Hebrews 11 is one of the more famous passages in all of Scripture. Some theologians have called Hebrews 11 the “hall of heroes” or the “hall of faith”. I think we identify with this chapter in the Bible because it’s about real people who walked with God by faith. In addition, Hebrews 11 doesn’t sanitize the Christian experience. Following Jesus is, at times, very difficult. And we see that in Hebrews 11. Some people were imprisoned, mocked, tortured and died for the sake of the gospel. Yet, they kept following Jesus by faith because they were certain of future reward and future grace found only in Jesus. They believed they were promised a “better possession and an abiding one”.
One of the more interesting things about Hebrews 11 is that there is an incompleteness to our experience of Christ by faith apart from the community of faith. The author says that though Abraham, Moses, David and others were “commended through their faith” (11:39), they did not receive the fullness of what they were hoping for in Christ. In fact, they could not receive the fullness of all that was promised to them in Jesus until you and I receive “something better for us” (11:40) – which is Christ himself. Notice how the author ends this chapter: “… apart from us they should not be made perfect.”
What is the author suggesting? He’s saying that we all share in Christ, but that our experience of Christ will be different in two ways. First, our experience of Jesus will not be equal. In Hebrews 11, some – by faith – conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched fire, escaped the sword, are made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight, and received back their dead (11:33-35a). But some are tortured, mocked, imprisoned, beaten and murdered. Some Christians lose everything and die destitute.
There is an awful lot of comparing that happens in our world, and social media platforms only exacerbate the problem. What most of us see when we look at the lives of others is a highly idealized image of their actual reality. We don’t see people as they are, but as they want us to see them.
Yet, the gift of biblical community created by the power of the gospel is a context where people can be known as they are, not as we wish, or even they wish themselves to be. Living in community offers us the opportunity to see and experience first-hand the truth that the inequity in our life experiences is not a sign of forsakenness by God, but merely a different expression of our experience of Christ. The saints in Hebrews 11 who lost everything were no less loved that the saints who stopped the mouths of lions. Yet, unless the hungry, naked, and forsaken among us are walking with Jesus in community, they might be tempted to believe their circumstantial misfortune is evidence of God’s indifference, or worse yet, his punitive wrath.
Our experience of Jesus will also be incomplete apart from following Jesus in a community (i.e., what we call the local church). Notice how the chapter ends again. The Hebrews 11 saints were incomplete and imperfect apart from our faith. Our salvation is perfected through the community of faith. This means that you will not grow in maturity in Christ as you should apart from rooting your life deeply among the community of believers (i.e., the local church).
Individualism is not a biblical concept. In fact, individualism is an idol. It teaches us to be self-centered and self-focused without any consideration for others. Spiritual growth is not a personal and private matter. It’s a community project. That’s why the author says, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (10:24-25).
None of us has an equal experience of Christ by faith, but if we choose to try to walk with him alone, we will also face the deficit of an incomplete experience with Jesus. Our faith will be jeopardized, especially in trials, because we will not have anyone around us to remind us that despite the inequity of our experience in Christ, we are more than conquerors through Jesus who loves us and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:35-39).
I want to encourage you to look for intentional ways to live in community with other Christians as you talk about your experience with Jesus. This can happen organically over a cup of coffee, breaking bread together, and practicing hospitality by opening your home. But I also want to encourage you to connect with one another through groups at Community Bible. Consider being a part of Community Groups (sermon-based discussion small groups of 10-12 people) or D-Groups (same gender discipleship groups of 3-5 people that meet for 12-18 months) this fall. Sign up for an Equip Group this January – February. Or plug into a men’s (Tuesday mornings) or women’s bible study (coming this fall). Whatever you do, take proactive steps to engage others and share in your experience with Jesus for the sake of your maturity in Christ, as well as theirs.
Grace to You,