5) When God Crowns His Own Grace (2:2a)
In the previous meditation, we saw how sin is strengthened by the illusion of secrecy. Some people are emboldened in iniquity on the false assumption that God is either unaware of or indifferent to their deeds. Countering this are the numerous texts we noted which affirm the knowledge God has of our most intimate intentions and activities. To these, Jesus also adds: “I know your works” (Revelation 2:2a).
Knowing that the Lord knows is not simply a reason to desist from sin. For the Christian it’s an encouragement and incentive for perseverance in faithfulness and obedience. How often have you (or someone you know) felt discouraged, disconsolate, tempted to throw in the towel because you were convinced that no one, not even God, knew or cared about your diligence and sincere efforts to serve the body of Christ?
Don’t think for a moment this isn’t an important issue. Consider how the author of Hebrews encouraged his readers with this reminder: “For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do.” As far as God is concerned, it’s a matter of divine justice that he take note of your “work” and “love” in “serving the saints”. To overlook or ignore your labors or act as if they were inconsequential is inconceivable to God!
But why? And why would it be a matter of injustice were he to overlook them? Be assured of this: you do not put God in your debt by your serving the saints. The appeal to justice does not mean God is obligated to acknowledge the worth of your works. Rather, our work in serving one another is done, as the text from Hebrews indicates, “for his sake” or more literally, “unto his name”!
John Piper put it this way: “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. . . .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. Psalm 143:11; Hebrews 10:35; 11:26) (“Savoring God by Serving the Saints,” a sermon on Hebrews 6:9-12, February 2, 1992, at http://www.desiringgod.org/).
All the works of the Ephesian believers, and ours too, if done in God’s grace and for God’s glory will never escape God’s gaze. He sees and acknowledges and enjoys our “works” because they testify to his presence in our lives and his power in equipping us to do what is pleasing to him (cf. Heb. 13:20-21).
Remember Paul’s words in Romans 15:18 – “For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me.” Justice requires that God not overlook our works because justice requires that God honor God! We work only because God is working in and through us for his good will (Phil. 2:12-13). That is why, as it has often been said, when God rewards us for our works he will be crowning his own grace.
When our work is done in the name of Jesus, by means of the power of Jesus, and for the sake of Jesus, we can rest assured that the justice of Jesus requires that he know and acknowledge and reward what he has accomplished through us.
That is why Jesus makes the point in his reminder to the Ephesian church: “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, . . .” (Rev. 2:2a).
In a book (Revelation) written to strengthen faith, the emphasis on “works” or “deeds” is important. Works are the criterion of the genuineness of faith. Whoever has true faith, works. Whoever does not, has not. With that understood, note carefully what Jesus says about their works.
His commendation of the church in Ephesus involves three virtues (cf. 1 Thess. 1:3). Under the general category of “works” or “deeds” we find the first two virtues identified as “toil” and “patient endurance” (we’ll take up the third virtue in the next meditation).
The word translated “toil” looks to something beyond routine effort and focuses on exertion to the point of exhaustion. It refers to a spending of oneself in arduous labor. Apparently Ephesus was a busy, active church. It no doubt had all the “programs” and activities we normally associate with a church that is spiritual and passionate. They were truly diligent and conscientious.
The translation “patient endurance” renders one word in the original text. The KJV translates it as “patience” and the NASB has “perseverance.” Jesus is perhaps referring to their diligence in bearing the persecution and hostility of an unbelieving society. Despite the temptations which assaulted them from every quarter, they stood unswerving and firm in their allegiance to Christ.
Therefore, to every faithful servant of Christ who has labored in virtual obscurity in the nursery, I say: “Jesus knows your works!” To every Sunday School teacher who spends hours each week in preparation, though only a handful show up early enough for class, I say: “Jesus knows your works!” To every diligent believer who stuffs the bulletin with inserts or cleans up in the kitchen after a pot-luck dinner or picks up trash following the Sunday service, I say: “Jesus knows your works!”
Our Lord is ever mindful of those deeds that are rarely seen and perhaps never acknowledged by other humans. That visit to the nursing home to pray for a lonely widow was for an audience of One. That hot meal prepared for an ailing friend was a fragrant aroma to God. The Lord Jesus may often be the only one who knows, but it is enough that he knows. And I remind you again, he most assuredly knows!
But to each and all of these I also say, “Why do you work? Is it for perks and praise? Is it in hope that your name will be mentioned from the pulpit? Or is your labor and toil and patient endurance pursued for the sake of His name? Is your commitment to the saints and your service for the kingdom motivated by your love for God?” I pray that it is.
Take heart! Be encouraged! Be strengthened for ever greater and more persistent effort “unto God’s name” and on behalf of his people, because “Jesus knows your works!”