Open Study Discussion: Faith

Hi all,

For this study, please read Luke 18:1-30 and all of Hebrews 11.

In Luke 18:8, Jesus asked, “However when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”.  How do you interpret the intention of his question?  After all, there are many aspects and applications of faith — even superstitions are a form of faith.  Do you take it to mean that it’s likely that faith will not exist at all prior to the Lord’s return, or was Jesus concerned with a narrower focus on the subject? Consider your answer in light of verses 1-30.

Starting with the parable of the persistent widow, what belief(s) might she have had that could have motivated  and reinforced her persistence?

Now please turn to Hebrews 11 and analyze the examples of Cain and Abel, highlighted in verse 4.  Are there any parallels between them and the Pharisee and tax collector from Luke 18:9-14? If so, what are they?  Also, please consider the following questions:

  1. How can Abel still be speaking, even though he is dead?
  2. If he is still speaking, what is his message?

Returning to Luke 18, please discuss the faith demonstrated by the people in verse 15 and what we can learn from verses 16-17.

Next, what can be learned about the beliefs held by the rich ruler from his conversation with Jesus? What was the “one thing” he lacked?  Why is it hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God?  And to close out Luke 18 and segue back to Hebrews 11, what is the theme that ties verses 1-30 together?  What connection is there between Luke 18:29-30 and Hebrews 11:6?

Finally, Hebrews 11 recounts several individual examples of applied faith. Please isolate the specific action taken in each case and then discuss what the individual must have believed in order to take the action they did.





“Be still and know that I am God”

In Psalm 46:10, King David quotes from the words of God spoken to Moses, who had relayed them to the people of Israel: “Be still and know that I am God”.  The quote in Psalms is an allusion to Exodus 14:13; and the words speak to an exciting and powerful deliverance, brought about by the hand of God himself.  But were they only intended for the people of Israel, who died millenia ago, or do the words still have power today?  Have you ever thought that they not only can be applied to your own life, but must be?  Whenever you are buffeted by any spiritual trial or difficulty, I believe this one simple sentence provides the essential formula for overcoming the adversity.  To elaborate upon this idea, let’s first expand the meaning of each of the Hebrew words involved.

The transliterated sentence is Râphâh yâda’ ‘elôhîym.

Râphâh means ‘to abate’, with the following connotations: to cease, draw toward evening, be faint, wax feeble, forsake, idle, stay, be still, be slothful.  It is related to the word râphâ’, which means ‘in order to be healed’:

  1. of physical ills (literally)
  2. of personal distress (figuratively)
  3. of national hurts (figuratively)

It also carries the connotation of being restored to favor (figuratively).

Yâda’ means

  • 1. to know (in the sense of)
    • a. to learn to know
    • b. to perceive
    • c. to find out and discern
    • d. to discriminate, distinguish
    • e. to know by experience
    • f. to recognize, admit, acknowledge, confess
    • g. to consider
  • 2. (indirectly) to be made known, be or become known, be revealed (through others or things)
  • 3. to be instructed
  • 4. to cause to know
  • 5. (directly) to make oneself known, reveal oneself

‘Elôhîym means ‘God, the (true) God.

So while “Be still and know that I am God” is a good translation, a fuller understanding of what the words intend to convey would yield the following:

“Humble yourself, make your self weak — cease from your own activities, and forsake pursuing your own path — in order to be healed from any and all of your woes.  Pursue God, and seek understanding from Him.  When you do this, God will reveal himself directly to you, and in the process you will:

  1. learn to know Him
  2. perceive His hand in your life — that He has guided and directed you
  3. find out and discern His will regarding the present concern
  4. gain experience and learn how to distinguish His will for future concerns.

Once you have recognized these things, and have overcome the trial through applying the knowledge you have gained, you will then be able to admit, acknowledge, and confess what He has done for you, and accomplished in you.  Your confession will then prompt others to consider His works — and since you have been instructed by Him, you will be more adequately equipped to instruct others through their trials.”

Through His work in your life, God will be made known to others!  Is that not incredible? Trials are the Christian’s opportunity to render service to God!  When we remain willing to persevere as we suffer loss or hardship, and continue to seek God rather than seeking our own solutions, we show our love to God, and our commitment to His way.  This is why the apostle Paul was inspired to write,

“I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship (your reasonable service).  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world (which is: seeking to go your own way, pursuing your own objectives and agendas, to obtain your desires by the strength of your own efforts), but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (which occurs when we apply ourselves to seeking God’s will). Then (i.e., only after this) you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom. 12:1-2)

It would not be surprising to discover that Paul had Psalm 46:10 in mind when he penned these words, since they contain so many of the same elements.  Another parallel to the expanded meaning of “Be still and know that I am God” can be found in Hebrews 12:1-13:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. … Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. … No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.  Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.  ‘Make level paths for your feet’, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.”

Has the common theme in all of these Scriptures emerged?  The struggle against sin is the battle that is waged within each of us: the ongoing choice we face between doing whatever our human nature would like to do as opposed to submitting ourselves to allow God to direct our lives.  The only way we will emerge victorious from any test of faith, and thereby prove faithful in service to God, is to “Be still.”  Is that not completely contrary to our natural inclination?  When trials come, we feel a need to be doing something, as if we could wash the hardship away in a tidal wave of our own activity.  We even have the proverb, “God helps those who help themselves.”  While there is some truth in that adage, it is not a name by which God identifies himself — rather, he is known as “The Helper of the helpless” — He helps those who can’t help themselves.  “God helps those who help themselves” speaks to God’s general providence.  Such instances of His care rarely bring glory to God beyond the individual who is helped by them, since others commonly perceive the outcome to be the natural result of human effort, rather than an example of God’s intervention.  But the Divine Hand is evinced by all when the work accomplished could not have achieved by human strength or might, or any other means.  In reality, deliverance arrives, and the waters part before our very eyes, only when God is the one actively doing.  As it is written, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD Almighty.”    (Zec. 4:6)

But being still does not mean we do nothing.  As the Scripture states, “When you are in distress, if you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut. 4:29-30)  We must render to the trial the attention it deserves and requires, by seeking God.  Every trial in the Christian life has a purpose and reason behind it.  Sometimes we bring them on ourselves, sometimes they come to prune our spiritual branches in order to make us more fruitful in the future, and sometimes we are called to suffer them to serve as examples to others.  Whatever the reason may be, earnest prayer and diligent Bible study are to be our activities, if we wish to understand God’s purpose.  The only way we can expect to receive an answer from Him is to apply and commit ourselves to the search, and to be willing to patiently endure, trusting that God will provide deliverance when the appropriate time has arrived.

If our belief is that our difficulties will be solved as long as we remain busy and physically productive, our faith is in ourselves, not in God, and we will become spiritually unproductive.  An opportunity to grow spiritually and bring glory to the Father will have been lost.  This is why Hebrews 11:6 instructs, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”  No one who believes that a particular activity will be unfruitful would rationally invest time, energy and resources toward it.  The time we spend in seeking God could easily be used in numerous other ways; therefore, it is essential that we have faith that the resources we expend in our pursuit of God will yield a worthwhile outcome.

Trials are inevitable.  When they arrive, it is important to understand that the end result is determined by the approach.  If we desire to learn how to know God more intimately, and perceive His hand in our lives, we must view the tests we face in the proper context.  Remember the guiding principle, “Be still and know that I am God.”  Seek Him, and look forward to seeing His wonderful works displayed through you, and, in due time, God will grant that you emerge from the adversity as a conqueror.




The Widow of Zarephath: A Profile of Faith

” I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when… there was a severe famine throughout the land.  Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon…”  Luke 4:25-26

At the beginning of his earthly ministry, directly after his temptation in the desert, Jesus was in Nazareth, speaking in the synagogue one Sabbath, as recorded in the fourth chapter of the gospel of Luke.  As he is speaking to those in the assembly, he makes reference to a widow from Zarephath.  What is it that distinguished this particular widow and set her apart to receive divine intervention?  Why was Elijah sent to her alone?  Her story is told in a few verses found in 1 Kings 17:8-16, but what can be learned from this brief encounter could fill volumes.  The stage is set when the brook where Elijah had been receiving his sustenance during the famine dried up.  God commands him to go to Zarephath and dwell there, because he has tasked a widow there with the responsibility of supporting him.

The first thing that struck me was the brevity of God’s instructions to Elijah.  Consider all the logistic and practical questions left unaddressed — questions like, ‘How will I know who I’m looking for?’; ‘What should I say when I meet her?’; or ‘What do I do if she doesn’t believe me?’.  Perhaps given his prior experiences and relationship with God those type of questions were not entertained by Elijah.  All that mattered was to be obedient to the word of the Lord which came to him, and to trust God to work out the details.  I think that’s highly informative of how faith is to work in the lives of those who set their hearts on serving God.

And it is just that manner of faith that made Elijah such an effective servant and man of God — but this profile in faith concerns the widow he was sent to, not Elijah himself.  And for good reason, too, I think.  No one can take the mantle of an Elijah upon himself, it must be given to him by God; and the extraordinary nature of his calling may make it difficult for some to relate to his example.  But although she was not commissioned to work miracles or to confront spiritual wickedness on a national scale like Elijah, the widow was expected to believe God and act in accordance to that faith in order to experience His deliverance; and this requirement is common to all believers, which makes it easier to identify with.  And if we can relate to the example, we may be inclined to strive to emulate it all the more — which is good, since I would argue that the world would have no need for the work of an Elijah if only every professed believer put into practice the faith required of, and demonstrated by, this Sidonian.

Before turning our focus to the main point of what made this widow unique, I’d like to raise a side question: by what method was God’s command delivered to the widow?  One might imagine the Lord dispatching an angel to relay His word, or that the widow was shown a vision or a dream of herself feeding Elijah.  I concede these are possibilities, but I, for one, have never been visited by an angel, had a vision, or heard the voice of God audibly — nor am I aware of knowing anyone who has.  And so I offer as conjecture another possibility more relatable to common Christian experience: that the word of the Lord came to the widow in a still, small voice — a simple word spoken to her heart — “Provide for my servant Elijah.”.  While it is by no means a definitive proof that this is the case, it is interesting to note that the same Hebrew word ‘tsavah’, meaning to appoint or give charge to, is used in verse four, when God commanded or appointed the ravens to feed Elijah, as it is in verse nine, when it refers to the widow.  The implication of the word is that God commissioned each of them with the responsibility of supporting Elijah, not that He communicated to both parties in a direct way that would be easily recognized as emanating from Him.

Why is this an important point?  As Elihu said in Job 33:14, “For God does speak –now one way, now another — though man may not perceive it.”  The fact is that one may, as a pleasing self-deception, falsely attribute a thought or desire of the heart as having emanated from God.  Conversely, it is also possible to dismiss legitimate instruction from God due to failure to recognize Him as its originator .  The potential for doubt is a large part of what makes faith challenging.  But if God has clearly spoken, doubt as to what His will is has been removed, and faith is no longer required.  The issue becomes one of straight-forward obedience, which I think does the widow a disservice by diminishing the trying nature of this encounter.

With that backdrop in mind, we can now move on to what made this widow distinct from all the widows in Israel.  As the encounter unfolds, imagine yourself in her place.  Try to think of it as you are today, and with the current realities of the world as they are.  A stranger calls out to you in the street, asking for water.  You could easily go about your business and pretend as if you did not hear him, or that you imagined he was speaking to someone else, and turn to walk away.  And if you did, there are many today, even in the church, who would say you were simply exercising discretion as a single woman in a dangerous world, and justify you for doing so.  Given that she did not opt to follow this reasoning, we are provided a small glimpse into her character, even at this early juncture.

Now the biblical account only records Elijah asking for a little water and the widow going to get it, but the snippet of conversation we are provided with creates for me the impression of an internal dialogue being worked out between the two parties.  Elijah’s request has the sense of probing — as if he is indirectly seeking the answer to questions not yet given voice — ‘How tender is this woman’s heart to the needs of a foreigner?  Is she the one I’ve been sent to?’.  It seems unlikely the widow would simply drop what she was doing to immediately comply to a stranger’s request, with no questions asked, so let’s infer a dialogue occurred that we are not privy to.  A natural exchange may have been something along these lines:  Elijah calls out his request for water, to which the widow replies ‘Who are you, and what  brings you here, stranger?’.  Elijah responds, ‘I am a servant of the Lord, the God of Israel.  There is a drought throughout the land and the Lord has commanded me to dwell in this town.  The journey has been tiring and I am thirsty — would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?’  When she turns to comply, she passes Elijah’s litmus test for tenderheartedness, yet further clarification is still required to be certain she is the one to whom he has been sent.  Thus the follow-up, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”

And if the Lord’s command did indeed come as a mere whisper sown in her heart as postulated, it is plausible to conclude that she would have her own unspoken doubts needing to be addressed.  Perhaps the following thoughts occupied her mind as she is leaving to go get the requested water:

‘Is this man’s appearance and request simply a coincidence?  And if it is not a coincidence, and he has been sent to me by God, how am I to provide for him when I have almost nothing myself?  If he is a man of God, as he claims, shouldn’t he already know my situation?’

If these were not considerations being worked out within the widow’s mind, how else can the remarkable restraint she displayed in making nary a word of reference to her own dire need be explained?

One can see the unseen hand of God’s involvement in the matter becoming more evident when, with perfect timing, as the widow turns to leave pondering such things, He inspires Elijah to add to his previous inquiry.  His request for bread prompts the widow to disclose what she had heretofore not been inclined to reveal, and the door has been opened to put each of their doubts to rest.  She now lays all of her cards on the table:  12 “As surely as the Lord your God lives, I don’t have any bread — only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug.  I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it — and die.”

What a test we are presented with here!  Consider all the widow had already been subjected to prior to this encounter.  Her husband has died and she has been left to care for her child: alone, and with no means of support.  We find her now, down to her last meal, and no one has shown any concern by providing for her needs.  Surely her neighbors would have been aware of her situation after her husband’s passing.  Even if they were unmoved on her behalf, should not pity have been aroused for the sake of her child?  How confident would you have remained in the goodness of the Creator in an environment so devoid of compassion?  Yet, although she had already born all these burdens, it appears that they were merely quizzes and not her final exam.  For look at how Elijah framed his final challenge:

13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid.  Go home and do as you have said.  But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son.  14 For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.’

Does not the carnal nature present within us all loudly and indignantly protest against the temerity of this command?  How speedily the following response presents itself to the mind!  “Let me get this straight.  I just told you I’m down to my last meal.  No one has helped me at all — and now you, a stranger I just met, want me to feed you before myself or my son!?!  Because my food will somehow magically replenish if I do as you say?!  Well sir, you obviously worship an amazing god if he can do that — but if that’s true, let me ask you, then: Where has he been for me all this time?!”

Hopefully, this imaginary dialogue conveys how easy it could have been for this widow to use her suffering as an occasion to accuse God, and to even feel justified for so doing.  But we see from her no protest at all.  Her actual response?

15 She went away and did as Elijah had told her.

Amazing.  In this simple act of humble compliance the widow becomes a witness establishing the veracity of the word of God, which says in Hab. 2:4, “The righteous will live by his faith”.  Her story perfectly accentuates both aspects of the duality of meaning encapsulated in this verse.  First, we see that the woman’s belief informed her action — she lived and was guided by, her faith; secondly she was delivered and lived because of her faith.  What belief could have prompted such swift and unquestioning obedience? Could it be anything other than an absolute confidence in the Goodness of God, rooted deeply in her heart ?  At this critical moment, when the rains came, the streams rose, and the winds blew, trying her to the very foundation of her soul, this belief must have echoed from within and called to her mind the certainty that even if all men should fail you, faith in the Lord is never disappointed.  How else could she have emerged victorious when given a responsibility that could only be accomplished by trusting in the One who gave it?

The question of what made this widow unique can be concluded by returning to the opening quote from Luke 4:25-26; this time with a different question in mind.  Why did Jesus direct his audience’s attention to her example?  Verse 22 of Luke 4 ends with those who were gathered in the synagogue asking, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”  In answer, Jesus said, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!  Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.'”   He used the widow’s example to highlight a deficiency in their hearts and to contrast their continual demand for a sign with her ready acceptance.  Rather than requiring proof of God’s goodness, she stood firm in her conviction and refused to relinquish it even when all the evidence of her situation seemed to argue against it.  May all who seek God learn from and be inspired by her example.