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…
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,
- 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.
(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.