Thursday, July 16, 2009

By God’s Faithfulness… (Hebrews 11) 160709

Chapter 11 of Hebrews is a classic. When I was a young Christian, I was taught to call this chapter the “Hall of Faith” or the “Hall of the Faithful”. And all those names being mentioned in this chapter are to be called the “Heroes of Faith”. But as I learn and read more about the Bible, I know that some or most of those names are not perfect examples to be classified as “Heroes of Faith”, maybe except the one in verse 4 (just kidding).

George H. Guthrie commented that the general pattern followed with each example throughout chapter 11 is as follows: (a) The word pistei (“by faith”); (b) the name of the person who by his or her own faith or the faith of another is being used as an example; (c) the action or event by which faith is expressed; and (d) the positive outcome.

Sometimes the positive outcome is omitted, as in each of the examples at 11:20 – 22; at other times the author includes a concession (e.g., “even though” at 11:11) or a rationale for the act of faith (e.g., 11:10, 19, 23, 26).

The common denominator for all these names is the word “by faith”. In my own understanding of faith, it is not merely a hope or some kind of confident feeling or trust; it is Jesus Christ Himself. Faith is a Person. Faith is tangible. The KJV Bible translates verse one as: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for. In other words, faith is something of substantial nature, essence, actual being, and reality (this range of meanings are taken from its Greek word, hypostasis.)

That is why Christian faith is more than just a belief system or having a hope. It is both factual and irrational. Factual because we know the facts about the one who we believe in and the one who put our trust in to follow. Irrational because we act and live our lives in accordance to a new reality, which is the spiritual reality; this is a life of faith. This is what we call, live by faith.

By faith, we do crazy stuffs. By faith, I married my wife; and I am loved. By faith, I left teaching profession and become a pastor; and I am enriched. By faith, I have a child; and I grateful. By faith, I love the people around me; and I am maturing in patience. Similarly, by faith, you give away one month of your salary to the church; and you have freedom. By faith, you give your child a hug after he has failed his Maths test; and you have multiplied love. By faith, you refuse to cheat at your parking coupons; your get to keep your car!

We do all these because we know God is faithful. It is because of His faithfulness; we can do all these crazy stuffs and still be blessed. As I say, many of those names mentioned in Hebrews 11 are not exactly heroes; they might be even “zeroes” like Gideon, Barak, Samson (v32). But the point is not about whom those people were or what had they done; it is all about God and His faithfulness. It is not by their faith that they are in Hebrews 11; it is by God’s faithfulness.

Maybe the next time when you read Hebrews 11, whenever you come across the phrase “by faith”, change it to “by God’s faithfulness”. Therefore, do whatever God has led you to do, it maybe crazy, do it by God’s faithfulness.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Going Deeper (Week 4)

Going Deeper (Week 4 Day 2)
The word ‘confession’ today normally means ‘telling someone you did something you shouldn’t have’. It means ‘owning up’. But the early Christians gave the word a wider meaning: ‘telling people what’s really true about your belief’. This means ‘owning up’, not to having done something wrong, but to believing in the Christian message and to belonging to the Christian movement. In the light of the historical context of the first century, how would you paraphrase or explain verse 1 to a young person?

So, my dear Christian friends, companions in following this call to the heights, take a good hard look at Jesus. He’s the centerpiece of everything we believe, faithful in everything God gave him to do. (Eugene Peterson, The Message)

Yo, my dearest buddies in Christ, together in this highest calling in following Jesus. Lock in your vision and thoughts on Jesus; for He is the Sent One and also the Representative of what we believe and whom we belong. (Abel Translation)

Going Deeper (Week 4 Day 3)
Verse 3 and 4 are highly structural in arguing the point that ‘God is the builder of everything’. The author employs parallelism in verse 3 and then leads his readers to his point by using important conjunctions in verse 4. Can you show how the parallelism is being used in verse 3 and how the conjunctions are being used in verse 4?

In verse 3, “He” (Jesus) is paralleled as “the builder of the house”; “more glory” in parallel with “more honor”; and “Moses” is paralleled and considered as part of the “house”. Commentator, George H. Guthrie, says that:

To look at a beautiful, artfully crafted building may inspire appreciation or wonder, but praise belongs to the craftsman rather than the craft. In this case the author of Hebrews considers Moses as part of the house that Jesus built. The inference to which the analogy points is that Jesus, as God, has made Moses, a member of the people of Israel, and as Creator is worthy of more honor and glory than one of his creatures. Thus, the author continues to point to Jesus as God.

In verse 4, the author does not want us to lose sight of this fact. So he points out that the existence of a house is an argument for a builder. Houses do not build themselves. "But" (the adversative de) introduces something different. There is, of course, similarity. A house argues for a builder, and all that is argues for God. There is also a difference, because God is not to be put on a level with any builder of a house.

Going Deeper (Week 4 Day 4)
NIV translates the if clause as ‘we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast’. But the NAS translation is closer to the original Greek sentence structure: ‘we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.’ Discuss what the differences between the 2 translations used and the relationship between the words “confidence”, “boast” and “hope”?

I think the NIV equivalent of “confidence” will be the word “courage”.
For NIV, we are told we can “boast” because we hold on to our “confidence” and “hope”; whereas, in NAS, we are told to hold on to our “confidence” and “boast” of our “hope”. But as I look into the original Greek text, the relationship between these words is as follow:

“Hold on” to “our hope” which we can have “confidence” and “boast” about.

Therefore, verse 6 as a conditional statement informs us that we are His house, “if” we hold on and persevere in “our hope”. Though it is of the future, but we can still have “confidence” and “boasting” in the present as our evident of this “hope”.