The ecclesia under stress

Signs abound in world events that we are living in the last days. The signs inside the Brotherhood are equally telling and very debilitating in their effects. The world has completely rewritten its values and Humanism has largely won the battle for the minds of men. We are all struggling with the results inevitably manifesting themselves in society and affecting the Brotherhood. Everywhere in ecclesias there are signs of stress, considerable sadness and a sense of weariness and fragility. Some are confused, some are depressed and many feel very tired. No longer can it be assumed that almost all our young people will accept the Truth or that marriages will endure intact.

The factors that contribute to this sad state of mind are legion. About us there is the frenetic pace of life with the changing nature of work demanding longer hours and travel away from home. There is financial instability and all the temptations of an evil age where technology is so accessible and so intrusive. Also within the Brotherhood we have the circulation of subtle winds of error with “theistic evolution” being promulgated. Always with us are the jarring reminders of mortality that come; whether by accidents or by crippling disease. The symptoms of stress that are being experienced in most ecclesias include a lack of attention to Bible study, poor attendance at Bible classes, the downplaying of the value of the pioneer writings and a general dropping of wholehearted commitment to ecclesial life.

No wonder then that the Lord said, “When the Son of man cometh shall he find faith on the earth?” Significantly he meant that kind of persistent faith displayed by the widow in the parable recorded in Luke 18. More than ever before, that question could be asked of this generation!

Believing the improbable

We all share those concerns but let’s consider “holding faith” and reflect on how we might, “endure unto the end” and finish the race with joy, casting not away our confidence (Heb 10:35). What characterises the kind of faith that overcomes the world (1 John 5:4)?

Let’s start with the definition of “faith” found in Hebrews 11:1. Brother John Thomas translated this verse, “Faith is the confident anticipation of things hoped for, a full persuasion of things not seen”. Weymouth has, “Now faith is a well grounded assurance of that for which we hope, and a conviction of the reality of things which we do not see. For by it the saints of old won God’s approval” (v1-2). In that context, faith sees the unseen things, faith accepts the unprovable things and faith translates that belief into action. To use a familiar analogy, faith leading to works will write a positive entry into the ‘report card’ in God’s book of life. By faith, saints have obtained a good report (v2, 4, 39), witness being borne to them that they had obtained God’s approval.

It’s noteworthy that the first example of faith used in Hebrews 11 concerns us because we believe that God created this world and has constantly shaped its history. We believe that the ages (aions) have been arranged and set in place by God’s word. The implications of that are that the events happening around us come by God’s hand, even those that would have seemed most unlikely to occur. Our pioneer brethren believed in the restoration of Israel as a nation at a time when that seemed impossible. Miracles do happen!

The worthies of old believed in many things that seemed totally unlikely to be fulfilled. Abel looked for a saving Lamb to take away the sins of the world. Noah looked for a huge flood, clearly something not seen as yet. Abraham saw a heavenly country afar off. Moses had respect unto the recompense of reward. So, in many cases, the worthies of old lived in great anticipation, even dying with an unwavering hope. They were fully persuaded of things as yet unseen. We are included too in this illustrious company, for we “see” the saints of old and we “see” Jesus sitting at God’s right hand (Heb 12:1-2).

The greatest compliment we can pay to God is to believe Him, trusting His faithfulness and His ability to perform what He has promised. Believing the humanly impossible glorifies Him. Consider the incredible opening to His revelation. The Bible opens with the most challenging opening to any book ever written: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”! This astounding claim sets the stage for all the rest of the claims of the Bible. It makes all the miracles and promises possible. It tells us that God has a plan and purpose and a timetable. The Bible becomes then the ‘Maker’s Instructions’ to us and the only absolute authority in the world.

Step one: God is!

Hebrews 11 tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God (v6)! “Impossible” is a very strong word. We must understand therefore what faith is or we’ll never please God. This verse gives us the two essential components of faith: firstly that God is and that He will reward diligent seeking. Fundamentally, we believe God exists and that He created. Today we can all too easily be confused by science and all the contradictory evidence that is promoted to get rid of the notion of God. One of the reasons that popular science makes totally unsupportable conclusions is that science will never comprehend God and His uncreated infinity, nor will it ever explain His creative power or the ability to make things exist from nothing (see v3). We have abundant circumstantial evidence to believe in God. We see His hand in the beautiful intricacy of creation, the perfection of created things, the harmony and interdependence of nature, the marvel of the human body, etc. Belief in an Eternal Creator is not irrational – it is the only logical answer.

Added to this is God’s Word itself: with its amazing prophecies, writing tomorrow’s headlines 2,500 years ago; its accuracy historically and the glorious internal intricacy and consistency of the God-breathed scriptures: there we have ample reason to choose to believe in God, with all that implies for our lives.

We cannot explain God in scientific terms, nor even begin to understand His powers. We cannot locate heaven, understand eternity, comprehend foreknowledge and appreciate fully God’s person nor can we prove beyond doubt that He exists. If we could explain these things there would be no faith needed!

Step two: God rewards diligent seeking

God does not expect pointless service to His words. He will reward diligent seeking. Diligence includes ensuring we serve God in truth: finding out right belief and practice is fundamental, as seen in Abel’s acceptable worship (v4). Diligence also means commitment and making God a priority as seen in Enoch walking with God (v5). But the question remains, how do we get this Faith? Paul provides the answer: “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17). There are many people who are full of Bible knowledge but have little or no real faith. A meaningful faith requires constant reference to and application of the Word of God. It’s a choice we all have to make – to “hear” and to choose to believe. This is illustrated in the Parable of the Sower where those who hear are the “fruitful ground”. Failure to bring forth fruit was not the fault of the incorruptible seed but the receptiveness of the soil.

We wonder what motivated these people. We have superlative characters in the ‘Hebrews 11 honour roll’ of the faithful to imitate. They saw the invisible and accepted the humanly impossible and, in so doing, gave glory to God. This is seen in Weymouth’s translation of Romans 4: “Under hopeless circumstances he (Abraham) hopefully believed … Nor did he in unbelief stagger at God’s promise, but became mighty in faith, giving glory to God, and holding to the conviction that whatever promise He is bound by He is able also to make good” (v18-20). Note the human impossibility of what God said. God’s promise was believed by Abraham and that faith was accounted to him for righteousness. Abraham became the father of all the faithful, including ourselves if we share his implicit belief (v24). If we believe, we can share the reward (Rom 4:22-5:2).

There are implications here for us. Bible faith is not just theory. Faith is also not deterred by human limitations. Consider some of the things that God has done or promised that are incomprehensible to the world at large. Jesus lived a sinless life. He rose from the dead and now shares God’s throne. He will send Jesus back in great power and glory to dramatically shake the world and totally reform it. God will raise the dead and, whilst it may seem to some to be incredible, He will reconstitute their minds and characters as well as their bodies. God will completely refurbish this earth and restore its beauty. Finally, God will wipe away all tears. That’s something that many of us with hurting hearts and mental scars really struggle to understand, but He will wipe away those tears!

Most of all we have the faith of Jesus to motivate us. Following on from Hebrews 11, we have portrayed in chapter 12, Jesus the Son of God, the absolute epitome of faith in action. He is “the pioneer of personal faith” (v2 Moffat). Facing the cross, he refused to be deterred by the shame, the agony and the suffering of impending death, but overcame all this by seeing his Father’s face and the joy of His countenance (Psa 16:10-11; Acts 2:28). He saw his Father awaiting him with the promise of the joyful day when he would sit at his Father’s right hand and know the joys of eternal companionship with God. He also saw the many brethren and sisters he would bring to the joys and glory of the Kingdom.

Justified by the faith OF the Son of God

The driving force in the life of the Apostle Paul was his picture of the faith of Christ (Gal 2:20). He was focused on the power of grace (v21). What was his secret, his motivation? He lived by the faith of the Son of God. This is not faith in the Son of God but, three times in this context, Paul says that we are motivated, led and justified by the faith of the Son of God. What this subtle difference means is that we adopt as our life-pattern the quality of faith demonstrated in the life of Christ. We have seen that the Lord totally believed in God’s Word about the future, even when faced with a shameful death. We ought then to respond by imitating his faith. That’s living by the faith of the Son of God.

But from the experience of Jesus, we also learn that faith is perfected by trial. Jesus had perfect faith, but even that was severely tested by suffering to the point of strong crying and tears, out of which he learned obedience. If Jesus had to suffer, are we any less likely to suffer? Having faith is not the path to unmitigated happiness but the start of a process of refining. The choice to believe God will have its consequences. The Lord warned of the price of a life of commitment to others, of family divisions, the loss of ambitions in this life, scorn and persecution and, at times, sadness at the perplexing turns in life. Our health may fail or accidents may occur. We may be tried by ecclesial turmoil or by bitterness between brethren. Trials never usually take the form we expect but God knows what we each need. It’s how we respond that matters. We identify with the agonised cry of the father of the epileptic son, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24 NKJV).

An anchor of the soul

The Apostle Paul, when speaking of our light and transitory burden of suffering, said, “we look not at things seen, but things unseen; for things seen are temporary, but things unseen are eternal” (2 Cor 4:17-18 Weymouth). The exhortation then, is to see and believe with the eye of faith things unseen and act accordingly, especially when we are in those times of affliction. The only answer is for us to keep seeing the invisible and choose to go on believing.

Our hope in God’s promises is an anchor of our soul (Heb 6:18-19). The word “anchor” has an interesting association. On his voyage to Rome, Paul and his companions had been buffeted for two weeks by a great storm when they realised that they were not far from land (Acts 27:29). Fearing lest they should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four anchors and wished for the day. That’s about where we are today. All the signs indicate that we are close to our desired haven but the storms are battering us.

We must therefore put out the four “anchors” of the soul:-

1. The Bible is still God’s totally inspired Word. It is profitable and reliable.

2. God is. He made the world in six days and is in control.

3. God made great and precious promises and God keeps His promises.

4. Christ is coming soon to raise the dead and to take us unto himself.

Let us not therefore cast away our confidence, which has such a great recompense of reward. Our faith in God assures us that there is a reward laid up for us. Let us diligently seek it.