Suffering Loss with a Better Possession in Our Sights
Topic: Perseverance of the Saints Passage: Hebrews 10:32–39
Suffering Loss with a Better Possession in Our Sights
32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 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. 35 Therefore don’t throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; 38 but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” 39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.*
Richard Wurmbrand may be a name familiar to some of you. He founded Voice of the Martyrs. He also pastored during the late 1940s when communism overtook Romania. In 1948 they arrested him for teaching that communism and Christianity were incompatible. That turned into a fourteen-year imprisonment where he experienced the worst tortures. He would later write about that experience in a well-known book called Tortured for Christ. In another article, though, he wrote the following words…
What shall we do about these tortures? Will we be able to bear them? If I don’t bear them I put in prison another fifty or sixty men whom I know, because that’s what the Communists wish from me, to betray those around me. And here comes the great need for the role of preparation for suffering which must start now. It’s too difficult to prepare yourself for it when the Communists have put you in prison…In prison you lose everything. You are undressed and given a prisoner’s suit. No more nice furniture, nice carpets, or nice curtains. You don’t have a wife any more and you don’t have your children. You don’t have your library and you never see a flower. Nothing of what makes life pleasant remains. Nobody resists who has not renounced the pleasures of life beforehand.[i]
Hear that last line again: “Nobody resists who has not renounced the pleasures of life beforehand.” It echoes Jesus’ words in Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” How does one endure as Jesus’ disciple, when the most precious treasures get stripped away in the path of obedience? Hebrews 10 answer that question. An incomparably greater Treasure must take hold of you. That’s what we’re talking about today…
Some Jews, here, had become Christians. But they’re now wavering in their commitment to Jesus. Part of that is due to their own passivity. They’re drifting away. The other part is due to persecution. Enemies do terrible things to keep them silent about Jesus. Passivity and persecution have led them to waiver in their commitment to Jesus.
Hebrews exists to address that problem. It does so primarily by magnifying the greatness of Jesus. But he also includes various warnings and encouragements. Last time we got a warning about those who go on sinning. Today we get an encouragement. He brings up their past experience with persecution to encourage them: “Faithfulness happened back there! Recall it! There was a Treasure at the very center of it.” The other thing he adds is a reassurance about the future reward. So past endurance, future reward—both should encourage them in the present, into present endurance.
A Past Endurance & the Treasure Compelling It
Let’s look first at their past endurance. He wants them to recall their past endurance and the Treasure that compelled it. He’s like a parent or coach—they’ve seen you do something well before and then bring it up as a way to encourage you to keep going. What about these former days was so encouraging?
Verse 32, “Recall the former days when, after you were enlightened…” That means conversion. They heard the gospel; the Holy Spirit brought light into their moral darkness. They embraced the beauty of Jesus in the gospel. That conversion, though, didn’t mean safety in the world. It meant suffering. The world hates Jesus and it hates Jesus in you. So he goes on, “you endured a hard struggle with sufferings.” There’s a word picture here, that of a contest. “You got in the arena with suffering and put up a great fight,” is the idea. “You stood your ground in Christ.”
The sufferings came at them in different forms, too. Verse 33, “sometimes being publicly exposed to reproaches and afflictions.” Reproach has to do with verbal abuse. Think of the crowds who crucified Jesus—they reviled Jesus, wagging their heads and mocking him. Affliction has more to do with physical abuse—like imprisonment, beatings with rods, lashes across their backs, sleepless nights, depriving individuals of basic necessities like good shelter and food,[ii] excrement spread on your toast in the morning by the prison guards—afflictions.
Other sufferings came at them, because they choose to partner publicly with the other Christians who were suffering. End of verse 33, “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.”
We did this before, but imagine it with me. A brother or sister is in prison for the gospel. They’re hurting. They’re hungry. They’re alone. Let’s say your small group decides to prepare a meal and go sit outside the prison window to keep them company. (Don’t think well-built prison system that feeds you three meals a day.)
But here’s the cost: by going, others will see you associate with them, and that means they’re coming for you next. Maybe they don’t put you in jail, but they plunder your property. Think confiscating all your belongings and sending you into a life of poverty, where nobody else wants to hire you except for unjust purposes. Oh yeah, and there’s no filing for unemployment benefits. That’s closer to the cost these Christians accept as they partner with those in prison.
And did you hear how they accept it? Joyfully. “You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property.” They ransacked the kid’s bedrooms. They stole all your precious belongings. They smashed your hard-drive that stored all the family photos. They confiscated your weapons and pawned off the tools you used to make a living. And they accepted it joyfully. How do you do that? We get upset when things don’t go our way, even when it has zero to do with our Christian witness.
American Christianity gets mad when the world starts taking their property. Government starts talking property and even Christians start loading their guns. I’m not saying it’s right for the government to do it; nor am I saying it’s wrong to speak against such injustices. I’m just saying American culture has trained us to protect our property not rejoice when it’s plundered for Christ’s sake; and some Christians have bought the American lie which makes a text like this one sound like crazy talk.
This passage isn’t pressing us into a life that merely puts up with loss. It presses us into a life that joyfully accepts the plundering of your property when the gospel is at stake. A life that rejoices when others say all kinds of evil about you for the sake of Jesus—Matthew 5:12. A life that sings when you’re released from prison and beaten for speaking about Jesus—Acts 5:40-41. Are you there? Do you want to be? If we’re going to make it to the end, we have to be there.
How? How do we get there? How do you get to a place where you can joyfully accept the plundering of your property in the path of obedience? End of verse 34: “since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” The losses will grieve you—especially when you see the pain in your spouse or your children. But they’re incomparable to the joy we have in the better and abiding possession. The only way that you can joyfully accept the plundering of your property is if you know that you have a superior possession that’s worth way more.
That possession is Jesus Christ before God’s presence in his unshakable kingdom. The word “better” in “a better possession”—Hebrews applies that word to Jesus’ person and work regularly. Jesus has a better name than the angels (1:3). We have a better hope by him giving us access to God (7:19). His blood speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (12:24). He establishes a better covenant (7:22) for his people. They will participate in a better resurrection (11:35) only to live in a better country (11:16). At the heart of everything better is Jesus, including this better and abiding possession. He is the radiance of the glory of God. He is infinite in worth and value and beauty.
Having Jesus also means access into God’s presence. Sin separates us from God. But Jesus opened the way to God by his sacrifice. It says in 2:10 that Jesus is bringing many sons to glory with him. You don’t get a better possession than God. There’s nothing higher in worth, fuller in joy, superior in power, more awesome in splendor. Nothing compares! So the better possession is Jesus before God’s presence.
Then, to top it off, we gain a kingdom where we can never lose Jesus before God’s presence. 12:28, “…let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” It can’t be shaken, because its designer and builder is God, 11:10 says. God is infinite in wisdom and knowledge and power. When he builds something, it lasts. It can’t be shaken. If his kingdom can’t be shaken, then the rest you find there can’t be shaken, and the joy you find there can’t be shaken, and the riches there can’t be shaken, and the peace there can’t be shaken. That makes it not just a better possession, but an abiding one.
The superior possession is Jesus Christ before God’s presence in his unshakable kingdom. When you have this better and abiding possession, the comforts of this present age cannot hold you in bondage. The threats of people plundering your property will fall on you like rain against the rock. You will be able to renounce the pleasures of life (like Wurmbrand), because you know you have a better One…
Unless you abandon the true Treasure. Unless your soul becomes so shriveled up by this world’s pleasures, that you can’t really see why Jesus is all that glorious anymore. Unless you sell your soul to the American dream, such that you stop living for the better country who’s designer and builder is God.
For whatever reason, these Christians were tempted to abandon Christ. Some are ready to give up. Verse 36 says they have “need of endurance.” They’re wavering. But that’s why he wants them to recall the former days. These Christians knew they had a better possession and an abiding one. That possession compelled them to stand firm and make great sacrifices for the kingdom. They need that possession back in their sights. They need Christ and his glory before them once again. Knowing and seeing Jesus’ greatness compelled their endurance once before; it will compel their endurance again. That’s what he draws from their past faithfulness and the Treasure at the heart of it.
A Future Reward & the Savior Bringing It
He also reassures them of a future reward and the Savior bringing it. Verse 35 says, “Therefore, don’t throw away your confidence…” Why? Because it “has a great reward.” That’s one good reason not to throw it away—great reward.
We’ve seen this theme of “confidence” before. 4:16, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace.” The confidence in view is an inner certainty based on Christ’s objective, saving work. We look at what God accomplished for us in Jesus, and that finished work produces an inward certainty, a confidence leading to endurance, obedience to the will of God even in the face of suffering.
If we throw away that confidence, if you stop resting in Jesus’ saving work, if you don’t draw near to the throne of grace any longer for help, then we forfeit the reward. Only those who endure receive the reward. The crown doesn’t come without enduring a cross. “We have need for endurance,” he goes on to add. The purpose for our endurance is receiving what God promised. Notice how he puts it in verse 36: “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” Again, he’s motivating them with the reward, with what’s promised—it’s the eternal rest in God’s presence, gaining the unshakable kingdom.
Why do we need endurance? There’s a reward for crossing the finish line. God holds out glorious promises for those who do his will. But there’s another good reason not to throw away your confidence, another reason to endure. Christ is bringing the reward—God’s word assures it. Look at verses 37-38, “For, ‘Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.’”
These are words from Isaiah 26:20 and Habakkuk 2:3-4. He smashes them together. That’s easy to do because both prophecies share a very similar context and message. As a nation, Israel is about to endure some awful suffering in exile. Babylon will come and destroy the nation as a whole; and even the faithful in Israel will have to endure some very difficult days. But that’s not the end of it. God also promises to remember his faithful remnant. He will not forget those who truly belong to him. Rather, he promises to save them, judge their enemies, and make the world right again.
But here’s the great difficulty: that salvation and deliverance would feel to them like it was far, far away. From God’s perspective it would only be “a little while;” but from earth the relief from suffering would feel like it’s taking forever. The inner turmoil would grow even more because things would be out of their control; the faithful wouldn’t be able to make the world right again. All they would be able to do is wait, trust, obey, and cry, “How long, O Lord? Do you not see, O Lord?”
In the midst of that waiting, though, they were supposed to hold on to these words: “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” Not only is it a call to faith, to this trustful reliance on the Lord to complete his purposes in his timing. It was also a call to hope: the coming one will come and will not delay.
Now, if you were to turn back to Habakkuk 2:3, the wording in our English translations refers to the vision coming to pass. “If [the vision] seems slow, wait for it; [the vision] will surely come; it will not delay.” The vision, of course, is the vision of God’s salvation for his people and God’s judgment upon their enemies. Why does Hebrews say “the coming one will come” then?
Part of the answer is that he’s drawing from a Greek translation and interpretation of the Hebrew. The other part of the answer comes with 1:1-2—“Long ago, at many times and in many ways [think visions], God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” In other words, with the coming of Jesus Christ we see how that vision in Habakkuk receives its ultimate fulfillment.
The coming one will come and will not delay. The Lord himself will come in judgment in the person of Jesus—Jesus bringing the reward. He’s going to fulfill the promises—some of them, he’s already fulfilled. Some days our sufferings will make it feel like the promises are so far away; but from God’s perspective, they’re but a little while. He gave us his word. He does not lie. Jesus will come again. There’s hope for the faithful. For the righteous one who trusts him, who waits for him, who cries to him like Habakkuk cried, the Lord will remember mercy.
So keep going. Don’t throw away your confidence, because the reward is coming. And keep going because “the coming one will come”—Jesus is bringing the reward. Jesus is bringing the judgment on our persecutors. He will deliver us. So don’t be like those who shrink back and are destroyed. The context in Habakkuk makes it clear that the one who shrinks back is the one who’s puffed up. In pride, he trusts in himself. He doesn’t have a confidence in the Lord; he has an inflated view of himself. Proud people shrink back because they think they don’t need the Lord’s help. But the humble cast themselves upon the Lord’s mercies in faith. Those who do preserve their souls.
That’s where he believes many of these believers are. Verse 39, “But we are not of those who shrink back unto destruction; we are of those who have faith unto preserving their souls.” The proud man throws away his confidence in Christ and falls away. The righteous man places his confidence in Christ and endures. That’s his hope for these believers. That’s his encouragement. And it’s an encouragement for us too.
We must publicly identify with Christ and his people.
Recall your past endurance and the Treasure compelling it. Remember the future reward and the Savior bringing it, so that you don’t throw away your confidence. Past endurance, future reward—he draws from both to encourage their endurance in the present. We need to hear this same message today, don’t we?
We, too, have need of endurance. We have need of endurance, because our faith in Christ is not a private matter. We must be willing to identify with Christ and his people publicly. Last Friday, the elders were talking about a brother named Dusty Deevers. He’s now pastoring in Oklahoma, but he used to be here. One of the accountability questions Dusty would ask was, “Who’d you share the gospel with this week?” And if you answered, “Well, nobody really,” he’d say something like, “Are you even a Christian?” Now, there may be some ways to improve on that question depending on how well you know the people in your accountability group.
But here’s what it nailed down for a number of us: genuine faith won’t be silent about Jesus. The world will tell you to keep your faith private. But when you surrender all loyalties to Jesus, by necessity that will affect your public discourse and engagement. An inward allegiance to Jesus will proactively resist whatever compromises the worship of Jesus and publicly testify to whatever supports the worship of Jesus. And people will not like it. They will oppose it. So, endurance is made necessary when we publicly identify with Christ and with his people.
A public faith will call for great endurance.
When we go public with Christ, it will call for endurance. Some members from this church moved their family to Europe a few years ago. They’re taking the gospel to some unreached peoples. Recently they were brought in for questioning. The authorities want his cooperation. They perceive Christianity as a threat to their power. They wanted him to inform on the local believers. What would you do? This calls for endurance. He didn’t compromise. He wasn’t going to form an alliance with these powers. He wasn’t going to compromise Christ or the church. Thankfully, the authorities haven’t followed through with any consequences. But the intimidation is there.
Over a year ago, another member of this church worked at a local insurance company. The LGBT community was hosting a pride parade in Fort Worth. As part of their marketing strategy, this insurance company decided to participate in the parade. The owner asked all the employees to participate in that parade. But our brother knew that to participate in that parade would compromise his faithfulness to Christ. Could his job be on the line? If so, how would he provide for the family? This calls for endurance. He didn’t compromise. He sat down with the owner and explained why he couldn’t participate. She didn’t fire him, but he endured what this passage calls reproach.
Others of you have shared stories where fellow employees were participating in something immoral. They invited you to participate with them, but you chose not to and explained why. By doing so, you fulfilled what 1 Peter 4:4 talks about: “…they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you. Representing Christ by refusing to participate in immoral behavior—that too calls for endurance, especially when it means they overlook you at promotion time.
Endurance could also mean something as simple as preserving the lyrics “Till on that cross as Jesus died / the wrath of God was satisfied”—you preserve that truth and sing it publicly when other so-called Christians call that “divine child abuse.”
Endurance would also be called for when other business owners mock you for not contributing financially to organizations or causes that may be very popular, that they may believe in very strongly, when you know those organizations or causes oppose God’s word on family, marriage, gender, justice, and so forth. It might mean walking into your employer’s office one day and saying, “Sorry, I just can’t sign this document requiring me to utilize pronouns of genders that simply do not exist in my Father’s world.” That’s not hard to imagine, especially when the Supreme Court ruled that laws forbidding employers to discriminate on the basis of sex also apply to one’s “gender identity.”
Make yourself rich in Christ.
It will get harder. It doesn’t go well for guys like John the Baptist who say to a Herod, “You shouldn’t be sleeping with her; God says so.” Are you prepared to suffer well in the path of obedience? I’m not sure we are. A few of you are—and I’m thankful to see it. I could point to examples in your life where I’ve seen endurance, and of the kind that has Christ at its center.
But not all of us. For a number of us, we’re still too attached to the here and now; we’re still too attached to this country, to this land, to these freedoms, to these possessions, to our property, to these conveniences and opportunities. Don’t get me wrong: these are good gifts; we should give thanks for God’s common grace upon us in America. We can even pray that these things would last for the coming generations. But when they’re stripped away from you in the path of obedience, will you grow angry and bitter and jaded and fearful? If so, your happiness was in the wrong place to begin with.
None of these good gifts surpass Christ, the better than abiding possession. If you do not treasure him now, you won’t last when the suffering comes. If you don’t know now that you have a better possession in Christ and an abiding one, you will fold when they plunder your property. You won’t stand in the arena of suffering. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. So, how are we going to get there?
By making ourselves rich in Jesus. Pour over his word. Study him together. Declare his excellencies. Soak in his truth. Keep a vision of his glory in front of you. Walk with him in prayer. Make yourself so rich in Christ that you have everything to give for the sake of others. Be like the church in Smyrna. Remember them in Revelation 2:9? Jesus says, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich)…” How can they be poor and yet rich? They’re rich in Christ; and that’s what would get them through the slander and the imprisonment.
Or take the words of Habakkuk 3:17-18. Remember what it said earlier—“the righteous shall live by faith.” Here’s what faith sounds like in Habakkuk 3:17: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” A heart happy in God is the key to enduring suffering in the path of obedience.
"Our Reward in Heaven Is Great"
Going back to Richard Wurmbrand as we close—in his book Tortured for Christ, he included several letters from a girl named Varia. She was involved in the communist party and then converted to Christianity. She suffered greatly for it. But I want to read you one of the last letters she wrote before losing all contact with her. And what I want you to listen for is how full she is in Jesus as she endures. She writes,
Dear Maria, at last I have found the opportunity to write you a few lines. I can tell you, my dear one, that, by the grace of God, Sister X and I are healthy and feel well…I thank you for your motherly care for me. We received all you have prepared for us. I thank you for the most valuable thing, the Bible. Thanks to all. When you write to them, send my greetings and thanks for what they have done for me. Since the Lord revealed to me the deep mystery of His holy love, I consider myself to be the happiest in the world. The persecutions that I have to endure I consider as a special grace. I am glad that the Lord gave me from the first days of my faith the great happiness to suffer for Him. Pray for me that I may remain faithful to the Lord to the end. May the Lord keep you all and strengthen you for the holy battle! Sister X and I kiss you all. …perhaps we will have the opportunity to write to you again. Don’t worry about us. We are glad and joyful, because our reward in heaven is great (Matthew 5:11-12). Your Varia
How does one endure as Jesus’ disciple, when the most precious treasures get stripped away in the path of obedience? An incomparably greater Treasure must take hold of you; and that Treasure is Christ.
[i] Epiphany Journal (Summer, 1985), 46-48.
[ii] 2 Cor 6:4; Phil 4:12-14; Col 1:24; Heb 13:3.