Once again, the writer of Hebrews gives us a terrible warning about the ultimate sin of apostasy, or turning from God, having once been enlightened. Lest we become too snug and smug in our faith, we must remember the real possibility of our falling away from God. This is not a merely hypothetical possibility: it is the real-life tragedy of countless Christians, or else why would Scripture contain so many warnings against it?
And you are not exempt from this possibility.
But the writer of Hebrews is confident of better things concerning the Hebrews to whom he was writing. He was confident that the things that accompany salvation were present in their lives. Why does he have such confidence in the Hebrews? Because of their labor of love which they have shown toward His Name. In other words, the writer of Hebrews is confident that the Hebrews will persevere in their salvation because they have demonstrated the fruits of salvation and participation in Christ: laboring to love as He loved.
This is the real message for this morning: seek to imitate those who labor in love for Christ’s sake. Though the danger of apostasy is real, especially if you allow yourself to drift away from God and His Church, the cure for apostasy is to participate in Christ. In this case, that means participating in Christ by loving as He loved us.
What is this labor of love which is the proof and fruit of salvation and without which apostasy is lurking at your door? It is ministering to or serving the saints of God. Do you remember what Jesus Christ said to Saul of Tarsus when he was on his way to continue persecuting the saints in Damascus and was confronted by Jesus? He said “Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute Me?” Persecuting the church, which is the Body of Christ, means persecuting Jesus Christ.
But in the same way, ministering to the saints, God’s holy ones, means ministering to Jesus Christ. Jesus is telling us today that “Whatever you do to the least of these (Christians), you have done it to Me.” By ministering to the saints, you are ministering to your High Priest, who first ministered to you.
This ministering to the saints is not to be a casual helping little old ladies across the street when we happen to think of it: it is, instead, to be an intentional life dedicated to serving the saints because it is dedicated to serving Jesus Christ Himself. Such a life will not happen by itself. The life that happens “by itself” is a life of drifting into apostasy.
No, this life of ministering, of being a disciple of Jesus Christ who serves as He came to serve, is a labor, and it is work. I’m reminded of the old Dobie Gillis TV show, in which the beatnik Maynard G. Krebs always said “Work?!” whenever the word “work” was mentioned. I’m also reminded of Mad’s Alfred E. Newman, whose favorite I’m adapting to say: “What, me work?!” (Suddenly, I feel old, and yet thinking about working to serve Jesus Christ makes me young again!)
Jesus Christ, who worked for your salvation is calling you to join Him in His present work. He’s looking for a few good men, and He’s pointing His finger at you, saying “I WANT YOU!” He is recruiting you, as His disciple, to go out and do His work today, and that work is ministering to His saints. You are to do His work with diligence: “Do not become sluggish” (verse 11).
When you become sluggish in the work that God has given you, then two terrible things happen. First, a saint whom God loves and for whom Jesus Christ was nailed to the Cross doesn’t get ministered to. By being sluggish in doing the work of God, you are like a kink in God’s hose of Living Water that refreshes and blesses His saints. But secondly, and even more terribly, when you are sluggish in the work of God, you begin to drift, and drifting always carries with it the possibility of being carried away by the current of apostasy and spiritual slumber.
Doing God’s work is laborious. It is a labor of love, and it comes at a price, just as Christ’s labors of love came at an astronomical price. It’s difficult to remember to do God’s work, and not just your own, and it’s difficult, having remembered, to put down the joysticks of life and turn off life’s video games and go out to minister to Jesus Christ in love by ministering to His saints. Just as difficult is being willing to design a life for yourself in which you come into contact with the saints frequently and intimately enough that you know their needs and love them enough to want to minister to them.
How much easier all of this – the remembering, the turning from self and games to the work of life, and the knowing how to minister – if we actually began to live as the Body of Christ, and not just as a random collection of body parts that mysteriously re-assemble themselves for an hour a week, only to disintegrate again for another 167 hours.
How much easier it would be to do the work of Christ by ministering to the saints if we had the saints always before us to remind us of our godly calling to labor in love for the good of others. For this reason, the writer of Hebrews gives us one way to prevent ourselves from becoming sluggish in doing God’s work: imitating those who through faith and patience inherit the promises (which is a harbinger of Chapter 11’s great memorial to the Old Testament saints).
But you have many saints in your life, and not just the ones in the pages of the Bible or in heaven above. I challenge you to pick a saint, a holy one of God, who is worthy of imitation, and go out and imitate that saint in laboring in love to serve the saints.
Prayer: O Lord, who spent your life ministering to the saints, and ministered to me through your life and through your death on the Cross, arouse me from my spiritual sluggishness and raise me to diligence that I might labor in love for you, on behalf of Your holy saints whom You have ordained to be in my life. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
1. Pick one saint on whose life you can meditate today. How is God calling you to imitate this saint?
2. Meditate honestly on the diligence and vigor with which you have been ministering to Christ by ministering to His saints. Have you been more diligent or more sluggish?
Resolution: I resolve to find one practical way to minister to one saint today.
© 2014 Fr. Charles Erlandson