24. Hiking in Hebrews: Serving the Saints

Have you ever planted a garden and watched it go to ruin? For years, my mother planted a large vegetable garden each spring , then left it to the elements while she and my father spent months at the family cabin—an arduous two day’s journey over the Rockies. When she got back in September, long summer days had usually grown a bumper crop—of thistles! I imagine her hacking the weeds each fall, salvaging the survivalist veggies trembling beneath. I often wonder why she bothered.

 
But imagine planting an entire field—your year’s livelihood—and returning to a jungle of useless weeds! This is how the following passages describe the lives of Christians who have fallen away:

 
It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. (Heb.6:4-6)

 
Scary words! God doesn’t use the word “impossible” about many things—he is, after all, the God who makes all things possible—but the meaning here is irrefutable. Sadly, it’s possible for someone to be converted, to experience the full range of spiritual renewal and blessings, and then to fall away. Forever. Because to know God like this, only to later turn our backs on him, represents a hardening of heart so reprehensible, so inconceivable, such hearts can never recover.

 

 

God forces no one to love him, and those who partake in salvation but later fall away seal their own fate. It takes profound hardening to ‘forget’ or discount God’s goodness, grace, and power. This passage says it’s tantamount to nailing Jesus to the cross all over again, subjecting him to mockery and public disgrace.

 
Falling away is also an appalling testimony to the world, something the devil delights in.
The passage continues:
Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it has been farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless, and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. (Heb.6:7-8)

 
I know some believers don’t believe in ‘falling away’, but these verses, together with Hebrews 10:26-31, seem rock-solid to me. In fact, a prevailing theme of Hebrews is exactly that message: Christians CAN drift, sin, and fall away. However tough things get, don’t let that happen!

 
Sobering words are these, and if your heart is cut, please listen! God is speaking to your precarious state, but it’s not too late to turn back if you can still hear his voice–and tremble.

 
The Hebrew writer hastens to encourage us after his warning. He is “confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation” (verse 9). What are those things?
“…your work and the love you have shown {God} as you have helped his people, and continue to help them” (verse 10).

 
Let’s explore this trail for a bit.

 
For many years, I belonged to a group that measured spirituality by primarily one criteria: being personally fruitful; that is, bringing others into the kingdom through evangelism, teaching, and discipling. I still believe this is a mark of obedience and faithfulness to Christ, and that he helps us ‘bear fruit’ as we strive to share our faith.

 

 

But it’s certainly not the ONLY measure. Being “abundantly fruitful” (a phrase we especially loved) is mentioned by Jesus in John 15—so of course it’s important—but I don’t see Paul or other New Testament writers praising fellow believers for this particular virtue. What Paul and his fellow apostles repeatedly commend is LOVE, demonstrated primarily through our interactions and ACTIONS with other Christians. Here, the Hebrew writer simply calls it ‘helping God’s people’.

 
Several New Testament heroes come to mind with this phrase. I think of Tabitha, also known as Dorcas, serving her brothers and sisters by sewing clothes (Acts 9). Of Barnabas, dubbed “son of encouragement”. Of Timothy, taking a genuine interest in his brothers’ and sisters’ wellbeing—a trait Paul found lacking in others. I think of Priscilla and Aquila, and the specific brothers and sisters Paul commends for their “hard work” in Romans 16.

 
And I think of many present-day Tabithas and Timothys. In Virginia Beach, I think of Paul and Kim, a couple who remodeled their humble bungalow (at great expense) simply to accommodate church gatherings, and whose hearts and doors are ALWAYS open to serve and encourage. In India, I think of Mark and Cheryll, constantly traveling—and moving—to various cities in India and beyond to strengthen their brothers and sisters. From Africa, I remember Phil and Stella (now of Toronto), an accomplished couple who’ve shared their material blessings and love with countless brothers and sisters over the years, ignoring all tribal, class, and economic barriers. Phil recently spent weeks by the bedside of a friend’s dying son, leading him back to Christ and encouraging his heartbroken mother: a true Timothy.

 
In Kelowna, we have our own resident “Tabitha’, named Marg. Marg is everyone’s mother, her days—even as she nears 80—filled with service: inviting the overlooked for homecooked Sunday dinners, running errands for the housebound, making sure we always have cookies and coffee for services, hosting long-term guests as they get on their feet, keeping us aware of prayer needs across the region, and doing who-knows-what-else to serve anyone with a need. She doesn’t sew as much as she used to, but she did make our patio door curtains, which our latest batch of kittens are determined to destroy. (I’ve looped them out of reach.)

 
Our Vancouver church has been blessed for many years with a twin-set of Tabithas. Cynthia and Louise, a delightful pair of older women, turn up whenever there’s a need, ready to roll up their sleeves. In 2005, these sisters became my personal heroes when they came to clean our rental house as we moved out. A huge mulberry tree grew by the front door, dropping overripe berries on the sidewalk below. Before we had a chance to protect the pristine carpet, church troops arrived to load the truck, tracking dark purple stains all over the beige carpet. I despaired of ever getting our damage deposit back; in fact, I thought we’d be forced to pay for new carpeting throughout. But these miracle workers managed to scrub out every stain; I still don’t know how. But I have a guess: these two have a special-favor hotline with God.

 
For many years, Cynthia and Louise have been deeply committed prayer partners, maintaining an epic list of prayer needs—current and answered—and fasting every week on their prayer day. Only the Lord knows how many hours they’ve devoted to others, praying for years without ceasing. I credit them for keeping me afloat during the dark years of my spiritual crisis, when I struggled to read and pray without weeping. Like the rest of us, these saints are not perfect, but if Paul were to write his letters today, I wouldn’t be surprised if they got a significant mention. They’ve been a tremendous source of inspiration and encouragement for everyone who knows them—and many they’ve never met, faithfully lifted up in prayer.

 
What are you doing to help God’s people? Are you continuing to help—with the fervor you once had? Can you become a prayer warrior as you grow older, serving on your knees instead of through exhausting acts of service? Can you do a bit of both?

 
God remembers every act of service, as the Hebrew writer tells us. Jesus says even a cup of cold water isn’t forgotten—but we can do far more. He’s pleased when we take care of each other, just as parents are pleased by siblings who do the same. And he’s (probably) miffed when we get lazy, and leave the serving to others.

 
So here’s today’s message: let’s live our faith by serving well!

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