STUDIES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
“But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.” (Hebrews 10:32-34)
Our lives are filled with memories. There are good memories and bad memories. Ordinarily it is the good memories we like recalling, because they are pleasant and delightful to dwell on, whereas the bad memories are preferably forgotten, because they can trouble us even to the point of causing nightmares.
In light of this, many would find it unusual to receive encouragement to remember unpleasant and difficult experiences of the past, with the promise that such memories will serve for an individual’s good. Yet this is exactly what we find in the section of Hebrews before us.
Hebrew Christian readers were in danger of forsaking their beliefs because of religious persecution, so the inspired writer advised them to look back to those early days when they first believed in Jesus as their Savior, and to keep on remembering what it was like. Those former times were also quite difficult, and for the same reasons, but back then they had been willing to endure persecution.
In those early days of their Christian faith-life, they had suffered the loss of association with family and friends who not only didn’t share their beliefs, but vehemently opposed them. Such painful ruptures in their relationships put them in a great spiritual struggle. Should they show a greater devotion to God or to those near and dear to them (see Matthew 10:37)? With the help of God, they stood their ground and remained in the faith.
The sufferings these new-born Christians endured involved being publicly scoffed at and ridiculed, along with other forms of persecution. Some of their fellow believers were even thrown into prison for Christ’s sake.
It would have been easy for them to remain quiet about their faith and not be associated with other
persecuted Christians. But they were not ashamed of being
numbered among the Christ-believers, and out of compassion they visited and aided their incarcerated brethren
(see Matthew 25:36).
This resulted in having their homes broken into and their possessions taken away. However, like the early Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, who rejoiced in being counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus (see Acts 5:41), they joyfully accepted this.
Why is it that such Christians should keep on remembering those troubled times? What good could come from this?
Looking back to those difficult experiences, they could call to mind the wonderful bond they shared with fellow believers; they would remember that the trials and tribulations they underwent caused them to be strengthened in their Christian faith and resolve; and they would realize that even though they suffered the loss of all things, they still possessed the priceless, imperishable spiritual and eternal treasures that Jesus had purchased and won for them as their Savior.
Jesus told us that it will not be easy being Christians, but rather that there would be crosses to bear (Matthew 16:24). But in His great Sermon on the Mount, He gave us this promise: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)
May God help us to keep the faith to the very end of our days in the face of all kinds of opposition!
Mark Gullerud is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Bowdle, South Dakota, and Zion
Lutheran Church in Ipswich, South Dakota.