ENCOURAGEMENT TO GATHER FOR WORSHIP (HEBREWS 10:25)
Dear Members in Christ,
Encouragement to gather for worship (Heb 10:25)
In the last two years, the pandemic has brought about many changes in the way we live, work, and interact with one another. Even our children’s schooling routine of lessons, class activities, and examinations have undergone much change. Most immediate to our context, we see that the way we worship and the way we fellowship have changed. Because of the restrictions on social contact brought about by health authorities, prayer meetings were made accessible via online platforms, worship services are live-streamed into the homes of our members. The bible exhorts us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together.
Does it mean that in-person worship services and in-person assembly for prayer and fellowship have been rendered obsolete? The answer is, “absolutely not!” The physical gathering of the saints is a biblical command for a good reason. The writer mentions that in his epistle to the Christians, especially those of Hebrew extraction, and thus he exhorts them.
“And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24,25
A. The biblical exhortation for believers to assemble (gather)
The phrase “not forsaking” is expressed as a present participle, informing the reader that it is an action that is current to the writer. It was an event that was happening in those times i.e. at the time of writing, certain believers were neglecting the custom of assembling for worship and fellowship. The assembling of the saints mentioned by the writer has its root in the word “synagogue” a word we recognize as how believers have gathered for worship for centuries.
The phrase “assembling of ourselves” brings to mind the age-old custom of the Jews who gather on the Sabbath for worship. Jewish historians record this as a custom that became a practice from the time of the Babylonian captivity. By the time of the first century, the Apostle Paul was able to preach the gospel to the Jews and the Gentiles as we read in Acts 13:42 “And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath.” The synagogue was the place of assembly for worship, and the preaching and teaching of God’s word. In fact, the Greek root for the word translated as the synagogue is “synago” which means to convene, to gather, or to assemble.
The pattern for God’s people since their deliverance from bondage in Egypt is for the faithful to gather physically to worship God. Whilst they were in the wilderness, they did so with the tabernacle as their central place of worship. When God’s people entered the promised land, God instructed the Levites to be dispersed in cities according to their tribes. The Levitical presence ensures that on the Sabbath, the people could gather to hear the reading and teaching of God’s word.
“For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.” Acts 15:21
The passage tells us that this is a custom from “old time” which means going as far back as the days of Moses. The people of God according to the Bible have customarily been meeting, gathering together physically for worship, fellowship, and to receive instruction in God’s word.
B. What is the benefit and purpose of gathering in-person?
The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews states the purpose of wanting believers to gather in person.
“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 to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is …” Hebrews 10:23-25
Those who forsake the assembling of the saints are running counter-current to the exhortation to strengthen and edify one another in the faith. He begins the passage with “let us hold fast the professing of our faith…” The believer’s firmness of faith and his steadfast testimony is exhorted. We are to hold fast our faith. And the way we can do it is by being mindful of one another’s needs and thus he writes, “let us consider one another.” The next exhortation is to encourage one another, and he exhorts the believer to “provoke” each other to “love and good works.” The word of God recognizes that the gathering of the saints is an effective way to mutually encourage one another to better service and greater devotion to the Lord Jesus.
Dearly beloved, the word of God constantly reminds us of the need to gather physically. While we have been prevented from gathering during the pandemic for health and safety reasons, there is a current trend of the gradual relaxation of the restrictions. We understand that there are local regulations. And there may be some in the high-risk category, who are discouraged from joining in-person worship because of infirmity or seniority. We’ll continue to pray for the health and strength of these individuals.
In the meantime, we hope that everyone who is fully vaccinated and not in the high-risk category will be encouraged to come and join the in-person worship and fellowship meetings. The biblical injunction to encourage and strengthen one another in the faith is coupled with the exhortation to assemble, to gather for worship and fellowship. Thus, we pray that God may help us to strengthen one another in the faith.
Dn. Lim Seh Beng