Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Community Covers a Thousand Threats

Community Covers a Thousand Threats

Those simple words, once safe and sweet, now haunt me at times. I remember discovering (it seemed) two verses at age seventeen. I memorized them, working each phrase into my adolescent mind and heart. Now they have taken on a whole new meaning almost two decades later.

Sadly, I have seen it happen over and over: how neglecting real, consistent, committed Christian community goes hand in hand with a cooling heart for Christ.

It often begins with taking corporate worship lightly — with just a few absences here or there. It progresses to a proclivity to not show whenever the slightest excuse presents itself. Soon this reality we call “habit” is working against a healthy soul, rather than for it.

Rarely have I seen someone who is seemingly warm to Jesus walk away all at once. Usually it’s included a slow distancing to the means of God’s grace called “fellowship.” But week in, week out, life-on-life, non-negotiable Christian community covers a thousand threats:

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 approaching. (Hebrews 10:24–25)

1. The time is now, not later.

When I “found” this passage years ago, I assumed it had a future intensifier at the end: “. . . and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” In other words, it’s as if Hebrews were saying, “When you see signs of the coming of Christ drawing near, then be all the more diligent in Christian fellowship.” But that is misunderstanding the verse.

This idea of “the Day approaching” is not future for us today, or even future for the original readers, but present. Every reader and every hearer of this text, then and now, have lived in a day when the Day was already approaching. The New Testament is clear about whether we are living in the last days, and the first two verses of Hebrews make that as plain as any.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. (Hebrews 1:1–2)

The “as” in Hebrews 10:25 (“all the more as you see the Day approaching”) is not the “as” of “as it happens some day in the future.” Rather, it is the “as” of “as you see it happening now.” We are living in the last days already. If we only had eyes to see, we would know that life is already as serious and urgent as it can get. Eternity is now at stake, and Hebrews wants us to be uncompromising in our diligence about life together as Christians. Don’t hold anything back for future days that feel more pressing. The time is now. You will never need the church more than you do today.

2. God calls us to “provoke” each other for good.

Perhaps you’ve heard someone observe how God filled the New Testament with “one another” commands. You simply cannot be a Christian, in New Testament terms, on your own. Life together is vital.

But what Hebrews 10:24–25 calls us to is not just life together, but encouraging or stirring each other up — literally, provoking each other — to love and good deeds.

Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works . . . encouraging one another . . .

How does “provoking” (in the good sense) or inspiring each other to love and good deeds happen? Through knowing each other. There’s no “how” in the original Greek. To translate it literally,

Let us consider one another to the provoking of love and good works . . .

The object of “consider” is “one another.” In other words, know each other. Get close. Stay close. Go deep. And consider particular persons, as you interact with them, such that you exhort and inspire (provoke!) them to love and good deeds specifically fitting to their personality, temperament, and circumstances in life.

Here we taste how potent, and personal, is fellowship as a means of grace in the Christian life. As partners under God’s word, and in prayer, a brother who knows me as me, and not as another generic human, can speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) with specificity into my life, and give me a particular word “such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

3. Healthy Christians make fellowship a habit.

We all are tempted at times (if not often) to neglect, or leave behind, our meeting together. Why? Real relationships are not easy. They often are uncomfortable given all our faults and sinful tendencies. It’s very easy to make a habit of not meeting together. Again, those haunting words:

. . . not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some . . .

God created habits, and with a little bit of observation and thought, it’s easy to see why this concept, and reality, of habit is so helpful: habits free our focus so we can give attention to, and be more fully aware in the moment, while carrying out regular tasks and actions. But our sin can take the good mechanism of habit captive for its purposes.

But habits not only help us live in the moment by minimizing unnecessary distraction; they also keep us from having to make the “right decision” over and over again. The power of good habits, and the danger in bad habits, is they save us from regular reconsideration and the energy-tax of decision-making.

Deciding whether to go to God’s word first thing in the morning isn’t a productive or helpful decision to make over and over again every day. And whether to meet together with fellow believers for corporate worship isn’t something to reconsider every Saturday night or Sunday morning. Or whether to be present at small group during the week.

Get habit working for your spiritual health, not against it. Make the decision, barring rare exceptions, to be there. Make the commitment. Form the habit, so that it’s not even a question to ask over and over again. And then help others do the same.

When You’re “Not Feeling It”

For Christians, the single most important weekly habit is corporate worship. This is where the means of God’s grace (hearing his voice in his word, having his ear in prayer, and belonging to his body in the church) come together in the same space and time weekly and uniquely.

Don’t let “not feeling it today” keep you from what you need most when you’re “not feeling it.” God doesn’t typically warm cooling hearts with unexpected lightning bolts, but with his divinely appointed, clearly revealed means of grace — which come together distinctively in corporate worship.



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