“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. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. … These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” Hebrews 11:8–10, 13–16.
From this passage, we can gather the Bible’s description of a pilgrim and a stranger.
- They obey, not consulting the consequences.
Abraham went out, not knowing whither he went. The first consideration of true Christians is: “What does God want me to do?” They are willing to give up whatever stands in the way of obedience.
- They are sojourners as in a strange country.
This world is not our home, and we must live as if we believe this. We are not here to seek for personal comforts, but to perfect Christian characters and hasten the coming of Jesus. Therefore, Christians will turn away from materialism. While they may not dwell in tents, as did the patriarchs, they will keep their homes and possessions simple and not excessive.
- Their goal is a heavenly city.
Others may try to persuade them to stop and enjoy the pleasures and advantages of the world, but their eye is single to their goal.
- Although they do not yet see the fulfillment of God’s promise, they are fully convinced of the heavenly treasure that awaits them.
The world’s philosophy says, “Get all you can now, for you never know what will happen tomorrow.” The Christian, however, lays aside present comforts and gains for an enduring reward, as did Joseph.
- They confess or plainly declare that their goal is a better country than this earth has to offer.
Christians are not ashamed of being different from the world. They let it be clearly known that they cannot participate in the world’s lifestyle, since they are pressing toward a better country.
- Although they have opportunity to return to the world and its ways, they do not return.
How often the good seed springs up in someone’s heart, only to wither away after a short time! So many rejoice to hear God’s truth, but after a while they slip back into their old way of life. They view their original fervor for the truth as an overreaction, or fanaticism, and gradually pick up the worldly ways, which they had gladly cast aside at the time of their conversion. Such people have returned to the land “from whence they came” [Hebrew 11:15].
- God is not ashamed to have them bear His name.
Their life fully harmonizes with their profession, thus presenting no contradiction to the watching world. They are not claiming to be preparing to meet Jesus while their conduct loudly declares, “My Lord delayeth His coming” [Luke 12:45]. Rather, they exemplify the beauty of holiness.
In these last days, God is looking for a revival of the pilgrim spirit. While we may not be led to far countries as some of His pilgrims have been, we need to be ready to go wherever He sends us, and do whatever He asks of us. We must accept the fact that we are different, that we are not here on this earth to fit in with the crowd, make a name for ourselves, or live a comfortable life. We cannot hope to just blend in with society, giving no noticeable witness for our Lord. Rather, as Christians we are destined to be different, a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men.
In our era, life has in many ways become easier and more comfortable than in any other age. No longer do we inhabit hot, dusty tents, or cold, drafty stone castles. We no longer need to wash our clothes by hand, harvest and mill grain, spin wool and weave cloth or haul water from the well. In some homes, convenience foods have replaced cooking to a great extent. Everything comes ready-made, from shirts to bread. Instead of chopping wood, all we need to do is flip on a heater. Dishwashers, washing machines, bread machines, food processors, computers, and many other devices now take care of jobs that once required hours. It is becoming easier and easier to settle down and feel comfortable in this world. Today we have more time and money for shopping, entertainment, increasing our possessions, or making a display than did our forefathers who carved their living out of the wilderness, yet we must guard against the temptation to become too comfortable in this world. Today, as luxury is within the reach of more people, materialism is a great temptation. Satan knows that our possessions can firmly root us to this earth, and he uses a profusion of advertising, excess income, idle time, and peer pressure to lure professed Christians into the trap.
God’s pilgrims have a peace and hope that cannot be destroyed when earthly surroundings are crumbling. Our home or possessions may be destroyed, lost, or stolen, but we still have our faith in God, and a promise of eternal life in the heavenly country. This heavenly peace in the midst of calamity is something that worldly people cannot understand.
“And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings … they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” Hebrews 11:36–38.
These people were not at home on earth. In humble garments, homeless, even persecuted, they wandered in deserts, mountains, and caves. Why? Why did they choose such a hard life? Why did men like Abraham and Moses leave home and family to go on long journeys? Why did Moses forsake riches and pleasures? Why did unnamed others consent to mockings and scourgings? Why were they content to wear goatskins and call a cave or den their home?
“And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” Verses 39, 40.
These pilgrims and strangers were looking forward to a day in the future when they, with us, would receive the promise together. This will be the day when all of God’s people from all ages will receive their heavenly reward.
“That they without us should not be made perfect.” Our names can be added to the list of those faithful ones in Hebrews 11. When they receive the reward, we also can receive it. But how can this take place? Can we be borne to the heavenly treasure on the wings of ease? Or must we too become pilgrims and strangers, as were they? It is something to ponder.
Amy Pavlovik has been a teacher and missionary in Macedonia, but her highest calling at present is mother to two-year-old Naomi and helpmeet to her husband Mile Pavlovik, Bible worker at Steps to Life.