…of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. – Hebrews 11:38

We have read about persecution and affliction, about the faithful and what they have suffered and will continue to endure for the sake of Christ. This verse lists more sufferings, addressing those who like John the Baptizer wandered in the wilderness and also those like Elijah and other prophets who hid in caves. But I want to focus on the very first phrase in this verse, “Of whom the world was not worthy.”

These, our heroes, were faithful to Christ even unto death. They stood firm and never wavered. They were steadfast. They trusted the Father, they leaned on Christ, they depended upon the Holy Spirit. They are heroes of the faith.

Often when it comes to heroes we are prone to think of them more highly than we ought to think, but here the Holy Scripture tell us that these faithful are to be highly revered. They followed Christ just as we should, and by their faith we learn that the world was not worthy of them.

This cursed, fallen world, sick and dying, waiting for redemption, this marred creation was trod upon by those who were freed from sin and the curse by their faith in Christ. The creation, earth, people, human kind – all of this is contained in the word “world” and to all of these and in relation to all of these, when it comes to those who are the beloved bride of Christ, the world simply cannot hold them in the high esteem of which they are worthy. This worth is not inherent by the way, but imputed as we trade our sin for Christ’s righteousness. It is because of what He has done that these are so honored.

It is truly hard to put this into words. This rag-tag band of believers who wandered the earth hiding in caves, destitute, afflicted, these were not the affluent that the world worships, they were not the movers and shakers that are the center of attention, they were not those thronged by adoring crowds. No. They seemed in fact unworthy of any attention. They were viewed as religious fanatics, nuts, strangers. The world truly believes that this would be a better place without the followers of Jesus Christ.

They found no place among men. Jesus Himself had no place to lay His head. The disciples were a band of travelers who gave their very lives for the Christ they knew and loved. Some died in Israel. Some in Rome. Some as far away as India and Spain. All but one died as a martyr, and even then, John the beloved was exiled to the prison island of Patmos.

Yet while the world hates and despises disciples of Jesus Christ, we see the blessings that go with them everywhere they go. As John Calvin points out in his commentary on Hebrews 11:38:

Wherever God’s servants come, they bring with them his blessing like the fragrance of a sweet odor. Thus the house of Potiphar was blessed for Joseph’s sake, (Genesis 39:5;) and Sodom would have been spared had ten righteous men been found in it. (Genesis 18:32.) Though then the world may cast out God’s servants as offscourings, it is yet to be regarded as one of its judgments that it cannot bear them; for there is ever accompanying them some blessing from God. Whenever the righteous are taken away from us, let us know that such events are presages of evil to us; for we are unworthy of having them with us, lest they should perish together with us.

Matthew Henry brings home the point that in truth we as believers, as members of this ever growing family of faith, we do not belong to this world! Here is what he said:

The world did not deserve such blessings; they did not know how to value them, nor how to use them. Wicked men! The righteous are not worthy to live in the world, and God declares the world is not worthy of them; and, though they widely differ in their judgment, they agree in this, that it is not fit that good men should have their rest in this world; and therefore God receives them out of it, to that world that is suitable to them, and yet far beyond the merit of all their services and sufferings.

We, as God’s elect, were made for heaven, and this world is not our home. We are but pilgrims here, passing through. Let us not ever become so attached to the things of this world that we lay up for ourselves treasures on earth to the neglect of laying up treasures in heaven. This world is passing away. Why, oh why do we chase after it with such vigor and lust? Why? What is so alluring about this fallen world? We, as God’s children, should know from the example here given that the world is not worthy of those who follow Christ.

Do not cling so tightly to the temporal things of this world that you miss the true blessing of being unfit to stay here. I read a few relevant comments borrowed from my friends and fellow ministers of Christ, Dustin and Jamie Butts, and want to share them. Here is what they wrote. Jamie asked on her blog:

What are your thoughts on The American Dream? She answered the question by writing:

It depends on your perspective and definition, but the definition I hold in my head of the American dream haunts me. I’m terrified of buying into the American Dream. The things I’m about to say are not intrinsically wrong, but the package as a whole and the lie that you need these things.. that they will satisfy you and complete you scares me. It scares me because as a human, I know I must guard myself from falling in to this trap. This idea that I haven’t “arrived” unless I have a 2 car garage, 2.5 kids (?), and live in a neighborhood that’s “safe and white”. Middle-class, comfortable, everything I desire at my fingertips. Our definitions of success should be different than those who do not know the Pearl of Great Price, Jesus Christ.

In follow up comments for this blog post, Dustin stated:

What is the American Dream? Comfort and Self Satisfaction. Not only having more than you need, but desiring even more than that. It is materialism at its finest. The desire to make much of yourself at the expense of others. The hope of retiring at 40 and spending the rest of your life in a house that has far more rooms than you will ever use. Always wanting more.

My thoughts? It goes against all that Christ calls us to be. Example: The rich young ruler. We, as Christians should be comfortable being uncomfortable. We should be content with having nothing more than what we need. Is that mindset an excuse not to work hard and to shun promotion? No. It is a reason to work even harder, not for promotion or ego’s sake, but in order that you might bless others out of your abundance.

To me the American Dream is just that, a dream. There is no joy in materialism, it only leads to want. It also leads to loving the gifts more than the giver, something that Christians should never do.

I think that is well said. Very well said indeed. That tells us what motivates those “of whom the world is not worthy.”

(tomorrow: Faith in Something Better)