And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.Hebrews 10:25 NLT
Eager eyes looked at me expectantly as I quoted this verse while sitting on the patio of a wooden home on stilts in the middle of a rice field in Indonesia. As the only believers in their community, this handful of women depended on gatherings like our retreat and the message I delivered for their growth and endurance. This fellowship was as crucial for them as it was for the readers who first received this counsel. The author of the letter to the Hebrews knew that followers of Jesus facing intense suffering (Hebrews 10:32–34) needed to gather together.
It is more difficult to make the case for meeting together today because we (in the West) are not suffering like my Indonesian sisters were. We can learn about God and find help through podcasts, books, videos, YouTube, and blogs. Some—introverts like me—prefer studying alone. Or we feel closer to God hiking in the forest, at a music concert, or writing in our journal. Add to this the sad reality that churches are places of pain for many and it becomes clear why meeting together is easy to disregard or abandon altogether.
Meeting together—episunagoge in Greek—first referred to the Jewish synagogue and then to the assembling of Christians for worship and fellowship. Believers gathered in groups even as small as two or three (Matthew 18:20), in the house of God (Psalm 55:14), in private homes (Acts 2:46), and in every place (Malachi 1:11).
In Indonesia, our team gathered for church in our home. Since then, I’ve worshipped with a small congregation and now a mega-church. But I also gather with a dozen ladies weekly to study God’s Word. And I meet one-on-one with women to share our faith journeys. I also connect virtually with colleagues and mentees around the world. The point is, meeting together can take various shapes and sizes.
Apparently, the first-century church was just like us. Forsaking regular meetings is a common occurrence, typically from hurt, disillusionment, time restrictions, laziness, or worldwide viruses. The interruption to our routine this past year caused many to withdraw from regular worship and it will take intention and work to get back into the habit of meeting together. (There are of course times when we need to move to a different meeting in a different location, but not from all meetings altogether.)
Encouraging one another means we “warn, urge, admonish, inspire with courage and hope, spur on, strengthen, exhort, or give help.” In the context of this passage, it means to encourage toward faith, love and good deeds, and toward a greater commitment to gather because of persecution (Hebrews 13:3). When believers in the New Testament met, they prayed (Acts 1:14), fellowshipped, heard teaching (Acts 2:42, 47), took communion (I Corinthians 11:26), offered praise and worship (Psalm 42:4, Colossians 3:16) and gave gifts (2 Corinthians 8:2-4).
Every generation has felt like Jesus’s return is imminent, but since we don’t know the day, we are to be ready (Matthew 24:5–6). Gathering together helps us prepare for his return. It reorients us to the reality that Jesus is better than anything we could find elsewhere. Meeting together gets us out of our tiny environment and into the larger world. It keeps us balanced, corrects fearful thoughts, and introduces us to how other people think and process.
When there are diverse eyes on the passages we study, we gain insight, discover nuances, and make new applications. When we listen to a variety of ideas and viewpoints, we are challenged to broaden our thinking and reduce our judgment. Meeting together reminds us that relationships are more important than rhetoric. People than politics. Love the legislature.
We need face-to-face interaction, not only with those like us, but especially with those unlike us. We must look into the eyes of people we don’t 100% agree with and realize that they are fellow human beings with hurts and disappointments, hopes and dreams. When we learn of another’s experience, we become empathetic and our love and unity grows.
Let’s not stop meeting together, like some folks we know, because Jesus is coming back, and we need each other for encouragement. If we want to prepare ourselves for Christ’s second coming and withstand the trials of life, we must utilize every means at our disposal and make every effort to gather with fellow believers, even if only one or two. As speaker and author, Beth Moore tweeted recently, “The communion of saints is essential to the believer’s joy and growth and expression of spiritual gifts.”1
Do your regular meetings with believers encourage you? Why or why not?
What are some things that keep you from meeting together?
How is the variety of voices in your meetings spurring you on?
Lord Jesus, help me to not give up assembling with other believers. When I am temped to sleep a little longer, or pursue other activities, or am put off by disagreements within the church, help me to remember that I need this group of people to encourage me and to help me grow.