Continued from Cherish your church (1)
‘And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near’ (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Last month we saw four significant reasons why Christians should cherish their church. But there are three other important reasons as well.
Because every Christian thrives on encouragement
Encouragement has been called ‘oxygen for the soul’ and we all know what a boost it gives us. The need for encouragement is so important that the writer of Hebrews says, ‘Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today”, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin’ (Hebrews 3:13).
At a time when Job was himself in deep trouble, his friend Eliphaz the Temanite could still pay him this tribute: ‘Your words have upheld him who was stumbling, and you have made firm the feeble knees’ (Job 4:4).
There is so much going on (and going wrong) in the world today that many Christians are stumbling around on ‘feeble knees’ and in need of encouragement, even if they do not openly give that impression.
The text on which this section is based specifically links ‘encouraging one another’ with times when Christians ‘meet together’ — and just being there can be an encouragement to others.
The presence of young people is an encouragement to much older Christians, as they see in them hope for the church’s future. The presence of people in their 60s or 70s and beyond is an encouragement to young people as they see in them living evidence of God’s faithfulness down the years. The presence of young, old and all of those between the two is a constant encouragement to the pastor.
It is exactly the opposite if your place is empty at half of the services. Apart from anything else, this would mean that fifty per cent of the time your pastor spends in study and preparation every week is wasted as far as you are concerned. It is an even greater encouragement to pastors when church members are at Bible studies or prayer meetings during the week.
Are you missing out on these other opportunities to encourage others — and to be encouraged? If so, why?
It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of Christians encouraging one another as they battle against the pressures of a secular world. The wordtranslated ‘encourage’ in Hebrews has the sense of ‘coming alongside someone else to help’; and it has the identical root to the one used about the Holy Spirit, who is called ‘another Helper’ (John 14:16).
Christians who are prepared to get alongside other believers, helping, guiding, comforting, strengthening or sympathising with them as they have need are serving God — and can expect his help to do so.
Not only are Christians ‘members of [Christ’s] body’ (Ephesians 5:30), they are also ‘members one of another’ (Ephesians 4:25) and that unity is dynamically demonstrated when they meet together.
The closer we come to ‘the Day’, the more faithful we should be in ensuring that we meet as often as we can with God’s people, so that we may be ‘mutually encouraged by each other’s faith’ (Romans 1:12).
Members of the congregation who are lonely, discouraged, confused, bereaved or in pain, or who have some other need, may be hugely encouraged by a warm greeting, a friendly smile, a firm handshake or a willingness to spend even a few moments with them.
C. S. Lewis says, ‘I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find until death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside. I must make it the main object of my life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same;’ (emphasis added). Church gatherings are ideal times to do this!
Because we all need to make every possible use of the means of grace that God provides
Strictly speaking, all the things freely given by God for his glory and for our good are means of grace. Within the fellowship of the church, the preaching and teaching of the Word, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper — specifically said to be provided for us ‘until he comes’ (1 Corinthians 11:26) — praise, prayer and meaningful fellowship with other believers can be called the primary means of grace for God’s people, and we all need them.
No Christians know the Bible so well, are so well grounded in doctrine, and so well informed about how to counter a secular culture that they have no need for well prepared teaching by a man set apart to ‘shepherd the flock of God’ (1 Peter 5:2).
No Christians are so far advanced in holiness and pray so fully and perfectly at home that they have no need of the means of grace that God provides in the context of a local gathering of his people. No Christians can make the progress God intends for them if they choose to isolate themselves from other believers.
Looking back to early church history, the Scottish theologian James Moffatt (1870–1944) said, ‘Any early Christian who attempted to live like a pious particle without the support of the community ran serious risks in an age when there was no public opinion to support him’.
We can see this reflected in a key verse about those early believers: ‘And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers’ (Acts 2:42).
In a world swamped by secularism and scepticism, Christianity today can hardly expect any support from public opinion, but within a fellowship of God’s people the means of grace will help us to ‘grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 3:18). Make the best use of them!
Because it says something significant to an unbelieving world
In his unusual and challenging book, Beware of living too long!, a collection of weekly letters to what was then his congregation in Cornwall, the American pastor John Gillespie tells how, while on holiday in Norfolk, he decided not to go to church one Sunday ‘because I didn’t feel like going’.
Before the morning was over, he realised that his decision, ‘born of conceit’ (the sermon might not be very good; he might not like the music), had taught him a lesson in humility.
Reflecting on this, the next letter to his church family was called ‘A meditation on missing church’. In urging them never to belittle the value of believers gathering together on the Lord’s Day, he gave this as one reason for unbroken attendance: ‘Each local church, as it gathers, shouts a defiant “No!” to the Christ-defying culture around it’.
He is right! When your neighbours see you going regularly to church while they are cleaning the car, working or relaxing in the garden, or doing something else around the house, you will be bearing clear witness to the fact that you have found something more important than any of these responsibilities or pleasures.
Of course, if you are not a friendly and helpful person to have next door, Sunday may be cancelled out by the other six days of the week and become another barrier against your neighbours coming to faith.
The same is true of unconverted family members; your behaviour at home and in their company elsewhere should confirm the significance of your church attendance, not clash with it. Jesus said, ‘Whoever does not gather with me scatters’ (Matthew 12:30).
Make sure that your daily life endorses the message other people get by seeing how you use the Lord’s Day. Aim to live in such a way as to ‘make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive’ (Titus 2:10).
The author is a Christian preacher, teacher, apologist and author. His titles include Right with God and the booklet Ultimate Questions. The latter has over 14 million copies in print in about 60 languages. This article is taken from the author’s book The hitch-hiker’s guide to heaven (EP Books; £10.99, 320 pages; ISBN: 9780852349380).