the weblog of Alan Knox

Not forsaking, but encouraging…

Posted by on Jan 24, 2007 in edification, gathering, scripture | 14 comments

I have read several commentaries, articles, essays, and blog posts that use Hebrews 10:25 as an proof that Christians should regularly attend Sunday morning meetings. But, is that what Hebrews 10:25 teaches? First, read the verse within its context:

Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near. (Heb. 10:19-25 NASB)

Notice how the phrase “not forsaking our own assembling” relates to the other parts of this sentence, since this is actually one long sentence.

Since therefore, brethren,

  • we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,
  •  

  • and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
  1. let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
  2.  

  3. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;
  4.  

  5. and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another;
  • and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.

(Some of this may be a little technical. If you get bogged down, please keep reading. I try to explain things in both a technical and also a non-technical way.)

Notice that this sentence is composed of one conditional clause (“Now therefore, brethren, since…”) followed by three subjunctive clauses used as commands, then an adverbial clause describing how we should do these commands.

In other words, the author is saying since we have confidence and since we have a high priest, as a response to these things, we should (as a command) do three things: 1) draw near with a sincere heart, 2) hold fast the confession, and 3) consider how to stimulate one another. In fact, we should do these three things “all the more” because the day (return of Christ) is drawing near.

The first two commands are fairly straightforward. First, we are to draw near to God – “to God” is implied because the author has just told us that there is a new and living way into the very holiest place, which is the presence of God to the author of Hebrews (see Heb. 9:24-25). Second, we are to hold fast to our confession, that is, our faith. We can do this because our faith is in God, and God does not waver or falter or change his mind. He keeps his promises.

How do we carry out these commands? Do we do them individually or corporately? Well, we certainly help one another with this. However, you cannot draw me near to God. You cannot hold fast my confession. In the same way, there is no group, church, organization, institution, etc. who can do these things for any believer. These are individual requirements.

The phrase that we are interested in (“not forsaking our own assembling together”) is actually part of the third command, and it is carried out in response to the conditional clause. This is important. The phrase does not stand by itself, and it should not be removed from this context.

Furthermore, the phrase describes what the author means when he says that we should “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds”. We do this (“stimulate one another to…”) by “not forsaking” which is followed quickly by “but encouraging”. So, the opposite of “not forsaking” is “encouraging”. This also is very important. The author wants the readers (and us) to think seriously about how to stimulate other believers toward “love and good deeds”. How does he expect us to do that? He does not want us to “forsake” our meeting togther, but instead he wants us to encourage one another. Apparently, some were already “forsaking” their meeting together. (I have previously published an examination of this word “forsaking” in a post called “Not Forsaking the Assembling of Ourselves Together“. In that post, I argue that “not forsaking” means something like “not giving up your responsibilities”.)

The author of Hebrews expects us to lead others toward a life of love and good deeds. In order to do this, he understands that we must encourage one another. Instead, he finds that some of the believers are giving up their responsibilities when they meet together. This could happen in several ways, at least two of which come to mind.

First, the believers could stop meeting together. If this happened, then they would not be able to carry out their responsibilities toward one another; they would not be able to encourage one another. They would be “forsaking” their meeting together. This is usually the only case that is considered, and it is usually assumed that this “meeting together” must be an official meeting (sometimes called “Sunday Morning Worship Service”). However, this is not what the text says. Instead, the author could have any meeting of believers in view. If the readers stopped meeting with other believers at all, then they could not encourage one another.

Second, the believers may have been meeting with one another, but they were neglecting their responsibilities toward one another. In this case, they were still guilty of “forsaking” their assembling together. In other words, attendance alone does not allow a believer to keep this command. Meeting with other believers plus encouraging other believers is necessary to carry out the meaning of this passage.

But, when we gather together, surely believers are encouraged even if we do nothing, right? Yes, but that is not the point here. Other believers may have drawn near to God, but that does not mean that I have. Other believers may be holding fast to the confession of faith, but it doesn’t mean that I am. Other believers may be thinking about others and how to stir up love and good deeds within them, but it doesn’t mean that I do that.

Just as the other commands are individual requirements (“draw near” and “hold fast”), so also this command is an individual requirement.

Think about this carefully. If this examination is correct, then no group, church, leader, organization, pastor, preacher, etc. can carry out this requirement for you. God expects each individual believer to build up other believers by thinking carefully about them and stirring up love and good deeds within them, by not neglecting their responsibilities when they meet, but by encouraging other believers.

I am afraid that in many cases, believers have neglected this command, and have handed their responsibilities over to others. Many times, believers are happy to sit, sing, and listen, because they think they are obeying God by attending. Is God interested in attendance? No more than he was interested in burnt offerings and sacrifice. God is interested in obedience.

One more point before I finish. Notice that, in this passage, there is no particular meeting in view. This means that anytime believers get together, they have responsibilities toward one another… whether they are gathering officially on Sunday mornings, or whether they get together for coffee. We must never neglect our responsibilities toward one another, but instead we must encourage one another.


14 Comments

  1. 1-24-2007

    Hey Alan,

    Thanks. Your post serves as great example of how we are to approach studying NT texts (especially PAULINE epistles HA HA). The post is challenging not only in its content and application but also in the very methodology used to explain the text. Thanks again. Got to get back to studying.
    Rob

  2. 1-24-2007

    Alan, I appreciate this post, especially your application: “This means that anytime believers get together, they have responsibilities toward one another… whether they are gathering officially on Sunday mornings, or whether they get together for coffee.”
    I think understanding this will help us to keep the mindset that sees no distinction between “secular” and “sacred” portions of our lives.

  3. 1-24-2007

    Rob,

    Thanks for the comment and the encouragement. I hope that I got close to Paul’s, I mean the author’s, meaning.

    Drew,

    I did not think about the application to the “secular” and “sacred” divisions of our lives. You are correct. Scripture does not make that distinction.

    -Alan

  4. 1-24-2007

    Great post, Alan.

  5. 1-25-2007

    Thank you, Gordon.

  6. 1-25-2007

    Alan,

    Great post and a great exegesis of the scripture. Thanks for pointing out the conditional clauses as well.

    I do feel that encouragement to look to our hope in Christ is one of the things that is central to Christian fellowship. 1st Peter starts off with that so it must be important.

    Thanks for the way that you approach blogging. It is a refreshing thing and it encourages me to hope in Christ.

    Through Christ,
    Dougald

  7. 1-25-2007

    Dougald,

    Thank you for your kind words. I pray that God uses what I write to encourage people to dig into Scripture and live according to it.

    -Alan

  8. 1-30-2007

    Alan,

    I think you are essentially on target with your interpretation here. The emphasis is indeed more on how each one of us, as the Body of Christ, minister one to another, and not merely Sunday worship attendance.

    However, I do not see it as an either/or thing, but rather both/and. If we don’t regularly meet together as “church,” it will be difficult to “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” as we ought.

  9. 1-30-2007

    David,

    I agree. It is not an either/or issue. It is certainly a both/and issue. This is why I gave two possible ways to “break” this command. It can be broken by failing to gather with other believers. And, it can be broken by gathering but not encouraging. Thanks for the comment!

    -Alan

  10. 4-10-2007

    Hello Alan,
    When I read this verse I have to look at the entire book of Hebrews. Who was Paul writing this letter to? He wrote it to the Hebrews/Jews. He was trying to explain to the Jews the transition they just went through from 1000′s of years under the law to the new covenant of grace through Christ. Many Jews believed and became one Body with the Gentiles. But they began to lose faith and have second thoughts and put themselves back under the law forsaking the Body they once were a part of. We see Paul rebuking Peter for this in Galatians 2:11-21. Many “churches/pastors” manipulate people with this verse (Hebrews 10:25). In reality it is rebuking them. They, as the Jews did, are putting themselves back under the law fellowshipping with only themselves (denominations) and making rules and regulations you must submit to if you want to be a member of their body. They are forsaking us, the BODY, who want to be one with each other in body and spirit and with Christ, the Head of His Church.

    Sincerely,
    Jeff

  11. 4-10-2007

    Jeff,

    Thank you for your comment. I agree that this verse is often used to manipulate people.

    -Alan

  12. 4-18-2013

    Alan,

    Thanks for that. Hebrews is a wonderful book and applicable to what I am writing about.

    There are so many Scriptures that are misused and cause confusion.

    I think 1 John1:9 has got to be the #1 offender.

    When Christians teach that this Scripture is applicable to Christians, it shows they have no understanding of the finished work of Christ on the cross.

    He forgave mankind’s sin almost 2000 years ago yet Christians want to keep on asking for forgiveness.

    When 1 John 1 :9 is read in context (John was writing to a mixed congregation some of whom were Gnostics) it is very clear what the passage is all about.

    The misuse of this Scripture has kept millions of Christians wandering around in the “wilderness” instead of “resting” in the “Promised Land”.

    Hebrews makes it very clear regarding our stand with Christ (there’s no mention of “experiential, positional, judicial, parental) only ONCE FOR ALL – praise His name.

    In Him,

    Norman Silva.

  13. 4-18-2013

    Norman,

    I’m sure there are many passages of Scripture that we misinterpret and misuse. My goal is to always remain open and to consider other interpretations, studying the passages in their context for myself to verify both what I believe about that passage and what others are saying.

    -Alan

  14. 4-18-2013

    Alan,

    Here is a good blog discussing my previous post’s points.

    http://jesusgiveslife.blogspot.com/

    In Him,

    Norman Silva.

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