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