Simply wearing label is no guarantee of authenticity. Not a new problem in the world by any means – Satan put label “desirable and harmless” on forbidden fruit. Fellow trying to sell Rolex from collection inside trench coat probably not in possession of authentic goods. Wise and discerning person knows not to always take things at face value – check out the goods, make sure the deal really is a deal, not just a new label on old product. When it comes to label “Christian”, not nearly so quick to exercise discernment. We claim label of Christian, get defensive if someone challenges; take for granted someone else’s claim must be genuine.
But… is that how it is supposed to work? Do we just blindly accept someone’s claim to label “Christian”? Can we with little thought or effort wear Christian label ourselves? James labors to make his point unquestionably clear: read Jas 2:14-19 (pg. 1387) Living, genuine, saving faith will have evidence that accompanies it – saved by faith alone but not faith that is alone. For each individual / category presented here, their faith commended by God far more than simply a word on their lips. Faith in God shaped their lives so dramatically they put the world to shame – “of whom the world was not worthy” (v.38)
In the third century, Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage (and eventually a martyr), wrote to his friend Donatus:
“This is a cheerful world as I see it from my garden under the shadows of my vines. But If I were to ascend some high mountain and look over the wide lands, you know very well what I would see: brigands on the highways, pirates on the sea, armies fighting, cities burning; in the amphitheaters men murdered to please the applauding crowds; selfishness and cruelty and misery and despair under all roofs. It is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy and wisdom which is a thousand times better than any of the pleasures of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are the Christians — and I am one of them.”
Faith that puts world to shame has feet and hands that go out and conquer evil; faith that puts world to shame has strength and courage to persevere through suffering; faith that puts world to shame will only be satisfied by Jesus.
A. faith that conquers evil v.32-34
preacher must have caught sight of the clock – “my time is running away!”
who would have put these six first??
Gideon – hiding in winepress, afraid of Midianites; God had to prove it 3x – wet fleece, dry fleece, Midianite dreamer, not picture of bravery would expect from leader of Special Forces unit
300 in final commando group outnumbered 450:1, their weapons: noisemakers and flashlights – trumpets, pitchers and lamps; faith that needed reinforcement
Barak – needed a woman along for courage: God already told him… take 10,000 and go do what God said and God will do what he promised, doesn’t matter they have 900 chariots (like foot-soldiers against tank division)
only go on one condition – Deborah must go; would be another woman, Jael, who defeated their hero Sisera; timid faith that needed prodding; for both Gideon / Barak, clearly God who had victory
Samson – strong man with weak self-control: strong when Spirit of the Lord empowered him, quick-tempered and driven by desires and pride in between-times
recognized, acknowledged his strength / wisdom came from God, did mighty deeds in faith; however, had a brittle faith that needed tempering of affliction
Jephthah – sacrificed his only daughter because of his loose lips; came from wrong side of tracks, victim of prejudice, gave God public credit for victory over Israel’s enemies, Ammonites
had an impetuous faith that needed discernment; tragedy equipped him to serve as judge until his death
David – rollercoaster courage and ethics: mighty man of valor, accomplished great things when was a clear objective; had emotional faith easily sidetracked during his “down times”
Samuel – faithful priest-prophet but a lousy father: fought powerful battles against idolatry and immorality in culture around him; had tunnel-vision faith kept focused on ministry to neglect of his family
prophets never had those kinds of problems, right?
Elijah – discouragement; mountain-top experience, tremendous victory over false prophets clearly demonstrating power of God
had a temperamental faith that flourished when spiritual volume was up. nearly disappeared when excitement died down
Jonah – racism and resentment; had bad attitude toward ones he was supposed to evangelize… when he got around to going, then pitched fit when God showed grace
a biased faith, didn’t mind exercising on own behalf, resisted acting in faith while in cross-cultural ministry but did anyway
was their faith in God that enabled their heroism, not outstanding personal resources
the first evil that had to be conquered was evil in their own hearts – wasn’t just evil in the culture that needed to be addressed
repeatedly God used (still uses) frail sinful people to accomplish amazing things
judges, kings, average people from mundane walks of life – prevailed against overwhelming odds: can you relate? good, time to get moving like they did, putting hands and feet to faith
some important characteristics
didn’t need to understand the mechanics – up to God and his power anyway; all they needed to do was follow instructions
were not daunted by power of opposition – Elijah and Samuel may not have been singing solos, certainly not in majority; didn’t matter to God what opposing numbers or resources were
did not give in to pressure – to compromise or accommodate: even most reluctant spoke truth faithfully and courageously
acted without guaranteed plan or obvious resources – gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle
would you pick Gideon as commando?? Barak/Deborah leadership team? David for the White House? Samuel for ministry
God did, supplying necessary qualities / tools / resources while they were exercising faith; didn’t give it all up front
B. faith that perseveres v.35-38
not too hard to run the race when you can see the finish line from the start – may not win, but sure expect to at least get across
these folks – many never saw the good times in this life; in fact, life went from bad to worse, ending in death
Shunamite woman, Mary & Martha, Dorcas’ friends – got their dead back… temporarily; eventually every one of them died
Jeremiah – beaten, put in stocks, confined in muddy cistern… for telling king the truth; weeping prophet, author of Lamentations, forced into exile in Egypt
3 Hebrews – slow roasted, and you thought water-boarding was bad; were promoted afterward… to serve idolatrous king
were not looking for fulfillment in this life – didn’t have bucket list, only one item: faithfulness… in hope of better next life
refused compromise “so that they might rise again to a better life”; what gave martyrs courage not recant? sight of heaven
but wait, there’s more… and it gets worse… and worse
maybe you remember what your mother said: why complaining about stubbed toe? think about guy in wheelchair with no legs!
probably many worse off than we are; that’s not the point, not what encouraged dear saints of past and present to persevere
were not looking around on horizontal for strength, courage – were looking to the one who promised eternal life
when Christ and life in him is our hope, sets the tone of our life, how much can we endure?
no respect – for us personally, our views, choices, principles, goals; may be tolerated… just don’t make ’em too uncomfortable
no freedom – both passive and active restraints: limits to speech, contact with certain people, access to resources, prison??
no future – place in politics, advancement in workplace never materialize; “outside the loop”, not in right network
no security – as world counts it; choices that don’t bother unbeliever… Christian can’t make; ones made in faith don’t supply that kind of security: “lay not up for yourselves treasure…” “seek first the kingdom…”
no comfort – given Jesus’ example, are things way more important anyway than comforts of this life
means forfeiting all the world says is important in return for God’s commendation; freedom from sin; eternal life and all that includes
as culture becomes increasingly depraved, hostile toward God, expect more harsh treatment; the world and its system definitely not worthy of our embrace
C. faith only Jesus can satisfy v.39-40
notice again: “obtained a good testimony through faith” “were commended for their faith”
wasn’t bravery, strength, endurance that prompted God’s commendation – totally absent in many of these “heroes”
wasn’t even God looking at them going “wow! you’ve been through so much you really deserve a medal!!”
was persevering faith in right object – God and his promise – that gave them place in this chapter; don’t forget… faith a gift!
for most part, wasn’t even expectation of receiving promise in this life that kept them faithful
v.35 – “that they might obtain a better resurrection” “that they might rise again to a better life” – they knew they would have to wait until next life for reward
God all along has had same plan in mind for all saints, Old & New Testament – the promise: Christ… and all he was to accomplish by his Incarnation
“It is therefore not only untrue and unsafe, but contrary unto the fundamental principles of our religion, the faith of Christians in all ages, and the design of the apostle in this whole epistle, to interpret this promise of any thing but that of the coming of Christ in the flesh, of his accomplishment of the work of our redemption, with the unspeakable privileges and advantages that the church received thereby.” Owen
only Christ and what he purchased would satisfy those who persevered in faith – was Lord Jesus seen through eyes of faith that gave strength and courage and determination to their faith
Is that the kind of faith you have? Not talking about size or strength. Does your faith have hands and feet, sahping and directing thought and act? Does your faith persevere through hardship and suffering? Will your faith only be satisfied by Jesus – following him now, pressing toward day when “we will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is”.