Most members of the body of Christ are familiar with the oft-quoted statement of Hebrews 10:25, where it is written: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” This passage has often been used as a proof-text for the necessity of Christians being at every service. Brethren have been accused of forsaking the assembly for all kinds of different reasons: some legitimate, some not.
Unfortunately, it is clear that many of our brethren do not truly understand what the writer was admonishing his brethren to do (or not do) in this verse. The word “forsake” comes from the Greek word egkataleipō meaning, “to abandon, leave behind, leave helpless, desert.” The word is only used a handful of times in Scripture: among the most notable is Paul’s statement concerning Demas in 2 Timothy 4:9-10 that Demas had “forsaken” him.
Within the context of the book, it must be understood that this letter is being written to Jewish Christians who are considering trying to go back to the already destroyed and completely non-functional Old Testament system. The entire letter has been geared toward showing them how much better they are under Christ, the shortcomings of the Old Law and the lessons from days gone by that they must not forget.
Now, at the climax of the letter in chapters 10-12, the author is pleading with them not to give up and turn back. Therefore, he tells them in verse 25 not to abandon the “gathering of ourselves together.” They must not abandon their brothers and sisters in Christ who are still trying and struggling to remain where God wants them to be, even though some have already left (“as the manner of some is”). Instead, they should be encouraging, uplifting, and strengthening one another with each passing day. Now is not the time to quit, the writer says, it is the time to grow stronger!
He continues with the admonition to recognize what will happen if they abandon God and their brethren: there is nothing left but condemnation (Vs. 26-31). He follows that up by calling on them to remember what they have already come through (Vs. 32-34), to not cast away their confidence (Vs. 35-36), but to keep living by faith (Vs. 37-39).
Brethren, we do ourselves, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and the Scriptures a grave injustice when we try to use this passage of Scripture to brow-beat an individual for missing a service. Do not accuse a brother or sister who is doing their best to serve God, but is sick (or having to deal with a family member who is gravely ill) of abandoning God and his people. Do not accuse a person who loves God and wants desperately to serve him, but has to work occasionally during a service on Sunday to provide for his/her family, as being one who is abandoning God.
Am I saying that it is not important to be at every service possible? Certainly not. Am I saying we shouldn’t confront those who are shirking their responsibilities by putting luxury and leisure before God? By no means. However, there are many ways to illustrate from Scripture the need to be present with the saints, the blessings and responsibilities that are a part of it, and the dangers that come from ignoring it. Many times those that struggle the most with these things are ones that are spiritual babes in Christ. They are immature in their understanding of Scripture and are still needing to develop the knowledge and understanding necessary to be what God wants them to become. The last thing they need is a well-meaning, but misguided, member accusing them of abandoning God because they were not present for a service.Instead, we need to teach by Scriptural example and personal lifestyle; encourage and strengthen through time and effort; and with patience and long-suffering bring that child of God to maturity.
Brethren, “let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works” (Heb. 10:24). In doing so, let us utilize this verse in the context in which it was given. This beautiful passage is one of the greatest places to go when dealing with a brother or sister who is considering giving up on God, or “quitting the church,” because of things that are going on in their lives. Use it for them, try to help them to see vividly the decision they are about to make, and with all your might try to keep them living by faith. But let it never be said of us that we have laid a stumbling-block before a brother trying to do his best, and become better, by laying such a serious charge before him through a misuse of Scripture.