Acts 2 records the birthday of the church, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the 120 believers who were assembled in the Upper Room. It also records the growth process of the infant church. On the Day of Pentecost, about 3000 people believed the gospel, repented of their sins, and were baptized as followers of Jesus Christ. Acts 2:42 says: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” And the last sentence of Acts 2:47 reports, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Notice that God did not add people to the church without saving them. And God did not save them without adding them to the church. This organic union of personal salvation and church membership is the unchanging pattern of the New Testament. And throughout church history, whenever biblical Christianity has been practiced, Christians have had a high view of the church. Unfortunately, this is not the case in the day and times in which we live.
There are many today – both unbelievers and professing Christians – who question the necessity, relevance, and importance of the local church. And our generation has created a new category that biblical and historical Christianity never conceived of: UNCHURCHED CHRISTIANS. In contrast, the position of historic Christianity can be summarized in the words of CYPRIAN who said, “Outside the church there is no salvation.” In other words, the biblical answer to the question “Who needs the church?” is this: Whoever wants to be saved. This does not mean that church membership, attendance, and participation can save you. God forgives our sins by grace alone through faith alone because of Jesus Christ alone. But God has made the church the stewards of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So a person can be a church member without being a Christian. But I am not sure a person can be a healthy, growing, fruitful Christian without being a participating member of a local church. Christian assembly is a biblical requirement for Christians. Hebrews 10:24-25 gives four biblical reasons why Christian assembly is a requirement for every follower of Jesus Christ.
THE CONFESSION OF SALVATION REQUIRES ASSEMBLY. The Epistle of Hebrews was written to a group of at-risk Jewish Christians who were tempted to turn away from Christ because of severe persecution. The anonymous author of Hebrews wrote this letter to challenge them to persevere in their faith. He does this by emphasizing one word: BETTER. He wants them to know that what they have in the Lord Jesus Christ is better than what they had in the religious system of Judaism. In Hebrews 10:19-21, the writer summarizes the argument he has been making since chapter three; the Lord Jesus himself is our great High Priest and perfect atoning sacrifice, who has established for us a new and living way to God through his own blood. Then, on the basis of the Person and Work of Christ, he calls the readers to hold fast to Christ with three commands that begin with words “Let us.” THE FIRST COMMAND RELATES TO GOD. Verse 22 says, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” THE SECOND COMMAND RELATES TO SELF. Verse 23 says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” THE THIRD COMMAND RELATES TO OTHER BELIEVERS. Our text, says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” What do you say to a person who is ready to give up on Jesus? This chapter gives divinely inspired instructions for those who are ready to throw in the towel. Specifically, our text teaches that you need to commit yourself to some local assembly of believers, so that you can submit to the accountability and responsibility that will help you to persevere in faith. Then verses 26-27 issues a warning about apostasy: “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”
This warning about apostasy does not mean that it is possible to lose your salvation. God’s preserving graces ensures that every true believer is eternally secure, which means that true believers will not apostatize or fall away from Christ. They will endure until the end. But the perseverance of the saints is not only tied to the preservation of the saints. It is also tied to the partnership of the saints. Church membership, corporate worship, and Christian fellowship are primary means through which God’s preserving grace sustains true believers. This refutes those who say that church does not have anything to do with salvation. The fact is that it has everything to do with your salvation. In 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul says, “I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” The pillar and foundation of a building hold it up. If the foundation gives or the pillars fall, the building will not stand. Likewise, the church is the pillar and foundation of the truth. Your faith in the truth of the gospel will not be able to stand without the church in your life. Or as WILLIAM WILLIMON puts it: “The gospel does not make sense without the church that makes it make sense.” The confession of salvation requires Christian assembly.
I learned about the spiritual epidemic called “MORBUS SABBATICUS.” In laymen’s terms, it is known as “Sunday Morning Sickness.” The symptoms are quite interesting. It never interferes with the appetite or affects the eyes. The Sunday newspaper can be read with no pain. And watching television seems to help the victim. The only symptom is that you cannot get up and go to church. Strangely you usually do not feel it on Saturday. But it hits when the morning comes. And it never lasts more than 24 hours. About the time Sunday morning services are over, the patient feels better. Monday morning, the patient is able to get up and go to work. But it has a way of striking again the next Sunday. And after a few weekly “attacks,” it may become chronic. I am talking to someone who suffers from MORBUS SABBATICUS. And I stand to tell you that you need to ask the Great Physician to heal you today, once and for all, from the dreaded disease that can strike a deathblow to your faith walk with Jesus Christ.
THE COMMUNION OF THE SAINTS REQUIRES ASSEMBLY. California redwood trees are the tallest and oldest trees in the world. They stand hundreds of feet high and some of them are said to be over 2,500 years old. As a result, you would think that redwoods have tremendous root systems reaching deep down into the earth. But compared to other trees, redwoods do not have many roots and they do not go very deep. Yet the redwoods have stood for centuries, because their roots are intertwined and interwoven with each other. So when the winds blow, the redwoods stand, because they are linked and locked to each other, holding one another up. That is the way Christians stand against the storms of life that assault our faith in Jesus Christ: We hold each other up. THE APOSTLE’S CREED refers to this as “the communions of the saints.” It is the internal disposition and external demonstration of Christian fellowship that is succinctly summarized in verse 24: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.”
THE INTERNAL DISPOSITION OF CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP. Verse 24 commands us to consider one another. The verb “consider” means to perceive clearly, understand fully, or consider closely. It is the same word used in Hebrews 3:1, which says: “Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession.” You must set your mind on the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ if your faith is to be strong, stable, and secure. But our text teaches us that Christians should also set their minds on one another. And this verb “continue” is in a grammatical emphasis that denotes continual or repeated action. Literally, the reading is, “And let us constantly consider one another…” Just as we are to always be thinking about Jesus, we also are to always be thinking about one another. The important point to get from this term is that Christian fellowship is – primarily, essentially, and ultimately – an internal reality. Fundamentally, our fellowship is not geographic, social, organizational, institutional, or programmatic. It is an internal disposition of care, concern, and compassion for one another that results in words, decisions, and actions that express the love of Jesus Christ.
1 John 3:14 says, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.” True Christian love will not only lead you to attend and participate in corporate worship, it will also lead you to prayerfully consider the needs, growth, and concerns of your brothers and sisters in Christ even when you are not physically together.
This biblical emphasis rebukes those who would say, “Well, I read Christian books, watch religious television, and listen to teaching tapes. Doesn’t that count?” NO! Do not misunderstand me. Those things can be helpful supplements to what you receive by being a participating member of a local church. However, if you are able to get up and out, you must make sure that supplements to corporate worship do not become substitutes for corporate worship, because your fellowship with God must never be self-centered. Proverbs 18:1 says, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” 1 Corinthians 10:24 says, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” And Philippians 2:4 says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interest of others.”
THE EXTERNAL DEMONSTRATION OF CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP. After commanding us to consider one another, verse 24 tells us why we should do this: “to stir up one another to love and good works.” The church is to be marked by love and good works. However, love and good works are not automatic parts of church life. Every Christian is called to love and good works. But you cannot fulfill this calling on your own. You need others to “stir up” love and good works in and through you. The KJV uses the term “provoke.” The NASB uses the word “stimulate.” The NIV uses the word “spur.” These different terms translate a Greek term from which we get our English term “PAROXYSM.” It refers to a sudden outbreak of sickness, symptoms, or spasms. Usually, this term has a negative connotation, meaning something like “irritation” or “exasperation.” In fact, the only other time it is used in the New Testament, it is used negatively. Explaining Paul and Barnabas’ disagreement over whether to take John Mark on their second missionary journey, Acts 15:39 records, “And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other.”
But while Luke says that paroxusmos caused Paul and Barnabas to separate from one another, our text says that paroxusmos ought to bring Christians together. Yet the negative connotations of the term should not be dismissed here. If need be, we should irritate one another to love and good works. Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” You do not sharpen iron by hugging, caressing, or pampering it. You sharpen iron by getting another piece of iron and rubbing it the wrong way. Likewise, your true friends are not the people who always agree with you, cosign your agenda, and stay out of your way. Your best friends are the ones who make you better. That involves times when friends put a supportive arm around your shoulder and times when they put a scolding finger in your face. You need both the comfort of tender love and the confrontation of tough love. You need to be with brothers and sisters in Christ who think enough of you to stir you up to love and good works.
This command to stir up one another to love and good works confronts those who may say, “Church is boring. I don’t really get anything out of it. It doesn’t meet my needs.” SO WHAT? If you practice a spiritual discipline solely for personal benefit, you pervert the discipline, rob yourself of its true benefit, and God is not pleased. That includes corporate worship. Football has been described as 22 men on a field in desperate need of rest, being watched by 22,000 people in the stands in desperate need of exercise. The sad fact is that most churches operate just like that. But corporate worship is not a spectator sport where you simply show up, receive the ministry of others, give an offering, greet a few acquaintances and friends, and then go home thinking and talking about how whether the service suited your tastes, touched your emotions, and met your needs. Corporate worship is three-dimensional. God blesses us and we bless God. But it doesn’t stop there. In corporate worship we also bless one another by saying and doing those things that stir up love and good works.
THE COMMAND OF SCRIPTURE REQUIRES ASSEMBLY. Verse 25 teaches us that, if you are a follower of Christ, your presence and participation in corporate worship are mandatory.
YOUR PRESENCE IS MANDATORY. If you were to ask me for one verse that commands to go to church, I would give you Hebrews 10:25. But the truth is that this verse does not technically command us to go to church. It commands us not to forsake Christian assembly. Yet in commanding the reader not to forsake the assembly, the text assumes a previously established commitment to corporate worship. So it tells us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. The word “neglecting” is emphatic and intensive, meaning to totally abandon or to utterly forsake. This term is used in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34, where Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Paul used it in 2 Corinthians 4:9, where he describes himself as “persecuted, but not forsaken.” It is also used in Hebrews 13:5, in the promise of God that says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” And the writer uses it in our text to tell us that we are not to forsake, abandon, or desert the gathering together of the church. Every Christian should be marked present when the church assembles on the Lord’s Day.
This call to weekly corporate worship attendance may sound legalistic, pedantic, and impractical. But such a high view of corporate worship is warranted in light of verse 25b: “as is the habit of some.” Some people had already started missing the meetings. And the word “habit” tells us that their habitual absence had become customary. Remember why some people were missing the meetings. They were facing persecution because of their faith in Christ. Their lives were on the lines every time they met together. But God still said to them, do not neglect to meet together. If God did not excuse these ancient believers, even though the may be martyred if they showed up, then I know that God does not excuse us for the sinful, selfish, silly, and superficial reasons we come up with for missing church. Does this mean that you should attend every meeting, function, and service the church holds? Let me answer that by laying down a principle: If you are absent, and others do not know where you are, but they are not surprised by your absence, you are probably out of the will of God on this matter. If you can miss church without being missed at church, something is missing. And if you can miss church without missing church, something is missing.
An elderly saint had lost his hearing and his eyes had grown dim with age. But he never stopped attending church. One intrigued individual finally asked the obvious, “Why do continue attending church when you can’t see or hear what’s going on?” The old man replied, “I want to show everybody whose side I’m on!” And that ought to be your attitude. You presence in corporate worship ought to show your family and friends whose side you’re on. Your presence ought to show neighbors and coworkers whose sign your own. Your presence ought you show the principalities and powers in the unseen realm what side you’re on.
YOUR PARTICIPATION IS MANDATORY. Notice verse 25 again: “not neglecting to meet to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” Note that the contrast is not between showing up and not showing up. It is between not neglecting the meeting and encouraging one another. This text calls for more than just your presence in the meetings of the church. It calls for your participation. Consequently, there are those of you who have forsaken the assembly, even though you attend the worship meetings on a regular basis. You neglect the meeting when you show up late and leave early every week. You neglect the meeting when you get to church and hang outside, rather than coming in. You neglect the meeting when you show up with a bad attitude. You forsake the assembly when you are inhospitably, critical, and irreverent. You neglect the meeting when you spend the service sleeping, walking, talking, or passing notes. You neglect the meeting when what you have on or don’t have on distracts others from worship. You neglect the meeting when you are filling out an envelope during prayer or reading the bulleting during the sermon.
God demands your presence and your participation in the worship meetings of the local church. Unfortunately, many Christians are ecclesiastical hitchhikers. The hitchhiker’s thumb says, “You buy the car, pay for repairs and upkeep and insurance, fill the car with gas – and I’ll ride with you. But if you have an accident, you’re one your own! I may even sue you.” That is the way many people treat the church. They say, “You worship. You serve. You give. You pray. You support. And if you do it well enough, I’ll come along for the ride. But don’t expect anything from me. And know that if things don’t suit me, I’ll criticize and complain and bail out. My thumb is always out for a better ride.” But I submit to you that it is not God’s will for you to be a church-hopping hitchhiker. God want you to be a participating member of a local assembly. Many churches buildings have signs that say, “Enter to worship; depart to serve.” But that is a false dichotomy. We are to enter to worship and serve and then we leave to keep on worshiping and serving.
THE COMING OF THE SAVIOR REQUIRES ASSEMBLY. In every congregation, there are those who believe the church meets together too much. And from a carnal-minded, flesh-dominated, self-centered point of view, that may be true. But notice verse 25 one more time: “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” While some would say the church meets too much, God says that we need to assemble even more than we do, so that we might encourage one another. Hebrews 3:12-13 says, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” You may think it is too much to go to church every Sunday. But the Bible says you really need Christian exhortation every day, so that sin does not harden your heart. As we see the Day of the Lord’s return drawing near, we need to meet together as much as possible to exhort, encourage, and admonish one another to remain faithful.
One survey reports that 66% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ will return to earth someday – yet one third of those people say they never attend church. That is a blatant contradiction. The imminent return of the Lord Jesus is biblical motivation for being faithful to Christian assembly. In fact, the word translated “meet together” (or “assembling”) in verse 25 is only used twice in the New Testament – here, and in 2 Thessalonians 2:1, where Paul speaks of “the coming of tour Lord Jesus Christ and our bring gathered together to him.” Those who expect to meet Christ in heaven ought to be meeting with other Christians on earth. Here’s why: The closer we get to the Lord’s return, the worse things are going to get for the church in this world.
There are those who talk about a great end time revival. But they do not get that from scripture. The New Testament consistently speaks of end time apostasy among those who claim the name of Jesus Christ. Yes, God gives you strength to persevere. But God gives that strength by using other believers to come alongside of us to help us hang in there. So he says we are to be “encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” The word “encouraging” (or “exhorting”) means, “to call alongside.” The noun form is used in 1 John 2:1 to refer to Jesus as our Advocate with the Father. It is also used in John 14:16 to refer to the Holy Spirit who is our Helper or Comforter. Just as Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit come alongside of us to help us, we as brothers and sisters in Christ are to come alongside one another to exhort one another.
Usually, when I am preaching away from home, I stay in my room reading and resting until time for church. Except for those special times when I am preaching for a pastor that I really enjoy spending time with. That’s what happened on one occasion. So much so, that my host talked me into to working out with him just hours before preaching time. After giving me a general tour of the facilities, he marched me to the weight-lifting area. Now, I can sit on a stationary bike and read with the best of them. But I don’t mess around with weights. So honesty, fear, and pride forced me to be tell him straight out, “I really don’t do weights.” But, again, he talked me into it. For my sake, he started with lighter weights. And I stood back and watched, and he bench-pressed the weights effortlessly. When he finished his reps, he got up and I got on the bench. But rather than standing back and watching, my host went on the other side of the bars to “spot” me or watch me just in case I needed help. And I did it. And when he added more weight, I lifted that too. In fact, everything he lifted, I lifted, even though he was a much bigger man than I am. I had no idea that I was that strong. And I never would have known it, had it not been for this brother who came alongside to help me. And you will not ever know how strong you are spiritually if you don’t have other believers who will come alongside to exhort, encourage, and admonish you.
BLEST BE THE TIE THAT BINDS OUR HEARTS IN CHRISTIAN LOVE!
THE FELLOWSHIP OF KINDRED MINDS IS LIKE TO THAT ABOVE.
BEFORE OUR FATHER’S THRONE WE POUR OUR ARDENT PRAYERS
OUR FEARS, OUR HOPES, OUR AIMS ARE ONE, OUR COMFORT AND OUR CARES.
WE SHARE OUR MUTUAL WOES; OUR MUTUAL BURDENS BEAR.
AND OFTEN FOR EACH OTHER FLOWS THE SYMPATHIZING TEAR.
WHEN WE ASUNDER PART, IT GIVES US INWARD PAIN.
BUT WE SHALL STILL BE JOINED IN HEART, AND HOPE TO MEET AGAIN.