Abandoning the Assembly
A few years ago a small town in southwest Missouri had a squirrel infestation. The local population had exploded and squirrels were everywhere. They had especially become a nuisance for home owners and businesses as the squirrels began making homes in attics. Even the local churches were affected. Each congregation struggled with how to deal with the infestation, and each came up with its own unique solution.
The Presbyterians contacted their local presbytery which told them that it was predestined that squirrels be in the church and that they would just have to live with them.
The Methodist congregation decided they should deal with the squirrels lovingly in the spirit of Charles Wesley. They humanely trapped the squirrels and released them in a park at the edge of town. Within three days, they were all back in the church, at which point the trap-and-release process would begin all over again.
The Baptists had the best solution. After three committee meetings and two business sessions, they decided to vote the squirrels in as members. Now they only see them at Christmas and Easter.
Let’s face it, a lot of Christians have become just like those Baptist squirrels—sporadic in their attendance to say the least.
Our text for this morning explicitly commands believers not to forsake assembling ourselves together. Unfortunately, some of the Christians in this community had begun to waver in their fidelity to the Body of Christ. When these Christians began to neglect the importance of church life, the apostle Paul recognized the danger and issued a challenge not to forsake the "gathering" of believers.
The possibility of a free-lance spirituality isolated from the fellowship of worshipers is as perilous today as it was then. We need to accept the challenge of gathering with the faithful for several reasons.
I. WE NEED TO PERSEVERE IN SPITE OF THE PRESENCE OF FLAWED FAITH
- whether the flawed faith is our own or someone else’s, the Apostle encourages us to remain faithful to the assembly of the brethren
- the word forsake in Hebrews 10:25 means to leave behind or to utterly abandon
- but the idea of forsaking in this passage is more than just about leaving
- in forsaking the assembly, we leave the congregation that we’ve left behind in a helpless situation—we leave them in a lurch
- ILLUS. The word lurch is a word that was first used in a 16th-century French dice game. To incur a lurch meant to be so far behind all the other players that you couldn’t win the game. In our modern English, it’s a word that has come to mean deserting someone in time of trouble.
- these people are not missing a Sunday or two because of illness or vacation
- neglecting the Body of Christ has become a regular, persistent habit
- let me offer some observations
A. SOME WILL FORSAKE THE ASSEMBLY BECAUSE THEY LOVE THE WORLD TOO MUCH
- Paul uses word forsake to describe the actions of Demas, who had once been an active partner in ministry
- “for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia.” (2 Timothy 4:10, NIV84)
- the things of the world will always be a temptation to us
- it we do not combat their enticements through regular worship, bible study, prayer and fellowship they will overwhelm us and we shall grow to love the world too much
- when we love the world too much, we will inevitably abandon the assembly
- ILLUS. In the mid-19th century Jenny Lind was know as “The Swedish Nightingale.” She achieved huge success in both Europe and America as an opera singer and concert performer. She was one of the most highly regarded vocalistd of her day. Her abilities earned her fame and fortune. Yet, at the height of her career she left the stage and never went back. Many years later a dear friend finally worked up the nerve to ask her why she abandoned the stage at the height of her success. “When every day, made me think less of this (laying a finger on the Bible) and nothing at all of that (pointing to the sunset), what else could I do?”
B. SOME WILL FORSAKE THE ASSEMBLY BECAUSE THEY WERE NEVER ONE OF US IN THE FIRST PLACE
- “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” (1 John 2:19, NIV84)
- in every generation there will be people who get religion but who don’t get Jesus
- they are the tares who are mixed in with the wheat
- the Apostle John reminds us that when the religious experience wares off, they often abandon the assembly
- too often we treat long-time none attenders as though they were back-sliders to be reclaimed rather than sinners who needed to be converted
. C. SOME WILL FORSAKE THE ASSEMBLY BECAUSE THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP IS TOO HIGH
- ““If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26–27, NIV84)
- the Christian faith is not for sissies
- to become a biblical Christian who fleshes out his or her faith in the world is a demanding, never-ending journey
- ILLUS. Like the Character Christian in John Bunyan’s allegory Pilgrim’s Progress, we discover that the journey is fraught with dangers, temptations and difficulties. At one point, Christian meets Mr. Worldly Wiseman who encourages him to find deliverance through legalism. He travels through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and visits the city of Vanity Fair with all of it’s temptations. He is captured by Giant Despair who imprisons him for a time in Doubting Castle. In the end, however, Christian make it to Beulah Land where, at the end of life, he crosses over into the Celestial City.
- ILLUS. British author G.K. Chesterton once said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried”
D. SOME WILL FORSAKE THE ASSEMBLY BECAUSE THEY FIND OFFENSES IN OTHERS
- some will forsake the assembly because they become offended by others in the church
- offended by the pastor’s preaching
- offended by the church’s theology (too conservative or too liberal)
- offended by fellow believer’s ‘hypocrisy’ real or imagined
- offended by the failings of fellow saints
- some come to the church with the mistaken notion that it is a provider of entitlements
- they shop for church as they do for fast food
- they want a little McChurch and might even suffer a few McSermons on Sunday
- but don't ask them for any McService or involvement
- they came asking a myriad of questions
- "Do you have a youth minister who can play with the kids?”
- “Do you have an attended nursery so we don't have to be bothered with the baby?”
- “Do you have an aerobics class and free counseling?"
- they came not seeking salvation, but membership in a club
- they want all the perks of body life but are unwilling to extend themselves in providing the same thing for others
- they are takers, not seekers, and when they don’t have all of their felt needs met, they find offence and forsake the assembly
E. SOME WILL FORSAKE THE ASSEMBLY BECAUSE THEY’VE GROWN WEARY OF WELL DOING
- ILLUS. The #1 reason people give for quitting church–especially the 18-22 year-old-crowd is "I simply wanted a break from church."
- we talk a lot about reaching the “un-churched” – but what about the “de-churched”– those who walked away from the church simply because they were tired of it
- “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:3, NIV84)
II. WE NEED TO PRACTICE THE PRESENCE OF GOD COLLECTIVELY
- our text does not identify the persons who had been habitually neglecting to join the assembly
- it simply states the error and then expresses a positive alternative
- the first portion of the text says to not stop gathering
- the implication is that we must gather together
- this of course begs the question: “Why does someone who names that name of Christ, need to fully participate in the Body of Christ as expressed in the life of a local New Testament Church?”
A. WE NEED THE EXPERIENCE OF CHURCH LIFE BECAUSE IT IS OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST
- this is the first reason why we need to attend church, and actually should be enough
- attendance in the local church is repeatedly assumed in the New Testament
- “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42, NIV84)
- “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people ... ” (Acts 20:7, NIV84)
- “When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present,” (1 Corinthians 5:4, NIV84)
B. WE NEED THE EXPERIENCE OF CHURCH LIFE TO PRAISE AND WORSHIP GOD TOGETHER
- first and foremost we assemble together for corporate worship
- we meet Christ in a special way in corporate worship that we cannot accomplish in private worship
- ILLUS. It is true that a person does not have to go to church to be a Christian. It is also true that a husband does not have to go home to his wife to be married, either. But in both cases, if he does not, he will have a very poor relationship.
C. WE NEED THE EXPERIENCE OF CHURCH LIFE TO HEAR THE WORD OF GOD
- “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,” (Ephesians 4:11, NIV84)
- one of the most important reasons for our consistent attendance in the local church is that it is here we receive the teaching of the Word of God
- consider again what David writes: “Behold, I have longed after thy precepts” (Ps. 119:40)
- in stark contrast to the common dismissing of Bible Study, David’s use of the words longed after are most instructive
- this word speaks of an intense hunger
- David was broken hearted when deprived of God’s Word
- how many of us are broken hearted when we can’t be under the preaching and teaching of the Word?
- mark it down: the consistent Christian is one who has an insatiable appetite for God’s Word
D. WE NEED THE EXPERIENCE OF CHURCH LIFE TO EDIFY YOURSELF
- “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:” (Ephesians 4:11–12, KJV 1900)
- the word edifying means to build up and refers to the building of a structure
- how do we build up our Christian life?
- we build up our spiritual life like we build up our physical body–through exercise
- just as exercising our body builds out our physical muscles, so too, exercising our faith through worship and bible study, and prayer, and fellowship, and ministry builds up our spiritual life
- the Church is the Body of Christ and each and every one of us is vital to the structure
- when a believer forsakes the assembly it’s like pulling a brick out of a wall
- let enough believers forsake the assembly and the structure comes tumbling down
E. WE NEED THE EXPERIENCE OF CHURCH TO ENCOURAGE OTHER BELIEVERS
- the Christian faith is not lived and practiced in isolation, but in relationship
- notice the words one another in verse 24 and verse 25
- the Apostle commands us to consider on another and to exhort one another
- there are many other places in the New Testament where the phrase one another is found
- we are to love one another (John 13:34-35)
- we are to be kind to one another, and forgive one another (Eph. 4:32)
- we are to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2)
- we are to confess our sin to one another and pray for another (James 5:12)
- ye know, I have a suspicion that if Christians were really serious about doing all these thing for one another, that we’d never ever witness a church splitting, or members getting mad and leaving, or congregations being divided and people taking sides on issues that have nothing to do with Kingdom work
- we need to be encouragers of the brethren and not discouragers
- we need to encourage each other to have a deeper love for Christ
- we need to encourage each other to have a deeper love for fellow Christians
- we need to encourage each other to have a deeper love for the lost
- we need to encourage each other to have a deeper love for the Word of God
F. WE NEED THE EXPERIENCE OF CHURCH TO BE A TESTIMONY TO OTHERS
- I am grieved when I’ve seen Christians forsake their responsibility of church attendance in such a way that unbelievers see it
- what message does that send?
- how is this a testimony of our commitment and love for Christ?
- is our faith and spiritual life important only when it is convenient and doesn’t interfere with our schedule?
- is our church life just a satellite that revolves around everything else, or does everything else revolve around it?
- what is really at the core of our “universe”?
III. WE NEED TO EXPRESS OUR COMMITMENT IN A TANGIBLE WAY
- what we truly believe, we act on
- if we believe in the assembly then our attendance will either substantiate or contradict our belief
- church members who offer anemic excuses need to be confronted with their hypocrisy toward their spiritual family
- I believe in the church gathering because Jesus gave Himself for His church
- I believe in the church gathering because Jesus calls us to worship as a testimony to a lost world that we are serious about our commitment to Him
- I have never read in the Bible where Jesus placed His blessings on the invisible church that practiced absenteeism
- if we take seriously our commitment Sunday after Sunday, then the world would stop yawning at the church and start listening to the gospel
- the witness of the church is never stronger than when it is gathered together
- ILLUS. Can a nose be better off without a face? Can a child be a better child without a family? These are absurd ideas. Yet, the believer who claims that he or she doesn't need to validate his or her commitment through worship is making an equally absurd statement.
The apostle Paul adds a pointed reminder that we need to be actively involved in the gathered church especially as we see "the day drawing near" (v. 25). The "day" is a reference to the day of the Lord, a time of accountability and judgment. When Jesus comes to judge His church, how will it be with those whose names appear on membership rolls but whose hearts seldom worshiped Him?