Community Of Faith
Key Verse: 11:31
“By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.”
So far we have seen the faith of individual people in this chapter, such as Abel or Abraham or Moses or Joseph. But we move on now to the faith of a community of people, with the exception of one woman “Rahab” whose faith seems to have put her on the spiritual map of God’s history. Even then, we can say that her faith is within the community sphere.
Let’s see what mean by community faith, verses individual faith. They are both important, so we need to closely look at them. Read verses 29-31. “By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days. By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” These verses mention two very important events in God’s history: the crossing of the Red See by the Israelites, and the conquest of the city of Jericho by them as well, where Rahab’s story unfolds. In these stories the apostle seems to focus not on the individual faith of Moses and Joshua, but on the faith of the Israelite community itself. Look again at verse 29. “By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.” Here we see a contrast between the faiths of the Israelites (who were God’s people) with the Egyptians who had no regard for God. Why did God lead his people through the Red Sea? Well simply because he wanted to plant faith in their hearts. It’s what God does when he we face impossible situations like this. God also did this in order to display his own glory to the Egyptians (14:4, 31) The Israelites were facing an impossible situation. The Red Sea was before them, and the Egyptian army was behind them. After God rescued them from Egyptian slavery, they were elated. But when the army followed them to the Red Sea, they felt trapped and afraid and insecure. All of a sudden, they forgot all that the Lord had done for them, and in a panic they said to Moses: “Leave us alone! Let us serve the Egyptians! It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert.” What was wrong with them? Although they were physically free from Egypt, it seems that they were still slaves to fear.
What did Moses do when they said these blasphemous and unbelieving words? Moses understood their slave mentality, and did the only thing a servant of God can do. He planted faith in their hearts. He said to them: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring today … The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Ex 14:13-14). The Lord then said to Moses: “Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.” Like a good shepherd, Moses planted faith in their hearts. But God told Moses to tell them to “Move on!” What should they do? Should they return to the life of slavery in Egypt? It would be easy to give in to fear! Or should they move on? That would require faith! It must have been terrifying to the community to do what God wanted them to do. Regardless of the miracle of parting the Red See, the sight of the enormous walls of water standing on either side of the parted Sea must have been petrifying. What if the waters fell on them and their families! But at this critical moment in their lives, they decided as a community to move on. It was by faith that they moved on. They all trusted God’s word through Moses and obeyed his direction. That’s faith. That’s community faith. They had one mind and spirit to move on together as one body. And nearly a million people equipped with faith crossed the sea that day.
What about the Egyptians? What compelled them to follow the Israelites into the divided Sea? The Egyptians thought that if the Israelite slaves could do it, then the Egyptians can do it even better. They had the confidence and the boldness to cross the Red See. But it doesn’t work that way! The waters fell on them and they were drowned. Why? There are many things we can learn here, but one lesson looms above the rest: Faith may seem like a small thing to the eyes of some, or faith may even seem to be totally insignificant in the affairs of daily living. But the truth is that having faith or not having faith— engaging faith or not engaging faith— is truly a matter of life and death. People may not know this. But here’s what happened to the Egyptians. God sees hearts. He sees our hearts. He sees your heart and my heart. We cannot hide what’s inside our hearts from God. We cannot deceive God with nice sounding words that mimic faith and obedience. Faith plays a huge role in every person’s heart. When we really trust God and have faith in our hearts, God sees; God knows; and it pleases God. And God certainly rewards our faith. He rewarded the Israelite people’s faith, while the Egyptians drowned because they had no faith. People may say that they depend on faith in this or that. But when they secretly depend on something else in their hearts than faith in God, they’re discovered. They can neither please God, nor reap the rewards of faith. No power that the Egyptians boasted in having, whether military strength or experience or intellect or wealth could have saved them or save anyone else for that matter. Only Faith can. It is faith that enables you and me to cross whatever Red Sea we may have to cross together as a church community.
There is another event that involved the faith of the community of God’s people. It was the conquest of the city of Jericho. This event took place almost 40 years after the crossing of the Red Sea. The old Exodus generation was now gone and a new generation had emerged under the leadership of Joshua. God had led them across the Jordan River to Jericho on the borders of the Promised Land to conquer it. Although Jericho didn’t exist after its destruction by the Israelites, we have a pretty good idea of its fortifications. It had a roundabout stone wall 15 feet high. Built atop that natural stone wall was another brick wall six feet wide and 30 feet high, making the height of the finished wall to be some 45 feet tall! Literally nothing could penetrate that wall. It was formidable. At the threat of invasion by the Israelites, and in great fear of them, the people of Jericho shut themselves up behind these impenetrable walls. They must have found some comfort in the fact that their walls would protect them from the Israelites’ imminent attack.
What about the Israelites themselves? They knew it was God’s will to capture the city. Still they were helpless before this enormous fortress! But God instructed the army to march around the city once a day for six days, as they followed the ark of the covenant carried by the priests. Then on the seventh day they were to march around it seven times with the priests blowing their trumpets. Then when they hear the long blast of the trumpets, the army was then to give a loud shout. That’s all. What kind of strategy for war is this? Every fiber of human reasoning told them that this was no way to fight a war, to capture a city. Every fiber of their human reasoning told them to give up and turn away in unbelief. But the community of God’s people didn’t give in to reason. And if they themselves felt any fear, they didn’t give in to fear. Rather they all gave in to faith. In other words, they chose to trust God and his commands, regardless of how strange or unreasonable his commands had been. They did exactly what he told them to do. They walked around the city once a day for six days. Then on the seventh day, they marched 7 times, and at the long sound of the trumpet, they gave a loud shout just as they were told to do. And we know what happened then. The walls of Jericho fell and they took the city. They did what they were told to do by faith. God was pleased with their faith and he in turn did something that only God can do. He brought those walls down. It sounds crazy, but that’s what faith is all about. But that’s the reward and victory of faith!
Through these two events, there is something important that we can learn: It’s how important the faith of God’s community is. The apostle focused on the people’s faith, and not on their leaders’ faith. And what do we learn from this? We lean that God works not just through one person’s faith, but through the faith of his people as a community. Many Christians just don’t understand this truth. Some Christians are so wrapped up in their own lives, that church and members don’t matter much at all. It’s as if all that matters is if they live by faith all on their own. As if Christ’s purpose for the church and in the church isn’t necessary or important enough. But in Romans 12, Paul teaches us the importance of the body of Christ— working together— each member having his or her own gifts for the purpose of serving the body of the Lord. There is no such thing as an independent Christian. We belong to each other whether we like it or not, and we belong to the Lord and his church. And we were each gifted in a special way so that we might serve one another as members of one body. Those who sever themselves from the body of Christ, pursuing their own interests apart from the body, are self centered, selfish and self serving Christians. God does not usually tolerate such unscriptural behavior. He disciplines the offender! As important as it is that each member has personal faith, community faith is even more important in serving the interests of Christ and his body. That’s why every Christian is called to love and to serve the body of Christ in spite of conflicts or discomfort. An arm or an eye that doesn’t serve its own body when they’re needed is like a useless severed arm or a useless gouged blind eye. Community faith can be carried out not when we are selfishly independent and acting on our own, but when we work together in love and in mutual understanding— especially in the interest of Christ who loves us and whom we love. Of course, we may have our differences. Of course, Christian life may be inconvenient at times. But to sever your self from the body because of inconveniences or some differences or even for your own selfish interests, hinders the Lord from doing his work in and through his body— the church.
We know that God wants us as his church to strive together for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27b). The enemies of the gospel are strong and they are many and everywhere. When we look at the world, we cannot but see how all kinds of anti-Christian elements are increasing rapidly. On the other hand, we also know that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against these spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12). Satan’s power is surely behind the things that promote sinful life and lifestyles— such as the Media for example and world organizations— while at the same time they are seeking to destroy all our Christian values. Satan works through those who trust in money to turn people against God and his truth. It is foolish to think that we can actually fight against such things with our own human wisdom or with a democratic system. They are like Red Seas. They are like Jericho walls! We need God’s help! Fighting with human means is useless and futile. Here’s what we need to do. We need to put on the full armor of God and take up the sword of the Spirit together— which is the word of God. And we need to pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests (Ephesians 6:17-18). I know this sounds ridiculous in fighting Satan’s strongholds. Sometimes we feel that our Bible study and prayer ministry is small, powerless and insignificant. But these are the spiritual weapons God in his wisdom has given us to fight with. He has given us these to use as his divine power. As Paul tells us: “They have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4b).
I assure you we are not powerless. But we may be faithless. And we may be faithless, if we still think each member should fight his or her own battles by themselves, on their own— that one’s own faith is enough. And we may be faithless if we are still divided one member from another, withholding your God-given gifts from me, and I from you— and ultimately withholding our joint God-given gifts from each other, from the body. We need faith— not only individual faith for our own growth. We need faith— community faith for the blessing of the body— for our Lord’s Body— as one body of many members loving and serving one another, fighting together for the same cause. Never despise or underestimate the weapons the Lord has given us to fight with— especially the word of God and prayer. They are poised to demolish strongholds. We need to continue to study and to teach the Bible willingly, wholeheartedly and to pray together for each other and for the Lord’s work. And the Lord will most certainly use us together to demolish the spiritual forces of evil all around us. By yourself, by myself, we can do nothing. But together we can cross the “Red Sea”; together we can bring down the walls of Jericho. Do you believe this?
But that’s not the end of the Jericho story. Here’s another woman of great faith that the apostle couldn’t ignore. Rahab’s role in the conquest of Jericho was decisive. Read verse 31. “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” Jericho was the last place on earth where you would find faith. The city was one of the most corrupt and sinful cities of Canaan. Rahab lived in this wickedly pagan and godless city, and she practiced one of the oldest professions. Those who practiced prostitution have usually been considered among the worst of sinners because they have no regard for the sanctity of the human body, who sell themselves for pleasure and for money. And this was the popular opinion everywhere until this century when a new kind of lax and perverted and unrestrained morality began to emerge. Today, men and women consider it healthy and normal to abuse their bodies in a sexual way. The mentality itself is corrupt and sick. Rahab was a sinner of the worst kind. Yet we are told that “By faith the prostitute Rahab … was not killed with those who were disobedient.” Every one in that city perished, the good and the bad alike, and no one survived the destruction. And we are told why they all perished— because they were disobedient. Another term for disobedient is “unbelieving”. Those who disobey the Lord’s word, are unbelieving. In other words, the people of Jericho perished because they refused to believe God and obey him.
But while the people of Jericho perished because they did not believe God, Rahab escaped along with her whole family. And it’s very interesting why she was spared. It was because she believed God and acted on her faith! She expressed a great and wondrous kind of faith in God. But let’s see what kind of faith she had. It all started when God rescued the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. The news of what God had done to the Egyptians on behalf of his people, as well as the remarkable crossing of the Red Sea reached Jericho, the vanguard of the Canaanite cities. And all the people of Jericho lost courage. But they never imagined that the Israelites would be able to cross the great Jordan River. There was no bridge to cross over to Canaan, and the river was churning at flood stage. It would take time for the Israelites to come up with a plan to cross over. So the people of Jericho thought that they had enough time to gather armies from the area and to plan for a defense strategy. It was at that time that Joshua sent spies to Jericho to look over the land, and they happened to come in contact with the prostitute Rahab. We don’t know how that came about, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is this: It was clear that they were on a mission; it was clear that they needed protection; and it was clear that God was going to give the city of Jericho into their hands. At least they gave Rahab that much information. So she took them in, and hid them on the roof of her house undoubtedly at the risk of her own life. But not before she encouraged them first. And not before she expressed her great faith in the Lord God. And no before she asked for her life and the life of her family members.
Here is what Rahab told the two spies. “I know that the Lord has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and that you will save us from death.” (Joshua 2:8-13) And that was Rahab’s testimony.
That was a strange thing coming from this woman. At the same time it was a tremendous revelation that the Lord God did not randomly destroy the city of Jericho. For a very long time, upward of forty years, the news of all that God was doing had been filtering into the city of Jericho in the hearing of its entire people. So Rahab’s testimony might have been something like this: “We heard the news about how God is with you leading you to victory. It was then that I believed in God and began to put my trust in him. It was then that I gave my heart to him. Others heard the same news as I did, they were afraid, but did not believe.” It’s true. The people of Jericho had many years to believe in God and to trust him and to submit to him in their hearts. When the Israelites finally crossed the great Jordan River in the same way they did at the Red Sea, the people of Jericho had every opportunity to believe and to put their faith in God. But they remained slaves of fear. And that was not all the opportunity God had given to the people of Jericho to repent and believe. During the 7 days march around the Jericho walls, the people had every opportunity to surrender to God in their hearts, and God would have spared them. That is the gospel story as well. Indeed no one has any excuse not to repent and believe.
Look at Rahab. She heard the gospel and believed. “I don’t know much about the Bible” is not an excuse. Rahab new very little spiritual truth, but she acted on what she did know. She knew that God is the only true God and that she should surrender her heart and life to him. “I am too sinful to receive God’s mercy” is also not an excuse. Rahab was a condemned godless prostitute. But Rahab acted by faith on the truth that God is a merciful God. More than that, she also understood the nature of God’s mercy. God was generous with his grace. And so Rahab extended God’s mercy to her family. Some might think that including her family in the salvation plea was presumptuous on her part. But it isn’t. It was her faith in God’s abundant grace. “What will my family and friends think” is also not an excuse for not believing and surrendering one’s heart and life to God. Rahab’s deep concern was saving those she loved and not saving face with them.
The truth is that God almighty gives all people a chance to repent and believe. He gave Jericho over forty years to believe. Sometimes people express how they cannot understand how a loving God would destroy or let destroy a whole nation. They seem to be caring about the people of Jericho. But the funny thing about such people who are bold enough to question God’s love and his integrity, is that while they seem to care for lost people of Jericho, they hardly care for the people around them, let alone love them. But God loves all and “He is patient”, “Not wanting anyone to perish, but [wants] everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) The Bible tells us clearly why people usually perish. “They perish because they refuse to love the truth and so be saved.” (2 Thessalonians 2:10) Rahab believed God and she asked the spies to save her and her family when the city was taken. She took a step of faith, and in that step she was risking her own life. In other words, her faith was a working faith. It wasn’t just inside, but manifested itself outside through words and actions. So, as the apostle tells us, “She was not killed with those who were disobedient.” (31) Indeed “Faith comes from hearing the message”. (Romans 10:17) And when Rahab heard, she also believed and trusted God by faith, and put her life into his hands. Now that’s the faith of this great woman. She is a wonder of faith. What happened to her? “Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho— and she lives among the Israelites to this day. (Joshua 6:25) She had been a slave of Satan, she was adopted into the family of God. From being a citizen of the godless city of Jericho, she was given a place in the Lord’s congregation. More than that, she became the great grandmother of King David, and the ancestress of the Lord Jesus. From what depths of sin and shame did the Lord of mercy deliver this woman! To what heights of honor and dignity did the Lord of grace elevate her! Surely the rewards of faith are great. God calls us to live by faith, to trust his grace, and to follow his leading. Amen.