But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.
Like Christians throughout the world for the past two thousand years, Christians in America are not immune to persecution and hardship that comes because of their faith. Jesus promised blessings upon those who are persecuted (Matthew 5:10-12), and Paul assured Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and imposters will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:12).
Yet many, perhaps most, Christians in America cannot say that the hardships they undergo as a direct response to their faith in Jesus can compare to the hardships experienced by their brethren in many other countries and cultures. It certainly does not compare to the tribulations undergone by the early Christians we read of in the New Testament. In the above text the Hebrew writer begins to describe the hardships his fellow Christians of Jewish ethnicity went through because of their allegiance to the Carpenter from Nazareth. He describes “a hard struggle with sufferings” and “being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction” (vs. 32-33). Some of us can relate to these generic descriptions, having suffered in various ways and having been mocked and reproached for our faith. Yet how many of us can say that we were thrown in jail (v. 34a), or that we “joyfully accepted the plundering of our property” (v. 34b)? Indeed, we will later see in this series that the inspired writer went on to tell his suffering brethren, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (12:4), thus implying that the persecution they were experiencing would later turn fatal for them. How many of us have had our lives literally on the line because of our Christianity?
In many ways our current culture is becoming more and more inclined to view the Christian faith in a negative light. We see this in the political realm, in the business world, and in entertainment. Time will tell if our nation will one day get to the point where those among her who follow Jesus will be at risk of prison or the loss of their homes or even their lives, as were the Jewish Christians to whom Hebrews was written (cf. Acts 8:1-4). Yet regardless of whether that day comes or when it comes, and regardless of whatever hardships come into the path of Christians in our society, the exhortation God had for the early church is the same exhortation he has for all who would follow him today and for all time: “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised” (vs. 35-36).
It is interesting that he would tell people who apparently reacted with joy when their very homes were taken from them because they knew they had a better home in eternity that they still had need of endurance. The bar is indeed high, friends. Yet God also wanted them to know that in “a little while…the coming one will come and will not delay” (v. 37), a likely reference to God coming in judgment upon the Jewish nation for rejecting his Son by allowing Rome’s destruction of Jerusalem and the temple a few years later in A.D. 70 (cf. Matthew 23:29-38; 24:1-34). In the meantime, God reminded them (and us) that “my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (v. 38).
The Hebrew author boosted the morale of his brethren by stating, “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (v. 39). If faced with the same trials they faced, could you and I say the same?