the weblog of Alan Knox

Not forsaking, but encouraging

Posted by on Jan 16, 2009 in edification, gathering, scripture | 11 comments

Two years ago, I wrote a post called “Not forsaking, but encouraging“. This remains one of my favorite exegetical posts that I’ve written. Why? Because I think Hebrews 10:24-25 is often misused in the church today. This passage does not command attendance at a “worship service”. What does this passage say to believers today? Read on…

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Not forsaking, but encouraging

I have read several commenaries, 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. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;
  3. 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.


11 Comments

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  1. 1-16-2009

    Remember that the author was (probably) not an attorney — the linguistic precision was not the same as today. He does say consider katanoeō (observe, understand, focus), yet you and I both read this as a command to exhort, not just to think about it. It’s implied that we need to assemble to exhort, but there’s no directive as to who exhorts whom. I agree it’s safe to assume we each have that responsibility, but this text does not make that explicit.

    Not being critical — just exhorting you! :)

  2. 1-16-2009

    George,

    There is no object for the participle “encourage”. The most obvious object would be a carry-over from the previous verb “consider”, which is “one another”. Often in Greek when two verbs have the same object, the object is explicitly listed only for the first verb.

    But, there are other examples from Scripture where we are explicitly directed to exhort or edify one another.

    -Alan

  3. 1-16-2009

    As long as you’re saying that the command means we should meet regularly PLUS exhort and encourage one another, then I think you’re on basically the right track.

    Otherwise, I think the larger point of the book of Hebrews is being missed. Its an encouragement to continue meeting in the face of persecution, where the meetings could be where believers were ‘found out’ and then persecuted.

    Is that the Sunday morning meeting? We know the early church did meet regularly on Sunday, so there’s good reason to infer that it does mean that, but there’s certainly nothing that says it means that in the passage.

    But there isn’t anything wrong with a church today prioritizing the Sunday morning meeting (or another meeting if they wish) and saying, “If you only come to one, this is the one we feel is most important for you.” Then the command has some pretty obvious application for us and our Sunday morning meeting times.

    It certainly doesn’t mean LESS THAN we must meet together regularly.

  4. 1-16-2009

    Brent,

    You said:

    “But there isn’t anything wrong with a church today prioritizing the Sunday morning meeting (or another meeting if they wish) and saying, “If you only come to one, this is the one we feel is most important for you.” Then the command has some pretty obvious application for us and our Sunday morning meeting times.”

    I don’t think it is wrong either. The problem is if you are prioritizing it in order for the pastor to do all of the “stimulating” then I think I would object.

    The problem rests here why do you think it is your responsiblity to “feel” what is “important for me”? Next the purpose to gather seems to be to stimulate one another. If that isn’t going on then we may be gathering but we still aren’t obeying this command. We got half of it right but not the other half. Most places I visit there are only two people doing the encouraging. The “worship” leader and the “pastor”. Everyone else is stimulating: parking lots, pews and other structural things, but definitely not one another.

    Whats your thoughts Sir?

  5. 1-16-2009

    Alan –

    I think you had it right originally: “not forsaking” and “but encouraging” go together. It’s not “consider” and “encouraging” as you seem to indicate in your response to my earlier comment. “Encouraging” is, I believe, a gerund, i.e. a verbal acting as a noun. The three commands are draw near, hold fast, and consider. The object of “forsaking” is “assembling” and the object of “encouraging” is “one.”

    As you say, other scripture does encourage encouraging.

    I agree with Brent that it is the role and responsibility of the pastor to direct people to a most important assembly, rather than give no guidance.

    perhaps we should not overlook how we can encourage and stimulate. When we sing together, that’s more encouraging than when we sing alone. When we manage the parking lot, we are encouraging and promoting the practice of patience and civility, both of which are essential to the practice of Christianity.

  6. 1-16-2009

    Brent,

    Yes, we must consider how to stir up love and good works among one another (assuming that we are also doing that) by both meeting together and encouraging one another. We cannot stir up one another to love and good works by simply meeting together, and we cannot encourage one another if we don’t meet together – both are necessary.

    The early church (after the NT) did choose to meet regularly on Sunday. That’s not something that is taught in the NT. In fact, we only see one church meeting on one Sunday (Acts 20:7), but that could have been a special occurrence because Paul was in town. In fact, we usually see churches meeting much more regularly than weekly. I believe poblems began to enter when leaders began to encourage (require?) Sunday meetings over more frequent but probably less “formal” meetings.

    Lionel,

    You raise some good questions. I know many believers who cannot meet every Sunday – even those who meet with us occasionally. I’m glad that they are meeting with other believers at other times.

    George,

    In English, “forsaking” and “encouraging” are gerunds. In Greek, they are participles. These participles can take direct objects. In fact, they almost require participles: forskaing what? encouraging what?

    You will not find the word “one” in Hebrews 10:24-25. The direct object of the subjunctive (command) “consider” is “one another”. “One another” is a pronoun that cannot be separated into “one” + “another” as the English translation can be. Neither the infinitive (also a verb) “to consider/provoke”, nor the participle “encouraging” have an explicit direct object. Therefore, the most obvious direct object is the pronoun “one another”. As I mentioned before, in Greek, when the same direct object is used for multiple verbs, it is often explicitly listed only with the first verb.

    You said, “I agree with Brent that it is the role and responsibility of the pastor to direct people to a most important assembly, rather than give no guidance.” Could you show me some scriptural foundation for this?

    -Alan

  7. 1-18-2009

    Thank you to all for a better understanding of scripture. This morning reading this has opened my understanding to this scripture more than ever, thank you again.

  8. 1-19-2009

    Alan == You ask if I can direct you to scripture supporting Brent’s position that pastors have the role/responsibility for establishing a particular service as have the highest priority. Sure, and so can you, if you are willing to stipulate pastors are elders and that in today’s church they typically represent the consensus of their churches’ elders. If you are, then you could read any of the Pauline epistles as they address the roles of elders. No, they do not specifically say elders set session priorities. But they do assign responsibility to elders for instruction, and to instruct it would be appropriate to guide one’s congregation to instruction sessions. Thus such guidance would be within pastors’ responsibilities.

    As for your discussion of the meaning of the text by reference to grammar, when you took me to task over my failure to cite the Greek “one-another” instead of the English “one,” it seemed like you were playing gotcha rather than furthering a real understanding of the text useful for living out Christ. But then, it occured to me, I may well have come across the same way. So, I’ll stop now.

    Thank you for your service, Alan.

  9. 1-19-2009

    George,

    Yes, I believe that elders should pastor. I also believe that elders should teach, and that Scripture instructs elders to teach. However, Scripture also instructs ALL believers to teach.

    If elders are responsible for guiding the church meeting, why do you think they are never addressed in the context of the church meeting? Wouldn’t have been much easier for Paul to tell the elders to address and correct the problems in Corith, for instance?

    As far as the grammatical references, I did not intend to “take you to task”. Much of this post refers to grammar, and you referred to grammar in your comment, so I was simply following your lead. I think grammar is very important. Without the rules of grammar, we could make the text say whatever we wanted it to say. I don’t want to do that. I want to understand what the original author intended for his readers (and us) to understand.

    -Alan

  10. 1-24-2009

    Alan,

    Greetings. I found your blog via Abu Daoud. I agree with you here on Heb 10:23-25, and have been doing much thinking on this passage. The context for the command has become the command itself. If the one-anothers happen when we meet, then they certainly happen in the “Sunday meeting.” When one person does all the “encouraging” – if it is that at all – it’s no wonder that people often come up with “wacko” ideas of church, like at drive-in theaters or via satellite TV. What’s the difference? We can be isolated sitting right next to somebody or we can be isolated because we’re doing church via webcam. The critics don’t often see the logical conclusions of their own ideas, yet unwittingly recoil at them when they do.

    I’ve been hashing out similar things at my own blog: church meeting, baptism, Romans 13, church membership; all those things we’ve always been taught but never bothered to read for ourselves. I’m glad I found your blog, and I might drop a few comments here and there in the heavy volume of posts. Peace.

  11. 1-24-2009

    Steve,

    Thank you for your comment. I browsed some of the titles of your blog series and posts, and I’m very excited! I don’t have time to read now, but I hope to read some of your posts tomorrow. I’ve added your blog to my reader.

    -Alan