While in college at Freed-Hardeman, Jessie and I went on a mission trip to the tiny island nation of Barbados. The island nation was made up of very nice tourist areas and not so nice areas where most of the people lived. We knocked doors all day and we met for worship at night.
I don’t remember the sermons, not even the one I preached, but I do remember the song that they sang every time we gathered for worship. The song’s chorus said, “What a thrill that I feel when I get together with God’s wonderful people.” Isn’t that great! That’s the way we should feel whenever we get together with God’s wonderful people.
It makes me sad and discouraged when God’s people choose not to be around God’s people as much as possible. God says we are to “consider one another” and “provoke one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24-25). Sometimes we look at that as an obligation which we must fulfill toward God. So, we drag ourselves to worship services when necessary. That’s just plain sad. God deserves more than obligatory praise—He deserves true adoration.
But the verse isn’t about what God needs. The verse is about what we need. The verse is about what the church needs. I think it is about more than just worship services. These verses describe our dedication to and love for our church family. Look at the way the CSB accurately translates the verses, “And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” To “watch out for” comes from the Greek word κατανοῶμεν which means “to think about carefully” (BDAG). To κατανοῶμεν, think carefully about, we must be around our church family and develop relationships so that we will care about them and therefore be able to think carefully about them.
This principle is seen in the fact that “elders were placed in every church” (Acts 14:23). The elders couldn’t shepherd people they weren’t with. So God designed his church to have an eldership in every congregation. This relationship is so important. Note that Acts 20:28 says “the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” These are relationships which should not be taken lightly.
This principle is seen in each congregation having people with various skills who are able to serve in various ways to harmoniously bring glory to God. Ephesians 4:11-12 tells us that God “himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ.” We all have a place to fill for God. God has one overall purpose for all our skills—1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”
Take every opportunity to be with your congregation. You need the church. The church needs you. God commanded you to be with the church. God has a place for you in the church. I know it can be difficult at times. People can be difficult. That’s why we have the incarnation. Anselm said sin brings a debt “which no one can pay except God, and no one out to pay except man: it is, therefore, necessary that a God-Man should pay it.” It is impossible for God, who alone in infinite majesty is adequate to atone for sin, to die. It is just as impossible for mankind to adequately compensate for sin through either life or death. Therefore, it was necessary for the Word, the Son of God, to add humanity to his person so that through his death he might be the adequate atoning sacrifice through penal substitution.
Do you realize how important it was and is to God that you be present in the congregation? Our presence was and remains so important that “the Word took on flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14). If Jesus left heaven to be with people, shouldn’t we leave home to be with God’s people? Jesus was and is excited to be among his people. Hebrews 2:11-13 says, “For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying: I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters; I will sing hymns to you in the congregation. Again, I will trust in him. And again, Here I am with the children that God gave me.”
Every time we get to be with God’s people, we should feel a thrill. It isn’t a burden. It is the culmination of so much of God’s work.
Anselm “Why God Became Man” Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008): 320.