No one should appreciate the unique activities of the Lord's day more than the Christian. Yet often those claiming to be Christians seem to show the least appreciation for this day. One of the things associated with the Lord's day is the action of assembling with the saints.
Proof That The Early Church Assembled
When we examine the scriptures, we see many references to the assembling of the saints. Acts 20:7 is such an example. "And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight." This is an approved apostolic example teaching us that the first century brethren came together on the first day to break bread. The first day comes once each week, thus the early church met each first day of the week. 1 Cor. 16:2 indicates a weekly gathering and gives significance to the first day. In Matt. 18, Jesus was teaching concerning how to deal with offenses between brethren. Verse 15 says to "tell him his fault between thee and him alone. . ." Verse 16 says to take one or two with. you if the first attempt at reconciliation fails. Then, in verse 17, he says what to do if he neglects to hear them; and that is to tell it unto the church (assembly). This portrays an action taking place when the church was gathered together. In 1 Cor. 5 Paul is instructing the Corinthian brethren as to what to do with the man among them that was living in adultery. In verse 4, he said, "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together (Emp, mine, 1.P.), to deliver such a one unto Satan . . . ." This action was to be taken when they were gathered together. In 1 Cor. 11, Paul dealt with another problem within the church at Corinth. They were abusing the Lord's supper by turning it into a drunken feast. Notice Paul's wording in verse 20 as he described their abuse: "When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper . . . ." Their mistake was not coming together, but rather what they were doing when they came together partake of the Lord's supper. This is what they had been commanded to do. In 1 Cor. 14, Paul dealt with the problem the Corinthian brethren had concerning an improper attitude towards spiritual gifts. In verse 23, he described the church coming together in one place where these gifts were being exercised. They were right to come together but wrong in placing undue significance on spiritual gifts. James 2 speaks about the problem of respect of persons. Such respect was evidently being displayed when they came together to worship. James 2:2 says, "For if there come unto your assembly (emp. mine J.P.) a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel . . . ." Who can deny, when we consider the import of these passages, that the early church assembled with the saints? Thus, from these passages alone we can see that the first century Christians considered assembling with the saints an important aspect of their lives.
Part of God's Divine Purpose
The Hebrew writer, in chapter ten, settled the matter of the importance of our assembling with the saints by the use of the negative command "not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together." I believe, however, that we do a great injustice to this wonderful chapter by pulling the passage out of its context. The author of this epistle is not only giving a command to assemble, but also showing how that this is a part of God's divine purpose in saving man. Assembling with the saints is for our benefit and thus should be regarded as a privilege rather than an obligation. When one asks the question, "Do I have to attend all the services?", he is manifesting that he does not understand that assembling with the saints is a part of God's divine purpose for saving man.
The book of Hebrews contains a number of practical exhortations. Throughout the book, a principle is argued and then a plea is made. Nowhere is this easier to see than in Hebrews ten. Let me relate these pleas to the matter of faithfully assembling for worship and study.
Throughout the book, Jesus is portrayed as the Great High Priest through whom all blessings flow. As a result of these blessings we have boldness to enter into the holiest by His blood. He is both the High Priest who made the offering and the actual sacrifice itself. This is the fact that is being established in Hebrews ten. The writer makes the application and plea. Notice the context beginning in verse 19:
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he has consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having a high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; for he is faithful that promised; and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works:
Because of who Christ is and what he has done for us, we are encouraged to do several things. This can easily be seen by noticing the phrase "Let us" in verses 22, 23, 24. Let us examine each of these:
(1) Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith (v. 22). Think of the impact of that statement! To be able to approach your heavenly Father as one of His children. As a result of what Christ has done for us we can approach God as our Father. James said "Draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you" (James 4:8). The priests of the Old Covenant drew near to God, symbolically, whenever they approached the golden alter to burn incense, but the veil still intervened between the worshipped and the worshippers. The whole scene was one of mystery and terror to the priests as well as the people. But now, through Christ all this has changed and we can boldly approach God crying Abba, Father (Rom. 8:15).
(2) Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering (v. 23). We are still pilgrims here. The tendency is to hold fast to the things we have accumulated in this life and to let the things that are of eternal consequence slip from us. This is why we have so many admonitions throughout God's word for us to give diligence to make our calling and election sure. Robert Milligan's translation of this verse expresses this idea, very well. He said, "Let us hold fast the faith which we have confessed and cling to the hope which it ministers" (New Testament Commentary on Hebrews p. 283). We have not reached the goal of our destiny. Eternal life is still with us an object of hope. And hence, the necessity of clinging to this hope as the anchor of our souls.
(3) Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works (v. 24). Christianity is not a religion of isolation. It is not "every man for himself." Throughout the New Testament, the idea is stressed that the various relationships that we sustain one to another will have a direct bearing on our relationship with Christ. We are not to be selfish, carying merely for ourselves, but to consider how we might help others to draw near to God and hold fast without wavering. Consider the following passages: Matt. 25:40; Gal. 6:1-10; Eph. 4:1-3; Phil. 2:35; Col. 3:1-24. Because of what Christ has done we should "draw near," "hold fast," and "consider one another."
Now here is the point: If the things previously mentioned are important, which obviously they are, then so are the assemblies of the saints. This is exactly the reason for our assembling together, to draw near, hold fast and to consider one another. How can we draw near to God when we are staying away from the services devoted to Him? You cannot go north and south at the same time. Nor can you get nearer to God by moving away from Him. Remember what James said, "Draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you." Again, how can we hold fast the profession of our faith when we are losing our grip by unfaithfulness? It is illogical and unreasonable to think that we will be made stronger by failing to assemble with the saints. Notice, we are to hold fast "without wavering." What about those who attend once in a while or hit and miss, are they not wavering? Again, how can we consider one another to provoke unto love and good works" when we are not concerned enough as to wonder what my absence is saying to others about how important we consider these matters? When we absent ourselves from the services of the church for any flimsy excuse, are we not encouraging others to be unfaithful and indifferent?
Let me also point out that when we examine the context of Hebrews ten and view the 25th verse in the light of this context, we see that the assembly is not an end to itself. Assembling with the saints is simply a means to an end. Just "being in attendance" is not the desired goal. Using this opportunity to grow, to enrich one's faith, to join with others in those things we know from God's word to be acceptable forms of worship to Him and to help others to enhance their faith, is the purpose of the assembly. That is the goal we are seeking to reach. That is God's divine purpose for commanding us to assemble with the saints. Ritualistic attendance is not satisfying to God nor beneficial to us. But when we "desire the sincere milk of the word," "love . . . God with all thy heart . . . soul . . . mind," and "seek ye first the kingdom of God," (1 Pet. 2:2; Matt. 22:37; Matt. 6:33), then we will welcome each opportunity to associate with brethren of like precious faith and do all possible to worship and glorify God.
With these facts in mind it is easy to see why the Hebrew writer goes on to say the things we find recorded in verses 25-29:
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, :b the manner of some is: but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who bath trodden under foot the Son of God, and bath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and bath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
I believe we can safely say that verse 25 is a transition verse. The writer is shifting gears so to speak. He goes from the subject of perseverance to the subject of apostasy. Satan is no respector or persons. The Christian is constantly the object of Satan's relentless attacks. Attending the assemblies is a safeguard against such apostasy. Thus, again we see the importance of the assemlbies which is expressed in the negative command that Christians not forsake them.
He then points out the seriousness concerning this matter of forsaking the assemblies. He says it is willful sin, that there remains no more sacrifice for sin, only a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation. Such a one has trodden under foot the Son of God and hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace. We need to realize what a man is involving himself in when he forsakes the assemblies of the saints: (1) He disobeys a divine commandment. (2) He disrespects the Lord's will that he break bread on the Lord's day; (3) He neglects his spiritual development; (4) He fails to engage in the other items of scriptural worship; (5) Usually, such a one fails to give as he has been prospered, (6) He fails to assist the church in its greatest mission, (7) He may lead others astray. I believe this is enough for us to see why attendance at the congregation assembly is such a serious matter.
If we can continually keep before our minds the importance of assembling with the saints, then we will be less likely to employ flimsy excuses to absent ourselves from the wonderful opportunities we have to worship and draw near to God, strengthen our faith, and encourage one another by our joint participation in the unique activities of the Lord's day.