Why is it important to gather as a church week after week?
We are looking at Hebrews 10:19-25 to answer that question.
As you look at verses 22 through 25 you see that after laying the groundwork in verses 19-21, (this is who you are, and this is who Jesus is), the writer of Hebrews draws out three main implications for our life together as a church.
I think those three implications give us a good grid for what’s supposed to be happening when we gather as a church.
The first purpose we get together has to do with God. Obviously.
Verse 22, “Let us draw near.”
If we have the right to free access to God and that right has been purchased for us at such a high price, the blood of His Son, then we ought to use it.
That’s the point.
Can you imagine if God had said to Adam after he was kicked out of the garden of Eden, that he had the right once again to go back into the garden, where he would enjoy that special access to God, what would Adam have done, of course he would have gone back in? And can you imagine an Israelite, walking around the tabernacle and being told, he could enter into the holy of holies in order to enjoy God’s special presence, what he would have done? He would have been frightened I think, but what a privilege.
And the writer of Hebrews is saying in a sense, that is what God has done for us through Christ, he’s made it possible for us all to enter the special presence of God, through the work of Jesus and of course, with this kind of privilege open to us, we should use it.
We gather together for God-centered reasons. We gather together to commune with God, to approach Him, to worship and pray.
We need this more than we need anything else in our lives, we need to be with God, to draw near, and how we do that, exactly?
A big part of how we do that is through community. That’s why these commands are tied together here. It’s not just drawing near in your prayer closet, though you need to do that, but here it’s us drawing near.
Now, that I hope should be pretty obvious. But, what I like as I look at verse 22, is how the writer gives us some specific instructions on the way we should approach God as we gather.
Let us draw near with a true heart. Let us draw near in full assurance of faith. With our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
In other words, when we gather to approach God, our worship should be sincere.
Draw near with a true heart tells us that we are not gathering together to manipulate or fool God into giving us what we want through our religious activity.
This is a drawing near that should start with a sincere desire for God and a willingness to obey Him.
I would hope that would mark our weekly get togethers, that we are coming to God with people who are done with playing games.
Second, our worship should be confident.
Draw near with full assurance of the faith tells us that we are not gathering together because we are frightened about God’s attitude towards us. This is a drawing near that is motivated by a confidence and certainty that God is for us because of what we know is true from the gospel.
And third, our worship should be based on a genuine, existing relationship with God.
He says, draw near with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water, and honestly that is a little bit of a complicated phrase, what does it mean, but at the very least, notice it is past tense which means it is something that is done and it is imagery, we are talking about people who are forgiven – their hearts have been sprinkled clean and who have been identified as Christians – their bodies have been washed with pure water – which may mean the same thing as hearts sprinkled basically, it could be synonymous, or it could mean they have identified themselves with the body of Christ through baptism.
Obviously, we love if people who aren’t Christians come and join us on Sundays, that is great, they have a chance to hear the gospel, but this gathering, is primarily for Christians; the goal isn’t to get a lot of non-Christians to like what we do on Sundays, we come together as believers to worship God and to be changed by God and we go out from here to share the gospel with the lost and make disciples.
A second purpose of our gathering together is found in verse 23, and it has to do with you.
The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”
We as believers, we have this amazing future salvation in store for us, that’s part of our basic confession, but right now, there are a lot of things that can tempt us to lose sight of that hope or give up on that hope. I picture it a little like being in the middle of the ocean hanging on to a plank of wood, waiting for the plane to come rescue us, and we know it’s coming, but sometimes we get tired, treading water out there, and we want to give up and give in, and a big part of the purpose of this book of Hebrews is to encourage us to persevere.
But this persevering isn’t only an individual thing, to keep hanging on to our hope, God’s given us help, and one of the primary helps we have is each other.
This is something the writer says more clearly back in Hebrews 3, verses 12 and 13.
He writes, “Take care brothers lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.”
Which is a warning. Take care. Watch out. There is a danger you face.
What is that danger you face?
It is that you develop an evil, unbelieving heart and what will that heart do, it will cause you to fall away from the living God.
How do we take care then? How do we watch out?
He tells us.
“But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today…’
Deep, biblical, relationships, that’s how you watch out that you don’t develop an evil, unbelieving heart.
How serious is this though? What happens if you don’t develop these kinds of relationships?
The end of verse 13, “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.”
What happens if you are not exhorting one another day after day is that sin lies to you and it lies to you so much that your heart which once might have been soft towards the truth slowly grows harder and harder until you can characterize it as evil and it leads you to fall away from the living God, in other words, you stop holding fast to your confession of hope.
There are some people who think of themselves as really strong spiritually, but if you don’t have regular relationships with other believers, where you are gathering together to remind each other of the truth, then it doesn’t matter how strong you are right now, it’s not going to be too long until you are fairly weak.
I could be the strongest guy in the universe physically, but if I don’t eat for two weeks, you know I am not going to be that strong any longer, and the same is true spiritually, we gather, because you need these gathers if you are going to hold fast to your confession of hope.
A third reason we gather is each other.
When the New Testament talks about why we get together, the primary reason it gives is to help each other grow spiritually. We might think the primary reason is to worship, and of course it is to worship, but we can worship God anywhere, obviously and we need to, one of the specific reasons this gathering is so important is because it is a unique opportunity to grow spiritually as believers.
Here we see it put like this, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…”
And how do we do that? He tells us one, “we can’t stop meeting together, and we need to keep encouraging one another.”
In other words, one of the primary ways we obey this command to stir up one another to love and good works, is through this weekly gathering that we have. This is how Paul when he talks about spiritual gifts and the way they operate in the church, this is how he saw the purpose of our gatherings.
He says in 1 Corinthians 14:12, “So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in the building up the church.”
Then later when he talks about what’s going on there in the corporate worship, he offers a summary principle. 1 Corinthians 14:26, “Let all things be done for building up.”
This is why we do what we do when we gather. It’s for helping each other love God, obey God, and do what’s right.
In fact, this is interesting and I think we sometimes miss it, but this is a big part of why we sing.
You say, why do I sing in church? To praise God. Yeah of course. To encourage myself.
But Paul tells us also, it is to help each other grow.
Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
As someone has said, “Singing is for teaching. Praise is for instruction. Adoration is for admonition.”
I think we have all met people whose basic approach to life is that of a taker. Every relationship, their default mode, is to take and they don’t really think outside of that, about how they can serve the other person. And there are people who approach these gatherings that we have as a church like that. This getting together is about them. If they feel like it they come. A good time on Sunday is when they had a good time on Sunday. That was good worship service because it made me feel good. They, what they want, their perspective, it is the lens through which they view everything, they are takers. But that’s not the right way for us to approach this gathering, this is about helping each other, love more, obey better. You come here as a believer for each other.
That’s why I preach and why you should listen, you should be listening so you can learn better how to love God and other people throughout the week. That’s part of why you give so I can study all week long, so I can help you be better at loving God and others. That’s why the guys lead the singing, they are thinking how can we encourage the people who come to hold on to their hope, to see the glory of God, how can we lift them up. That’s why some of us clap our hands when we sing, we are thinking, how can I help this other person focus on God better and feel more comfortable to express their love for God. That’s why many of you get here early, so you can talk to others and get to know them. That’s why some of you have developed the cd ministry and done bulletins, you are thinking how can I help my brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s why some of you try to talk to people who are new here for the first time, that’s why you invite people to your gospel communities, that’s why you stay around for a little while after church because you want to see how you can be an encouragement.
I don’t want you to think of these gatherings on Sunday as a show that you come to watch, because a show doesn’t care about you, if you are there or not, it doesn’t matter, someone is going to fill the seat. Instead, think of these gatherings as a meeting of the family, and so you don’t usually go to family gatherings in order to be entertained or to get your needs met, you go because you love the people, and you want to be of help to them.
Specifically, the writer says you need to consider how to spur one another on.
That’s part of why don’t give up on gathering with your church family.
What he’s saying is you need to have a group of believers, whom you are specifically thinking deeply about helping. That you are so committed to, that you are willing to put yourself out so they can move forward in Christ, and obviously obeying this command is not going to end with our gatherings on Sundays, but it needs to start here.