The Ancient Faith
FORSAKING THE ASSEMBLY
The assembly of God’s people was very important during the Old Testament dispensation. Gathering all the people together was important for several reasons. First, in Leviticus 8, Aaron and his sons were ordained as priests before all the assembly to publicly acknowledge that: “These are God’s official priests and we will follow no others.” In the New Testament, elders were ordained in the assembly to demonstrate that they were the official leaders of the congregation (Acts 14:23). Second, in Numbers 15:32-36, all the people were gathered to witness discipline — an execution — so that everyone would learn to respect God’s law. In the New Testament church discipline is to be administered before all the assembly so that everyone would learn a lesson (1 Corinthians 5:4). Third, in Deuteronomy 31:12, all the people were to be gathered for the reading of the law. Not everyone could read but all could hear and understand the reading. Likewise, in the New Testament we are to gather together for public reading and teaching of God’s law. Everyone might not have their own copy of God’s law or be able to read, but all could hear and understand (1 Corinthians 14:23; Colossians 1:9-10)
The Israelites were at liberty to have as many assemblies as they wanted as often as they wanted; but there were certain assemblies which God chose, and attendance at these meetings was obligatory These divinely appointed assemblies were called: “holy convocations” (miqra’), or “sacred assemblies” (NIV). “And in the first day there shall be a holy convocation, and in the seventh day there shall be an holy convocation to you; no manner of work shall be done in them, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done of you” (Exodus 12:16).
A “holy” convocation was very special, and there were no excuses accepted for not appearing. One might be excused for not coming to a common town meeting, but there were no excuses accepted for missing a “holy convocation”!
Numbers 9:10,13“Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If any man of you or of your posterity shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the Passover unto the LORD… But the man that is clean, and is not in a journey, and forbeareth to keep the Passover, even the same soul shall be cut off from among his people: because he brought not the offering of the LORD in his appointed season, that man shall bear his sin.”
This indicates the seriousness of “sacred assemblies” and the requirement to be present at them.
Leviticus 23 lists all the “holy convocations” which Israel was to observe — there were seven in all:
- Weekly Sabbath — according to verse 3 there was to be an assembly in each town; an assembly for weekly worship.
2.Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread (vv. 7-8)
3. Feast of Firstfruits (vv. 4,11-12)
4. Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) (v. 21)
5. Feast of Trumpets (v. 24)
6. Day of Atonement (v. 27)
7 Feast of Tabernacles (vv 35-36)
Some of these “holy convocations” required that all the nation gather together in Jerusalem, and others allowed the people to gather in the nearest village.
The New Testament Assembly
In the New Testament there is only one “holy convocation” required — a regular assembly of the Lord’s people for worship and it is this assembly to which we turn our attention.
“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.”
Here we have a familiar passage and one that is greatly abused and misused. What we wish to do with this passage is
(1) examine what the passage meant to the Hebrew brethren, and
(2) draw out of the passage the principles which apply to those of us who are not Hebrews.
Written to the Hebrews
First, let us emphasize that this epistle was written to Hebrews — Jews! It was not written to Gentiles. This is not to say that Gentiles could not learn from it, but it was written specifically to Jews who were facing special problems. Keep this in mind for it will soon become very important.
Jews Were Quitting the Church
Another important ingredient to understanding this passage is to understand that these Jewish Christians:
(1) were being persecuted and
(2) were tempted to quit the church.
The fact that they were being persecuted is evident from the following passage:
“But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; Partly, whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used.”
The fact that they were tempted to leave the church and quit is evident from: “Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward” (Hebrews 10:35). Over and over in this epistle the Lord is exhorting the Jewish brethren: “Don’t ‘cast away your faith; don’t quit the church; don’t abandon the Christian faith” “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). Again, in a rather lengthy section, the writer warns:
Hebrews 6:4-6 “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance…”
In the very chapter where these people were instructed not to forsake the assembly the writer says, “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering, for He is faithful that promised” (Hebrews 10:23). There is it again: “Don’t give up! Don’t quit the church and revert to Judaism!”
A Warning Sign
Here in the midst of these warnings not to quit the church, the Lord exhorts: “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 10:25).
Contextual, the Lord is pointing out that one of the first signs a Christian is getting weak and is about to quit the church when they begin to forsake the assembly! This is not always the case. Sometimes we see Christians who quit suddenly without warning signs. But this is relatively rare. Most often, people begin to slack off in attendance, and it means they are losing interest, growing weak, becoming worldly, and are in danger of eventually quitting altogether.
Attendance at the weekly assembly is a good indicator of how things arc going in the rest of a person’s life. If a brother isn’t attending regularly, he probably is not reading the written Word, praying, or witnessing to others regularly.
Start listening to the excuses people offer for not being present at the assembly, and these excuses reveal even more. Some of the more common ones include: “I was tired.” “I just don’t get anything out of the services.” “It’s just too far to drive all the time.” The revealing thing about all this is that people would never use these excuses if summoned to appear in court! Imagine someone excusing themselves for not responding to a court summons by saying, “I would have come to court, but I was tired. Besides, I’m just not getting anything out of my trial lately, and it’s just too far to drive all the time, so I didn’t come.” Talking to the judge like this will land you in jail, but for the church these excuses seem to be adequate for some folks.
Hebrews 10:25 is exhorting the Jewish people not to slack off on attendance because forsaking the assembly is the first step toward quitting the church altogether!
Defining Some Terms
At this point it is necessary to define some key terms. First, the word “forsaking” comes from the Greek verb egkataleipo, and its form in Hebrew 10:25 is a present, active participle. There are several bonfide ways of translating this participle: “forsake,” “abandon,” “neglect.” But which one of these three valid options most correctly expresses the author’s intended meaning? Because egkataleipo is a present tense participle, continuous action is being described — that is, action that is being performed over and over again. Had the Lord wanted to indicate a “one time” abandonment, He would have used the aorist participle. Again, had He wanted to indicate a “one time” abandonment, with emphasis on the resulting state of being, He would have used a perfect participle. But because He used a present participle, He was, without doubt, describing continuous, or repetitious action . Of the three possible selections, the word “neglect” carries over the idea of continuous action better than the words “forsake” or “abandon.”
The next critical word we must define is “manner” — “as the manner of some is.” This comes from the Greek word ethos which means “a usage (prescribed by habit or law); custom, manner, be wont” (Strong’s, # 1485) . In other words, the kind of “forsaking” which the Lord is describing has become a habit with some. Had we chosen “abandon” to translate egkataleipo, it would lead some to think of a “once and for all” abandonment rather than something done habitually. “Neglect,” by contrast, carries across the idea of habit quite well and fits the context better than “abandon.”
Next, notice the words “the assembling.” This translates the Greek noun episunagoga which literally means “the assembly.” This again validates our contention that the Lord is describing a habitual, continuous “neglecting” of the “assembly” rather than a “one time” abandonment of the church. Had the Lord been discussing total abandonment of the “church,” He would have used the word ekklesia rather than episunagoga.
To clarify, there are two separate issues at stake in our study which we might label as (1) the disease and (2) the symptoms of the disease. These two items must not be confused. The Lord is concerned about the Hebrews abandoning the church — that’s the disease. One of the symptoms that the Hebrews were about to come down ,with the disease was their neglecting of the assembly. Hebrews 10:25 then is forbidding men to neglect the worship assembly, for this will only make them weak and lead to their actual abandonment of the church altogether. Hebrews 10:25 is not directly addressing the issue of their total abandonment of the faith, but rather is focusing in on one of the symptoms that leads to total abandonment
Finally, notice two things about the Greek noun episunagoga: (1) the definite article is used, and (2) it is singular in number. The definite article means a specific assembly is envisioned, not “an assembly,” but “the assembly”; a special assembly convened and conducted by the church. The singular number means that one particular assembly is envisioned; not the assemblies, but the assembly. There is one and only one assembly that is peculiar to the Lord’s church — the Lord’s day assembly when the brethren come together to “break the bread.” “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them” (Acts 20:7). This is the only assembly that is divinely chosen! “Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another. And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation” (1 Corinthians 11:33-34). This passage teaches that the church must “come together” to eat the Lord’s supper and according to verse 26 it was done “often.” Every first day of each week the church would do this (Acts 20:7).
The church has been granted the liberty to have as many assemblies as she wants and as often as she wants. For example, in Acts 15:6 the church in Jerusalem convened to discuss some church problems. In verse 30 of the same chapter the church in Antioch convened to hear an epistle read to them. There is no indication in either of these passages that this was a Lord’s day assembly. Instead, the brethren themselves decided to conduct an assembly, and they chose the day and time that was convenient for all concerned.
These passages demonstrate that it is scriptural for brethren to assemble on other occasions besides the first day of the week. But there is a certain assembly which God chose, and attendance at this meeting is obligatory. A congregation does not sin by not having a mid-week service, or a Sunday evening service, but it does sin when it doesn’t come together on the first day of the week for communion.
In summary, Hebrews 10:25 is commanding the Jewish brethren not to neglect the weekly assembly when the church comes together to “break bread.” Some people were in a habit of neglecting this assembly, but this must stop! When people do neglect this assembly, it is an indication that they are growing weak and on the verge of apostasy! Irregular attendance doesn’t mean they have totally abandoned the church, but it does mean they’re headed that way!
Exhorting One Another
There is now a contrast made in the passage we’re studying: “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 10:25).
In contrast to neglecting the assembly, we must “exhort one another.” The question we must now answer is: Did the Lord mean we should >(1) exhort brethren to assemble? or (2) should we assemble so as to exhort one another? Look carefully at these two questions
and you will see that they are saying quite different things.
The context is in favor of the second choice We assemble in order that we might exhort one another In fact, look at the preceding verse “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works” (Hebrews 10:24). We must “provoke one another to love and good works.” How can we do this? By our assembly! The Lord’s day assembly of the church was designed by the Lord to exhort all who attend. “Let all things be done unto edifying,” wrote the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 14:26). In the assembly we sing, and by singing we teach and admonish one another (Colossians 3:16). When we pray we edify (1 Corinthians 14:15-17). By teaching we edify (1 Corinthians 14:4-5). By giving liberally we edify (2 Corinthians 9:2). By communing we edify (1 Corinthians 11:26).
This is why it was so critical for these Jewish brethren to make sure they were present at the assembly. At that time they were tempted to give up and to quit the church. By neglecting the assembly they were getting weaker and weaker, so the Lord was here commanding them to be present at the assembly where exhortation takes place.
“The Day Approaching”
The exhortation offered in the assembly is always needful, but it becomes even more so when a crisis arises: “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 10:25). As these Jews saw “the day approaching,” it was even more critical that they be present in the assembly and receive exhortation from their brethren!
What is this “day” that is “approaching”? There are three popular interpretations:
(1) The first day of the week theory, (2) the Judgment Day theory, and (3) the destruction of Jerusalem theory. Let us examine each briefly.
The First Day of the Week Theory
Brethren who hold to the first day of the week theory believe the passage teaches that Christians should “exhort to assemble” rather than “assemble to exhort.” For them the passage means: On Monday I come to exhort you to attend church next Sunday. On Wednesday I come by and exhort you more fervently to be present in the assembly next Lord’s day. On Saturday I become almost frantic exhorting you to be present at the Lord’s day assembly.
The problem with this is that those who believe it don’t really believe it! None of them practice it! None of them go around during the week becoming more and more earnest in their exhortations as the first day of the week draws nearer and nearer. Furthermore, there is no logical reason why exhortation to assemble should be more intense on Saturday than On Friday or Thursday.
The End of the World Theory
This theory states that as we see the end of the world getting nearer and nearer, it is even more critical that we “assemble to exhort” or “exhort to assemble.”
The problem with this interpretation is that the Lord was speaking of a certain day that these Jewish Christians in the first century could see coming, and they couldn’t see the end of the world coming! Of this point we can be most confident because:
(1) Christians of the first century were taught that the Judgment Day would not come before a great apostasy occurred first, and this did not happen until hundreds of years later (2 Thessalonians 2:3); (2) Jesus taught over and over that His second coming would be like a thief in the night. “For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians. 5:2).
“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night.” (2 Peter 3:10)
“But know this, that if the good-man of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (Matthew 24:43-44).
“But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father” (Mark 13:32).
Over and over we are taught that the coming of the Lord will be like a thief who gives no sign or warning that He is coming. Therefore, because there are no signs given to indicate the end of the world is approaching. Hebrews 10:25 is not speaking of the end of the world.
The Destruction of Jerusalem Theory
This theory holds that “the day approaching” refers to the conquest and destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies . In the year A.D. 70. God allowed the Roman army to absolutely destroy the city of Jerusalem, burning and leveling both the temple and the royal palaces. It is estimated that in the siege 1,100,000 Jews were massacred . Never was there such an intense, overwhelming bloodbath as this upon the Jewish nation. Jesus forewarned of this very thing: “For then shall be a great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:21). The first thirty-four verses of Matthew 24 give the great prophecy that Jesus made concerning the destruction of Jerusalem. He gave the people signs to watch for that would indicate the day of Jerusalem’s destruction was approaching.
This is undoubtedly what the Lord was referring to in Hebrews 10:25. Remember, the book of Hebrews was written to Jews! They more than any on earth would be affected by Jerusalem’s destruction. These Jewish Christians were being persecuted and harassed by unbelieving Jews. As Jerusalem’s destruction drew nearer and nearer the persecution intensified. “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another” (Matthew 24:9-10). This increase in persecution would cause many to question their allegiance to Christ. Many would be tempted to abandon the church and revert to Judaism. But the Lord is trying to tell the Hebrew Christians, “If you’ll stay faithful and remain in the church, this persecution and harassment from the Jews is going to end when Jerusalem is destroyed and your enemies are killed. But, if you defect and return to the Jewish religion, you will find yourself destroyed along with those unbelieving Jews!” As these Hebrew Christians saw Jerusalem’s destruction drawing nearer and nearer and their persecution growing worse and worse, it was all the more needful that they should attend the assembly of the church where they could be exhorted to stay faithful!
Application for Today
Now, if the “day approaching” refers to Jerusalem’s destruction, does that mean the passage is worthless to us today? Not at all! This passage is setting a precedent for us. When a great crisis arises in our lives, it becomes even more important for us to be present at the assembly!
The destruction of Jerusalem was a major crisis in the lives of the Jews, and they were tempted to give up on God and quit the church; but the Lord is saying. “This is the time when you need the church most of all!”
Many times today, when people go through a crisis they are tempted to give up on God and quit the church! The loss of a child, the loss of a parent, financial problems, marital problems, health problems — all of these are disasters that drive a lot of people to give up and quit the church. They throw up their hands and quit, thinking, “If God cares for me why does He allow these disasters to come upon me?” Times of crisis are the times when it is especially important to be present at the assembly where exhortation takes place!
In summary, Hebrews 10:25 is just as relevant to us today during crises which we face, as it was to those Jews who were facing the crisis of Jerusalem’s destruction.
Some Troublesome Verses
Now let’s look at the next few verses which have tended to be
Hebrews 10:26-31“For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and bath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know Him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto Me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
If we fail to see the overall message of the book of Hebrews, we will fail to see the point of this passage. Many read verse 25 in connection with these verses and immediately they draw some very serious conclusions:
(1) Forsaking the assembly is willful sin.
(2) There “remaineth no more sacrifice for sins” because you missed church.
(3) You deserve “fiery indignation” for missing church.
(4) You deserve to die without mercy under two or three witnesses.
(5) You trample the Son of God under your feet when you miss church.
(6) You count the blood of Jesus as an unholy thing by missing church.
(7) You insult the Holy Spirit by missing church.
(8) God will take vengeance on you for missing church.
(9) It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God after you have missed church.
To hear some tell it, you would think that missing church is blaspheming the Holy Spirit — an unforgivable sin. To make matters worse these people declare: “Well, it’s in the same context! Verse 26 comes immediately after verse 25 and the willful sin being discussed is missing church!” Admittedly, on the surface, this does seem to be the contextual setting.
However, what we’re failing to do is to back up enough to see the larger context. The Lord is warning about leaving the Christian faith and returning to Judaism. Forsaking the assembly is merely a symptom that some are about to do this — they’re starting to “not care” about things God commanded!
If these Jewish Christians quit the church and abandon the Christian faith, then: they are willfully sinning; there is no more sacrifice outside of the Lord’s body that will atone for their sins; they deserve fiery indignation for turning their backs on the Lord who purchased their salvation. When men rejected the Mosaic covenant and left for false religion they died without mercy under two or three witnesses (Deuteronmy 17:6-9).
If “death without mercy” was inflicted upon men who left the Mosaic covenant, how much worse should one be punished who leaves behind the new covenant? Again, by leaving Christ and returning to Judaism, these Hebrews would be “trampling under foot” the Son of God; they would be counting His blood which sanctified them as something unholy; they would be insulting the Holy Spirit! Anyone guilty of such atrocities will surely have vengeance taken upon them by God. No wonder a person is worse off if they fall away after obeying the gospel (2 Peter 2:20-22).
Again, for emphasis’ sake, Hebrews 10:25 is warning the Jewish Christians not to “neglect” the weekly assembly because that is the first step toward weakness that will lead to quitting altogether.
What Constitutes “Forsaking the Assembly”?
Now it’s time to apply what we have learned — the hardest part of any Bible study. How much do you have to ignore something before you’re guilty of “forsaking” it?
First, many insist that “forsake” means to “totally abandon” the church once and for all time. They make the passage read something like this: “Do not totally abandon the assembling of yourselves together as some have done.”
There are two problems with this: (1) the passage does not have the word “totally” in it — that’s been added by wishful thinking; (2) This interpretation ignores the force of the word ethos, “habit.” Some Christians were in a regular habit of doing something! Were they in the habit of “totally abandoning” the church once and for all about twice a month? That’s like saying, “You can’t count on John Doe because he totally abandons the church once and for all every month.”
Second, when forced to admit “forsake” is not total abandonment, some argue that “forsake” does not mean missing church just once. They illustrate it by asking this: “If a preacher leaves his wife behind to hold a meeting for a week, has he ‘forsaken’ her?” Most would answer “No.” Their conclusion is: If a preacher doesn’t “forsake” his wife by being gone just one week, neither does a Christian “forsake” the assembly by missing just one Sunday.
While this sounds reasonable, let’s imagine this: Suppose the husband left his wife at home sick with no one to care for her? Or suppose he left her penniless with no food to eat? Or again, suppose he spends his week with another woman? Did he “forsake” his wife in any sense?
There’s no doubt that “forsake” can mean “total abandonment,” but the question is: Is that all it can mean? Can a man “forsake,” “neglect,” or “abandon” his wife, or the assembly, in any sense short of total apostasy?
Degrees of “Forsaking”
The Scriptures clearly indicate there are degrees of conduct. Consider the following:
1 Samuel 15:3, 9“Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly.”
Here the Bible distinguishes between destroying and “utterly” destroying; they are not the same thing. Saul “destroyed” some of the Amalekites, but he did not “utterly” destroy them. Again, “And it came to pass, when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute, and did not utterly drive them out” (Judges 1:28). Israel drove out the Canaanites, but they did not “utterly” drive them out.
There is apparently a difference between:
* refusing and utterly refusing Exodus 22:17
* making desolate and making utterly desolate Isaiah 6:11
* rejecting and utterly rejecting Jeremiah 14:19
* forgetting and utterly forgetting Jeremiah 23:39
* going bald and going utterly bald Ezekiel 27:31
* cutting off and utterly cut off Hosea 10:15
* being at fault and being utterly at fault 1 Corinthians 6:7
Likewise, the Bible distinguishes between “forsaking” and “utterly forsaking.” “O forsake me not utterly,” the prophet said (Psalms 119:8). In contrast, God said, “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment” (Isaiah 54:7-8). Interestingly, the Septuagint (LXX) uses egkataleipo, the same Greek word used in Hebrews 10:25, in both of these Old Testament passages!
In the New Testament there are some familiar passages: “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying. . . My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). Take note that this is the first time God ever forsook Jesus. It was the only time He ever did it. And, He never intended to permanently forsake Him. The Father forsook Jesus for “a small moment,” but He did not “Utterly” forsake Him.
Again, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10). Even if Demas had returned the very next day, it would not remove the fact that he had “forsaken” Paul.
The point is, we can be guilty of “forsaking the assembly,” or: “neglecting” the assembly when we miss only one time! To say that “forsaking” in Hebrews 10:25 is “total abandonment” of the church is to confuse the disease with its symptoms.
What About Jobs?
Now, “What about my job? I have to make a living and they require me to work sometimes on Sundays!”
I believe the Lord knew this would be a problem. He knew that His disciples would sometimes have to make a choice between their jobs and their obligations to God and that is why He taught:
“Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore , if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
There is not a better answer than that! There’s nothing more to say. Jesus said if we put the kingdom of God first in our lives God will provide for all our physical needs. The real question today is not, “What about my job?” but, “Are we believers, or unbelievers?” Do we believe what Jesus said, or not? I do note this particular point In Matthew 22:3-5, when the king’s wedding invitation was rejected in favor of business and job related matters, the king was wroth and declared the guests to be “unworthy.” If a job was an inexcusable reason for missing a king’s wedding invitation, I question that it would be an excusable reason for missing the “holy convocation” called by the living God!
When we “neglect” the assembly for vacation, for business, or any other excuse, we have violated the command of Hebrews 10:25 and we are guilty of sin. And unless we repent we will only grow weaker and end up quitting altogether.
As a side note, why some churches use men in leading roles in the services of the church who can’t even be faithful in attendance is beyond my ability to reason!
In conclusion, what have we seen? Hebrews 10:25 is teaching this: First, the command is given: Don’t neglect the assembly. Remember, this is a command! Second, the rationale is given: To prevent apostasy. The assembly is where men receive the exhortation that will prevent apostasy. Third, an extra reason is given — Crisis. As we see times of crisis approaching, the assembly becomes all the more important.
Don’t think you can out-guess the Lord — thinking that you can “neglect” the services just once in a while without growing weak. The Lord said it will make you weak and He -knows — He made you!
Questions and Answers
Following are some commonly asked questions with replies for your consideration.
Q. Can a Christian miss worship because of sickness or car breakdown?
A. The Lord said, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some .. .“ The Greek word kathos (“as the manner of some”) is an adverb of manner and describes in this passage the kind of forsaking under consideration. Hebrews 10:25 is discussing men and women who could attend the services, but chose of their own volition not to do so. To miss because of persecution or lesser reasons is to miss “as the manner of some.” However, missing for sickness or car breakdown is not within one’s control — not “as the manner of some.”
Equating missing for sickness with missing for work is making the error the Pharisees were guilty of. They could not distinguish between working on the Sabbath and being sick on the Sabbath (cf. Matthew 12:9-14).Shame on anyone equating sickness and car breakdowns with working.
Q. Isn’t there such a thing an “ox in the ditch” that justifies missing services?
A. First, notice the ox in the ditch was not harnessed up plowing in a field (Luke 14:5). In other words, the farmer did not work on the Sabbath and this cannot justify a man’s working during the Lord’s day assembly. Second, Lynwood Smith put it best when he said, “If I had an ox that kept getting in the ditch, I’d either sell the ox or fill in the ditch.” Third, the kind of “forsaking” the Lord had in mind was “as (kathos) the manner of some.” Missing for an ox in the ditch is not “as” some in Hebrews 10:25 were doing. They were missing by choice; they were not “providentially hindered.”
Q. In Numbers 9:9-13, men who were traveling were excused from observing the Passover. They were allowed to make it up later. Why can’t we today miss worship for traveling purposes?
A. Carefully consider the passage cited in this question:
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, ‘Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If any man of you or of your posterity shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the Passover unto the LORD. The fourteenth day of the second month at even they shall keep it, and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They shall leave none of it unto the morning, nor break any bone of it: according to all the ordinances of the Passover they shall keep it. But the man that is clean, and is not in a journey, and forbeareth to keep the Passover, even the same soul shall be cut off from among his people: because he brought not the offering of the LORD in his appointed season, that man shall bear his sin.’ ”
First, the unclean and travelers still kept the Passover (v. 10)! They did not miss the Passover for traveling! Men traveling on Lord’s day miss the assembly! Second, special revelation from God was required to authorize this second opportunity for observing the Passover. Where is such revelation given for those who miss the weekly assembly to “make it up?” Third, the man that could attend, but simply chose not to, sinned! Many times, when people say they “couldn’t” go, the truth is they “wouldn’t” go!
Q. Is attendance at Sunday night and Wednesday night services mandatory?
A. I believe we should “be ready to every good work” (lit. 3:1), and men should try their best to attend these services, but I am not ready to put these services on an equal level with the “holy convocation” which God chose. To illustrate, suppose all the men of a congregation worked third shift and decided to have Wednesday services at 10 a.m. When a brother moved in with a daytime job, would he be sinning if he did not take off to attend the 10 a.m. service? I think not. Or suppose a congregation decided to have services every evening at 7 p.m. Would a brother be sinning if he decided to stay home one night during the year to rest? Again, I think not. Several things need to be considered before condem-ning one who misses one of these services. Why are they missing? How regularly are they missing? How mature are they in the faith? Are they just babes in Christ or have they been “raised up” in the church? Furthermore, we should consider what position they hold in the church. Is the person an elder? A preacher? A deacon? An “ordinary” member? It is scriptural to expect more out of church leaders than from others (cf. James 3;1; Luke 12:48b). We must be careful and not make a law where God made none (cf. Matthew 23:4). Before we can make a man quit his job so he can attend a 7 p.m. Wednesday night service, ask yourself if you would quit your job to attend a 10 a.m. Wednesday morning service.
Q. Should churches change the time of their weekly assembly to accommodate brethren who work, as practiced by the churches in the Philippines?
A. This is a judgment call which requires consideration of several things. Will changing the services hinder the effort to get unbelievers to attend the assembly? Has every effort been made to resolve this problem some other way? If every effort has been tried and the overall work of the church is not harmed, there is no Scripture that would forbid the congregation from using this option.
Q. If a man misses the weekly assembly to work, is he covetous and should we discipline him as per 1 Corinthians 5:11?
A. A man might miss services to work because of covetousness, and that would be grounds for discipline, but not necessarily. We should not make a blanket rule that covers all cases. We need to consider each case. How mature is this Christian? — Is he a “babe” or a mature member? What was the man’s reason for missing the assembly to work? Was it really covetousness or merely weakness in faith?
Q. What about being a doctor and having an emergency call on the Lord’s day?
A. First, it is not wrong to be a doctor. Luke was a physician (Colossians 4:14). Second, I think it wise for men to seek branches of medicine that would not be likely to interfere with their religion. For example, there would be less problems for an “ear, nose and throat” specialist than for a heart surgeon. Third, what might be an emergency to an ordinary person might not be an emergency to a doctor. He should think through situations that are likely to occur and be prepared for them, e.g., have someone fill in for him while he’s gone. Fourth, I believe it is possible that life-threatening emergencies can arise that are out of the ordinary that would justify a doctor missing services, e.g., a plane crash with all available doctors called in, or a massive pile-up on the freeway. In such cases, the doctor would not be guilty of forsaking “as” the manner of those of Hebrews 10:25, who were voluntarily choosing to miss. Jesus said, “If ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless” (Matthew 12:7).
Q. Is Hebrews 10:25 really a command? Isn’t the subjunctive mood used rather than the imperative mood?
A. Owen L. Crouch correctly comments upon this: “Subjunctive at this point is kin to the imperative mode in that it offers an exhortation or entreaty.” –
Q. What about worshipping God in a motel room when on vacation? Isn’t Jesus “in the midst” when just two or three gather?
A. First, Matthew 18:20 is discussing church discipline, not worship. Second, even if this passage were discussing a worship service, the phrase, “in my name” means “by my authority.” Where did Jesus ever authorize the practice of missing the Lord’s day assembly and worshipping in a motel room? Third, the apostle never offered this as a solution to the Hebrews! They were being persecuted! Paul never advised them that it would be better for husbands and wives to have communion on the roadside to avoid persecution. How can we do so simply to have a vacation? Fourth, the weekly assembly requires brethren to “come together” (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:33). There is no “coming together” when a husband and a wife wake up in a motel room and “play” church. Fifth, if a man and wife may commune on the side of the road once without coming together with other brethren, they could do so every Lord’s day. This reasoning destroys the need for congregations! “What proves too much, proves nothing at all.”
Q. Wasn’t Paul saying that we can miss so long as we don’t make a “habit” like some—”as the manner (habit) of some”?
A. The Lord was using the bad habit of some to illustrate what Christians should not do even once! To illustrate, in Romans 6:1-2, Paul wrote, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” When Paul condemned continuance in sin, did he thereby condone occasional sinning so long as men don’t make a habit of it? Obviously not. Likewise, in Hebrews 10:25, by condemning the excessive habit of some, the Lord thereby was not condoning neglect of a “holy convocation” on an occasional basis.
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Barnes, Albert. Barnes’ Notes On the New Testament — 1 Volume edition. Kregel Publications. 1980 edition.
Baur, W., W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon. Chicago Press. 1957.
Crouch, Owen L. Expository Preaching and Teaching — Hebrews. College Press.
Delitzsch, F. Delitzsch’s Commentary on the Hebrews. T. & T. Clark. 1870.
Lindsay, William. Lectures on the Epistle to the Hebrews. William Oliphant & Co. 1867.
Shaw, Tommy. The Destruction of Jerusalem: Its Important Place in the Divine Plan. Published by Tommy Shaw. 1979.
Strong, James. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Abingdon Press. 1974 edition.
Summers, Ray. Essentials of New Testament Greek. Broadman Press. 1950
Summers, p. 90
Consult also Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich, p. 217, where ethos in Hebrew 10:25 is translated “habit.”
For the definitive articles proving that episunagoga should be translated “assembly,” while ekklesia is reserved for “church” or “congregation,” see: Barnes, p. 1308; Lindsay, 2:121-122; Delitzsch, 2:182-183
[Printed in the 1992 Preacher’s Study Notes]