by Ben Peeler, Resident Mentor
"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir 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 10:23-25)
I'm not sure how much this passage has occurred to you during these times, but it was brought to my attention recently that our church may be disobeying this clear command. Was I missing something in understand this passage in light of the current restrictions from assembling surrounding the Coronavirus?
First, we need to look at this original audience. The writer of Hebrews addressed this letter to Messianic Jews scattered throughout the Roman Empire who were battling temptations to return to Judaism. Because of the particular social, political, and religious pressures they faced, these young Christians needed a strong reminder that Jesus was better than everything else. For these Christians, at best facing social prejudice, and at worst physical torture/ death, they desperately needed each other!
We have to understand commands and instructions in the way they were intended to be taken, and not pull them out of context as proof texts. The writer of Hebrews was addressing men and women whose great temptation was to turn their backs on Jesus and return to the yoke of bondage (as Paul called it in Galatians). They needed one another, as Christians today do too. Those believers who patterned their lives by not associating with other Christians, but rather distanced themselves from the body were not just hurting themselves but hurting others and disobeying God.
This brings us to the issue of what we should do today in light of the Coronavirus. Churches have not met for close to 6 weeks now and this command in Hebrews seems to be more and more relevant. But should it be? Are we Christians willingly neglecting to meet together? Are we living our lives as if God and His Church didn't exist? I think for most of us, that is very far from the truth. Still, this time should cause us as Christians to take inventory of our lives before things were put on hold. How faithful were we to our assembly before the Coronavirus? How valuable was Jesus' church to us before we were "forbidden" from attending? For some of us, our attendance wasn't what it should be. Of course, if you were totally committed to gathering, then praise be to God! But we can all use this time to reset our priorities and re-center our entire lives around what truly matters: Christ and His church.
The writer of Hebrews added a purpose behind meeting together-- ministry to one another. He wrote that we are to "stir one another to love and good works." Even though we cannot assemble, we can still accomplish some of our duty through the wonder of technology. Are we taking advantage of the venues our church is offering to connect? We should be! This is a time to draw close to one another whenever possible, not pull apart. While it may be the habit of some to neglect assembly with and ministry to the body, may it never be said of us!
Christ's commands are still in effect. We live in unique times, and Romans 13 gives us clear commands about respecting governing authorities. So, while we may need to suspend assembling, we can still move forward in ministry and obey Christ. Love God. Love His Church. Be all in when this time of sickness has passed and even now!