Better and Abiding: The Double Perfection that Brings Joy (2)
In the previous article we took our first look at Hebrews 10:34. There we read, “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” (Heb. 10:34). Continue reading . . .
In the previous article we took our first look at Hebrews 10:34. There we read, “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” (Heb. 10:34).
We looked briefly at the nature and depth of the persecution these first-century believers endured. Some were verbally reproached, while others were probably beaten physically. A few were even cast into prison. But here in v. 34 we read of what happened to those who chose to identify with those in prison and to minister to their needs.
Whether it was the civil authorities who authorized it or this action was simply the reaction of an angry mob, they went to the homes of these Christians and plundered their property. We don’t know exactly how this happened or if perhaps it involved wholesale destruction of their possessions, but they suffered great loss.
This comes as no surprise. We shouldn’t be shocked that Christians were mistreated this way. But what takes my breath away is how they responded: “you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property” (v. 34).
Now, as I see things, there are three ways to respond to this sort of mistreatment. One is to take the stoical path and simply resign yourself to the outcome without passion or resentment or any feelings at all. “Oh well, easy come, easy go.” At worst, one might feel a bit gloomy and morose, but that’s about the extent of it.
Yet another response is one of dignified and even justifiable outrage. “How dare they do this to us? We’ve got our rights. The laws are there to protect us too! We’ve done nothing to deserve this. After all, it’s my stuff! Who do they think they are, stealing my stuff? I worked hard to get it. I didn’t steal it. I didn’t swindle someone to get it. The money that purchased that stuff was righteously earned. I labored and toiled 40 hours a week for this. It may not be much, but it’s mine. If I had gained this property through illegal means I could understand why God would allow this to happen. But I don’t deserve this.”
But they responded neither with passive resignation nor angry defiance. Rather, they responded with joy! Joy? Yes, joy! When I read this my mind races back to the early days of the church in the book of Acts. The disciples had been arrested and severely beaten for preaching the gospel of Christ. “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41).
Now don’t misunderstand what’s going on here. These weren’t communists or socialists who believed private property was a sin. They didn’t respond this way because deep down inside their souls they knew that personal possessions were inherently evil and that they were probably better off not owning anything at all.
I don’t doubt for a moment that there was some measure of pain and discomfort at losing all their stuff. They had to live somewhere. They had to provide food and shelter for their families. They needed clothing and the basics of life just to survive on a daily basis. But no matter how stressful and disappointing this may have been, the dominant passion in their hearts was joy. Joy trumped all feelings of entitlement.
But how does this happen? This isn’t natural to human beings. In fact, it’s utterly contrary to everything we know about human nature. We prefer safety and convenience and money and all the time in the world to do whatever we want. And when such pleasures come our way we rejoice and when we suffer their loss we gripe and complain and become embittered.
Quite obviously something had occurred in the lives of these people that enabled them to live largely free of any sense of attachment to things, to possessions, to property. I’m quite sure they were more than happy to enjoy whatever physical and monetary blessings God had given to them, and rightly so. But they weren’t enslaved to their possessions. They weren’t dependent on them. Their happiness or joy was tethered to something other than stuff.
How does one experience that kind of freedom? Is it a special or superior kind of grace that God only gives to a handful of super saints? No. The answer is found in the second half of v. 34 – “since you knew [or a better translation would be, ‘it is because you knew’] that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.”
When our author referred to their having been “enlightened” I think he must have had something more in mind than simply their conversion to saving faith in Jesus. That is obviously involved. But they had come to know something more than that their sins were forgiven. They had come to know and understand that the future God had promised to them was immeasurably better and more lasting than anything they could own or experience in this life. At the heart of their conversion to Christ was the rock-solid confidence that what God had in store for them was not only “better” than anything in this present world but was also eternal, never-ending, or as our author says, “abiding”.
This wasn’t some fleeting notion in their heads. They “knew” it! They banked everything on the truth of what God had promised them. When their furniture was being destroyed and their money was being looted and their houses were burning to the ground, one thought filled their hearts and minds: God has prepared for us an eternity of joy and blessing and wealth and unparalleled satisfaction in his presence.
They just didn’t put much stock in this world. As Paul said in Colossians 1:12-13, God “has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” Their treasure was in heaven, hidden in Christ, and no government official or angry mob could do anything to take it from them. John Calvin put it this way:
“Indeed wherever the feeling of heavenly good things is strong, there is no taste for the world with its allurements, so that no sense either of poverty or of shame can overwhelm our minds with sorrow. If then we wish to bear anything for Christ with patience . . . let us grow accustomed to frequent meditation on that happiness in comparison with which all the goods of this world are but rubbish” (153).
The British NT scholar F. F. Bruce, now with the Lord, put it best when he said, “The eternal inheritance laid up for them was so real in their eyes that they could light-heartedly bid farewell to material possessions, which were short-lived in any case” (271; emphasis mine).
To be continued . . .