enables them to escape, but with others their faith enables them to endure. The same kind of faith that brought deliverance to some brought death to others. We wouldn’t say the second category had any less faith than the first category, would we? It’s all the same faith. You see, it’s the kind of fellowship and relationship with God that continues to believe and rejoice no matter how God works in their lives. Why? Because they are not seeking the reward, they are seeking him.
He goes on to give an illustration of this. Notice in verses 8-10 he says:
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned (lived as an alien) in the land of promise, as in a strange (foreign) country, dwelling in tabernacles (tents) with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
Now, there is a certain phrase that just leaped out at me one day. It is the phrase in verse 9 that says that by faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise. He lived like a foreigner in his own land. One day God came to Abraham and said, get up and leave. I’m going to take you into a country you don’t know about, and I am going to give it to you for an inheritance. It will be yours and your seed’s forever and ever. That appealed to Abraham because he was a man who knew a good deal when he saw one. He was already a wealthy man. Anybody would be a fool not to follow God under those conditions. So Abraham gathered his family and flock together and started out. They traveled and traveled and all this time God was drawing Abraham to himself. God never calls us to a country; he calls us to himself. It always puzzled me why Abraham said to Lot when they were ready to separate: Lot, you look out upon the land and you choose first. It takes some kind of fellow to make that kind of decision. You choose first. Take the best, and I’ll take whatever is left over. When Abraham finally got there, and God delivered him to his own country, God said, this is your home. It will be yours forever. What did Abraham do? Did he start living like a resident? Did he start living like a citizen. No! The Bible says he lived as an alien, like a foreigner, in his own land.
I believe that God wanted to call Abraham into a deeper fellowship and knowledge of himself and he had to use a carrot to get Abraham going—like he does with most of us. I think the land was the carrot that God held in front of Abraham to get him to move out. But that really wasn’t what God ultimately had in mind, not simply to give him the land. In all that time of travel, Abraham got to know God. Finally, when he got to the land, and God said, this is your land, suddenly Abraham had changed. He looked at that land and said, Lord, thank you very much. When we first started out on this trip, I thought this is it. This is what I want. This will satisfy me. I can hardly wait. But, you know, Lord, I’ve discovered something else. There is something better than the land. There is something beyond the land. Lord, I can’t live as though this land is my home because I know there is another land where you are. That’s what I’m looking for.
You see, Abraham started out seeking the land, and he ended up seeking the Lord. God’s purpose is never achieved in our lives until our chief delight is in him and him alone. He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him to love him, to love him for himself.
What if God were to suddenly turn off all the blessings in your life? Would you still praise him? You tithe because you believe, and God promises that he will supply your needs and multiply it and you will have more left with the 90 percent than with the 100 percent. I want to ask you a question. What if God didn’t do that? What if the only thing I could promise you tonight is if you gave God 10 percent of your income, you would have 10 percent less. Would you still tithe? It might be a good thing some day if the government takes away tax credits for gifts to the church. We might discover who really loves the Lord and who loves tax credits.
He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him. The life that is pleasing to God and can walk in constant fellowship and communion with God is that kind of life that says I believe God is real, even when it looks like he isn’t, and I believe it is always worthwhile to seek him. I know that he is a rewarder of those that diligently seek him. Can I come to the place tonight where I can say like Charles Wesley: Thy gifts alone cannot suffice unless thy self be given, for thy presence is paradise, and where you are is heaven. It is the Lord himself—to seek him, to know him, to love him, regardless of anything else that may happen. That’s the kind of faith that is pleasing to the Lord.
© Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2006
Text: Hebrews 10:32-39
“Bible promises,” said Spurgeon, “are checks drawn on Heaven’s Bank that we endorse with faith and present to God for payment.
True–but sometimes the checks are postdated! It’s upsetting to find that God doesn’t operate according to our time schedule. Assuming God will respond immediately to our prayers, we rise from our knees expecting to find the answer waiting for us. But more often than not, there is a waiting period between the asking and the receiving. And this presents a problem to twentieth century believers. In these days of instant coffee and instant credit we have a low tolerance for delay. “Tomorrow,” says Eric Hoffer, “has become a dirty word.”
The interim between asking and receiving is a precarious time for believers. Our faith droops, our feelings sell out to the enemy and doubt unpacks its suitcase for an extended visit.
C. S. Lewis said, “Faith is the art of holding on to things your reasons once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.” When everything we once easily believed suddenly seems improbable and illogical, it is this “hanging-on” faith that holds us on course and keeps us anchored to the unfailing promises of God.
The 10th chapter of Hebrews deals with this “hanging-on” faith and shows us how to wait for the promise. The Christians to whom the author wrote were facing persecution so severe their faith was threatened with collapse. Some were even talking of defecting. To shore up the walls of their collapsing faith and to enable them to emerge from this trial, the author reminds them of their previous trials and how they overcame them. He speaks of a “great reward” (v. 35) and of receiving “what was promised” (v. 36). The entire passage dovetails into the last phrase in verse 36; that is the end toward which everything moves: “that you may receive what was promised.” He is telling them what they must do if they are to receive what was promised.
I. THERE MUST BE CONFIDENCE BASED ON GOD’S PAST FAITHFULNESS. “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.” (v. 35) Confidence, sometimes translated “boldness”, is one of the great words of the bible and is a chief characteristic of believers. It means conspicuous courage in the face of adversity. Confidence is Job declaring, “Though He slay me, yet will I serve Him.” It is Paul and Silas singing praises in prison. It is the apostle standing on board a sinking ship and saying, “I believe God.”
These Hebrew Christians are exhorted to “remember the former days” (vs. 32), days of persecution following their conversion to Christ. Though they were stripped of their possessions they found God’s grace sufficient. Their greatest possession, their wealth in Christ, could never be plundered. Possessing nothing, they possessed everything. Loss of all worldly goods failed to diminish their assets. Bankrupt but rich, they were wealthy paupers.
And now it was happening again. “remember!” cries the author. “remember the former days.” The past with its record of God’s faithfulness is our greatest defense against present discouragement.
We preserve our confidence by remembering. The exhortation to remember is one of the most frequent in the Bible. It is the watchword of faith.
How easily we forget the goodness of God. I recall more than one instance when having been delivered by God’s grace at the eleventh hour, I vowed, “I’ll never doubt God again.” But a few weeks later when another seemingly insoluble situation loomed on the horizon, I found myself cowering in the corner of self-pity, whimpering and whining. Forgetfulness is definitely hazardous to your faith.
Let me encourage you to start a Book of Remembrances. Most bookstores have hardcover books filled with blank pages. Use it to record all the instances of God’s help and deliverances and answers to prayer. Paper is cheaper than brains. A chronicle of God’s dealings and deliverances may someday mean the difference between victory and defeat.
II. THERE MUST BE OBEDIENCE TO GOD’S PRESENT WILL. “For you have need of endurance so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.” (v. 36)
Faith is not idle; it works while it waits, we can expect God to fulfill His promise only if we fulfill His will.
The Psalmist links faith and obedience when he says, “Trust in the Lord, and do good.” (Psalm 37:4) Doing good is proof we are trusting the Lord. If the circumstance through which we are passing disturbs us to the point we can’t carry on in daily obedience and duty, then we have not really trusted the matter to Him. Satan’s strategy is to distract us from the will of God by paralyzing us with fear and anxiety.
While we are waiting for God in His own time, to fulfill His promise, we must keep our obedience up to date. Spurgeon, discussing why God delays the answer to certain prayers, suggests the possibility that “we have not yet performed a duty which will become the turning point of our condition. The Lord turned again the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends…Some ordinance of the Lord’s house may lie neglected, or some holy work may be left undone; and this may hinder the promise. Is it so?” Is your obedience up to date?
III. THERE MUST BE PATIENCE FOR GOD’S FUTURE WORK. “For you have need of endurance (patience), so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.” (v.36)
The third condition for receiving the promise is patience, often translated “patience.” This is the bridge between doing the will of God and receiving the promise. Receiving what God has promised depends upon not only doing the will of God, but “enduring” after His will has been done. Many fail to receive because they fail to endure.
The writer is using the language of the athlete. A football team may lead their opponents by a hundred points but if they grow weary and quit after the third quarter, they will forfeit the game. We may be filled with confidence; we may obey all God’s commands, but if we lack patience, it is all for nothing.
This patience, which Philo calls the “queen of virtues,” is more than simply waiting or passive resignation. Barclay says that “there is no single English word that transmits all the fullness of its meaning. The Greek word literally means, ‘an abiding under,’ and contains the ideas of steadfastness, constancy, staying power.” Rather than being passive, biblical patience is a lively outgoing power of faith, an active energy.
This word is most often used in connection with trials. In classical Greek it was used of the ability of a plant to live under hard and unfavorable circumstances. If, as the writer says, we NEED endurance, then we can expect to encounter difficulty. depend on it: faith never escapes testing. It is only by the testing of our faith that Christian character is produced. And isn’t that the real goal of everything in our Christian experience?” Isn’t the important thing, not that we “get the blessing” but that our character is perfected? James tells us to count it all joy when we fall into various trials (James 1:2) but we can do this only if character means more to us than comfort.
This patience contains the quality of expectation. It is not waiting, hoping God will answer; it is waiting, knowing God will answer.
With God timing is more important than time. He knows what He is about. And we must wait with patience–expectant, excited endurance–for God to fulfill His promise in His time.
Whatever the reason for the delay, rest assured that God’s timing is perfect and that His delays are as much a part of His redemptive purpose as are His fulfillments. And if we learn the art of “waiting for the promise” we may discover the delay to be a greater blessing than the fulfillment. With God it is often “better late than ever.”
©Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2001