Joe often challenges me and gets me thinking. Here is another of his blogs that does that.
It is crystal clear in the Bible that God desires for us to consciously and intentionally aim at something significant in our days. God’s revealed will for us is that we do not drift aimlessly through the day letting mere circumstances alone dictate what we do, but we aim at something – we focus on a certain kind of purpose.
What do you want to happen because you have lived? What difference do you want your life to make?
Aimlessness is akin to lifelessness. Dead leaves in the yard may move around, but they have no aim. The wind blows this way, and they go this way. The wind blows that way, and they go that way. They tumble, bounce, skip, and press against the fence, but they have no aim whatsoever. They are full of motion, but empty of life.
God did not create humans to be aimless, like leaves blown around in the yard. He created us to be purposeful – to have a focus and an aim for all our days. To find what we were made for and to do it with all God’s might (Col. 1:29) is freeing (Gal. 5:13) and energizing. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me” (Jn. 4:34). Aiming day-by-day to do what we were meant to do is like eating food: it gives life and energy, rather than taking it away.
While God has promised us many good things in His Word, His promises alone do no provide sufficient focus for the day. God did not create us to curl up under the covers and hope in Him all day in bed. Without some effect on our life, hope in God would be invisible and would bring no public glory to His power, goodness, and trustworthiness. God created us to not only hope in Him, but to make that hope visible to others by the effect that it has on our life. And that effect is to be the aim of our life.
This brings us to our text in Hebrews 10:23-25.
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:23-25).
I have often heard this text referred to as an argument for regular attendance at worship services. “Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together – come to church regularly.” And that is not a wrong application of the text since one of the most important kinds of encouragements and exhortations that we get is from the preaching of God’s Word in the power of the Holy Spirit. But I have no illusions that preaching is enough in the life of a believer. The New Testament and especially this book of Hebrews calls us to a kind of mutual ministry that involves all the believers encouraging one another.
The writer revealed in these verses his concern for loyalty to the faith. There was an urgent need for mutual concern and encouragement within the church he wrote to. His readers were not to abandon meeting together, as some were doing. Their mutual efforts to spur one another on should increase as they see the “Day” approaching. The “Day” refers to the Second Coming of Jesus to earth. The writer was concerned that genuine believers might cease to hope in the Lord and be tempted to turn from their professions of faith in Christ.
There are two groups of people that are spoken of in this passage: those who gather to encourage, and those who have formed the habit of not gathering. When we think of all the members at this church, we certainly have people who fall into both categories. Which group are you in?
Verse 25 is explicit. It says to come together and encourage one another. The “one another” implies that there is something mutual going on. Each person is doing or saying something that encourages. This kind of coming together is not only for corporate worship on Sunday, but also throughout the week and in small group settings.
The normative behavior for people who are in love with God and who are in love with the people of God is to want to be around other Christians for fellowship and encouragement, and to worship the Lord together. While I may have the freedom to worship God when and where I like, history tells us that those who are passionately in love with Jesus have normally been involved in their local church and attended it regularly.
However, that is not always the case today. There is much lamentation about the dismal attendance of many Christians in churches these days. On any given Sunday around 30% of the people who would consider themselves to be active members of the church are not going. Some of them are traveling, but many of them have chosen to be involved in other activities, like leisure or recreational sports.
The reason we go to the house of the Lord is because we are in love with Him and want to join with others who are of like mind and Spirit. From the early days of the Christian Church, this priority of worship, fellowship, and encouragement has been a pattern. If a person is in love with Jesus, if he or she is as excited about Him and His presence as they should be, it will be a priority in their life to meet regularly with other Christians for worship, fellowship, and encouragement. It will come ahead of sports, ahead of work, and ahead of any other activity. If we have a passionate love for the Lord, it will be reflected in how faithful we are to gather with one another for mutual encouragement and to worship the Lord together.
Unfortunately, the individualism which so permeates our society today tells people that they can worship God on their own. I have actually heard people say, “I don’t need to go to church to worship God, I can worship God in the forest or on the lake, in the midst of nature. I feel closer to God there.” That’s ok for private devotion, but that cannot only form of worship. The Bible is clear, as Christians, we are to gather regularly for worship, encouragement, accountability, and the building up of one another.
Why is it that so many people today do not go to church? Some people do not go because they do not want to have to face the truth about themselves. They do not want to hear that they are sinners and need to repent. Others do not go because some churches don’t teach and preach the truth, and other churches are downright boring. Some churches are so far stuck in the past, so steeped in tradition and ritual that most people today cannot see any relevance in what they teach or preach. Other churches have forsaken the gospel of Jesus Christ in favor of a message that is more in line with the political correctness of the day. Those kinds of messages have no power to transform lives. Some people do not go to church because the churches they have been too had nothing real to offer and left them with more questions than answers.
I believe most people don’t go to church because they have not seen any real difference in the lives of those who do! This is not an indictment on everyone who goes to church, but let’s face it, for many Christians, if we lived like we ought to, if our lives were as transformed as God wants them to be, if we truly loved and encouraged one another as we have been called to, others would be drawn to us in such a way that our services and gatherings would always be overflowing.
Public worship is, in a sense, born out of personal and private worship. Simply coming to church on Sunday will not transform us unless we are being transformed in our personal walk with God throughout the week.
One of the things the New Testament changed was the observance of the Sabbath. Instead of one day being set aside for God every week, in a very real sense, now every day is a day which should be consecrated to the Lord. Now, instead of going into the temple to worship on the Sabbath, Scripture tells us that our very bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and that the very way in which we live our lives should be an act of worship.
When Jesus instituted the New Covenant He fulfilled all the righteous requirements of the Old Covenant and the way men worshiped God changed. No longer was the sacrifice of animals necessary, the blood of Jesus paid the price, once for all. No longer was God only resident over the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies, but now God has come to dwell within every believer through the presence of the Holy Spirit. No longer do we have to go to a human priest to take our petitions to God; now Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man. The New Covenant or New Testament changed things.
There are four things that will help us as we seek to live a consecrated life and worship God. And when you hear these you’re going to say, “So what’s new about that?” the answer is nothing! This is basic stuff, but then again the majority of our Christian walk is basic and most of us already know it, we simply need reminding.
First, read the Word of God daily. You would be surprised at how many Christians simply don’t make time to read the Bible on a daily basis. Do not be legalistic about it, though. If for some reason you miss a day, don’t think you’re a bad Christian. A better way to approach it is to look Bible reading as a discipline, sort of like exercising or eating healthy food. It needs to be a regular part of our life. It needs to be one of the good habits we develop. We cannot know the will of God unless we know the Word of God. Reading the Bible is essential for our growth in Christ.
Second, spend time in prayer daily. Prayer keeps us in right fellowship with God. Have you ever noticed that it’s hard to allow anything to stand between you and someone else if you stay in communication with them? Eventually, if you keep talking, the issue will come to the surface and you will deal with it. The same is true in our relationship with God. If we spend time in prayer every day, we are more likely to deal with those sin issues in our life which are standing in the way of us having more intimate and better fellowship with God.
Third, attend church regularly. You and I need to be in a church where the Word of God is preached and the love of God is demonstrated. We need to associate with other Christians who love Jesus like we do and who will encourage and strengthen us in our faith. The devil wants to keep us from fellowship with each other and separate us from our support and accountability. If he can get us away from other Christians, he can attack us at our weakest point.
Devoted Christians strive to attend church regularly and gather with one another. That’s not to say emergency situations do not come up, but for the most part, they make it a priority to be together and to build one another up. Two thousand years of unanimous agreement within the body of Christ regarding the necessity of mutual encouragement and worship cannot be wrong. Our spiritual ancestors laid a solid path for us to follow.
Fourth, share your faith with other people. You’ll be amazed how God will speak to you and how you will sense His working in your life when you get involved in telling others about His love. Sharing your faith is something you need to do individually, but it is also something we need to do corporately as a church.
When we look at churches, the mission is clear. It comes straight out of the Bible: bring the gospel to all of mankind. It has always been the work of the church to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus. It was true during the days of the disciples in the New Testament and it is true today. In a world that changes faster than textbooks can record, we must be accountable to our timeless mission – to make disciples. Nothing is more relevant to our day than the message of salvation in Christ.
Witnessing to others about our Lord and His promises should not only be a passive affair, where we wait for others to ask us about our hope; it should also be active. Sometimes, we need to initiate a conversation. We cannot have fullness of joy in Christ if we never tell anybody about it.
If you are stumbling around in a dark cave with a group of people and suddenly you see a crack of light and you follow it and it leads you out of the dark and into the sunshine, you will feel a great joy and exhilaration. You have two choices. You can go on your way rejoicing in the sunshine. But if you do, you know that before long your conscience will slay you and the sunshine will turn grey and you will not have fullness of joy. Or the other choice you have is to tie a string around a tree and take the other end of it back into the cave in search of the other people who are lost in the dark. If you go back to the cave, you realize you might scratch your hands and bump your head in the dark, but you would feel good doing it! There would be something fulfilling about carrying the string of good news and hope back into the cave.
In the same way, declaring the marvelous deeds of God that have brought light into your life is a means to the full enjoyment of that light. We cannot let our witness to Christ be merely passive. We must also take the initiative to speak about Him to friends, family, neighbors, associates, and even strangers.
You may be saying, “But Joe, I’m not a gifted evangelist. I have never been good at turning a conversation with an unbeliever into a serious spiritual discussion of His condition before God.”
That’s ok. You don’t need to be expert evangelist to share your faith. If the Lord has truly saved you, at the very least, you have your own story to share about how the Lord brought you out of darkness and into the light, about how you came to faith in Christ and what difference that makes in your life today.
I have read in the Word and tasted in experience that there is great joy in telling others about the hope I have in Christ, and I want that joy. I know if I am not actively sharing my faith and winning people to Christ, then I will not experience the fullness of joy that could be mine. There is great joy to be found in leading lost people out of darkness and into the light. I pray and ask you to pray with me that God will bless all of our efforts in sharing our faith with others and reaching this community with the gospel.
The church is an assembly of called out ones. If the church ceases to call, it ceases to be a church. The church belongs to Jesus Christ and is the Body of Christ. The church is to proclaim salvation to all people and summon people to Christ. The church must invade the world, the territory of the enemy and gather together those who are called. We cannot decide to open or close the kingdom of Heaven for others, but God does use us to help others find the way inside. To all who believe in Christ and obey His words, His kingdom doors are swung wide open!
I’d like to close today’s message with a quote from evangelist Billy Graham. He said, “The Evangelistic Harvest is always urgent! The destiny of men and of nations is always being decided. Every generation is strategic. We are not responsible for the past generation, and we cannot bear the full responsibility of the next one; but we do have our generation. God will hold us responsible as to how well we fulfill our responsibilities to this age and take advantage of our opportunities.”
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Joe Quatrone’s continued series
Philadelphia, the Faithful Church (Rev. 3:7–13)
If you have ever moved to a new community and had to select a new church home, you know how difficult it is to examine and evaluate a church and its ministry. Imposing buildings may house dying or dead congregations, while modest structures might belong to vibrant assemblies on the march for the Lord. The church we think is “rich” may turn out to be poor in God’s sight (Rev. 3:17), while the “poor” church is actually rich (Rev. 2:9).