"For by it the people of old received their commendation" (Hebrews 11:2).
The author of Hebrews felt a need to brace his readers for coming troubles by urging them to live by faith. He did not want them to shrink back into the Old Covenant but move forward in Christ. He envisioned them enjoying the access to the throne of God their invisible High Priest, Jesus Christ, gave them.
All this was better, he thought than the tangible temple with all its trappings. Though seen, it was merely a shadow pointing to the reality in heaven with Christ. Boldly, these believers could go to God as Father every day; they didn't need to send a high priest in once each year. Daily, they could approach God. But faith was required to live out this reality.
For that faith, the author pointed to the saints of old. They, after all, pleased God by trusting Him. God commended their dependence and obedience in him. The book of Hebrews was written for an initial generation which needed to know how much God loved that life of faith, and our current generation needs to know it as well. God loves the life of faith. He loves that childlike dependence and devotion to Him. He loves it when we step out in trusting obedience of our Father.
Now, in looking at the "people of old" who "received their commendation," it is crucial to realize a few truths.
First, the people of old walked by faith, but imperfectly. I have usually resisted calling Hebrews 11 the "hall of faith," because I think it implies a long career of extreme trust in God. But some of the characters found within it wavered in their faith. Abraham did go out to a land he did not know, but his obedience was partial at first. Noah did build the ark in obedience to God, but after the flood, we find him in a drunken stupor. Sarah did receive power to conceive by faith, but her initial reaction at hearing God's promise she'd bear a child was laughter. Moses did choose to suffer with the people of God, but his decision to flee Egypt was made for him when he was caught having killed an Egyptian man.
Throughout the chapter, we will see their faith was not perfect. Their imperfections ought to encourage us, for our dependence and obedience to God will not be flawless either.
Second, the people of old walked by faith, at specific moments, which is another reason why I do not prefer the title "Hall of Faith." The implication, to me, is a long and steady march of stepping out in allegiance to God, but, for many of the people in this great chapter, their faith came at a specific moment. Abel offered a sacrifice. Abraham decided to depart from his home country. Jacob decided to bless the younger son of Joseph. Rahab chose to align herself with God and his people. It's not that they didn't walk with God for many years, but here their faith was found in specific moments. Every day cannot be like those days. But these moments altered the course of their lives, and, in some cases, human history.
We should expect a life of faith to do the same to us. We will also have significant crossroads in life where God will hold out the faith-option. Everything in the future will be colored by those moments. Let us choose the life of faith.
Third, the people of old who walked by faith did so with God's pleasure. It is good to see that God commended them for their life of faith. His commendation was seen in the aftermath of their action. He received Abel's sacrifice. He took Enoch into his presence. He delivered Noah through the flood. And so forth. His commendation also included, though, His praise of that brand of life. We forever celebrate the Abrahamic and Mosaic and Rahabian styles of life. We love and rejoice over those who have laid down their lives in obedience and sacrifice for Christ. We instinctively know these are the best lives, the ones worth living. We know the life of the faith is the commended one.
When you live by faith, God loves it. When a believer decides to honor their physical temple by adhering to God's abundantly clear, obvious, historical, and time-honored sexual ethic, God loves it. When a wife decides to practice marriage in the way God intended, with respect for her husband, following him, or a husband determines to sacrificially love his bride as Christ does the church, God loves it. When a believer lives an unmarried, single life with integrity, looking for God to fulfill and satiate their heart through his word and Christian fellowship, God loves it. When a believer decides to dedicate time to the spiritual disciplines of prayer, solitude, study, fasting, fellowship, celebration, or silence, God loves it. When a Christian employee decides to resist the spirit of the age that takes from the employer through laziness or neglect and instead works hard without complaint, God loves it. When a dad decides to set down his entertainment so he can connect relationally with his children, God loves it. He loves the life of faith. He commends this brand of life.