Hebrews 6:9-12 - Three Graces That Reflect Spiritual Health
Last week we referred to the Mission Statement of Community Church. It is, “As a people living side by side Community Church exists to pursue the transformation of hearts and minds through the treasuring and spreading of the surpassing worth of Jesus Christ.”
I mentioned how the author of Hebrews would have appreciated our mission statement. He is writing to believers who had adopted a low view of Jesus Christ. They were no longer ‘treasuring and spreading the surpassing worth of Jesus Christ’. Because of this they were faltering in two of three key areas of spiritual health. Therefore, like a doctor the author of Hebrews diagnosis the problem and begins to give them a prescription for the cure.
Let me ask you some questions. First, ‘Is Community Church a healthy church?’ ‘How do we know if we are healthy or not?’. If we determine that we are not, ‘What is the prescription that should be given?’ One concern is, ‘What if we give the wrong prescription so that we don’ get healthier; but instead, we become worse?’
Remember the story in three of the gospels of the woman who had a physical ailment. For twelve years she had this issue that made her unclean. She went to every doctor and tried every prescription but she did not get any better until she came to see Jesus Christ. (Mt. 9:20-22; Mk. 5:25-34; Lk, 8:43-48)
The author of Hebrews makes a diagnosis and then gives them a prescription. In short, he comes to them with a message concerning the surpassing worth of Christ. If these ‘beloved’ believers will respond by looking to Christ they will become healthy.
These Christians were suffering because of trials and persecutions. Some experienced imprisonment and the loss of property and personal freedom. They were under attack by false teachers who were unsettling them and leading some away from the truth. As a result, these believers were tired, discouraged, distracted and loosing hope. Some were pulling back from Christ and returning to the Law of Moses, to Temple worship and to Judaism.
If the only prescription for them to get better was for the suffering to stop then there would be no quick fix and there would be no desperately needed cure! The New Testament teaching is clear that believers are always to expect suffering! For example, Paul writes to the Thessalonians and says, ‘When we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.’
Then Paul says, ‘For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain. But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you – for this reason, brothers, in all of our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the LORD.’ (1 Thessalonians 3:1-8)
A couple of weeks ago we saw how Barnabas was sent to Antioch to see if there was evidence that they had received the gospel and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Similarly, here in 1 Thessalonians we see that Paul sends Timothy to do the same thing. He is sent to investigate the health of these Christians.
To determine their spiritual health Timothy was for several things. He would see if they were keeping the faith, if they were loving God as they loved His people, and if they were enduring in steadfast hope in Christ.
Faith, hope and love were graces that this church had displayed from the very beginning. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
These are the same graces that Paul rejoices in when Timothy comes back and says that these believers are continuing to walk in faith, hope and love. Paul says, “But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you – for this reason, brothers, in all of our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the LORD.”
Finally, we see at the end of this letter that these graces were to be part of the armor that these Christians needed to have to remain healthy under attack. We read, “...let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”
We also see that these graces (faith, hope and love) are the fruits that the gospel produces in a believers heart because of the salvation that we have graciously received in Christ. We read, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
The reason I have spent so much time discussing the importance of these three graces (faith, love and hope) is because we see in Hebrews 6:9-12that the writer of Hebrews has assessed the health of these believers by looking at their faith, hope and love for Christ. After doing this he has determined that they were expressing love but they were not strong in faith and hope.
A church that is faltering in any one of these areas would seem to be an overwhelming condition. This church was sick in two of the three. Yet, the author of Hebrews is not intimidated, scared, hopeless, overwhelmed or despairing. The prescription is always the same. The people need to return to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Remember what Paul said to the Thessalonians, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
Let’s read Hebrews 6:9-12. We read, “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. 10 For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. 11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”
The author of Hebrews has just given this congregation a very strong warning in Hebrews 5:11-6:8. Yet, he writes that he is ‘sure of better things – things that belong to salvation’. Now, in verses 10-12 he speaks of the three graces that ought to be present in any healthy believer and church: faith, hope and love. Did you see these in Hebrews 6:9-12?
The author of Hebrews commends this congregation for the love that he has seen among them. They have displayed this love for His name. They have served the saints because of their love for the LORD. This is a love that the author has seen in them in the past and he still sees it in their lives at this time. He says, “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.” (10)
Thomas Watson once said, “Faith deals with things that are invisible, but God hates that love which is invisible.”1James speaks of these things when he says, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works is dead.” (James 2:14-17)
If God hates invisible love, how much more will he remember, acknowledge, and reward the love of these saints. The author of Hebrews knows that this is true because he says, “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.”
To diagnose the problem and to prescribe the right cure the author of Hebrews looks at the same things that the LORD would look at to determined the health of a congregation. The LORD does not overlook the love that His people have shown for Him in serving the saints. He notices every word and deed done in love. The LORD will not forget the smallest expression of love by a humble saint.
If the author of Hebrews is to accurately determine the health of the congregation he needs to look at them the way the Great Physician would. He looks at their faith, hope and love in Christ. The LORD does not judge our health bythe size of the programs, the size of the building, the size of the congregation, the size of the budget. He determines their health by their faith in Christ, their love for Christ seen by their service to God’s people, and He considers their hope in His Son.
Thomas Watson speaks of this special love that a believer has for the saints when he says, “He that loved Him that begat, loves the one that is begotten of Him (1 John 5:1).” Then Watson says, “It is possible to love a saint, yet not love him as a saint; we may love him for something else, for his ingenuity, or because he is affable and bountiful. A beast loves a man, but not as he is a man, but because he feeds him, and gives him his food. But to love a saint as he is a saint, that is a sign of love to God.”2
We began this sermon by asking, ‘How do we know if we are healthy church or not?’. One of the ways that we know we are healthy is if we love God and love His saints. There are many who love the church because of the programs that can be offered, because of the entertainment that it can provide, for the worship style that is used. Some love the church for the status it gives them, the connections that are made, and because of the opportunities it can provide. There is the temptation in these things to be like the dog who loves his owner only for the food and comfort that it receives.
These believers have shown true love for God’s name and for the saints. We find an expression of this love for the saints in Hebrews10:32-34when we read, “But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.”
Later in this book the author of Hebrews will encourage these believers to re-commit themselves to loving the LORD and each other when he says, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works (faith in Christ and thankfulness for His grace that is expressed through love), not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (10:24-25)
Although this congregation was commended for their love for God and for His people, the author is concerned that the two other graces that are not as healthy as they should be: faith and love. He says to them, “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”
As I pondered this text and these three graces (faith, hope and love) I wondered how it would be possible to be strong in one grace and weak in the other two? How was it possible that these believers had a love that was to be commended while their was also great concern over their ability to persevere in faith and hope?
As I considered the questions I heard a discussion that helped me to understand these things a little better. In an ‘Ask Pastor John’3 pod-cast a young woman wrote a letter in which she talked about how her husband had just passed away three weeks earlier. He was her best friend and the pastor of their church.
In the aftermath of this loss she wrote of her abiding love for God and for her husband. And yet, in her letter you could hear her grief and agony; her discomfort and heartbreak; her dismay and her disappointment. You could also see that she sought a biblical prescription for the help of her faltering faith and hope. Her faith was being tested and her hope was being shaken. She needed biblical answers so that she could continue in the grace of God and display a heart that was full of faith, hope and love in the aftermath of these things.
Similarly, these believers were experiencing difficult times. More than likely, they had seen some of their leaders martyred (Hebrews 13:7). They had seen their friends experience suffering and persecution (Hebrews 13:3). They had experienced trials and were suffering in their communities(Hebrews 10:32-34). Many of them experienced the rejection of family and friends when they came to faith in Christ. They had watched close friends and church members fall away from Christ. They had witnessed some of the members of the church fall into the habit of irregular church attendance (Hebrews 10:24-25). They had watched as some of their friends and church members apostatized and rejected Christ altogether.
In this moment this congregation needed a proper diagnosis and the right prescription to be given if they were to be healthy once again. Like this widow, this congregation could still be commended for their love, but because of these trials they were struggling in their faith and were struggling to have full assurance of hope to the very end.
To help this young widow John Piper spoke of biblical reasons that she could have faith, hope and love in Christ. Similarly, the author of Hebrews does the same to help this congregation. He speaks of things that will restore and strengthen their hope, faith and love for Christ.
Notice the first three words of Hebrews 6:11. He says, “And we desire…”. I love these words, “And we desire’. I think that Paul is speaking for all of us when we see fellow believers struggling in any of these areas of spiritual health: faith, hope and love for Christ. We ought to reflect this desire that we see in Paul here.
Paul speaks of his desire when he said to the Thessalonians, “But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face…” (1 Thessalonians 2:17). In Romans 10:1 Paul says, “Brothers, my hearts desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.”
We ought to have a strong, earnest, abiding, passionate desire to help individuals and churches who are struggling in their faith, hope and love in Christ. If this desire is absent we will become ineffectual in serving God’s people.
As desperately as we need to desire to see believers healthy in faith, hope and love; there needs to be more than just a desire to help congregations who are loosing these spiritual graces. There must be a proper prescription. They need a spiritual prescription that will restore these graces. This is what the author of Hebrews will do for this congregation in the coming chapters of Hebrews.
John Bunyan said, “Hope is never ill when faith is well.” In the next four chapters the author of Hebrews will minister things that will give this congregation hope and that will produce faith in them. Because of this he will speak of faith and hope as we come to Hebrews 11:1 and he says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence (assurance) of things not seen.”
If we are really honest as we answer the question, ‘Is Community Church a healthy church?’, that it would be OK to say that we are a lot like these believers. We may be strong in one of these graces and weaker in others. This should not make us panic because there is a prescription. There is a path to spiritual health.
The question that confronts us today is if we will take the prescription and become healthy?
The solution is pretty simple and it is universal to every person, to every church and to every congregation. We should desire earnestly to, “pursue the transformation of hearts and minds through the treasuring and spreading of the surpassing worth of Jesus Christ.” If we will commit to this we will be full of spiritual health and maturity. We will be full of faith, hope, and love.
1The Golden Treasury of Puritan Quotations, Thomas Watson, p.194
2The Golden Treasury of Puritan Quotations, Thomas Watson, p.195-196
3Ask Pastor John Pod-cast, Will My Spouse Be My Best Friend In Heaven episode 1845, October 7th.