Summary: Faith is not a concept but a way of life. Faith is known by it’s action - faithfulness.
Sometimes when I read Hebrews chapter 11 I feel like a kid walking through a hall of fame, looking up into the faces of those people who seem bigger than life. They are the pillars of the faith, the great forebearers of the people of God. And I think ‘Oh man, I can’t be like them’. But I’d like to, so I go back to the Old Testament to learn more. And suddenly I discover plain, ordinary people, people who were far less than perfect, people who didn’t always do right, people who didn’t even necessarily listen to God. Rahab was a prostitute, Moses killed a man, King David committed adultery, and as for the patriarchs - Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - there were so many skeletons in their family closet it would make a therapist cry. So how do we put these two pictures together, the down to earth, human stories of the Old Testament and the shiny saintly images of Hebrews. Why, when the Hebrews writer spoke of faith, did he choose these characters? If, in fact, they were no different than you and what kind of example is the writer of Hebrews setting for us?
This chapter opens with a definition of faith, so we say it is a chapter on faith with a few concrete examples thrown in. But what if it is not about a definition of faith (with examples), but instead shows examples of faithfulness by which we can understand the meaning of faith. It would mean the Hebrew writer opens with the cart, and then follows it with a team of horses.
So we are here, not to play with abstract concepts, but to talk about faithfulness, that concrete, down to earth, rubber meets the road undertaking. Faith as it is seen by action. The writer of Hebrews would heartily agree with James when he said, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” The Hebrews writer is not trying to convince us of anything about faith, he is simply pointing to the work that makes faith real. Let’s look at the chapter again, but this time holding onto our new focus. In faithfulness Abel offered to God a better sacrifice, in faithfulness Noah built a ark, in faithfulness Abraham left his home, living in a foreign land. In faithfulness he raised a son in his old age. In faithfulness Moses stood with his oppressed people rather than lives as Pharaoh’s kinsmen. In faithfulness the people of Israel entered the promised land, on and on, the list goes through the ages. And in faithfulness, we come to church, in faithfulness we teach our children, in faithfulness we care for our community, in faithfulness we give our time and resources and abilities in the service of God.
Is this what made these people our spiritual ancestors? Is this all it takes to be heroes in God’s kingdom? Does recognition from God come by being just plain good folks. Well!!!!, are good works and faithfulness the same thing? No -faithfulness is more than keeping our responsibilities or even a whole load of kindness. And faithfulness is not just a shining character of human nature. Faithfulness is just what it says ‘Faith--fullness’. The fullness of faith, the completion of faith. Faith rightly placed and responsive to the One in whom we have entrusted our faith.