For the immediate future, our church is providentially hindered from fully obeying the command of Hebrews 10:24–25: “And 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 drawing near.” However, there is a way for us to fulfil the intention of the command. As I hope to show, there are other commandments we can also keep. But first things first. What is behind this command and why is it so important?
The writer penned this letter out of deep concern for the impending judgement of Jerusalem, which came to pass in 70 AD. His concern was for these Hebrew Christians who were facing, and who would continue to face, increasing pressure to deny Christ.
For nine chapters he exhorted and encouraged them to persevere. He reminded them of the supremacy of Jesus Christ (chapter 1), and of his tender compassion and tenacious commitment to intercede for his people (chapters 2–4). He proved the superiority of Jesus over Melchizedek and over the entire old covenant sacrificial and Levitical order (chapters 5–9). In chapter 10, he brings his Christocentric appeal to a crescendo telling his readers that they “have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all” and reminding them that he has “sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet” (see 10:10–13).
But our writer, with pastoral sensitivity, understood that this note of Christian victory could be drowned out by other noises. And so he appealed: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” and, “let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering” (10:22–23). The writer knew all too well that our hearts lag behind what we know to be true. He knew that the confidence behind our confession does tend to waver. He knew that we all need help to persevere. Hence, his exhortation to “meet together” so we can “encourage each other.”
The question for us is, how do we obey this in lockdown? I’m glad you asked. The writer to the Hebrews is glad you asked. He answers that we are to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (10:24). That is, we are to give serious thought to how we can do so. The elders have been giving a lot of thought to this.
The current lockdown is not a result of persecution. President Ramaphosa has not targeted Christian churches in an attempt to muzzle the gospel. On the contrary, the government is fulfilling its God-given mandate to protect its citizens by enforcing a temporary lockdown. Simply put, the government has exercised legitimate authority in preventing churches (and similar religious and social organisations) from gathering. There is little justification from this text to ignore state stipulations in this regard.
But while the state can (and has) exercised legitimate authority in preventing us (temporarily) from gathering, the state cannot mandate that churches cease encouraging one another. While we are providentially hindered from gathering, we must still consider, in the present situation, how best to stir one another to love and good works and how to encourage one another. We cannot do it in the corporate gathering, but we must not neglect this command.
One way to do this outside of corporate gathering is in smaller groups and by visiting one another, but we are prevented even from doing that for the next three weeks. However, we live in a time in which we have easy access to phones, instant messaging, and email.
For the duration of the lockdown period, we want to call on members to obey Hebrews 10:24–25—not by continuing to gather but by continuing to encourage one another and stir one another to love and good works. Use this opportunity to be in contact with one another.
Send messages of encouragement. Find out how you can pray for one another. Use your sanctified imagination as to how you can encourage others to not waver in their faith. Consider sharing, via your social media outlet, your own struggles and encouragements. I spoke today with a church member who said that this lockdown has been a mixed bag. On one hand, financial concerns have loomed. On the other, I could almost see his grin as he said this has been a wonderful time spiritually and relationally for his family. He spoke of them reading Scripture and talking and praying together. And, after a very long day of some frustrating and difficult stuff, I was greatly encouraged in my faith.
To this end—encouraging one another—Stuart will be emailing to our members a full list of the current church membership, with contact numbers and email addresses included. You may already have access to the digital church directory, but if not, use this list as a prayer list and as a means of contacting fellow members to encourage them.
This morning when I awoke, I began to pray a simple prayer for every family in our church, “Lord, please protect the Amoas from this virus.” “Please protect the Andersons from this virus.” “Please protect Francie from this virus.” Need I go on?
I tried to do it from memory, until my 59-year-old brain gave in, at which point I consulted the church directory. My point is that, though I cannot see you, I can pray for you. And you can do the same.
So, though we cannot completely fulfil the command to “meet together,” we can still obey the commandment to encourage one another and to pray one for one another (James 5:16).
What a joy it will be when eventually we gather together again at the church hall! As we then greet one another with the right elbow of fellowship, we will say, “Thank you for stirring me to love and good works when otherwise I might have wavered. Thank you for keeping the commands that you could keep.”