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Worthy Word Wednesday: Is It a Sin to Skip Church? (Part 2 of 2)

on February 11, 2015

My husband, David, blogs at proclaimchrist.org and gave me permission to post his articles on my blog. This article was originally posted here, another blog to which he regularly contributes. You can read part 1 here.

churchLast week, I gave one of two reasons that we should meet with our local church on Sunday, the Lord’s Day: we should meet together every week with our local church because it was clearly the pattern of the churches in the New Testament. Here’s reason number two.

Second, we should meet together every week with our local church because this setting is essential to provoking one another to love and good works.

I realize it is unpopular in an entertainment-driven culture to say that we must meet with our local church every Sunday unless there are compelling reasons to do otherwise (e.g., working in health care, law enforcement, necessary travel, etc.). Sunday is part of one’s weekend and seems conducive to so many creature comforts that we could enjoy instead of meeting with the brethren. However, from Hebrews 10:24–25, I would firmly state that it is imperative for believers to gather with the assembly. Here’s the text:

24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 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.” Hebrews 10:24–25 (ESV)

The command begins with “let us consider” (κατανοέω, katanoeō), a “hortatory verb” (i.e., a verb of command) that commands the readers to give careful thought to something.1 Specifically, their careful thought is to consider “how to stir up one another to love and good works,” a phrase which pretty much speaks for itself. The late Rodney J. Decker explains that this command then “follows with two explanatory participles that illustrate (both negatively and positively) how this exhortation is to be obeyed.”2 Negatively, the believers were to sir one another up to love and good works by not neglecting to meet together.3 Positively, the believers were to sir one another up to love and good works by encouraging one another. It would seem that the first participial phrase implies the setting for the second phrase to follow. Believers were to encourage one another by having gathered together to do so.

Apart from examining the grammar of these two verses, it is helpful to examine other details as well. First, consider the assembly. The ESV translates the noun “assembly” (ἐπισυναγωγή, episunagōgē) with an infinitive phrase that indicates its function, “to meet together.”  Quoting John Owen, A. W. Pink points out that the author of Hebrews uses synechdoche, that is, he refers to part of something in order to refer to the whole. By referring to the assembly, the author of Hebrews refers to all that is included in one’s overall worship of Christ.4 At the same time, it is clear that the physical gathering of the assembly is particularly in view. The nature of the believers’ meeting together (ἐπισυναγωγή, episunagōgē) is indicated by the following phrase “as is the habit of some.”5 In other words, the assembly habitually assembled (every Lord’s Day), and some had made it a habit to abandon this assembly.

Second, consider the reason for meeting together. The Day was approaching, which I assume to be the day in which Christ comes again.6 Quoting Decker again, because the day was approaching, “They dared not cease attending the meetings of assembly (though some had already done so) but should place an even greater priority on such interaction and mutual encouragement.”7

Third, consider the verb “to neglect.” The use of “neglect” (ἐγκαταλείπω, egkataleipō) elsewhere suggests that neglect is not a strong enough translation of this verb. Just before His death, Jesus asked, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46; cf. Mark 15:34). Demas loved the present world and thus deserted Paul (2 Tim 4:10). When Paul stood to defend himself and the gospel, all had deserted him (2 Tim 4:16). To neglect the assembly was to intentionally abandon the assembly, a clear indication that such an individual doing so lacked the desire to provoke others towards love and good works. Conversely, to neglect the assembly could indicate the lack of desire to be provoked by others towards love and good works as well.

Considering this verb further, what may have been significant about this verb in a letter written to the Hebrews is that this verb often described Israel’s abandonment of God in the Greek translation of the OT. The use of this verb could have thus been an implicit warning in and of itself not to go the way of Israel who abandoned God time and again.8

Some Practical Thoughts

In this study of Hebrews 10:24–25, I found some practical thoughts by some of the authors to be helpful on personal and pastoral levels.

First, the focus of this command is not for people to be at a service so that they can hear the sermon. Timothy R. Nichols says this: “In the assembly, they are to exhort each other. The verse does not say, ‘Not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together, but listening to teaching.’ Teaching is vital, but the assembly the author of Hebrews has in mind is one where believers are encouraging each other—this is at the very least a major part of the activity.”9 Indirectly, one could say that “the exhortation” (1 Tim 4:13) by an elder could be a part of the exhortation of Hebrews 10:24–25, but the focus is clearly on how each member exhorts one another. This thought should provoke us to be more thoughtful as to how [we] can better facilitate the “one another” aspect of the assembly each Lord’s day so that we can stir one another up as Hebrews 10:24–25 commands. Simply walking into an auditorium, sitting in pews, and walking out leaves much encouragement to be desired.

Second, neglecting the assembly shows that believers lack a proper desire to love and be loved and to encourage and be encouraged. Simon J. Kistemaker says this: “One of the first indications of a lack of love toward God and the neighbor is for a Christian to stay away from the worship services. He forsakes the communal obligations of attending these meetings and displays the symptoms of selfishness and self-centeredness.”10 To this, Paul Ellingworth adds that the ability to provoke one another to love and good works “cannot be sustained unless members of the Christian community meet to encourage and exhort one another.”11 Missing a Sunday here and there without good reason may not be the worst sin in the world, but it does betray a degree of self-centeredness to enjoy something other than stirring up the people of God towards love and good works. If this neglect persists and becomes a habit, it could lead to abandonment altogether.

As the author of Hebrews says, let us encourage one another, in the assembly, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

  1. Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews(PNTC; Grand Rapids, MI; Eerdmans, 2010), 369.
  2. Rodney J. Decker, “The Exhortations of Hebrews 10:19–25,” Journal of Ministry and Theology 6(2002): 57. See also David L. Allen, Hebrews (NAC 35; Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2010), 518. Allen calls all of Heb 10:24–25 an “imperatival idea” that contains a command which “is modified in v. 25 by two contrasting present tense participles.” The same is said by O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews, 370. “Not neglecting to meet together,” says O’Brien, is one of “two contrasting expressions that explain how we can stir one another up to godly living.” Hebrews 10:25 is not the command proper, but it is clearly a part of the command in Hebrews 10:24. For this reason, some refer to Hebrews 10:25 as a command in and of itself without even referring to Hebrews 10:24. See, e.g., Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed.(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), 1066. In discussing worship as an activity of the church, Erickson says only this of Hebrews 10:25: “The writer to the Hebrews exhorts his readers not to neglect the assembling of themselves together as was the habit of some (Heb. 10:25).” Taking Hebrews 10:25 as an imperative of sorts is also  echoed by Thomas Kem Oberholtzer, “The Warning Passages in Hebrews Part 4: The Danger of Willful Sin in Hebrews 10:26–39,” Bibliotheca Sacra 145 (1988): 411. He states that “the readers were encouraged to do four things,” one of which was to “not forsake their assembling together (10:25).”
  3. William L. Lane, Hebrews 9–13(WBC 47B; Word, 1998), 290. Lane states, “The reason the meetings of the assembly are not to be neglected is that they provide a communal setting where mutual encouragement and admonition may occur.”
  4. Arthur W. Pink. An Exposition of Hebrews(Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot, 1954), 594.
  5. Allen, Hebrews, 518–19. Allen gives a helpful survey of commentators’ conclusions concerning the meaning of ἐπισυναγωγή (episunagōgē).
  6. See F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 259–60.
  7. Decker, “The Exhortations of Hebrews 10:19–25,” 61.
  8. Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek Text(NIGTC: Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: Eerdmans, 1993), 528; Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews, 370.
  9. Timothy R. Nichols, “Beyond the Pulpit: Two Ways Ordinary Believers Minister to the Church,” Michigan Theological Journal 10 (2004): 36.
  10. Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of Hebrews(NTC 15; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker: 1984), 290.
  11. Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 527.

{On Wednesdays, I share from a book, blog, or other resource some “worthy words.” I love to read, but my time for reading has been much decreased since the birth of my first child. I am encouraged when I am able to read snippets of precious truth as I come across them. Hopefully these few words will encourage your heart, as well as give you a resource for fuller reading as your time allows.}

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