“Be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”—HEBREWS 6:12.
1, 2. How did one traveling overseer evidently view faithful Bible characters, and why would such ones make wonderful friends?
“HE SPEAKS about Bible characters as if they were old friends of his.” After listening to a discourse by an elderly traveling overseer, a Christian woman made that observation. And rightly so, for the brother had spent decades studying God’s Word and teaching from it—so much so that the Bible’s men and women of faith did, indeed, seem like old friends whom he had known all his life.
2 Would not many of those Bible characters make wonderful friends? Are they that real to you? Imagine what it would be like to walk and talk with them, to spend time getting to know such men and women as Noah, Abraham, Ruth, Elijah, and Esther. Think of the influence they might have on your life—the precious words of advice and encouragement they might offer!—Read Proverbs 13:20.
3. (a) How can we benefit from learning about the Bible’s men and women of faith? (b) What questions will we consider?
3 Of course, at the time of the “resurrection of . . . the righteous,” that kind of rewarding relationship will be fully possible. (Acts 24:15) However, even right now we can benefit from learning about the Bible’s men and women of faith. How? The apostle Paul offers this practical answer: “Be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Heb. 6:12) As we embark on a study of the subject of men and women of faith, let us consider a few questions that Paul’s words bring to mind: Just what is faith, and why do we need it? How can we imitate faithful people of old?
Faith—What It Is and Why We Need It
4. What do people tend to assume about faith, and why are they mistaken?
4 Faith is an appealing quality, one that all the men and women we will study about in this publication valued highly. Many people today tend to undervalue faith, assuming that it means believing without any real proof or evidence. However, they are mistaken. Faith is not gullibility; it is not a mere feeling; it is more than belief. Gullibility is dangerous. A mere feeling may come and go, and even belief is insufficient when it comes to God, for “the demons believe and shudder.”—Jas. 2:19.
5, 6. (a) Our faith focuses on what two kinds of unseen things? (b) How solidly grounded should our faith be? Illustrate.
5 True faith towers over such things. Recall how the Bible defines it. (Read Hebrews 11:1.) Paul said that faith focuses on two kinds of things that we cannot see. One, it focuses on present realities that are “not beheld.” Our physical eyes cannot see the realities in the spirit realm—such as Jehovah God, his Son, or the Kingdom that now rules in heaven. Two, faith focuses on “things hoped for”—events that have not yet happened. We cannot now see the new world that God’s Kingdom will soon bring about. Does that mean, then, that our faith in such realities and the things we have hoped for is groundless?
6 Far from it! Paul explained that true faith is solidly grounded. When he called faith “the assured expectation,” he used an expression that may also be rendered “title deed.” Imagine that someone decided to give you a house. He might hand you the deed to the place and say, “Here is your new home.” Of course, he does not mean that you will live on that piece of paper; he means that the document is so legally binding that for all practical purposes, it is the house itself. Similarly, the evidence for our faith is so convincing, so strong, that it may be equated to our faith itself.
7. What does true faith involve?
7 Thus, true faith involves well-founded confidence and unshakable conviction that is clearly focused on Jehovah God. Faith causes us to see him as our loving Father and to trust that all his promises are sure to come true. But genuine faith involves more. Like a living thing, it must be nourished to survive. It must be expressed in actions, or it will die.—Jas. 2:26.
8. Why is faith so important?
8 Why is faith so important? Paul provided a compelling answer. (Read Hebrews 11:6.) We can neither approach Jehovah nor please him unless we have faith. So faith is essential if we are to fulfill the highest, noblest purpose of any intelligent creature: to draw close to and glorify our heavenly Father, Jehovah.
9. How has Jehovah shown that he is aware of our need for faith?
9 Jehovah knows how much we need faith, so he provides us with examples to teach us how to build and show faith. He blesses the Christian congregation with examples of faithful men who take the lead. His Word says: “Imitate their faith.” (Heb. 13:7) And he has given us more. Paul wrote about a “great . . . cloud of witnesses,” men and women of ancient times who left sterling examples of faith. (Heb. 12:1) Paul’s list of faithful ones, recorded in Hebrews chapter 11, is by no means complete. The Bible’s pages are rich with true stories about men and women, young and old, from all walks of life, who lived lives of faith and who have much to teach us in these faithless times.
How Can We Imitate the Faith of Others?
10. How might our personal study help us to imitate the faithful men and women in the Bible record?
10 You cannot imitate a person unless you first observe him closely. As you read through this publication, you will notice that much research has been done to help you observe these men and women of faith. Why not follow suit and do additional research of your own? In your personal study, dig into the Bible with the research tools you have at hand. As you meditate on what you study, try to picture the setting and background of Bible accounts. Try to see the sights, hear the sounds, smell the aromas, so to speak. More important, try to discern the feelings of the people involved. As you empathize with those faithful men and women, they will become more real to you, more familiar—some may even come to seem like dear old friends.
11, 12. (a) How might you come to feel closer to Abram and Sarai? (b) How might you benefit from the example of Hannah, Elijah, or Samuel?
11 When you truly come to know them, you will want to imitate them. For instance, imagine contemplating a new assignment. Through Jehovah’s organization, you are invited to expand your ministry in some way. Perhaps you are asked to move to a territory where there is an urgent need for more preachers, or maybe you are invited to try some form of preaching that you find unfamiliar or uncomfortable. As you contemplate the assignment and pray about it, would it help to meditate on the example of Abram? He and Sarai were willing to forgo the comforts of Ur and were richly blessed as a result. As you follow in their footsteps, you will surely feel that you now know them better than ever before.
12 Similarly, what if someone close to you were to treat you spitefully and you felt discouraged—even felt tempted to stay home from the meetings? If you contemplated Hannah’s example and the way she rose above Peninnah’s spitefulness, it would help you to make the right decision—and it might make Hannah seem more like a dear friend too. Likewise, if you are discouraged by feelings of worthlessness, you might feel closer to Elijah as you study his plight and the way Jehovah comforted him. And youths who are bombarded by pressures from immoral schoolmates may feel closer to Samuel after studying how he handled the corrupt influence of Eli’s sons at the tabernacle.
13. Would imitating the faith of a Bible character somehow make you less of an individual? Explain.
13 Does imitating the faith of such Bible characters somehow make you a mere imitation or less of an individual? Far from it! Remember, Jehovah’s Word encourages us to imitate people of faith. (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; 2 Thess. 3:7, 9) What is more, some of the people whom we will study herein were themselves imitators of faithful ones who went before them. For instance, we note in Chapter 17 of this book that in her speech, Mary evidently drew on Hannah’s words, clearly seeing her as an example. Did that make Mary’s faith any less strong? Hardly! Rather, Hannah’s example helped Mary to build faith so that she could make her own unique name with Jehovah God.
14, 15. What are some features of this publication, and how can we make good use of it?
14 This book has been designed to help you strengthen your faith. The chapters that follow are a compilation of articles from the “Imitate Their Faith” series published in The Watchtower between 2008 and 2013. However, some new material has been added. Questions are provided for discussion and application. Many colorful, detailed illustrations have been created for this volume, and existing ones have been enlarged and enhanced. Other helpful features, such as a time line and maps, have been included. Imitate Their Faith is a tool designed for personal, family, and congregation study. Many families might also enjoy simply reading the stories aloud together.
15 May this book help you to imitate the faith of Jehovah’s loyal servants from the past. And may it help you to grow in faith as you draw closer to your heavenly Father, Jehovah!