We like to think that in our day and age we are very different and much more advanced than generations before us. And in some ways that is true, but people are still people and history always repeats itself. Take for example, when the plague was raging across Europe, people were asking the same exact questions that we were asking when covid hit. In fact, I have a book entitled, Faith in the Time of Plague, which contains the writings of several Christians during the plague years of the 1500s and you could change some of the language and it would look like something written in 2020. How does the virus spread? Why is this happening? How do we respond to economic and community shut-downs? What should we do as a church? Should we gather together or not? 500 years of medical science doesn’t change the fact that we are all people and have the same worries, struggles and ways of thinking.
And we see the same thing in our passage this morning. The unknown author of this letter to Hebrew believers, encourages his readers to make sure they are not falling into the habit of skipping church. It was a temptation and a habit for people 2,000 years ago, and it is a habit and temptation today. We are not so far removed from this original audience. We wrestle with the same life problems, the same tiredness, the same questions about church that our brothers and sisters in Christ did way back then.
And just like them, we have the exact same calling on our lives as Christians, as the body of Christ, to gather together, to not neglect this responsibility because it has eternal importance.
As followers of Christ, we are each called to consistently and intentionally gather together in order to grow in our faith and help others do the same.
What we will do is look at three ways that we view gathering together, two of which we cant do, with the last one being how we are called to live. Then we will address the question of why. Why has God told us this is how we should be together? Why is it so important?
- Three Ways to Gather
I see in this passage three groups of people, or three ways of approaching the idea of gathering. We can be neglectful, we can be distant, or we can be intentional.
The first one, neglectful, is seen clearly in verse 25. For some people, way back when this was written and on through today, it is a habit to neglect to meet together, to not come to the gathering of the church. There is a lack of consistency in participation in the actual getting together as a church. And I think the temptation to fall into that habit, that routine, is there for all of us at times. Usually the story goes like this: we have a crazy week; Saturday comes along and offers little respite because of all that is going on. Sunday is the day before the week starts all over again, it would be nice to just stay home this morning, get some stuff done. Let’s just skip church and watch the livestream.
And other than the ability to still listen or watch church from home, I am sure the same exact thinking was in the minds of the people back when this letter was written. Nothing has changed, people are still people. We are all busy, and we just want to rest our bodies without rushing out of the house one more morning.
So, we form a habit. We get into the mode of neglecting to meet together, of skipping church, when we feel the moment calls for it, when something else is pressing, when we are just too tired. A habit is formed and our consistency within the gathering diminishes.
And the writer of Hebrews says we can’t do that, we can’t fall into that habit, into that way of thinking. We need to be on guard against having this lackadaisical attitude about gathering. As a follower of Christ we can’t go down this road because once we do, it is just in our nature that a habit will be formed and church will be skipped for a laundry list of reasons. There is always something else we could be doing. But consistent gathering together should be a non negotiable in our hearts and minds. This day should be set apart, reserved for the purpose, privilege and joy of gathering as a church.
There is also the tendency to be consistent in gathering, but to be distant. And I see this group in the passage by the simple fact that there was a need by the author to write this exhortation; to tell us how we are to act when we come together. He first says, “don’t neglect to meet together,” and then says, here is what it should look like when you are together. Which means there is a tendency, and I see this in myself a thousand percent, there is a tendency to come in and then go, make a quick exit. Between being neglectful and distanced, this is where I am most tempted.
It is really easy to think, “Ok good, I am gathered, I am not neglecting to meet, that’s good enough right? I am here but I am going to stick to where I am comfortable, make some small talk here and there if I happen to bump into someone but then I am going to get out.” I stay distant, I am not engaged even though I am gathering physically.
This, of course, is better than not being here. When we come to church, we receive the blessing of being together, singing together, studying the Word together. We encourage each other in a small way just by being here. All the things we can’t get from home and watching online. So that is good. But is that really all that church is? Is it just a passive activity that we give the bare minimum towards?
I think there is a better way to gather, just being here isn’t enough. There is a way that brings life to us and those around us. The way that Christ meant for us to be as his body and bride. And that is to be consistent and intentional, to truly fulfill our calling as believers, to be the church with one another.
To be intentional, to truly gather, means we not only come physically, but we commit ourselves to the three action words found in verses 24 and 25. Do you see them? Consider, stir up and encourage.
Being intentional starts first when we consider. To consider how to do something means to think carefully about it, to be concerned about the matter. We are intentional, with forethought. And what is it we are considering? We are thinking carefully and intentionally about other people. We are considering how we can do these other action words: stir one another up and encourage them. I am called, you are called, to intentionally think about our church family and how we can motivate one another, encourage each other in our mutual growth in Christ.
We are called to be people who intentionally connect with others, reaching out to them, going out of our way, out of our comfort zones, with a goal in mind. We purposefully think, “I want to help stir these people up to love and good works. I want to spur them on, speak words of life and truth to them. I want to see how they are doing, where they need encouragement, where they may need help. I want to know what is happening with them, I want to be a blessing to this person. How can I be encouraging to them in their faith?”
That is what it means to truly gather together. It is so much more than a physical presence and even goes beyond basic familiarity with the people around us. It is having one another in our minds outside of here and intentionally considering and then acting to walk side by side with one another.
And let’s be honest, none of that happens quickly. We don’t meet someone and just jump into deep life issues and probe into their hurts and fears and where we can help. That all takes time. It takes being consisten and intentional. And not just today, but next week, and the week after that and the week after that and spread throughout the week as you grow in relationship and knowing one another.
Now, this doesn’t mean we will all be best friends and hang out on Tuesday after work. Although We could if you are free, I don’t have anything going on. But it does mean that no one is off limits. Everyone needs to be stirred up and encouraged therefore I am not holding anyone at arm’s length. I don’t just stick with my people, my little group. We are all a family, we are all each other’s people because we are all God’s people.
And none of this is possible if we are neglecting to meet together, or are distant when we do meet. It is not possible to grow together if we are not together consistently. It is not possible to encourage someone you don’t ever speak with. No one here will ever be stirred up to love and good works through me watching the livestream. It’s just not possible. That is why we are being admonished and commanded here to not neglect meeting together. We can’t stay distant.
We must come together and consider one another, think about each other, and with forethought and in love grow closer together so we can stir one another up. So that we can speak words of life to each other.
We must take advantage of our mutual calling from the God of the Universe that put you and you and you and me here together for that very purpose.
- Why should we be intentional
Let’s dig down a little deeper and consider the all-important “why” question. Why should we be intentional in our gathering? I think that is an essential question to ask because it gets to the heart, our motivation to action. I think maybe a big reason why we fall into a habit of not gathering consistently or being distant when we do is because we never answer this question in our own hearts and minds. Perhaps you grew up going to church likeI did so the why question was answered for you by your parents. Why do you go to church every week? My parents take me, its just what we do! But if its never something personally convicting and motivated by a heart felt desire, thats when we neglect it easily. So, Lord willing, Answering the why question will help drive us to fulfill our calling in a deep and abiding way.
Why should I be a consistent and intentional gatherer within the church? I think the writer of Hebrews answers that question in two ways. The first reason is because of what Christ has done for us.
a. what Christ has done for us
Verse 19 starts with the word “therefore.” And it is really a “therefore” regarding everything that has come before it since the beginning of the letter. The author has spent 9 and a half chapters explaining to his readers who Jesus Christ is and what he has done. He has gone into great detail about the supremacy of Christ and his sacrificial death on the cross in comparison to and fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrificial system. He has explained how the eternal Son of God has stepped into his creation to save us sinners who could not save ourselves. How we have no hope when left to our own devices and our best efforts to come before God are futile. We keep sinning, we are continually disqualified. But in Jesus Christ we have a perfect sacrifice for our sins, we have a perfect high priest who brings us to the Father, who has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. He has brought us from death to life with him through faith in his life, death and resurrection. And now, therefore, in light of who Jesus is and all that he has done, here is how you should live.
Now, therefore, that we can boldly and confidently come to God the Father because of the blood of Christ. Now therefore that we have full assurance that our hearts have been cleansed through the righteousness of His Son. Now, therefore, that we have a great high priest who is always and continually for us, here is how you are to live. And the first thing we are told to do in light of the supremacy of Christ and our new life in him is to, verse 23, hold fast to our faith. Dont waver, dont fall back from it. and notice, we are to do that how? By not neglecting to meet together. By not neglecting to meet together. Out of everything he could have said we are to do in light of the Son of God paying the ultimate sacrifice, the Holy Spirit inspired these words to be written.
Because of who Christ is and what he has done for me and what he continues to do for me, I want to hold fast to him, to grow in him, to not waver, to not take any steps back from him. And one of the primary ways in which I do that is through the gathering of his people, the church.
Last week, if you remember, we defined the church as the people of God gathered together. The church is not the building, the church is the people together. And the purpose of the church is to be a place where we can dive deep into Christ. To grow in our faith by studying his word, praising him together, encouraging each other, pointing one another to him and helping each other live obediently through love and good works.
If we believe that is our calling from God, how can we neglect it? If our eyes have been opened to the glories of Christ, how can we not want others to know him more deeply? How can we sit idly by while our brothers and sisters are wavering in their faith? While people within our body are being tossed by the storms of this world? How we can neglect to meet together when each and every single one of us has been given the precious and awesome responsibility of pointing others to the refuge of Christ? How can we stay distant when we need to be encouraged ourselves and this is the place where we can find it?
The church is meant to be our place of refuge from the world. Have you ever wondered why it is called a sanctuary? That is intentional. This room has no intrinsic value, don’t get me wrong. When no one is here it is an empty space. But when we come together, when we the church are here, we become a sanctuary from the world. A place where we are to intentionally and consistently anchor one another to the rock of Christ because we know all that he is for us. This becomes the place where words of life and love are spoken, and not just from the pulpit, but from all of us to one another. This is where we have a true and better family, one that was bought for us by the blood of Christ that unites us together in him and our common pursuit of knowing him more and more.
How can we neglect to meet together when we have all of that? how can we choose to do something else when the church is gathering when this is our calling? When we have the chance to know Christ more and help others do the same?
So, why should we be consistently intentional in our gathering together? Because we have a great Savior that has brought us together for all of us to know him more.
b. the approaching Day of Judgement
And secondly, because of the approaching day of judgement, as seen in verse 25. We are called to gather together in order to intentionally encourage one another, and to do so “all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” In the New Testament, “the day” refers to the second coming of Christ. On that day, when he returns, he will judge the living and the dead. This is when all people will be sealed in their eternal destiny. Those who were saved by grace through faith in him will go to eternal life with him in the new heaven and new earth. Those who rejected him, who did not place their faith in him, will go to eternal death in Hell.
And it is this second group that the writer here is concerned about. We know that from what he gets into starting in verse 26, talking about fearful judgement and condemnation. But why would he be talking about this in the context of gathering together as a church? I think it is because he is concerned, and wants us to be as well, that there could be those within our gathering, that are not headed for eternal life with Christ, but eternal separation from him. That there are those within every church body that think they are saved, think they are fine, but who are in fact not. They are not holding fast to their confession, but have made a false profession of faith and are living contrary to what they claim. They “go on sinning deliberately” as it says in verse 26. There are those that think merely saying some words about Jesus or God and going to church makes them a Christian. But that is not the gospel. Salvation is found only in true faith and repentance, and salvation is shown, it is proven, through the fruit that it bears. If your life looks just like the world, you have no assurance of salvation. We cannot claim that Christ has changed our hearts, the inside, if the outside doesn’t change. This doesn’t mean that we are perfect, but it does mean that there will be growth, there will be fruit, there will be evident progress in love and good works. And it starts, as it says here, with not neglecting to meet together. Meeting together, the church, is one of the primary ways God has given us to grow in our faith, to truly have faith and be changed by him,and to help others do the same. The concern of the writer here, and it should be our concern as well, if we are willing to reject and neglect the church, what does this say about our hearts?
If there is no desire or motivation to gather, then we can have no assurance. That is hard to swallow but we must face reality. And the reason this comes up here in the context of this passage, is to draw our attention to this fact, that some of our own may not be saved; the approaching day of Christ’s return may not be a joyous one for all of us.
And armed with that knowledge, we should have a heart-felt desperation to do all we can to ensure that we are all found in Christ on that day. We should be motivated by the fact that the day is drawing near. We are running out of time! And yes there are millions who have never heard the Gospel in our communities and around the world. And they need to hear and theyneed our help. But there may be people hearing my voice right now that don’t know Christ and are fooling themselves.
So, what are we to do it about it? We are to consistently and intentionally gather together and grow in our relationships so we can truly and deeply know one another. So we can speak into one another’s lives and get to the point where we can say, “I love you and I am worried about you and your eternal soul!” We want to be able to notice when someone is falling into the habit of neglecting to meet so we can encourage them to come back into the fold and not stray into the world. We want to know how we can lift one another up to our Heavenly Father and plead with him on their behalf to do his work in their hearts in real and specific ways.
We can’t do any of that if we ourselves neglect to gather or remain distant from one another. We can’t know where someone stands and their fruit or lack of it if we stay home or run out of here as fast as we can. We can only know one another and grow together and prepare one another as best we can for the day that is drawing near if we are growing with one another in a real and personal way.
So, why should we be consistently intentional in gathering together? Because of who Christ is and what he has done for us. And because his return, the day of judgement, is drawing near and we want to do all we can to ensure we are all found in Christ together.
And we entrust ourselves and one another to God, he is the one that is building us up into his body, the church. God causes the growth. But for reasons we can’t fathom, he has called us to take part in the process of that growth. God the Father uses us to grow one another into the pure and radiant bride for his Son Jesus Christ. What a gracious gift, what an awesome privilege! How can we neglect any opportunity to be with one another to do that together?