Faith – An Exhortation
Before partaking of the emblems we have to examine ourselves. Paul commands us: “Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith.” It is a matter of personal self-examination to see how we are doing. We have to measure ourselves against Christ, and also those faithful ones – our fellow-servants – listed in Hebrews 11, so let us turn to that chapter.
John emphasised the necessity of faith when he said: “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith,” and in verse 6 of Hebrews 11 we read “Without faith it is impossible to please him,” that is God. We show the degree of our faith by our lives, for faith without works is dead. The word faith is the same word sometimes translated ‘belief’. This, of course, is not the loose sloppy belief of orthodoxy but the deep-rooted, solid trust in God that moves us in our lives to do things contrary to the natural inclinations of the flesh.
Verse 1 tells us that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”, rendered by Bro Thomas as “Faith is the confident anticipation of things hoped for, a full persuasion of things not seen.” As we shall see, the promises made to the faithful were abstract promises in the sense that they were not based, naturally speaking on concrete fact. Abraham and Sarah, for example, were incapable of having children, but because God said they would have a son, Abraham “staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief (he was not faint-hearted), but was strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully persuaded that what he had promised, he was able also to perform”. Hence faith gives substance – the real material essence of reality. Faith is not mere confidence, it is a conviction of the existence of things promised, so much so that in the mind and actions of the believer the thing promised already exists, it is so certain of fulfilment.
The opposite of faith is disbelief, doubt, no confidence. Doubt and uncertainty are the basic causes of worry – being over-anxious about things. We are naturally all apprehensive at times; even the faithful in our chapter had moments of strength and others of weakness, depression and despair. But because of their faith, they finally triumphed. Faith will enable us to overcome the present anxieties and set our minds on the realities of the future.
Lack of faith is often caused by exercising unnecessary concern for the things of this present life. Hence Paul exhorts: “I would have you without carefulness,” or, “Do not be full of care for present things.” The word ‘care’ here indicates ‘a wearing, painful sense of anxiety, anxiousness or worry.’ And Paul again tells the Philippians, “Be careful for nothing.” Jesus gently chided Martha because she was cumbered, or distracted, by the anxiety of much preparation and serving of the meal. “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things, but one thing is needful.” And what was that one thing? It was her faith.
Mary was listening intently to Jesus’ words that God had given him to speak, and Paul says: “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” so the lesson is that it is more important to listen to the word of God, and increase our faith than to get over-anxious about the domestic arrangements of everyday life. This over-anxiety affects brothers and sisters, yet God has promised never to leave or forsake us. Although we may not always show the degree of faith we should, there is no question about the reality of God’s promise to us of places in the Kingdom. The problem is that our lives and actions do not always reveal that we are expecting it to be accomplished soon. We fail, we must fail, because the kingdom cannot be earned, it is God’s gift to those who worship Him. Jesus died so that, in spite of our failings, by faith we can obtain forgiveness of our sins and so enter the kingdom.
Every place in the new order will be fantastic. No longer will we be shadows, feeble reflections of Christ, but perfect replicas in the dazzling splendour of immortality, constituent parts of the very Godhead itself. Of course, this is all beyond our finite comprehension, but by faith we know that it will become a reality. It is what we live, work, long and pray for. The worthies of old, in confident anticipation likewise worked because, as we have already quoted, “Faith without works is dead.” So we see in their lives a living active faith. In verse 4 of chapter 11 we read that Abel offered; v7, Noah prepared; v8, Abraham went out. Because of their faith they did something. Verse 4 tells us that it was by faith that Abel offered in the way God required, whereas Cain worshipped God in the way he thought best. Both, however, worshipped God. Cain offered of the fruit of the earth according to his own taste: the things that he thought were appropriate. It is the same today. A person may think he is serving God but unless the service is according to His (God’s) will, it is of no use.
Paul said: “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.” Cain had a self-confident faith instead of a faith that worketh by love. Abel was humble enough to accept that he was sinful and worthy of death; in the slaying of the animal, he acknowledged the fact that without the shedding of blood forgiveness was impossible. By faith, Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts, “and through it he being dead, still speaks.” It was his offering which justified him and so constituted him righteous. He realised that the sacrifices pointed forward to the work of Christ.
Paul says of Jesus: “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past.” We likewise have faith in the blood of Jesus Christ to cleanse us from our sins.
Bro Maxwell Choongo (Kasaka, Zambia)