One of the many papers I wrote, in the 3rd year of my Master of Divinity program surrounded a theme that had a tremendous amount of practical relevancy to it. The class was Church History II: From the Reformation to the Modern Day, and the paper was a major portion of the final grade.
My, my…those paper writing, mid-term/final exam, 4-5 hours of study and research each evening and night while working full-time, raising a family, going to church, nights and weekend class – days. For me, it took 6 years to complete the 90 credit hours, acquiring field and life experience, and going through approval for degree confirmation. I loved the process and I was blessed in how it equipped and trained me.
Back to this one class though: My paper for this course centered around much of what we face, today, in a very individually, inward focused world.
I mean look around, you don’t have to look far at all to see how deeply people love their own preferences. People occasionally ask me how I know this to be true, and I will respond, “Because I live and breathe.”
Some share their preferences non-stop. And many aren’t hesitant, at all, to let you know what they are.
There are millions of ways to custom-tailor your life to perfectly suit your every preference. When times get rough, or even a little uncertain – many think very little of pulling away from responsibilities. A growing number will completely reorient their life from whatever causes even a hint of inconvenience. This extends to something as central, and needed, and purposeful as our commitment to the Lord and to His local church.
All who are connected to the local church, each genuine Christ-follower, has witnessed people (sometimes family, other times close friends, and even co-workers and neighbors) waiver and wonder in their commitment. Maybe at one time we were that wanderer ourselves. The fact is: It is very personal and up close.
Other times, we have had to extend a call, a hand, a note, in order to encourage someone back into connection, fellowship, participation, and worship. And is often the case, we will often pull out one or two of our “go to passages” from Scripture. There are several that are extracted from many segments of the New Testament that are cited, quoted, and used.
One of the more acclaimed is found in Hebrews, chapter 10. It is here, in vv.24-25 where we are told to warn of the danger of “neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some…” We insist that those who neglect to participate in the local church will encounter spiritual temptation, spiritual decline, and even spiritual death. And while all of this is true, it is not the key principle of the passage. In fact, when we use the passage in this way, we are not displaying the divine urgency behind the text, but our own deep-rooted individualism.
Here is what Hebrews 10:24-25 states, in its full contextualization and meaning: “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.”
This passage does, indeed, warn of the serious consequences of skipping out on church, but its focus is not what we might expect through our Western, individualized eyes and minds. This passage does not warn us that when we skip church we put ourselves at risk. Rather, it warns us that when we skip church we put other people at risk. You see, the root here is neglecting the needs of others…which means, we don’t demonstrate our love for God, or for them, correctly. And even worse, we show complete disregard for the Bride of Christ: the church.
Gathering with God’s people is not first about being blessed, but it is about being a blessing. It’s not first about getting, but it’s about giving.
As we come together for things like Worship, The Colonies, ministry opportunities, training and workshops, for outreach opportunities, our first consideration should be “how to stir up one another to love and good works.” We should approach Sunday deliberately, eager to do good to others, to be a blessing to them, to give things away – including ourselves.
In those times we feel our passion or zeal is fading (even a bit), when we feel the temptation to skip out on a Sunday or withdraw altogether, we should consider our God-given responsibility to encourage “one another, and all the more as you see the Day of the Lord drawing near.” This text is not about us, but about them. This text is not for Christian individuals but Christian communities.
And, of course, our commitment to the local church is far more than a commitment to Sunday morning services.
- It is a commitment to other people through all of life.
- It is a commitment to worship with them; then, to connect and fellowship with them, to serve them, and to pray for them all throughout the week. That is the mantle of DISCIPLESHIP.
- It is to bind ourselves together in a covenant in which we promise to do good to them, to make them the special object of our attention and encouragement. It is where we can know and where we can be known.
- It is to promise that we will identify and deploy our spiritual gifts for their benefit so we can serve them, strengthen them, and bless them.
Every Christian has a place within the local church. Every Christian is needed within a local church. Every Christian has responsibilities within a local church. Every Christian is to commit to the members of a local church and to love them, to encourage them, and to stir them up in zeal until the day of Christ’s return.
This has to happen…this must happen…even when our preferences are not met.
Are we considering the needs of others? Are we allowing ministry to happen to people who are not as familiar with faith than we are?
The church must be a place that reaches the unsaved and disciples the saved. The church must be more of a hospital…a clinic…a growing, working, community center than it is a museum, a venue, or a morgue. May God grant us favor and power as we seek to be and further become this, for His glory!