Hebrews 11 is famously known as the “Hall of Faith” chapter of the Bible where the faith of several prominent Old Testament characters is put on full display as an encouragement to the downtrodden and weary-hearted to maintain their devotion to the Lord. The argument seems to be that all these folks had to base their faith on were promises from God. But we have both the promises AND their fulfillment to look to for reasons to believe (Hebrews 11:39-12:2). So how much more, after seeing the example of those who came before us, should our faith in Christ be all the more resilient despite our circumstances?
The Old Testament is full of many great examples of faith. Who hasn’t read the story of Abraham and Isaac and thought, “there’s no way I’d be able to do that!”? You can’t read the story of Noah and wonder how he didn’t decide to throw in the towel even though the whole world told him he was crazy. Reading this chapter, and pondering the stories of the ancient heroes of faith, makes me consider my own faith and how I’ll be remembered. Is my name being recorded in some book somewhere? Are people around me noticing the good things I do for the Lord? Am I better know for my faith than my fear?
Some of these questions arise out of pride and are more vain than others. But even still, the author of Hebrews mentions that all of these people received “the commendation of faith”, so shouldn’t we try and do the same?
When I consider this, I want my commendation to be because of some heroic feat of trust and sacrifice that I make. I want to be know as someone whose faith is powerful and vibrant and alive—a faith that makes people turn their heads, lend their ear, and open their heart.
A faith kind of like this:
“Through faith [they] conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” – Hebrews 11:33-34
Here, the author of Hebrews tells us about the power of faith. And if I’m honest, I want to just stop reading the chapter right there and just hope against all hope that my faith will be remembered and commended for great acts such as these.
But the author of Hebrews didn’t stop there, and neither should we. Describing the other side of the coin, he continues:
“Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” – Hebrews 11:35-38
The author of Hebrews told us about the power of faith, but here he also describes for us the price of faith. Some of the faithful experienced the power of faith, while others paid the price of faith. Yet, all of these were “commended for their faith” (v.39).
My heart wants the power of faith, and I don’t believe it’s a bad thing to pursue that sort of display of faith and to earnestly seek it. But right now, the world has stopped, and for the vast majority of us, there aren’t very many glamorous ways to display the power of our faith. There aren’t many lions for us to fend off, there aren’t foreign armies that we can wage war against, there aren’t any swords being flung our way. Instead of armor, we’re donning facemasks. Instead of swords, we’re wielding Lysol. Instead of charging into battle, we’re siloing ourselves off in our homes.
So, right now, it seems that instead of some show-stopping display of power, the most viable opportunity I have to display my faith, the best way that I can open up myself to be used by God in a miraculous way, may be through endurance, through struggle, through pain and isolation and suffering. It looks like for now the best way I can display my faith is to patiently withstand this seemingly never-ending onslaught of disruption and fear and crisis and loneliness.
But even that, too, is commendable in the sight of God. What other hope offers this?
So whether it is through a magnificent show of power or the payment of a costly price, may we all seek the commendation of faith, no matter how we are destined to display it.
Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash