Of Whom the World Was Not Worthy

Prayer-in-Desert-(Muynak)4-400pxThen the writer compares these believers with the world—“of whom the world was not worthy” (v. 38). The word “world” (kosmos) refers to people who resist God (v. 7). They are people who do not trust and obey God. They oppose the will of God.

This world is not worthy of these suffering believers. The adjective “worthy” (axios) means “having a relatively high degree of comparable merit or worth–‘worthy.’” (Louw-Nida) It is a word that describes one’s worth, value, or merit as compared to another. The writer uses the same word in Heb. 3:3, “For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses.” Hence, the writer seems to be saying, “of whom the world was not having worth, merit, or value.” The NIV translates it, “the world was not worthy of them.” The world was unworthy of the believers. It is ironic. The world did not see value in these believers—afflicting and maltreating them. Yet the world is unworthy of the believers. These faithful believers were more worthy than the world. (Brooke Westcott)

God saw these faithful believers as more worthy than the world. Why is that? They lived by faith. Because they lived by faith, they pleased God. Because they pleased God, God commended them. God counted them worthy of honor.

An old missionary couple had been working in Africa for years, and they were returning to New York City to retire. . . They discovered they were booked on the same ship as President Teddy Roosevelt, who was returning from one of his big-game hunting expeditions.

No one paid much attention to them. They watched the fanfare that accompanied the President’s entourage, with passengers trying to catch a glimpse of the great man.

As the ship moved across the ocean, the old missionary said to his wife, “Something is wrong. Why should we have given our lives in faithful service for God in Africa all these many years and have no one care a thing about us? Here this man comes back from a hunting trip and everybody makes much over him, but nobody gives two hoots about us.”

. . . .

That night, the man’s spirit broke. He said to his wife, “I can’t take this; God is not treating us fairly.”

His wife replied, “Why don’t you go into the bedroom and tell that to the Lord?”

A short time later he came out from the bedroom, but now his face was completely different. His wife asked, “Dear, what happened?”

“The Lord settled it with me,” he said. “I told him how bitter I was that the President should receive this tremendous homecoming, when no one met us as we returned home. And when I finished, it seemed as though the Lord put his hand on my shoulder and simply said, ‘But you’re not home yet!’”[1]

If you live by faith, the world is unworthy of you. God counts you as more worthy than the whole world. You are more worthy than the Presidents of the nations of this world. You are more worthy than the rich and famous of this world. You are more worthy than the most admired people of this world.

If you live by faith, God honors you. God commends you. God considers you worthy of His respect and admiration. God counts you worthy to share in His glory.

[1] Ray Stedman, From Talking To My Father (Barbour & Co. 1997), ____.

Faith Does Not Hold On to Possessions

1-RTR41ZBULastly, the writer describes these suffering believers as “wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (v. 38). They were wandering about because they have lost their permanent residence. They were persecuted up to the point of losing their dwelling. They were forced to wander about in far away places—in the deserts and mountains and dens and caves.

In v. 37, they have no permanent possessions. In v. 38, they have no permanent home. (Ellingworth) Isn’t that a biblical description of believers who walk by faith? By faith, we do not hold on to our possession.

“You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” (Heb. 10:34). It is natural to feel sad after losing your money and property. Some girls have gone crazy after losing their boyfriends. Many people have lost their minds after losing their money. But these suffering believers joyfully accepted the loss of their property.

How can they have such an attitude? How can you be joyful over your loss? They had an attitude of faith regarding their possessions. By faith, they were willing to lose their temporal property, because they knew that they will receive an eternal one! By faith then, we should accept the loss of our possession on earth. For we shall receive an eternal possession in heaven!

Living by Faith May Include Mental and Physical Hardship

persecuted-church-back-apt1691-detailThese believers were also “afflicted” (thlibo) (Heb. 11:37). The word denotes “press upon.” (Gingrich) It refers to a physical pressing or crushing. Thus, Jesus told his disciples to prepare a boat for him because of the crowd, “lest they crush [thlibo] him” (Mk. 3:9). It is a verb, a present participle (thlibomenoi), “being afflicted.” It is in the passive voice, which means to “experience hardship” from others. (Friberg)

In 2 Cor. 7:5, Paul wrote, “For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted [thlibo] at every turn—fighting without and fear within.”

By faith, these believers were “mistreated” (kakoucheo) (Heb. 11:37). Again, the word is a passive present participle (kakouchoumenoi), “being mistreated.” The word is used in marriage contracts. (BAGD) According to ancient Jewish marriage contracts, the husband should not mistreat the wife or torment her. May I suggest that the wife should also not mistreat her husband. The writer uses the same word again in Heb. 13:3—“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (emphasis added).

These people of faith were mistreated. They were ill-treated. They were tormented. Their human rights were violated for their faith in Christ.

By faith, they suffered mental and physical mistreatment. Yet they looked forward to a better future in the city of God. That is faith. Faith is willing to suffer in the present, while expecting the fulfillment of God’s promises in the future. Thus, faith endures persecution for Christ.

Living by Faith May Include Poverty

1-persecuted-christiansSecond, these believers suffered economic abuse. “They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated” (Heb 11:37). The wearing of “sheepskins and goatskins” indicates economic poverty. It does not mean that they followed the fashion of John the Baptist. Rather, they had no other clothes to wear. They couldn’t buy normal clothes. Nobody sold it to them. They couldn’t find jobs. Nobody hired them. (Girdwood and Verkru)

God’s Word describes them as “destitute” (hustereo) (v. 37). The word “destitute” is a passive present participle (husteromenoi), “being destitute” (NKJV). It means to “to be lacking in what is essential or needed–‘to lack, to be in need of, to be in want.’” (Louw-Nida). It speaks of material lack or the lack of material necessities. In the passive voice, it means that others are causing them to be destitute.

Paul experienced material poverty. He wrote, “And when I was with you and was in need [hustereo], I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need” (2 Cor. 11:9).

According to prosperity pastors, if you trust and obey God, you will receive the favor of God—the blessing of health and wealth. That is a false teaching. These people of faith trusted and obeyed God. I’ve known many pastors who trusted God wholeheartedly and served Him faithfully. But they suffered economic poverty. Nonetheless, the favor of God rested upon them. The Word of God commends them.

Living by Faith Includes Suffering

Saul observing the stoning of Stephen“They were stoned” (Heb. 11:37). Most likely, the writer refers to Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest—the only prophet who was stoned in the OT. Zechariah preached against the Israelites for disobeying the commands of the LORD. In response, they stoned him to death (2 Chron. 24:19-22). Zechariah died by stoning for his faith.

Others were also “sawn in two” (Heb. 11:37). There is a pre-Christian tradition that Manasseh, the king of Judah, killed Isaiah by sawing him in two (2 Ki. 21:16).

Then “they were killed by the sword” (Heb. 11:37).[1] Ahab killed the prophets of the LORD by the sword (1 Ki. 19:10). In Heb. 11:34, they escaped the sword. But in v. 37, they were killed by the sword. We see that faith in Christ is not measured by victory and safety. Faith in Christ is still faith even in defeat and destruction.

Some churches emphasize victory in Christ. But they fail to equally teach suffering in Christ. The result is an incomplete, inadequate, and unbiblical understanding of our calling in Christ. In this age, we are called to suffer for Christ. “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29). Jesus suffered. The early Christians suffered. Even today, many Christians suffer persecution in many countries. Living by faith in Christ includes suffering for Christ.

[1] The NKJV and NASB translate the variant words “they were tempted” (ἐπρίσθησαν), after the words, “they were put to death by the sword” (NASB). However, as Ellingworth points out, the “strength of the external evidence for ἐπειράσθησαν is reduced by the likelihood of dittography, and by its anticlimactic inappropriateness in a list of atrocities.” (Ellingworth)

Faith Perseveres in Persecution

Flagellation-of-christ-_RubensThe hope of the resurrection links Heb. 11:35 with vv. 36-37. By faith they expected to rise again from the dead. Hence, they are willing to suffer persecution in the present life. This is the last attitude of faith in Heb. 11. Faith perseveres in persecution to the point of death.

How did these believers suffer? They suffered two kinds of abuse. First, these believers suffered physical and emotional abuse. “Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment” (Heb. 11:36). The word “mocking” (empaignos) is used in the context of torture, flogging, chains, and imprisonment (vv. 35-36). Thus, the word means “derisive torture.” (Gingrich). It means suffering torture while being ridiculed. Jesus suffered this kind of torture. They put a crown of thorns on His head. They slapped Him and spit on Him while mocking Him. By faith, these believers experienced mocking for their faith in Christ.

Have people mocked you for your faith in Christ? If you stand up for Jesus, expect people to mock you.

The word “flogging” is from mastix which means “to beat severely with a whip.” (Louw-Nida) These believers were whipped severely for trusting Christ.

One day Paul cast out the demon from a slave girl. After the girl was healed, she could no longer do fortune-telling. Her owners can no longer make money out of her fortune-telling. So they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them in the streets. They beat them with rods. They threw them in prison. Then they chained their feet with iron chains (Acts 16:19-24).

People of faith suffered floggings, chains, and imprisonment.

Faith Anticipates a Future Resurrection Despite Present Suffering

Hebrews-11-35By faith, women received back their dead (Heb. 11:35). Isn’t that crazy—expecting God to raise the dead today? Doesn’t that sound weird? Yes, it’s weird because it’s unusual. But in the NT, they expected people to rise from the dead. One day, the daughter of a religious ruler died. Jesus said to the ruler, “Do not fear, only believe” (Mk. 5:36). Then Jesus went to the house and raised her from the dead.

In Acts 9, a disciple named Tabitha (in Aramaic) or Dorcas (in Greek), became sick and died. Peter knelt down and prayed and said, “Tabitha, arise.” Then Tabitha opened her eyes and sat up on the bed. Faith believes God for the impossible to happen today.

Yet the writer stresses also the faith that believes God for new life in the future. He says that others were willing to be tortured till death, while expecting a future resurrection–a resurrection to eternal life.

“Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life” (Heb. 11:35). The verb “tortured” comes from the Greek tumpanizo, which means “beat a drum, drum on; hence torture with the bastinado or tympanum, a cudgel for beating the bottoms of the feet; more generally beat or torture with rods and clubs, often resulting in death (HE 11.35).” (Friberg) The victim is tied to a drum and there beaten to death. They were willing to suffer this kind of torture till death. They trusted God that they will receive a future resurrection.

That is an attitude of faith. Faith is willing to suffer, anticipating a future resurrection to eternal life—a better resurrection, a resurrection for eternity.