Summary: A real Believer can count on God to overcome the impossible without knowing how he will do it. (Part 3 "Passing Lifes Tests - The How Test")

Passing Life’s Tests

Hebrews 11:8-19

Part III - Traveling Beyond the Impossible - The ‘How’ Test

Hebrews 11:11-12


a. Movie - Pearl Harbour. When challenged by the Japanese opposition President Roosevelt stands from his wheel chair and says, “Don’t tell me it can’t be done!”

b. A sign above an office desk said, “We the unwilling, led by the unqualified, have been doing the unbelievable for so long with so little, that we now attempt the impossible with nothing.”

The ‘How’ test. We all experience feelings of inadequacy at times. When I look at our church goals I experience feelings of inadequacy. But in facing up to them, each one of us here that is committed to them, faces up to the how test; the “How is this going to be achieved?” test.

(Share Goals)

The truth is I don’t know how these goals are going to be achieved - and the central thought in the passage set before us today is that we don’t need to know how. You see, a real believer can count on God to overcome the impossible without knowing how he will do it.


The first element we should note in regard to the ‘how’ test is that a real believer can count on God to overcome the impossible without knowing how he will do it by first encouraging others and being encouraged to practice faith in God.

This point is not immediately evident to us from the English translation of verse 11. We need to look at the varying translations of this verse to see it. V 11 has provided quite some difficulty for translators because, simply put, the original language in which the author wrote can be taken two ways. But it’s important for us to get a handle on it because it will help us understand this first element of the ‘how’ test better.

The New International and the Revised Standard Versions of the bible have each chosen the two varying translations of this verse.

By faith Abraham, even though he was past age--and Sarah herself was barren—

was enabled to become a father …

(v 11a NIV)

By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past age…

(v 11a RSV)

In the translation chosen by the NIV we see that it is Abraham that was “enabled by faith” to become a father; whereas in the RSV it is Sarah that “By faith - received power” (or ‘was enabled’). The question is wether or not it is the faith of Sarah or that of Abraham that the author is talking about here. The truth is that the original language is too vague at this point for us to know with any certainty.

What we can say is that it would seem odd for the author to digress to a statement about Sarah’s faith at this point. This is because this passage that we have been studying over the last few weeks has to this point focussed exclusively on Abraham’s faith. Why the author would make a statement about Sarah’s faith within that context is hard to understand.

In addition to this, when we take the original Genesis (18:12) version into account we see that Sarah is hardly portrayed as a character of faith. In fact when she heard the news that she would become a mother at 90 years of age she laughed with an air of scepticism - hardly an act of faith. So if Sarah is not portrayed as a woman of faith in Genesis why would she be portrayed that way by the author of Hebrews? The bottom line is that we can only make an educated guess as to whom the author is referring at this point.

It would seem to make sense to me, and a number of other more learned people than myself, that both Abraham and Sarah had to have at least some measure of faith for this miraculous birth to take place. After all it takes two to tango!

We know Abraham believed that with God anything is possible, but the fact that Sarah even tried to conceive at such a late stage in life suggests that she too had some measure of faith. Abraham is well known for the strength of his faith. So it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume then, that his great and unshakeable faith inspired Sarah to believe too. If we were to take this interpretation of the text it might read:

“By faith Abraham, together with Sarah herself,

was enabled …..”

The bottom line being that they both had to practice faith for this miracle to work and that the faith of one encouraged the other.

As Sarah was inspired and encouraged by her husband’s faith, so we can be encouraged and inspired by the faith of our Christian brothers and sisters. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul tells him to “Set an example for believers in speech, life, love, FAITH, and in purity.” We are to challenge and encourage each other to live by faith. I am continually challenged, inspired and encouraged by the faith I see among some of our own people.

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David Mende

commented on Oct 7, 2009

Pastor Field, that was an excellent sermon! Whoa...absoultely powerful!

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