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A Call to Keep Hope Alive

When we forsake the strict traditions of legalism and approach our members with love and grace, there is much good we can accomplish.
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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. (Hebrews 10:25 KJV).

What would you say if I told you Hebrews 10:25 is about something other than being present at Meeting and other ecclesial events? Would that surprise you? Have you often used this verse to admonish others (or maybe yourself) to show up? To be at the Memorial Service or Bible class every week? Is this a command to go to church? Should ecclesias take attendance? These questions deserve further consideration.

Now, I’m not suggesting that getting together and taking attendance have no merit. They’re good things. Fellow believers need to meet to worship God and encourage each other. We want to know about our members who are sick, struggling, or traveling so we may offer prayers and help if possible. We also want to discern when someone consistently avoids the meeting so we can be extra caring. And it’s prudent to keep an attendance record of those who might be subject to the military draft. 

However, this verse has more profound thoughts beyond these practices. To study fresh aspects of Hebrews 10:25, we must bear in mind the context of the passage and some Greek words and their parts of speech.

The Context

A good start to assessing the context is to read through the whole of Hebrews chapter 10. When the anonymous author wrote this book, severe persecution against the Christians from both the Jews and the Romans had begun (Hebrews 10:32-33).

The author exhorts them to “Encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today’ lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13).1 “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.” (Hebrews 10:35). Some had already abandoned their faith (elpidos). Thus, the writer admonishes them to “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope (elpidos), without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23). 

As we see above, the word elpidos is translated as “faith” in some Scriptures and “hope” in others.2 (See also: Acts 23:6; 24:15; 26:6; 28:20; Romans 5:2; 8:19-25; Ephesians 1:18; I Thessalonians 4:13; Titus 2:13). These all refer to resurrection and being in the Kingdom. So, in Hebrews 10:25, the subject is about standing strong concerning the hope in the resurrection and inciting one another to love and good deeds as we await the day. What day? The Day of the Lord!

When the Book of Hebrews was written, ecclesias met in small groups in homes, warehouses, or on riverbanks. It wasn’t until the 4th century that Emperor Constantine ordered the building of churches.3 It appears, therefore, that the writer to the Hebrews is not talking about gathering in church buildings. In fact, the word “church” or ekklesia in the New Testament is not a building. 

The Noun

Verse 25 (KJV) says not to forsake the “assembling of ourselves together.” This phrase in English is just one word in Greek: episunagoge.4 It’s a noun, not a verb, and should be translated as “the gathering.” “Together” is not in the original text. The only other place in the Bible where the noun occurs is II Thessalonians 2:1-2. There, it is also talking about a specific gathering—our gathering to Christ on his Day, not getting together in a church building:

Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from our composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2).

The Verb 

The related word, episunago,5 is a verb meaning “to gather together.” It’s used in Mark 1:33-34 and Luke 12:1—people gathered together to Jesus. In Matthew 23:37 (also Luke 13:34), Jesus wishes to gather the people of Jerusalem under his wings like a mother hen. Notice how these references happen in the days of Christ’s first coming but do entail some sort of gathering of people to Christ. Finally, Matthew 24:30-31 (and Mark 13:26-27) use eposunago to describe how the angels will gather the elect to the Judgment Seat, clearly about the Day of the Lord: 

And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET BLAST, and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. 

An Essential Message

In both instances where episunagoge, the noun, appears, the context is all about the Day of the Lord and petitioning the brothers and sisters to have patience and endurance, not throwing away their confidence, nor being deceived by those who say the Day had already come. It’s about being aware of the apostasy, and not departing from the Truth. The warning is: 

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26-27).

Note in these verses the lack of mercy available to those who stop believing. While meeting with our brothers and sisters is a crucial concept, it is only part of our devotion to following Christ. It’s essential that we maintain our zeal for the Truth. It is our earnest hope to gather to Christ at his return. Hebrews 10 heartens us to retain and support others to do so, too. The Green Hymn Book, Hymn 140, voices what our mindset should be:

Though our pilgrimage may be dreary,
This is not our resting place;
Shall we of the way be weary
When we see the Master’s face?
No; By faith anticipating,
In this hope our souls rejoice;
We, his promised advent waiting,
Long to hear his welcome voice.

The Ins and Outs of Being There or Not

The writer to the Hebrews urges the ecclesia to help troubled brothers and sisters and those who show hints they may be in a faith crisis. Our goal is to do what we can to foster a vibrant ecclesia full of zeal to be together and do the work of the LORD. The advice is to “consider how to encourage one another in love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24). Let’s explore what love and good deeds look like in a healthy, active ecclesia.

Although the major thrust of Hebrews 10 is to not give up on the Truth, we should also consider that one of the first signs a person is contemplating leaving is a decrease in attendance. So that’s the opening we have to help our brother or sister lovingly. Even if someone is attending, there’s often no real engagement in the service—tuned out, not opening Bibles or hymnbooks, attentive only to their cellphones, high-tailing it out of the hall at the end of the service. In these instances, a checkmark in the attendance book is meaningless and equally as worrisome as non-attendance. 

The statistics and the appearance of spiritual crises are merely symptoms of any number of problematic situations. It could be depression, disbelief, marital and family troubles, debt, feeling overlooked, inability to contribute, harassment, disagreement about gender roles in the ecclesia, not having “proper” clothing, lack of transportation, and maybe even having difficulty revealing reportable occurrences. Sometimes, disagreement with ecclesial policies can make staying away seem easier than working to reconcile.

The exact reason may not be discernable, and this list is by no means complete, but we need to attempt to sort it out. The ecclesia must reach out and try to understand the fundamental problem, not simply react to the number of missed Sundays or apathetic behavior. Selecting suitable mentors and methods of reaching out, as well as strictly keeping the promise of confidentiality, are essential. Remember, acting “sooner rather than later” is the best way to avoid entrenched behaviors that are difficult to ameliorate.

If any actions taken to remedy the problem are handled in an unloving and inappropriate manner, the brother or sister’s resolve to stay away may only be solidified. Some problems take more than a few weeks to settle—patience is fundamental. Give them the gift of time. There have been occasions when members who drifted off have returned years later. While they are alive, there is always hope God will prick their hearts. 

Be Diligent

The appeal in Hebrews 10:24-25 calls for serious thought about the welfare of other brothers and sisters—to encourage them by love and good works to not abandon their hope of joining Christ in the Kingdom. Perseverance in cherishing our fellow worshippers should be a community endeavor. Here are some practical suggestions for the ecclesia to implement: 

  • Have counseling plans in place or a professional counselor on call.6
  • Match mentors to the needs of those deemed in danger of leaving.
  • Hold regular social activities and invite everyone.
  • Be hospitable. Open your homes.
  • Arrange a Meal Train to alleviate exertion during a rough time. 
  • Set up a system to send cards and emails and make phone calls.
  • Recognize every member’s special occasions: birthday, baptism and anniversary dates. 
  • Reach out with friendship, not admonitions.
  • Give positive advice rather than criticism.
  • Train yourself to be empathetic to others’ plights.
  • Offer transportation to Meeting, Bible Class and Bible Schools.
  • Pray for and with our brothers and sisters who are struggling.
  • Engage in the Tidings Magazine EcclesiaSafe program.
  • Positively reward Sunday School and CYC attendance for our young people. 

Love Bears All Things

What was good advice for the early Christians is good advice today. When we forsake the strict traditions of legalism and approach our members with love and grace, there is much good we can accomplish. These efforts support our earnest goal to be in Christ’s Kingdom on that Day for ourselves and our loved ones. 

The one who abides in love abides in God and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment. (I John 4:16-17).

Melinda Flatley,
Pittsburgh Ecclesia, PA 

  1. All Scriptural citations are taken from the New American Standard Bible unless specifically noted.
  2. W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1984, 1986, Thomas Nelson publishers, pp. 222 and 311-312.
  3. https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/november/why-and-when-did-christians-start-constructing-special.html.
  4. W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1984, 1986, Thomas Nelson publishers, pp. 42 and 263.
  5. Ibid.
  6. See: https://tidings.org/articles/a-case-study-how-one-ecclesia-started-a-counseling-program/
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