How many of you have your favorite verses of Scripture? You know, the ones you’ve memorized, written down, maybe even have them framed and hung on the wall or, most importantly, plastered on the refrigerator door. Me too. Since I turned fifty years old the other day, I’m becoming fond of Song of Songs 2:14, where the young man tells his bride, “Let me see your face; let me hear your voice. For your voice is pleasant, and your face is lovely.” It gives me comfort to think that as the remaining hair on my head turns grayer and the lines grow deeper on my face, God still likes to hear me speak and enjoys seeing my face in His presence.
However, for many years I also had a least favorite Scripture because I just couldn’t understand what it meant. Whenever anyone asked what faith was, some well-meaning person in the room would always quote Heb. 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” True, that’s what is says. Can’t deny it. Now, what the heck does that mean? “Well,” they’d say, “faith is a substance, a thing that, uh, you know, you have when you’re, uh, hoping for something like heaven or a blessing, or, uh…” About that time I’d say, “Never mind. I’m still confused.” Do you see why it was my least favorite Scripture?
The problem with quoting this one verse of Scripture and stopping there is this: Although it is technically correct, it is contextually incomplete. To take one verse of Scripture, quote it, then sit back and wait for the light to come on over everyone’s head is a bit presumptuous. Even the author of Hebrews wasn’t so mean as to just give us the definition without giving us a bunch of illustrations. You see, Hebrews 11:1 can be the most frustrating verse in the Bible if it just hangs alone, because in just a few more sentences the author tells us that without faith, it is impossible to please God (11:6). Now Scripture tells me I must have faith to please God, but I’m still not sure what it is!
Fortunately, the author of Hebrews doesn’t just stop with the definition, because he knows the definition alone won’t help us. Instead, Hebrews 11 gives us one verse of definition followed by thirty-nine verses of illustration, telling us how the heroes of the Bible lived their lives according to their faith.
Could it be that faith is best defined by the people who live it? Could it be that faith is not so much a possession to admire as much as it is a gift to be used? In fact, faith is such a word of action that we can learn thirty-nine times more about it by exercising it than we can by defining it. The best way to define faith is by looking into the lives of people who placed their entire hope and trust in a God they could not see, touch, or comprehend. The heroes of Hebrews 11 didn’t describe faith in a neat, concise sentence, but lived it in their everyday actions and learned it well by obeying the Word. Therefore, the world can tell you are a person of faith because of the way you live, not because of the Scriptures you can quote.
Now I don’t mind Hebrews 11:1 as much as I used to. I still haven’t completely figured out the substance and the evidence parts yet, but who knows? Maybe one day that verse will make it to my refrigerator door.
Though I’ve come to your blog only today, I find that I’m amused by your provocative headlines and edified by the content of your postings themselves.
Regarding the reference to faith in Hebrews 11, I can share what I’ve learned. When added to the excellent point you make about the many examples of faith that inform our understanding of what faith is, I believe we can have a more complete picture.
Something that has helped me in this verse is to review the key words here in the Greek.
Substance = compound Greek word for “beneath, under” and “to stand”. Thus, I’ve come to understand that “substance” used here in this verse is a foundational truth upon which something stands or rests.
I’ve come to learn that the word hope as it appears in the New Testament is commonly misunderstood. We have a different idea of the meaning of hope in modern times than the way it was used in the time of the writing of most of the books of the New Testament. Today, hope is essentially wishing for something.
Hope = Greek word for “expect, usually with pleasure” or “confident assurance”. Thus, I’ve come to understand “hope” in the New Testament to mean something for which I am assured.
So … faith is the foundational truth upon which stands my assurance of God’s promises; namely, that my deserved penalty for my sin has been paid. Thus, my life is changed and my new life and lifestyle is evidence (“proof”) of this unseen thing.
I don’t know if that’s helpful for others, but it has been helpful to me to really get to understand this notion of hope in the Bible. The great hope of the Bible is not something we wish for, it is something we can be fully assured of … that by belief we can be reckoned as righteous and be positionally in Christ from God’s perspective.