REMEMBER THAT GOD REMEMBERS – Hebrews 6:10-12
Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on January 14, 2017 under 2016 |
New Year’s Day Message – Sunday, January 1, 2017 from Hebrews 6:10-12
Theme: The Lord Jesus doesn’t measure the value of a gift by thing that is given, but rather by the loving sacrifice of the giver.
(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
Every first Sunday of the year, I seek a passage from God’s word that will encourage and challenge us in our walk with Christ together for the coming year. And the Lord has led me to a passage that has truly become a blessing to me.
But before I share it with you, please let me talk with you about what has been on my mind that led me to this passage in the first place.
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I have been reflecting much lately on the importance of the Christian world-view as distinct from the strictly secular world-view of so many of the people around us. One of the ways that the Christian world-view is distinct from the secular world-view is in the basis for hope that each world-view offers.
I have learned over the years to appreciate that many of the people who hold to a strictly secular world-view (that is, a world-view that views life strictly from the standpoint of the here-and-now; that does not recognize a spiritual or eternal realm in any meaningful way; and that holds to science and human reason as the only authoritative bases for life and progress) are, like their Christian counterparts, compassionate and deeply concerned for the welfare of their fellow human beings. Many of them sincerely seek to improve the condition of humankind, and care very much about people that they love. They build things, and do things, and write things, and create things, and labor in ways that they hope will benefit others in some way—often very much as would a person who believes in the God of the Bible.
But one of the ways that there is a great difference between the Christian and the strictly secular world-view is that, for the Christian, there is a clearly definable basis of hope for the enduring and eternal value of those works that is consistent with their world-view; whereas someone who holds to a consistent, strictly secular world-view cannot derive such a basis for hope from that world-view. If they have such an experience of hope, they must have it in a way that is contradictory to the ultimate implications of their world-view and must draw that hope from some other source. In other words, to have hope for the enduring value of their good works, they must think in a different direction that a strictly secular, purely ‘material’, here-and-now-only world-view would logically lead them.
You see; for something to have some kind of meaningful purpose, there has to be a basis for that meaning that is distinct from and greater than that thing itself. And if the strictly secular world-view is true, then there is nothing greater—nothing ‘over and above’—to give significant and ultimate meaning to what happens in this world. Strictly secular people often argue that they can give their own ‘meaning’ or ‘purpose’ to the things that they do or experience; but in the end, that is just an admission that there is nothing above themselves to give meaning to those works, or that endures after they themselves—as the ‘meaning-givers’—are gone from the scene.
Many secular philosophers and thinkers have wrestled with this problem. And in many cases, it has led them to frustration and deep despair. It has led some to conclude that—if they are consistent in their beliefs, and follow through all the way to where a strictly secular world-view must necessarily take them—there is no ultimate meaning to the good philanthropic things we might do; no ultimate purpose to the alleviating the suffering of humanity beyond the personal satisfaction it gives us; no lasting value to the relationships of love that we cherish and nurture. Even the greatest of people will die and will eventually be forgotten. Great institutions that such people establish will eventually degenerate and disappear. The great buildings and bridges that they built will eventually be knocked down and replaced by the works of others; and even those works too will all eventually disintegrate and crumble into dust. And if that’s all there is to it all, then what was it all for?
In his recent book, Making Sense of God, Pastor Timothy Keller quotes one secular thinker on this; and it is a truly painful and heart-rending paragraph to read. He says;
Even if you produce a great work of literature which continues to be read thousands of years from now, eventually the solar system will cool or the universe will wind down and collapse and all trace of your effort will vanish. … The problem is that although there are justifications for most things big and small that we do within life, none of these explanations explain the point of your life as a whole. … It wouldn’t matter if you had never existed. And after you have gone out of existence, it won’t matter that you did exist.1
Like Solomon said at the beginning of the Book of Ecclesiastes—writing as he did, for a brief time, from the strictly secular world-view—“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).
Personally, I don’t think very many people can actually bear being strictly secular in their world-view in any consistent way for very long. It would be almost impossible for them to live meaningfully if they were.
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As I was thinking about this not long ago, the contrast between the secular world-view and the Christian world-view struck me in an unexpected way. I remembered that, in the teaching of Jesus, He once said, “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36). That verse always convicts me when I read it—as it probably also does you. It troubles my heart to think of the many foolish and idle words for which I must—one day—give an account before God. It of course should convict and trouble me.
But going past the initial conviction of those words of Jesus, I was impressed by how they affirm to us that—in the eternal reality over which the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ reigns—even our words are not forgotten. I believe that He will remember not only the foolish and idle words we speak, but also the faithful and good ones as well. And if He will eternally remember and reward even something so seemingly-insignificant as our words, then how much more will all other aspects of our lives and our labors and our loves endure before Him!
What a difference that is from the hopelessness and despair of a strictly secular, strictly materialistic world-view! Indeed, the Bible makes it clear—in several places—that our labors are remembered by God our Creator and Savior, and have eternal significance and enduring value before Him long after our brief time on this earth is over. 2 Corinthians 5:10, for example, says;
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Now; I know that—at first—that comes to us as a troubling thought; that all the bad things we have done are things for which we must one day give an accounting before God. And I, for one, certainly praise God that the blood of Jesus has covered all my sins, and that He has paid my debt in full. Although I deeply regret my many failures, I do not have to be afraid of that day of judgment. But let’s not fail to notice that it also says that the good things are remembered before Him and rewarded by Him too! Those things do endure!
Have you ever thought of what it says in Revelation 14 about the saints who suffer before the Lord in the time of the great tribulation? The apostle John hears and records a conversation in the heavenly realms:
Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them” (Revelation 14:13).
What a promise!—“their works follow them”! So; quite in contrast to the strictly secular world-view of so many around us, our expectation as believers is that long after we have left this earth—and indeed, long after this earth itself has passed away—God will remember and reward those good things that we do, as His redeemed people, in the name of His Son and in the service of His kingdom. Jesus, in fact, said this to His followers:
“He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward” (Matthew 10:40-42).
Not even a cup of cold water—given in His name—will be forgotten by Him. All will be remembered and rewarded by our God in the eternal destiny He has prepared for us. In Christ, then, our works do indeed endure and follow us! Our lives have value and purpose and meaning above and beyond this world alone—given significance by Someone eternal; who is greater than and far above this created realm! And that ought to make a great difference in how we live our daily lives on this earth. We should be living with a joyful sense of purpose and expectation in all that we do—especially in our service to Him.
I had a chance to share a little bit about this the other day in a nursing home. I know most of you have visited such a place a time or two; and you have seen the seemingly-helpless condition of many of the precious folks who live there. They cannot get up and walk around. They can’t feed or dress themselves. They can hardly speak in some cases. Many of them feel as if their purpose in life is over.
But I shared some of these verses with them; and reminded them that there is still very much they can do that has eternal value. When one of the staff members or volunteers comes to them and ministers them, they can receive that help gratefully and graciously. They can pat the hand of a volunteer who cares for them, tell them, “Thank you”, and “I love you”. They can ask that volunteer or staff member if there is something that they can pray about for them. In some cases, they can send a card or a letter to a loved one and share something of God’s word with them, or say something encouraging to one of the other residents, or call a family member and pray with them and say that they love them.
Those things wouldn’t seem like much in the eyes of this world. They are, in fact, very insignificant and useless things in comparison to the things that the secular people of this world may value. But its those very things—small and insignificant as they may seem to be—that are remembered by God and that will be fully rewarded by Him in eternity.
So; as it turns out, even those dear folks—who can’t seem to do much in the eyes of this world—are able to do works of love, right now, that will last forever!
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And all of this leads me—finally—to share with you the passage that the Lord has placed on my heart this week. You’ll find it in Hebrews 6:10-12.
The writer of Hebrews was writing to some dear Jewish Christians who were suffering greatly for their faith in Jesus. Many of them were tempted to give up and go back to their old ways of the Jewish rituals and ceremonies. They were losing their perspective, and were feeling like the Christian faith wasn’t worth all the troubles that they were suffering for it. They were losing ground and were not growing in their walk with Christ. They were even getting lazy and slothful in their service to Him.
The writer warned them that it was is dangerous to fall into such a condition. He told them in Hebrews 6:7-8;
For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned (Hebrews 6:7-8).
Those are harsh words. But he and those who ministered to the people of God with him wanted these dear Christians to know that that was not how they felt about them. He goes on to say;
But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner (v. 9).
He knew that these were genuine followers of Jesus—truly redeemed people who had believed on Jesus and who had given evidence of their salvation through lives that were characterized by faithful labors of love. And so—in the words that I hope to call your particular attention to for the coming new year—he writes;
For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises (vv. 10-12).
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; God remembers our good labors in His name, and He will faithfully reward every one of them. Those good works will not fade away and disappear; but rather, they have eternal value and enduring purpose before our heavenly Father. And because this is true, we should be motivated to a renewed sense of diligence in our service to Him—knowing that nothing done in Jesus’ name will be forgotten or in vain.
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Now; let’s consider this passage a bit more closely. First, I ask you to notice the initial affirmation that the writer makes to us in verse 10; that …
1. GOD REMEMBERS.
The writer puts this in what we might call a ‘negative affirmation’ when he says, “For God is not unjust to forget your work …” He does that, I believe, to give emphatic force to it. If we put his words into a ‘positive’ expression, we would say that God is just toward us in remembering our labors.
Our God is not like the impersonal, unfeeling material universe that those who are of a secular frame of mind feel that we are under. The material universe neither ‘acknowledges’ or ‘offers thanks’ for any good thing done in it. It does not know or feel anything. It just is; and we are just an indistinguishable part of it. But I believe that ‘a universe in which God does not exist’ itself does not exist. We are not merely under an unfeeling, impersonal, material universe; but rather, are under the deeply feeling, very personal God who made us and sustains this universe in which He has placed us.
Our God knows what is done by us as His creatures. And He is just and righteous in His response to those things that are done. As old father Abraham once affirmed, back in Genesis 18:25, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Justice is something that has true meaning in God’s universe, because He Himself is just. And He will never be so unjust as to forget or ignore the labors of those who serve Him in love.
And notice what He also knows much about such works. He knows, for example, when they are acts of genuine love. “For God is not unjust”, the writer says, “to forget your work and labor of love …” That love may be directed toward God Himself; or that love might be directed to someone else because of the love of God. But our God—who Himself loves—knows perfectly well when an act of love is done by us.
What’s more, He knows when it is done in His name. “For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name …” To do something in Jesus’ name means to do it in this world by the power of the Holy Spirit as His representative—out of love and devotion to Him, and for the advancement of His cause, and in such a way as He Himself would do it—with full trust in Him for the results. And our God knows when such a thing is done—no matter what that thing is that was done. As Jesus Himself has even taught us, it may be as small a thing as giving a cup of cold water to a needy follower of His; and yet God sees that it was an act of love and rewards it.
And more still, He knows about it—and especially values it—when it is done by someone who loves Him for the benefit of someone else who loves Him. Apparently, the people to whom the writer of Hebrews was speaking had a history of this. “For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” They not only had ministered to the saints in the past; but were still doing so even then. And God knew. And He will not prove so unjust as to forget it.
So; as followers of Jesus, we have reason to be confident that our faithful labors in the cause of Jesus will never be forgotten. Our works will not—as people of a strictly secular mindset eventually must believe—ultimately fade away, be lost and forgotten, and disintegrate into nothing. It’s not true that those works have no value or purpose or meaning. They will—every one of them—be remembered by our loving heavenly Father in eternity; and they will be ‘justly’ rewarded by Him.
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Now; I suggest that this should become the motivation for you and me to be diligent and enthusiastic in our service to Him—even in the smallest of things that might not seem very important to this world.
God remembers; and in verses 11-12, the writer then goes on to tell us …
2. THEREFORE, BE DILIGENT.
The writer says, “ And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” To ‘show diligence’ here means to show earnestness and enthusiasm in even our smallest acts of obedience and love. He encourages his Jewish-Christian to keep on showing the same diligence as they had shown in the past and were still showing even then.
And look at the details. The writer tells his readers that they should do this “to the full assurance of hope”. That “assurance” is speaking of a deep conviction of the heart; and the object of that conviction is “hope”. He is calling his readers to be unshakably convinced that God will, indeed, remember their faithful service to Him and reward every labor of love done in His Son’s name. And he writes that they are to have this conviction of hope “to the end.” We too need to have the same conviction of hope—even a conviction that is so strong that we are willing to lay down our very lives in the confidence that we will ultimately lose nothing but gain everything; and to hold on to that hope to our very last days.
Note also that he writes that his readers should not “become sluggish”. That word “sluggish” can be translated “lazy”. If I don’t believe that my labors have any ultimate value or purpose, I’m not motivated to give much to them. But if I am possessed of a full assurance of hope with regard to the enduring value of my labors in Christ, and that God will ultimately reward them, then I will no longer be half-hearted or sluggish in my service to Christ. I will become highly motivated and truly ‘diligent’.
And note finally that he exhorts his readers to “imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises”. To stir us on, we should look to those who have lived-out this sort of diligent pattern of service with full conviction of hope; and learn to follow their example. Later on, the writer of Hebrews will give his readers a whole long list of those heroes from the Old Testament times—in his wonderful ‘Hall of Faith’ chapter in Hebrews 11. But there have also been many great examples since then who diligently served Christ in the full assurance of hope. There are even some who we have known in our own lives today. And most of all, there’s the Lord Jesus Himself who—as it says in Hebrews 12:2—“for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
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So, dear brothers and sisters in Christ; I would like to encourage that, in the coming year, we make it our aim together to remember that God Himself remembers our labors done in love in Jesus for the good of His people; and thus be made diligent, in the full assurance of hope, to give our all to those things He gives us to do.
Let’s remember what the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15: 58;
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Thomas Nagel, “The Absurd,” in The Meaning of Life, ed. E.D. Klemke and Steven Cahn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 146-47; cited in Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God (New York: Penguin Random House, 2016), p. 66.