Savoring God by Serving the Saints
Though we speak thus, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things that belong to salvation. For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love which you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
The reason I chose this text for this morning's message is that during the Pastors' Conference that ended Wednesday, Sam Storms built his message on it and moved me deeply. One of the reasons it leaped out so powerfully is that I am always on the alert for texts that explicitly connect God-centeredness and the ministry to people. Too often we feel forced to choose between these two: either we will be God-focused and sensitivity to people and their needs will suffer; or we will be people-focused and God will be used rather than worshiped.
Love God and Love People
Satan surely wants us to feel that this is an either/or. He probably doesn't care which way we go: God-focused and uncaring about people; or people-focused and not enthralled by God. Just so we don't keep these together.
The Greatest Commandment
Do you remember the time the Pharisees came to Jesus and asked which was the great commandment in the law? Jesus answered in a way that frustrates Satan's design to put asunder what God had joined together. He said the great commandment is, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment." I wonder if Jesus paused just then to see how they were hearing him. And perhaps noticing a sense of self-satisfaction in this group of religious zealots, he says, "And a second is like it [note this: like it]: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:37–40).
Jesus keeps together what Satan wants to separate: God-centeredness and serving others. Love God, love God, love God—with all that you are, heart, soul, and mind. This cannot be reduced to loving people. If it could, the second commandment would be unnecessary. The first commandment is not the second commandment. The second is like it. Together they sum up all the law and the prophets. Loving God and loving people are not the same.
Two Tragedies in Churches Today
A great tragedy in many churches is that savoring God collapses into serving people. It is a subtle danger because it looks so good at first. And Jesus said, "If you do it unto one of the least of these my brethren you do it unto me" (Matthew 25:40). In many churches this text has become a kind of fog where the hallowing of God's name evaporates into humanitarianism. Devotion toward God dissolves into attempts to do good for others.
And the tragedy is just as great in churches where a focus on God and Scripture fails to yield the fruit of love for people. A form of worship replaces a faithful witness. Study of God's power replaces serving God's people. Prayer replaces active compassion. It seems almost impossible. But it happens. Our hearts are unbelievably capable of boasting in doctrines of humility and putting asunder what God has joined: worship and witness; hallowing God's name and helping God's people; savoring God's glory and serving the saints.
I want to avoid that in my life and I want us to avoid it as a church. One of the ways to avoid it is to see a clear statement from the Bible about how these things are related and to get the structure of the relationship fixed in our minds. We need to have our minds transformed by the structure of Hebrews 6:10 so they will not be conformed to this age and its mindset about loving God and serving people.
Four Things to See in Hebrews 6:10
Hebrews 6:10 says, "God is not unjust so as to overlook [or: forget] your work and the love which you showed for his sake [literally: toward his name] in serving the saints, as you still do."
To see how profound and helpful this verse is for us, we need to see four things: two things about God, and two things about us.
- First, it talks about God's memory: God will not forget your work and your love for his name. He will remember.
- Second, it talks about God's justice. His memory of our work and love is based on his justice: "God is not unjust so as to forget your work and love . . . " That means that he is just so as to remember your work and love. So his memory of your works of love is based on his justice.
- Third, it talks about our service toward the saints: "serving the saints, as you still do." You have served them in the past and you are still serving them. This is Christians in the church having an eye to caring for each other and meeting each other's needs.
- Fourth, it talks about the love we have shown toward the name of God. The RSV "love which you showed for his sake" is literally, "love which you showed toward his name." So don't mix up the service to the saints in the last part of the verse, and the love to the name of God in the middle of the verse. They are not identical.
So there are four things to see: God's memory, God's justice, our service to the saints, and our love toward the name of God. Now how do those four things relate to each other? Can this verse show us the way God means for those things to interconnect so that we will be protected from confusing them or neglecting them or interchanging them or letting one thing get lost in another thing? Can we let the interrelationships of this verse renew and transform our minds so that the very framework and form of our thinking will be like God's Word and not man's? That's our goal.
So let's ask two questions:
- What is the relationship between serving the saints and showing love to the name of God?
- What is the relationship between God's memory of these things and his justice? Why is it a matter of divine justice that our work of serving the saints be remembered?
Serving Saints and Loving God
First, What is the relationship between serving the saints and showing love to the name of God?
The Focus of God's Memory
The text says, " . . . the work and love which you showed toward [God's] name, having served the saints and are still serving." Virtually all the translations agree that the relationship here is between the end you are pursuing and the way that you go about pursuing it. The end pursued is showing love to God's name, and the way to go about pursuing it is to serve the saints.
O how easy it would be here to make a fatal mistake. We can imagine someone—or a whole ministry—saying: "See! Love for the name of God is virtually equivalent to loving people." And so what really matters is caring about people. And so they give all their energies there, and hallowing God's name evaporates into religious humanitarianism. God ceases to be worshiped and he begins to be used.
But this is NOT what the text says. It says that God will remember our love shown to his name. This is the focus of God's memory. "He is not unjust so as to forget our work and love toward his name." The love he remembers is toward his name. It is Godward. It is God-focused. Yes it comes to expression in service to the saints. But it does not evaporate in service to the saints. It is alive and vital in that service. It shapes it and carries it and sustains it. But the service is for the sake of the name not vice versa.
How Is Love for God Worked Out in Serving Saints?
But how does loving the name of God work itself out in serving the saints? Is this love for God's name a desire to see his name glorified so that we are motivated to serve in a way that glorifies his name? Or is this love for God's name a delight in his name, a getting strength from and being satisfied with his name, so that we are sustained in serving by this delight and strength and satisfaction that we have in God?
The answer is surely: both. Jesus said, "Whoever gives to one of these little ones [=saints] even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward" (Matthew 10:42). That is, God will remember him. God is not unjust to forget such a deed done to a saint because he is a disciple—because he bears the name of Christ. This is one example of how love toward the name moves a person to serve the saints.
Another is 1 Peter 4:11, "Let him who serves serve in the strength which God supplies so that in everything God will get the glory." Here the serving of the saints flows from our getting strength and joy from God to sustain our serving. So love to God's name means looking to God for satisfaction that can be shared with the saints in service.
Now these two ways of relating love toward the name of God and service toward the saints are not at odds. One says that the goal of serving the saints is that the name of God be glorified. The other says that the ground (the spring) of serving the saints is that the name of God be trusted and enjoyed. In one case loving the name of God means desiring for his name to be glorified. In the other case loving the name of God means delighting in the glory we've already seen. But both come from the same heart of love to God. One stresses the longing and desiring and yearning for God to be known and honored and loved. The other stresses the resting and delighting and satisfaction that he is already known and honored and loved. They are not two different loves. It is the way everyone who loves the name of God experiences him.
In both cases serving the saints—caring and loving and helping and encouraging and supporting the saints—is the way we show our love for the name of God.
Why Is God's Response a Matter of His Justice?
Now the other question is how does God's justice relate to his memory of our love for his name and our serving the saints? Why is it a matter of divine justice that our work of serving the saints for the sake of God's name be remembered?
Let me put this weighty matter very briefly, and then close with a practical encouragement. First a wrong answer, and a very dangerous one, it would go like this: justice means a day's wage for a day's work. We put in a day's work serving the saints, and God is obliged to give us a day's wage for that service. It's a matter of justice. In other words, we obligate God by calling attention to the worth of our service.
But that is not where the text points. The text says that "God is not unjust to forget our work and love toward his name." What obliges the justice of God to remember our love is not the worth of our service, but the worth of his name. When we serve and work out of love for that name, what we are calling attention to is the worth of his name. This is why the justice of God is at stake in remembering our work and love.
Listen to this parallel from Psalm 143:11.
For thy name's sake, O Lord, preserve my life!
In thy justice bring me out of trouble!
God's acting for his name's sake and his acting out of justice are the same. When we serve the saints as a way of loving the name of God, God's justice commits him to remember our work and reward us for his name's sake (cf. 10:35; 11:26).
A Great Encouragement for Us
Now there is a great encouragement for us here. We long for Bethlehem to become more and more a church where the saints serve each other—care for each other, help each other, encourage each other, endure each other, restore each other. We also aspire to be a very God-centered church—a church where everything is done out of love for the name of God. What this text says is that this combination is the secret of great blessing. The point is to encourage us that when we serve and keep on serving, even in the small and seemingly unnoticed ways, God will never forget. Every note you write, every call you make, every visit, every gift, every late night conversation, every turning the other cheek, every unrequited kindness, every service out of love for his name God sees and he will not forget them to all eternity.
So let us love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and for the sake of his name let us serve one another! He will not forget. His justice guarantees it.