III. The Motives for Christian Perseverance
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. – Hebrews 6:10.
Two motives for perseverance are in this passage:
The first is here in verse 10. Simply reflecting on God’s reward of our perseverance is a motive to continue. Perseverance comes through reflection on His reward. God is not unrighteous or unfair to forget your labour of love. What does this mean? The idea of forget here does not mean accidentally lose a memory. God is not subject to such weakness. It has the idea of overlooking, neglecting, dismissing, treating as nothing. Were God to see the diligent labours of His people, their toil in serving God by serving people, the sacrifice and the pain, the loss and the inconvenience, were He to see that and ignore it, Scripture says He would be unjust, unfair. Yes, indeed, we are rebels who deserve the incarceration of eternal fire. Yes, we can make no demands on God or expect anything from Him. And yes, in heaven we see believers throwing their crowns at His feet, understanding that everything was from Him and through Him and to Him. But with all that in place, God is still the very essence of kindness and generosity. He is quick to mark the slightest effort to please Him. And while He is very difficult to satisfy, He is extraordinarily easy to please.
Such a God is not an exacting auditor, who will remind us on judgement day that everything we had was on loan anyway, that He owes us nothing, and that we ought to be grateful to have escaped Hell by the skin of our teeth. No, while all that may be true in a judicial sense, we read that God takes special joy in rewarding His imperfect children. We know something of this. When our dogs return a ball, dripping with dog-drool, with their tails wagging and their pink mouths panting, we tell them what good boys they were. When our babies return nothing more than a gummy smile to us, we rejoice and tell them how good they are. When our children bring us their scribble art-work, where the people don’t have torsos, but have legs and arms coming from their heads, we congratulate them, and stick their drawings up. We don’t gain anything from dog-dribbled balls, or gummy smiles or wax-crayon stick-figures. But our love leads us to reward our beloved.
God does not gain anything from the service of His people, but He delights to receive it. God is not miserly in His loving reward of His children. Yes, every effort we made came from Him, but He will not forget the smallest thing done for Him, for His people. So small, Jesus said in that Matthew 10:42 “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.” So small, Jesus said that something done for the most insignificant, forgotten member of the church will not be forgotten. And in Matthew 25:40, “And the King will answer and say to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”
Here is how you keep persevering. You remember, God sees, and has perfect recall. He knows all my sins, but has forgiven all of them in Jesus and chooses not to remember them. So what’s left? Every truly pure good work you do for Him. He won’t miss it, overlook it, think it of little import. In fact, this is why Jesus told us to practice secret religion: praying privately, fasting without a show, giving anonymously, so that we learn the deep power of the Father’s reward. Not man’s applause, not promotion in the church, not position, not influence, not power, but the profound sense that I am working for God, and He sees.
When you are feeling the discouragement of your own heart, or the sluggishness of the flesh, and you desire to draw back, to love less, to serve less, then this is the promise you must cling to: God will not fail to reward every true effort made for Him. It is worth every plodding step. It is worth every evil thing denied, every sacrifice made, every cost embraced.
But there is a second motive given here. Not only does perseverance come through reflection on His reward, but it comes also through imitation of the inheritors.
“…that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” – Hebrews 10:12.
Instead of becoming slothful and dull and lazy, we must imitate some people. Whom do we imitate? Those who have practised endurance, and have entered into the promises of God. Those who have kept the faith, been faithful, faith plus patience, and now they have experienced what they hoped for.
This is largely what chapter 11 is going to be about. The writer wants us to know that there is a massive stadium full of finishers. Each one of them is living proof – and I use the word living intentionally – that you can finish. It is possible. When you know people have endured and not given up under the most extreme persecution, you say, we can do this. We can keep loving God by loving His people. No going back for me, no dullness for me.
I remember watching the Comrades Marathon as a boy during the days of Bruce Fordyce. And in the Comrades Marathon, the race always finishes in a stadium. Now I can’t imagine the pain on running 90 kilometres, but evidently a lot of people do so intentionally. And as the day goes on, people finish at different times, and they have cutoff times for gold, silver, bronze medals, and a final cutoff for no medal at all. But I imagine one of the things that keeps runners going is the thought of how many there are ahead of them who have kept going, who have made it into the stadium. If the runners were running and finding the streets covered with comatose runners, fainted bodies just littering the road everywhere, with a deathly silent stadium ahead of them, I think a good bit of despair would enter into many hearts. What chance do I have if everyone is dropping out? But to approach that stadium, and to hear cheers and to know that people are finishing and getting their reward keeps you running. You imitate them.
So Scripture says, we don’t slow down. We remember that we are surrounded with a cloud, or a crowd of witnesses, people who have finished, who being dead yet speak, and say, “It can be done. By grace it will be done. So put your head down, and keep going.”
As I think back on my Sunday School, my youth group, faces flash before me of people who never truly closed with Christ. My prayer is that none of your faces would be added to that number. Pray for me, that I would not be added to your number of professed but never possessed.
How do we do that? We remember our reward. We imitate the inheritors. That’s how we keep diligently loving God by loving His people until the very end. That’s the good fruit that accompanies true salvation.
– David De Bruyn, Professor of Church History, Shepherds’ Seminary Africa