What the Reward for Faith Looks Like

When I was in elementary school I was in a community swim league. Other than the Speedo and practices, I liked swimming. I was super strong in the backstroke.  All those tedious practices paid off with my first blue ribbon. After all these years, I still have it.

At the end of a race there is a trophy or ribbon. At the completion of a test there is a grade or a diploma. At the close of a performance there is an applause or a pat on the back. Yet what is the reward for faith?

You don’t often see the authors of the Scripture making public apologies about their writings. However, the author of Hebrews gives an apology for listing the final heroes of faith in rapid order (Hebrews 11:32). He said there were simply too many names to list and too little time to talk about them. Thankfully their stories are recorded in canon of Scripture (vs.33-34). This is your reminder to go an read about them.

“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith 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. Women received back their dead by resurrection. 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 11:32-37, ESV

Although each person listed had their failures, the common thread between each judge, king and prophet was faith being their victory over death (v. 35). A hero or heroine often does not get to see the reward of his work in his lifetime (v. 39). Sometimes he dies in battle before the victory. Sometimes he is marginalized or even martyred (vs.36-38). The images of persecution and imprisonment pile up to convince us along with the first readers of this letter that the experiences of these men and women are no different than ours (cf. 10:32–34). Their names are here to encourage you to persevere in faith for the reward of faith is greater than what one can achieve in this lifetime (v. 40).

“And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” – Hebrews 11:39-40, ESV

It was said “the world was not worthy of” these people of great faith (v. 38), but they had the assurance that they were moving toward a greater goal. Again we enter the realm of “something greater,” and with that to rejoice in, to live for and fight for. The reward for faith is God. What better reward is there?

Hebrews 11 is here for you on look backward on the faith of yesterday in order to press forward in faith today. Press on! The greatest reward is yet to come!

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What might the writer of Hebrews have said about these men if there had been more time?
  • Why do you think God chose to work through these people (e.g. Gideon, Samson, David) despite their faults and failures? What does this tell you about God?
  • How does faith enable you to seek only God’s approval rather than the world’s approval? How could God be more glorified by not delivering you from suffering than from delivering you from it? Does this give you more or less confidence in God?
  • What do Christians have to look forward to? How can you take the knowledge of your inheritance to come and use it to help you to be courageous and faithful in times of trial?
  • If you knew that you wouldn’t receive any earthly rewards for your faith, how would that affect the way you live? Knowing that you will ultimately receive a promised blessing, does that make faith easier or more difficult when challenges arise?
  • In what ways does the list of the faithful in Hebrews 11 encourage you? Challenge you? Intimidate you? If you were to add your own name to this list based on the way in which you’ve shown great faith, how would that entry read?
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What Faith in Action Looks Like

Faith is a crucial piece of our relationship with God. We don’t always understand God or what he is doing. Sometimes we may feel like we are up against a wall or we feel like we are being run down by a fierce army and God is nowhere to be seen.

Moses’ story is amazing from start to finish. As an act of faith his parents sent him down the Nile River in a basket (v.23). Moses was found by Pharaoh’s daughter and grew up in Pharaoh’s home (v.24). By faith he gave up the luxuries of Egypt to help let his people go free (vs.25-26). By faith Moses listened to God and obeyed his commands (vs.27-28). What God prepared Moses for was an amazing journey of faith marked by miracle after miracle.

“By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.” – Hebrews 11:24-27, ESV

Faith acts. With Pharaoh and his army charging after the slaves they just let go the people had a choice: freak out or have faith. By faith the Hebrews crossed the Red Sea on dry ground (v.29). No doubt Moses’ faith and leadership inspired their faith. Their faith preserved their lives from the bitter Egyptian army who drowned after the last Hebrew reached the other side of the Red Sea.

The city of Jericho was a towering menace and it was a barrier between the Hebrews and the land God promised. God’s plan seemed a little wacky: March around the city seven time and blow trumps and the walls would come down. No weapons. Only instruments and obedience. By faith the Israelites did as God said and God did as he said (v.30). And the people of Israel did the impossible were able to walk into the Promised Land.

Rahab the prostitute was saved when Jericho was destroyed because of her faith and kindness in helping the Hebrews spies escape (v.31; cf. Joshua 2:10-21; 6:25). Not only that Rahab became a part of the nation of Israel. She married Salmon and gave birth to Boaz who was an ancestor of King David (Matthew 1: 4–6).

When faith acts God honors it. Faith shows we trust God at his word. The moment we act in faith is never easy. That is why it is called faith.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How does faith need great courage for difficult decisions?
  • How do you see faith in action in the life of Moses?
  • What does it mean that Moses “considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward”? What might Moses have known about Christ? In what sense can we say that Moses suffered for the sake of Christ or how did Moses give an image of Christ? (see 1 Corinthians 10:4)
  • How is Jesus never far away from any Scripture, even Old Testament Scriptures? How do all examples of faith ultimately lead to Jesus? What are the promises offered by the world which seek to pull us away from following Christ?
  • How can you encourage others around you to be bold in faith and to persevere, rather than yielding to the temptations of the world?
  • For all that Moses did for the Hebrews, he still didn’t get to enter the Promised Land. What does this teach us about God’s rewards for the faithful? What are some other examples of rewarded faith that seem unexpected or maybe even unsatisfying at least according to the world’s understanding of “reward”?
  • What is so unique about having Rahab listed as a heroine of faith? What does she show you about the unique plan of God and the kind of people God uses? What do Rahab’s actions teach us about the relationship between obedience and faith?
  • How might God use you to act in faith to further his kingdom purposes?

What Enduring Faith Looks Like and Looks Forward Towards

Life isn’t a calm breeze. Sometimes the winds gust and the storms batter from within and without. Life can be a grueling journey of endurance and faith is necessary.

We need examples. We need people we can look to and say, “If they did it, so can I.” When it comes to big time examples of faith, Abraham is a name that often comes to mind. Abraham was called by God to go to an unknown place. He journeyed even though he didn’t know exactly where God was taking him or what the journey would look like (vs.8-9). It was a true journey and test of faith (Gen. 15:6).

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents” – Hebrews 11:8-9a, ESV

Faith acts by moving forward. Abraham and Sarah never fully reached the Promised Land during their lifetime, but it was realized through the purchase of a small burial plot where Abraham would bury Sarah. The duration of their lives was lived as strangers in a strange land, yet they looked forward to a better country, a heavenly one that God was preparing for them (v.10; cf. 13:14). Their faith looked forward beyond the grave (vs.13-16).

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” – Hebrews 11:13-16, ESV

Faith acts on what seems impossible. A at 90 years old, God said he would open the womb of Abraham’s wife making it possible for her to bear a son (vs.11-12). Although, at first she laughed (ha!), God made the impossible possible (ah!). It was God’s starting point for fulfilling a promise to Abraham making his descendants as numerous as the stars.

“And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore” – Hebrews 11:11-12, ESV

Faith acts on what it knows about God. Abraham’s biggest test of faith was when God would ask him to sacrifice that son—his one and only promised heir (vs.17-19). Abraham acted in faith. He had faith that God would raise his son from the dead.

“By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.” – Hebrews 11:17-19, ESV

Faith acts on what God has already done. Abraham’s descendants Isaac, Jacob and Joseph continued on, but not without their own enduring challenges and faith struggles (vs.20-21). Joseph, was sold as a slave to Egypt by his brothers. His brothers would later come to Egypt bowing before Joseph demanding food amidst a famine. This fulfilled Joseph’s dream and he responded by embracing and providing for his brothers. Interestingly, after his death his bones were brought back to the Promised Land (v.22).

God’s plans aren’t always immediate. Sometimes they span generations. God has an enduring love for his people and the working out of his plans. God will do as he says even amidst the wind and storms of life. We too must have enduring faith in what God is doing and will do because of what he has already done.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What is endurance? How is endurance linked to faith? Why is endurance often difficult?
  • What do you learn about endurance from the life of Abraham, Abraham’s children, and Abraham’s children’s children (e.g. Isaac, Jacob and Joseph)? How does their faith speak to you?
  • What do you learn about enduring faith through the life and death of Jesus? What was the reward he was looking forward to and the city he is preparing for us? (cf. Hebrews 13:12-14) How does the dramatic story in Genesis 22 anticipate the central work of Christ?
  • How do you hand down these stories to the next generation? Are there new stories of faith you can hand down? What are they?
  • In what areas of your faith and life is God calling you to endure?

what faith looks like

A few years ago, I went to the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame. It is an interesting and educational shrine to one of footballs most storied sports teams (I may be a bit biased). The most fascinating aspects of the Hall was learning about the teams early days and what the sport first looked like. A hundred years ago the sport was raw and tough. The founders and initial inductees to the Hall didn’t have much to look back on. They were creating the records that would be broken. They were paving the way for future players by creating the benchmarks and examples to follow.

1895_Auburn_-_Georgia_football_game_at_Piedmont_Park_in_Atlanta_Georgia

The first three examples in the Faith Hall of Fame are the founding fathers of faith after the creation the world: Abel, Enoch and Noah. There isn’t a lot we know about these men between Chapters 4-9 of Genesis. These three men show us that human history is a history of living “by faith” and the kind of life God expects (vs.4,5,7).

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead. – Hebrews 11:4, ESV

Abel’s faith was not in the substance of his sacrifice, but in the heart behind his sacrifice. To Abel to give his first and best fruits was an act of faith and worship (Genesis 4). Abel was later martyred by his own brother, but Abel’s faith still speaks to us today.

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. – Hebrews 11:5-6, ESV

Enoch’s faith takes hold of what God offers. In Genesis 5:24, there is a genealogy filled with men who live to be more than 900 years old, yet following each name reads the cold words, “and then he died.” Except for Enoch. Enoch walked with God and he was no more because God took him away. Death had no hold on Enoch.

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith. – Hebrews 11:7, ESV

Noah’s faith obeyed. Obedience to God amidst of an unclear future and chaotic circumstances is key to faith. Noah built a boat despite never seeing rain, hundreds of years or ridicule, and limited information. Noah takes God at his word and gets to work. His actions show his faith as he stands obedient among a wicked generation (Genesis 6:9).

The common thread between these three ancients was their faith. They believed God existed, they feared him, and they believed God rewards those who seek him.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How do these ancient examples of faith still speak to us today?
  • How does faith involve aspects of sacrifice (Abel), hope (Enoch), and obedience (Noah)? Which person can you relate with the most and why? Which aspect of faith do you struggle with the most and why?
  • What are the different things people mean when they talk about ‘faith’? How does real, biblical faith differ from the popular idea of ‘faith’?
  • Have you experienced times when your faith in God has been tested? What have you learned from such experiences? How have these lessons helped you in times of difficulty?
  • Why is it impossible to please God without faith? On the contrary, how does faith please God?
  • What is the reward of faith? (cf. 1 Chr. 28:9; Jer. 29:12-14; John 4:24)

what is faith?

Would you rather see the future or see what is invisible? There is a measure of faith that comes with both because we can see neither. One often think that seeing is believing or if one sees he will have greater faith. However, Jesus says, greater is one’s faith who believes and doesn’t have to see (John 20:29). That’s where faith is born.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” – Hebrews 11:1-3, ESV

Faith is defined as confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. In other word, faith confidently trusts and obeys God no matter the circumstances or consequences. We don’t live or define our life by the circumstances or consequences but by confident trust and obedience to what God has already said about himself and his plans.

Faith gives you the ability to see the future as the present because you know God is the same yesterday, today and forever. Also faith gives you the ability to see the invisible as seen because you can see what God has said and done in Scripture and that gives you proof enough that he is trustworthy and worth following.

The example in verse three is that by faith we understand that God created the universe by the spoken word. We weren’t there, but we read about it in Genesis chapter one. We cannot see God, but we can see what God has made and this proves that God exists. We can have faith in God because we can see the evidences of what he said by what he has done.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How does the author of Hebrews define faith? How would you define faith in your own words?
  • How do the words “assurance,” “conviction,” and “commendation” help you to understand the meaning of faith?
  • What are things that you hope for? What are the invisible things you’d like to see?
  • What is something invisible that is easy for you to have faith in? What is something invisible that is difficult for you to have faith in?
  • Without looking ahead (even if you may know), who were ancient men and who in Scripture who were commended for their faith? What makes their faith so great?
  • What do others say about your faith? Would they commend it?
  • Other than creation, what other evidence of God do we have that God exists or keeps his promises? How do we see God at work even though we cannot see God Himself?
  • How do you see God in Jesus (e.g. Hebrews 1-10)? How does he encourage your faith?