I love watching soccer. Believe it or not it is something that I find enjoyable. And before you mock me let me remind you that billions of people across the world enjoy it as well. I love telling the coach of my favorite team how wrong he was in his decision making. I love sharing my opinion with the referee over his decision-making abilities, or his need to visit the ophthalmologist as soon as possible. Let me tell you it is very difficult for me to remain silent while watching my favorite team play. The only problem with all that is that no one can hear me, well maybe my neighbors can, but those involved in the actual outcome of the game can’t. The coach, the players, the referee all have no idea that there is some guy thousands of miles away yelling at them through the television screen.
This spectator mentality is what we see in many churches. Many people show up thinking that the Church is there in order to serve them. In fact if we are honest everyone naturally thinks this way. We all are born thinking that the world exists for our purposes. Many young pastors like me actually encourage this. They set up churches to look like rock-concerts with a mini, story-filled sermon jammed in the middle that will rarely last longer than 20 minutes. The Bible is set aside and the service seems to be geared to make unbelievers feel welcome and comfortable.
The writer of Hebrews has a different mindset. He is convinced that being part of the Church implies being more than a spectator. In fact, he encourages all believers to be active participants. In Hebrews 10:24-25 we find a famous passage. A passage we usually rush to when we find someone who claims to be a Christian but doesn’t attend church. While it certainly is the go-to “don’t skip church” passage, it is so much more. In just two short verses we are given five implied commands that could radically change our Sunday morning.
The First thing we must do is PREPARE for Sunday morning.
“and let us consider…”
The word “consider” in verse 24 implies that we need our minds to be engaged on Sunday morning. That means that our minds must be alert. This implies that we need to be in tip-top shape. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that we will not be able to be fully alert Sunday morning unless we get a good night’s sleep. That’s why they say that Sunday morning begins Saturday night. We need to be rested, not only because we are better sermon listeners, but because we are more alert and eager to serve and encourage others when we hug the pillow enough. I think it’s implied that we are prepared for Church. That means that we aren’t scrambling to get everything ready to get out of the door Sunday morning. Perhaps having lunch all ready, clothes picked out, and Bibles and notebooks in the car Saturday night will prevent a lot of drama in the morning. Another key aspect is to have our minds thinking about the Lord and others, rather than worldly things. Doing some Netflix binge-watching right before church is probably not the best thing to do. We’re probably going to be wondering what will happen to our favorite character rather than how we can be serving our fellow brothers and sisters.
What is also implied in the word “consider” is the fact that we will not think about others naturally. This goes right along side preparation. We have to remind ourselves to do it. We must train our minds to think of others when we come to church. This means that we are praying about how God can use us. As we are driving to church we should be thinking about and reminding ourselves that we are about to do something very important, maybe the most important thing we get to do. We get to celebrate Christ’s resurrection, we get to sit under the preaching of God’s Word, and we get to participate in the growth of a local church. Do you think about how you can be a blessing to your brothers and sisters on your way to church?
We are instructed to constantly PRACTICE thinking of others.
“and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds…”
The writer of Hebrews says that we should consider how to stimulate others. The word “how” is loaded. This isn’t just showing up at church and unloading what we learned this week in our times with the Lord. This is a consideration of exactly what our friends need. It means that it varies from person to person. We actually have to get to know the people around us and know what would be encouraging to them. When my basketball team in High school prepared for a game, we would watch game tape and try to exploit the other teams weakness. If they were really quick we would get the ball to our tall guys. If they were really tall and slow, we would get our guards in and push the tempo. If they were tall and fast, well we would get creamed, but you get the point, we didn’t treat all our opponents the same way. So many times as Christians we are so focused on our selves that we have no idea how to provoke the people around us towards godliness. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 captures this idea perfectly. It tells us to be patient no matter what but it also teaches us to treat people differently based on what they need. We must be actively studying and caring for the people around us in order to properly care for their souls.
We are told to PURSUE each other
“and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds…”
The word “stimulate” is usually used in the negative. It is a provoking, a strong pushing. It is challenging someone to go somewhere where they don’t naturally want to go. In our flesh we don’t naturally want to do good works. We are all prone to wander. We need to pursue each other and push each other to be godly. On your own you can learn more about God, you can grow in your love for God, but at the same time you must realize that you can’t see everything on your own. We all have blind spots. That’s why being a monk doesn’t work. In order to grow in the Christian life, not only do you have to spend time alone with the Lord, but you must also be around other believers. You need them, and guess what? They need you! And they need you to be on top of your game. If we are harboring sin in our lives, even in our private lives, then we are definitely not growing in our walk, and if we are not growing in our walk we will not be able to stimulate others around us to good works. Also harboring sin, causes us to be selfish and diminishes the chances that we will show up for the gathering ready to serve others.
We are commanded to PRIORITIZE the gathering
“not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some…”
Of course none of this matters unless we get out of our beds and head over to church. And it seems like the early church struggled with this as well. But unlike us, their deterrent wasn’t made out of pigskin, rather it was persecution. Hebrews 10:33-34 tells us that the people he was writing to had experienced serious persecution. Some lost their houses, others their lives, and so the temptation to stay home would have been strong. And yet, in the face of these very serious scenarios the writer of Hebrews warns them not to miss out on the gathering. And despite the fact that they suffered real persecution they were less likely to skip church than the average american! It’s mind-boggling. We should fight for our time with our brothers and sisters. It is absolutely nuts to skip church. You have a pastor, who has most likely spent hours studying a passage of Scripture for the sole purpose of encouraging you to be godlier! And hopefully, you have dozens of other church members coming to church considering ways how to stimulate you and encourage you to love Christ and obey Him more! Where would you rather be?
We are called to PICK-UP one another
“but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
It’s so interesting that the writer concludes with a call to encourage one another. The word “encourage” doesn’t set aside truth, but rather as you speak truth to one another you do it with gentleness. It is reminding each other about God’s promises. It’s fascinating to note that this should increase with each passing day. It’s interesting that in Hebrews 10:25 he connects it with the second coming. Each day we get closer to the Lord’s return we should also be increasing in our encouragement of one another. The world is getting more and more hostile to the gospel. The church should be an oasis for the believer. We should long for the opportunity to see each other each Sunday. And we should spend our time stimulating and exhorting each other to pursue Christ. It’s interesting that in the same way that we are less likely to attend church than the early Christians, despite our lack of persecution, we are also less likely to think about the Lord’s return, despite being 2000 years closer. Every morning we wake up is not only a day closer to our death but it is a day closer to Christ’s return.
The writer of Hebrews believes that we are better off thinking of others when we attend church. In fact he believes that if we are faithful at preparing, practicing, pursuing, prioritizing and picking each other up that we will be faithful to Christ and active participants in what Christ is doing through local churches everywhere.