Endurance Through Conflict
(The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh in 1978.)
In our last study, we examined the fourth warning passage in the book of Hebrews. In verses 19-25, the writer built on the work of Christ. He emphasized that we have a three-fold responsibility as believers to:
1. 'draw near with a sincere heart' (vs. 22).
2. '...hold fast the confession of our hope' (vs. 23).
3. '...consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds' (vs. 24).
We, as believers, are to be living our lives continually and consistently drawing near to God at all times, encouraging one another in our daily Christian lives.
As believers, we have no alternative but to live in obedience to the Word of God. But the unbeliever has a choice. They can bow in recognition of their own sin, and believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ, thus becoming a child of God. Or they can reject Christ, continuing to 'go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of truth' (vs. 26). If they choose this option, 'there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins' (vs. 26). Those who reject Christ are destined for hell, apart from God for all eternity because there is no other way of salvation that is given.
It is important that we understand the meaning of 'sinning willfully.' The writer is not referring to believers who have knowingly committed sin. That is a different subject that is dealt with in other parts of Scripture. Hebrews 10:26 refers to those who have heard the truth of the Gospel proclaimed, yet choose not to believe in the person and work of Christ, and submit to Him as Lord and Savior. They are unbelievers who have rejected the provision of God for salvation, therefore they do not have 'a sacrifice for sins.'
What remains for those who reject Christ? The writer said, '...a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries' (vs. 29). When there is no sacrifice for our sins, judgment is certain. In the sin of rejecting Christ, that judgment is going to be more 'terrifying' and horrible than any other judgment. Why? Because those who reject Christ, are in reality trampling '...under foot the Son of God,' and have 'regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace.' As one can see, the magnitude of the sin of rejecting Christ is incomparable to any other existing sin. In fact, it is the only sin that cannot be forgiven.
But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly, by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners, and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.
This section of Hebrews can be characterized by two words: remember (vs 32-34) and endure (vs 35-39). The purpose of calling the Hebrews to remembrance is to encourage them to endure and function as God would have them function.
Beginning in verse 32 the writer encourages the Hebrews to remember the former days when they had professed Christ, and their lives gave evidence to that fact. The writer says, 'But remember your former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings.' The command in verse 32 is in the present tense, meaning they are to be 'continually' remembering their 'former days.' When one first looks at this command and sees that the emphasis is on recalling the details of their prior experiences, one might ask, 'Wait a minute. I thought when we became Christians we were to look toward the coming of Christ in the future, not dwell on the past.' It is true that we are not to remember our former conduct before we became believers, but we are always to remember the beginning of our faith in Christ.
The word 'enlightened' is the same word used in 6:4. The writer is saying, 'Remember the days after you heard the truth of the Gospel of Christ, and how you responded to that truth.' Evidently, the conduct the Hebrews displayed immediately after hearing the Gospel indicated that they had become believers. The evidence that one has become a believer is manifested in the conduct of that person. When one becomes a believer, he is made a new creation, and his life will show that change. If a person professes to believe in the person and work of Christ, yet his life does not change, this is an indication that no salvation actually occurred.
The writer ends verse 32 saying, '...you endured a great conflict of sufferings.' The Hebrews were combatants. They were personally persecuted for their belief in Christ. The writer exhorts the Hebrews to remember their willingness to stand up for their faith in Christ when they first became believers.
The writer outlines the details of their persecution in verses 33-34. Verse 33 says, 'partly, by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated.' The Hebrews were persecuted in two ways: personally, and in identification with others. The writer says that they were 'made a public spectacle.' This phrase is in the present tense, meaning that the Hebrews were constantly on public display for their beliefs. The Greek word for 'public spectacle' is 'theatridsomai', and is where we get the English word 'theater.' The Hebrew Christians were exposed to public insult and disgrace because of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
But it did not stop there. The second area of persecution which they endured was 'partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated.' The context of this phrase indicates that this type of activity did not happen constantly, as in their public persecution, but only happened on occasion. The point the writer is making is that the Hebrews were willing to identify themselves with others who were also being persecuted because of their Christianity. The word the writer uses is 'koinoneia,' meaning 'fellowship.' The Hebrews did not just identify with other Christians from afar, they actually were 'in fellowship' with them.
Remember when you first became a believer? You did not hide your faith did you? No, you probably ran around and told everybody you knew that you had just been saved from your sin by the Lord Jesus Christ. Then, after a time, it seems like that enthusiasm goes away. Soon, when you are in public with a new believer it becomes embarrassing when they start talking out-loud about their new faith in Christ. You think to yourself, 'I wish he would keep it down. Does he not know when to keep his Christianity to himself?' Even Paul was deserted by his friends and fellow believers before his execution (2 Timothy 4:16). The Hebrews were not like that. They were willing to publicly identify with other believers who were being persecuted.
If we could go back in time, we might not view Paul with the same reverence that we do today. We might think that he was a fanatic. After all, he set family against family, divided friends, and upset entire townships. But the truth is, biblical Christianity is fanatical Christianity. It is to be the controlling, consuming factor in our lives. The initial zeal that characterizes new believers is not supposed to wear off over time. We are to be 'on fire' for Christ for our entire life on earth.
The writer gives an example of the public and private persecution encountered by the Hebrews in verse 34, reversing the order of verse 33; 'For you showed sympathy to the prisoners, and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one.' Publicly, the Hebrews identified with those Christians who had been put in jail because of their faith. They were not afraid to suffer with them. Not only did they go to visit them in jail, but they displayed their faith in Christ while they were there, putting themselves at risk in the process.
Personally, the Hebrews 'accepted joyfully the seizure of property.' Because of their testimony for Jesus Christ, the Hebrews were robbed of their personal possessions, their land, their homes, and their jobs. But that is not the point of this verse. Many Christians have lost personal possessions because of their faith in Christ. The point of verse 34 is that the Hebrews accepted this persecution 'joyfully.' They were happy that their possessions were taken because people recognized that they were followers of Christ. Their attitude was, 'If taking a stand for Jesus Christ means I lose my earthly possessions, I praise the Lord for all I have lost!'
Why were the Hebrews joyful when they were persecuted for Christ's sake? They knew they had '...a better possession and an abiding one.' The word 'better' is the same word that we have seen throughout the book of Hebrews to describe the high priesthood of Jesus Christ. The Hebrews were not worried about the persecution which they endured on earth because they were focusing their eyes on a superior possession that they had through the eternal ministry of Jesus Christ. When we look at our Christianity in that light, our earthly possessions suddenly have little meaning. They are worthless compared to what we have in Christ. When we have our focus on the possession of Christ, our zeal to identify with Him does not cool, and our boldness will not fade away.
If we were being persecuted in the same way that the Hebrews had been persecuted, most of us would have a tendency to give up a little bit. We would stop being so bold so that we would be persecuted less. But the writer warns about such action in verse 35. He says, 'Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.' We have a distorted view of reward today. If someone is asked if they serve the Lord so they can receive a reward, the common response is something like, 'No, I would never serve the Lord so I can get something in return. I serve the Lord only out of love for Him.' According to Hebrews 10:35, that is a statement full of pride. We are so sinful and weak that if we only served God because of our love for Him, we would only last until we began to be persecuted.
Moses is an example of an Old Testament saint who endured because of the reward that he was promised. Hebrews 11:24-26 says, 'By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.' What kept Moses motivated to serve God instead of enjoying earthly riches? The promise of a superior reward.
What is the reason that we need to focus on our reward? Verse 36 says, 'For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.' As believers, we must continue to be bold, but in order to do so, we have to have the ability to endure the persecution that we will encounter. The focus we must have in order to endure is the reward that God has promised us. The word 'endure' means to be willing 'to remain under stress with difficulty.' The only way we can remain steadfast is to focus on God's promise for the future.
This doctrine is in direct conflict with the teaching of many churches today. These teachers claim that Christianity is joy, love, health, and prosperity. They reject the truth that persecution is a part of every believer's life. They say 'If you become a Christian, God will reward you with money and a long, healthy life.' This kind of teaching is a lie straight from the pit of hell. Hebrews 10:36 proves that every believer will encounter trials and persecution as part of God's plan to bring us to maturity.
James addresses this truth as well. He says, 'Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing' (James 1:2-4). The next time you are sick, 'consider it all joy.' You may say, 'Wait a minute. You would rather I had trials than joy?' Remember, as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, our first concern is to be biblical, and the Bible says that trials and tribulation produce endurance, which makes us 'perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.'
In verses 37-38, the writer gives us a glimpse into the future when we will receive our full reward. He quotes first from Isaiah 26:20 and then Habakkuk 2:3-4. He says, 'For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay....' At the second coming of Christ, every believer will be glorified, and come to a full realization of his inheritance in the very presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Again, as believers we are not to be living our lives avoiding adversity. The will of God for a believer's life is learning to endure. This is a problem among believers today, especially in America. Our society esteems whatever is easy and makes us 'feel' good. But we are exhorted to endure our persecution on earth because we have a reward that is superior to anything this earth can give us.
Verse 38 is a warning. The writer says, 'But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.' This is the same quote from Romans 1:16 and Galatians 3:11. The context in Hebrews 10 is the same. A true believer is one who bows before God, realizing that he is a sinner destined for eternity in hell, trusts Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and follows Him as Lord of his life because he has been declared righteous before God.
But those who do not believe ('shrink back' ), are rejected by God ('My soul has no pleasure in him'). This is the same contrast that we examined in Hebrews 10:26-31. The person who stops short of faith in Christ will encounter a certain and terrifying judgment at the second coming of Christ.
The writer summarizes this warning in verse 39; 'But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.' There are only two types of people: those who 'shrink back' from Christ, and experience 'destruction,' and those who have 'faith' in Christ, and experience 'preserving of the soul.'
Some have argued that the word 'destruction' actually means the 'chastening' of believers. But it is obvious that the context of this passage refers to the destruction of the unbeliever. This truth is illustrated in Matthew 7:13-14 as well; 'Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.' The truth is clear: Many people will reject the person and work of Jesus Christ, but God says their way leads to 'destruction,' while those who believe will be given 'life.'
Phillipians 1:27-30 has the same context and emphasis as Hebrews 10:32-39. Paul says, 'Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ; so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel. In no way alarmed by your opponents - which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God...' (vs 27-28). Paul continues in verses 29 and 30, illustrating our privileges in Christ; 'For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear in me.' Paul considers it a privilege that we, as believers, are allowed to suffer for the Christ's sake. Why? Because suffering teaches us endurance, and by enduring we will be granted our reward.
Notice that those who do not trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ are 'opponents' and are marked for 'destruction.' This is the same word that is used to describe the anti-Christ, and refers to ultimate, final destruction away from the presence of God forever.
The only way we can avoid destruction is through faith in Jesus Christ, building our endurance and keeping our eyes on our reward. The warning to the Hebrews was that they needed to persevere under the difficulties, building their courage and boldness for Him. It is the same for us today. Those who decide that faith in Christ is too costly because of the pressures of their family, friends, former church...etc, are only returning to destruction. There no longer remains a sacrifice for their sins. What path are you on? Have you come to trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ as the only sacrifice for your sins? If you have, you have entered through the narrow gate, and will spend eternity in heaven in the presence of Jesus Christ. If you have not entered through the narrow gate, you are still on the broad path to destruction, heading toward an eternity in hell, apart from the presence of the living God. Enter through the narrow gate today!
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