Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.
Imagine you’re a TV news reporter or documentary filmmaker conducting “man in the street” interviews, randomly asking passers-by, “Do you attend church?” To those who say, “Yes,” you ask why. Your ears ring with predictable answers: “Because I love God.” “Because it’s a good thing to do.” “I was raised to go to church.” “I want to learn more about God.” “I’m teaching my children to do what’s right.” “It makes me happy.” “Because my parents make me do it.” And so on.
These replies are good inasmuch as they promote exposure to godly knowledge and experiences. Yet none captures why the Bible says to assemble regularly. Hebrews teaches we come together for one purpose: to spur one another toward love and good deeds. If we shift our concept of habitual worship, making this its central theme, we view church in a surprisingly new light. What we expect of it and what it expects of us are radically altered. Other reasons take a back seat to the church’s main objective: encouragement.
Remember, We’re Members
Paul urges the Corinthians to see the church as diverse members of a single organism. “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12.12) When parts go missing, the church ceases to function as a whole. The same happens when they get out of joint, assuming the same role. “If the whole body were an eye, how could it hear? If it were an ear, how could it smell?” Paul asks, confirming the church’s cross-functionality. “But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.”
It’s time to remember we’re members and without us, the body can never attain full potential. Yes, parts of it insist we’re not needed or useful—congregations and denominations are full of them. Yet their opinions directly contradict God’s Word. Paul insists every believer belongs, contributes something, and qualifies for service. The eye can’t tell the hand, “I don’t need you!” The head can’t tell the feet, “I don’t need you!” “On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.” (1 Corinthians 12.22-23) Surely, we can, and must, take Paul’s word above contemporary, fear-based bigotry and dogma.
Doing Our Part
In another brilliant discourse on the church, Paul says every member has specific talents and responsibilities “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4.12-13) His “works of service” squares perfectly with Hebrews’ “love and good deeds.” When we turn our minds from what the church isn’t doing for us to doing our part for the church, there’s no good reason to stay away and an outstanding one to be there. Unless we’re there, the church won’t achieve unity. It will never mature into fullness in Christ.
“Then,” Paul says, “we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” (4.14) Do we really get this? Withdrawing from church causes the very thing that keeps us away. We fall for deceitful schemes, when we should hold our ground to help fellow believers—and us—grow up. Hebrews emphatically says not to give up coming together, as others do. No doubt, at church we find invaluable encouragement to love and serve our neighbors. But let’s never forget the church needs us to come to it as much as we need to go to church.
Paul teaches the church is one body we are its members. Reaching its full potential in Christ depends on each of us playing the part we've been given. The church needs us as much as we need it.
(Tomorrow: Stumbling Toward Triumph)