Subject: WE WALK BY FAITH, NOT BY SIGHT
Scripture: John 20:24-29; Romans 8:24-25; 2 Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 11:1,6.
Text: 2 Corinthians 5:7: "(For we walk by faith, not by sight.)"
Most of us have heard the statement many times, "seeing is believing" or "I won't believe it until I see it," when told something out of the ordinary. In fact, most of us, at one time or another, have probably said these very words ourselves.
Back in the thirties when some of the scientists began to talk about the time coming when we could sit in our living rooms and see things happening in other parts of the world at the very moment they took place, some of us didn't believe it possible and waited to be shown.
When a few years ago some of our scientists and engineers began to talk about putting a man on the moon and then bringing him safely back to earth again, many of us had our doubts. More people than care to admit it perhaps felt a little like the elderly woman who, when asked what she thought about the exploration of space and the attempt to put a man on the moon, said, "I don't believe in it! I don't believe in it! I think people ought to stay home and watch television the way the good Lord meant for them to do."
When faced with the unusual, it is easy to have doubts until we have seen for ourselves,and sometimes even seeing does not lead to believing. The statement, "I'll not believe it until I see it" is familiar to us all.
We should have no trouble, therefore, in understanding the attitude of Thomas when the other disciples, following the crucifixion and burial of the Lord, told him that Jesus had appeared unto them and that they had seen the Lord. You remember Thomas' answer: "Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe." He said in effect that for him to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, he would have to see Jesus and touch Him, that he would not believe it until he had seen it.
We call Thomas doubting Thomas because of his attitude, but we sometimes forget that the other disciples or apostles did about the same thing. When on that first Easter morning the women came back from the tomb and told what had happened and that Jesus was alive, Luke tells us that their words seemed unto them as idle tales, and they believed them not.
How easy it is, how human it is, when faced with the unusual, to have doubts and to take the attitude, "I won't believe it until I see it!" How easy it is for us to want to build our faith upon sight: How human it is for us to want to undergird what we believe with what we see, and perhaps even refuse to believe because we cannot see and understand!
Yet in the area of Christian faith, this is an unnecessary and sometimes a very dangerous attitude to take. First, because seeing is not necessary to the Christian faith; and, secondly, because by its very nature, the Christian pathway is one that must be walked by faith for much of it has not yet been revealed to human sight; and if we are not willing to walk by faith, we cannot walk it successfully.
Seeing is not necessary to Christian faith. Thomas said, "Except I shall see...I will not believe." Jesus said to Thomas, "Because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." Some, even at that early date, who had not seen Jesus, still believed in Him and His resurrection. Jesus called them blessed. Their faith did not rest upon their sight. For them it was not necessary to see in order to believe.
Not only is sight not necessary: much of the Christian life lies in the realm above and beyond the boundaries of earthly sight. As Paul puts in Romans 8:24-25: "For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it." The goal of faith lies beyond earthly sight. The pathway of sight does not go far enough to reach it. Unless, like Abraham of old, we are willing to walk by faith, we will never reach it.
Faith is indispensable in the living of the Christian life. It is by faith that we are justified. (Romans 5:1). "Without faith it is impossible to please God: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6). And it is by faith, not by sight, that we receive God's blessings, as Jesus said in Matthew 9:29: "...According to your faith be it unto you."
Our text is 2 Corinthians 5:7: "(For we walk by faith, not by sight:)" Are we Christians? If so, then we need to remember that we are to walk by faith, not by sight.
As children we do not always understand some of the things our parents do for our own welfare. As a little boy I did not understand why my parents did not want me to bang around the store where the community loafers gathered, nor why they gave me some of the bad tasting medicine that they did, nor some of the other things they made me do or refrain from doing. But one thing I did believe was that they had my welfare in mind whether I understood what they were doing or not. That they loved me and were concerned about me I believed, and this faith in them led me to accept a lot of their ways that I did not understand.
As God's children, we do not always understand the things He does and some of the ways He works. Sometimes we wonder and we raise questions and perhaps even get disturbed because of things we do not understand.
You remember that Job, in his afflictions, did not understand why he was having to undergo so many trials and so much suffering. He was a perfect and an upright man, one who feared God and shunned wickedness and he simply did not understand why all of those things should have happened to him. He did not let his afflictions destroy his faith in God - you remember his words: "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him..." - but he did not understand why all of these things had come upon him. When we hear someone say, when what we call tragedy has come into the life of an outstanding Christian, "He or she is such a good person. I don't understand why God would let it happen to him or her!", we might do well to remember Job wrestled with the same basic question, too, while still holding on to his faith in God.
Dr. John R. Church told on one occasion of preaching at a camp meeting on the subject: "Why do the righteous suffer?" He said that the next year a woman came up to him and thanked him for preaching that message. Then she told him why. She and her husband had both been consecrated Christians and deeply devoted to each other. "We had no children," she said, "and there were just the two of us. We saw eye-to-eye on everything; we tithed, we read the Bible together, we prayed together, we went to church together, and we were always together. I needed him so much, and yet he died and I became a widow! My neighbor and his wife fuss like cats and dogs. They have a lot of children, and they aren't Christians, and don't serve God." She told Dr. Church that she just hadn't undertood why God had taken her husband when he was all the family she had and they were serving Him, instead of one of her neighbor's family. She said after her husband's death, she began to question God, and intended to asked Him why when she got to Heaven. She said she was growing bitter because of it. After hearing Dr. Church's sermon, however, she said she went to her cottage, got down on her knees, and put the whole matter in His hands and was no longer even asking Him to help her understand.
Many of you perhaps heard the Walton Family Easter broadcast in April, 1971, in which Libby Walton came down with polio, and for a long while it looked as if she would never walk again. In the program it showed the preacher visiting Mrs. Walton. On the way out he asked Grandma Walton to come with him out on the porch where be said to her, "How are the children taking it?" Grandma Walton told him that they were finding it hard to understand. The preacher replied, "I find it hard to understand myself." You may remember how surprised Grandma Walton was at this, and she exclaimed: "You, a man of God, don't understand it?" "I accept God's ways, ma'am. I don't always understand them," was the simple reply.
We don't always understand God's ways. Of course not everything that happens to us is brought on us because it is God's will. Sometimes we bring some of our difficulties upon ourselves by wrong choices that we make or wrong things that we do. Sometimes we are brought to difficult times because of the wrong acts of others. Think about peace-loving people who are caught up in the turmoil of war, for example. You may remember that John Boy refused to accept his mother's sickness as being God's will. When his father tried to explain it by saying that everyone eventually has some trials and difficulties and that you can't always determine what's going to happen to you, the important thing being not what happens to you but how you take it, the effect you let it have on you, John Boy replied, "That's not good enough for me." He simply refused to fit the possibility of his mother's never walking again into God's will.
Be that as it may, however, whether it was God's will or not in that particular case, there are times when we may be assured that we are on a pathway that is in God's will and yet we may not understand it. We read in Isaiah 55 that God's ways and man's ways are not the same: "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts," says God.
The prophet Habakkuk was disturbed and did not understand why God would permit a wicked nation to destroy a nation more righteous than itself. God's message to him was not a long explanation as to why this was so in those circumstances. Rather did God bring him to understand that the just shall live by faith ... not by sight, not by feeling, but by faith though not understanding.
Tempted and tried we're oft made to wonder
Why it should be thus all the day long,
While there are others living about us,
Never molested tho in the wrong.
When death has come and taken our loved ones,
It leaves our home so lonely and drear;
Then do we wonder why others prosper
Living so wicked year after year.
We'd rather walk in the dark with God,
Than go alone in the light;
We'd rather walk with Him by faith
Than walk alone by sight.
Again, we have to walk by faith rather than by sight as Christians because the goals we seek are goals that lie beyond human and earthly sight, and unless we take the risks that faith involves, we can never reach the goals that faith promises.
We read in the 11th chapter of Hebrews that "by faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went." If he had not been willing to start out in faith, he would never have reached the promised land.
If Gideon, with his three hundred men with their pitchers and torches, had not been willing to go out in faith against the great army of the Midianites, he would never have delivered the land from bondage.
Faith involves risk, but if you insist in travelling only where you can see, and where you can fully understand, you can never reach the goals of faith because they are further than human sight can see.
Now, can't you just picture a traveller on that long, dry, hot trail, the desert sun beating down upon him, his canteen perhaps empty, and him so thirsty that his mouth feels dry as cotton, as he comes up to that old water pump. Perhaps he is so thirsty that the first thing he does is to grasp the handle of the pump and start pumping, hoping to get water - but no water comes. Then he notices the baking powder can tied to the pump handle. He takes the can lid off to look inside and finds the note left by Desert Pete. He reads it, then drops on his knees by the white rock, moves the rock, and with his hands starts to dig. Almost immediately he uncovers the bottle, and sure enough, it is filled with water. Now, what shall he do? It's a long, long way across the desert to the next place where he can get water, and without water now, he may never make it. There's not enough water in the bottle for him to drink some and still prime the pump. If he drinks any of it, he is out of luck. If he wants all the water he can hold and enough to fill his canteen, he has got to do some walking by faith. Though he has perhaps never seen Desert Pete, he has got to have enough faith in him to follow his instructions. He can't walk by sight. He can't wait until he sees all the water he wants before he risks what he already has. He has to either walk by faith or miss the goal which faith holds out to him. Reaching the goal involves risk. What if Desert Pete weren't telling the truth? What if the sucker washer has gone to the bad? What if the well has gone dry?
Take such a simple thing as treasures in Heaven. How many of us want very much not only to go to Heaven when earthly life is over but also to have some treasures there when we arrive? Surely, all of us! But do you know how we get treasures in Heaven? We get treasures in Heaven by laying down treasures here on earth. Have we got enough faith to lay down our treasures here on earth, to invest the things of time in God's work in the Name of Christ, believing that if you do it - if we do it - we will have treasures in Heaven? Or, are we afraid to prime Heavens's pump with earthly water, to risk what we have in material things to gain what we cannot yet see in eternal things?
Some years ago I ran across a little story that is told of John Wesley. As I remember the story, an unbeliever was talking to John Wesley about all the sacrifices he was making from an earthly viewpoint in trying to live for the Lord and serve his fellowmen. "Just suppose what you believe is wrong; just suppose it isn't so," he implied. "Think of all the needless effort and sacrifice. Think of all that you are giving up for no purpose." You may perhaps have heard of John Wesley's answer. In effect he said, "Well, just suppose it is so and I am right: where will you be?"
Faith does involve risk because it leads us along a pathway to goals we cannot yet see. We need to remember, however, that the risks we take by not walking the pathway of faith are far greater than the risks which faith requires.
Do you look upon yourself as a person who has faith, Christian faith? Do you have enough faith to obey the commandments of the Lord? Do you have enough faith to walk the pathway God marks out, gladly paying the price and taking the risk, believing that it will lead you to those great eternal riches of the soul and spirit not yet visible to earthly sight? The only way we can reach the goals of faith is to walk the pathway of faith. Earthly sight and human understanding simply don't reach that far.
Then, as Christians, we walk by faith, not by sight, because we are travelling a pathway into the future, and the kingdom we seek is not of this world. The future is not yet unfolded to our view except as we view it through the eye of faith. Jesus said that His kingdom is not of this world, and that means that it, too, lies beyond the view of earthly sight.
If we insist on walking only by sight and committing ourselves only to that which we can see, and humanly understand, then we limit ourselves to the things of earth and the things of time. We thus cut ourselves off from the things of the future and the things that endure.
Some months ago I sat by the bedside of a doctor who was in the last days of his earthly life. He was possibly one of the best read doctors in the state in the field of philosophy and general religion, as well as one who had made a name for himself in the medical field. A thing that impressed me as we talked about some of the things that really matter was his simple affirmation of the fact that apart from the future and eternity, earthly life has no lasting meaning. It is that which is still in the future and the kingdom which is beyond this world that give our earthly lives eternal importance. And since the future and the eternal kingdom are not fully unfolded to earthly sight, the pathway we travel must be by faith. Earthly sight cannot see beyond the grave.
There is a land that is fairer than day;
And by faith we can see it afar ...
The eternal kingdom is there. It is real. Someday by the grace of God we hope to reach it, but now only faith can see it. From here to a place in it, there is only a pathway of faith that reaches it. We either travel into the future and into the everlasting kingdom of God on the pathway of faith, or we walk in darkness not even sure of our directions on the journey of time.
One of the great marvels in the natural realm is the annual migration of certain species of birds from one part of the world to another. The golden plover, for example, is a bird a little larger than a robin. It makes its nests in the cold parts of northern Canada and snow-covered islands in that zone. Then in late summer it begins a migration south over the Atlantic a thousand miles or more to the island of Bermuda or fifteen hundred miles to the West Indies, often travelling distances of over two thousand miles, most of it over water
We are of course familiar with the annual migration of the ducks and geese as they make their way south in the fall from their nesting grounds in Canada to the southern states, many of them going on to Louisiana, Mississippi, and points even further south.
Late one evening as the sun was setting, William Cullen Bryant was apparently standing watching the sunset when he saw a lone high-flying waterfowl outlined against the sky. There was no hesitancy in its flight as if it were looking for a place to land, but it flew on and on and on as if on a long journey until at last its form disappeared from view into the darkening sky.
William Cullen Bryant tried to imagine what might be the distant goal of that lone water fowl and thought about the Power that took care of it and guided it and millions of others along that trackless pathway until unerringly they reached their proper nesting grounds or their winter home. He tries to describe his feelings in his well-known poem, To A Waterfowl. In the last two verses, he shares with us a tremendous spiritual lesson:
Thou'rt gone, the abyss of heaven
Hath swallowed up thy form; yet, on my heart
Deeply has sunk the lesson thou hast given,
And shall not soon depart.
He Who, zone to zone,
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,
In the long way that I must tread alone,
Will lead my steps aright.
As Christians we travel a pathway that we do not always understand. We seek goals that are beyond earthly sight. We travel a path that leads into the unknown future and into a kingdom which is not of this world. We may not see everything clearly, but we can travel on in hope with a firm step, because we have a Guide we can trust, One Who will lead our steps aright.
I know not where His islands lift
Their fronded palms in air;
I only know I cannot drift
Beyond His loving care.
"For we walk by faith, not by sight...If we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it...Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Do we, like the Apostle Paul, know Whom we have believed, and are we persuaded that He is able to keep that which we have committed unto Him against that day? "Without faith it is impossible to please God: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." Let us pray...