Doubt like worry have a way of spiralling out of control and taking many with them. Hope on the other hand can keep our feet on the ground and our mind set on things above. The purpose of meeting together as explained and applied in Hebrews is so that we wouldn’t turn back from the faith, and remind and encourage each other in the faith (Heb 10:25). Therefore, my aim is not to address the practical measures involved in getting back to church but rather the purpose for doing so. This short address is connected by implications to the address on “how to depend on God” (my suggestion would be for you to read that first).
Historically, the Church was understood as a spiritual reality rather than a physical structure, rightly placing the emphasis on the gathering of God’s people rather than the physical location in which they gathered. The focus was on what took place in the gatherings, here the people of God gathered for worship, recognising that personal discipleship complements the regular gathering for worship but it was never to replace the necessity to gather.
The exhortation to not neglect the meeting together (Heb 10:25) explains what we miss and can lack from not gathering together as the Church if indeed the Church is able to fulfil this inter-dependence (How to depend on God). As Psalm one explains, our personal devotion and commitment to the Lord is important for others in the fellowship, therefore when individual believers are walking close to God (Psalm 1), something real is being missed by not gathering together (sharing in the fruit produced by others, Psalm 1:3), however when this (Ps 1:1-2) isn’t happening then no person misses (sharing and sharing in the spiritual fruit) what they didn’t have in the first place.
Therefore, it is increasingly important to address what people are actually missing when they are missing from the fellowship of God’s people, and let’s remember that these words (Heb 10:25) were written long before Covid-19 and a lock-down. Something real and important is being missed by us when we are missing from the gathering of God’s people, but what is often noticed in the lives of those missing the purposes of gathering together as the Church, are the symptoms which become apparent in a person’s life when they purposely miss gathering together as the church for the purposes which the Word of God explains.
Why worry increases
Anxiety might be seen in someone biting their nails or worse, and we can identify that the biting of nails is the result of worry, but when we are missing gathering together, we often miss the cause of the anxiety and focus only on the result. When this happens and when a person seeks to address this issue, they can often put the cart before the horse. A thirsty person drinks water, a hungry person eats food and a worrier can know that they are to set their mind on Christ and the things above, but they can often fail to do this because worry seeks to stop a person from committing to the truth they say they believe. When the church meets for the purposes which God decrees, such weaknesses in faith are challenged and encouragement from the Word of God will be found. The sinfulness of worry needs to be addressed and sometimes we can believe that because it hasn’t been explicitly addressed as a sin we can believe that it isn’t. When this happens, the result is that we don’t address it as a sin and therefore we try to deal with worry without repenting and therefore we never deal with it properly.
Doubt and doubting
Doubt is unbelief and therefore easier to identify as a sin, in turn, this should lead us to repent of it as the first means of dealing with it. Then we can begin reading the Word of God and go to church to fulfil the purposes of gathering because we know that they make a difference. Asaph in Psalm 73 realised that the only time he could make sense of anything was when he was back in the sanctuary, “But when I thought to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end”(Ps73:16-17). Or like David in Psalm 62, if you believe that God is greater than any trouble you could face, then the real source of your doubts is not having God in the situation you find yourself. David said “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I,” he acknowledges that troubles are troublesome, but what we see is that the source of security is not the removal of those troubles but being with God in those troubles. In other words, the real source of doubt and insecurity is being anywhere that is away from the rock. Will God be there when I need Him the most? When we live believing that the circumstance is greater than God and our doubt being the indication of it, it provides the necessary reflection on our relationship with God that we need.
What then do we make of the doubts which are caused by what we know about God and what we experience? God takes our limitations into consideration (Ex 17:7) and hears us when we doubt. These doubts can often be intensified precisely because of what we know about God and what He has done in the past, and why He doesn’t seem to do the same today, but this is quickly addressed by understanding that God works all things according to His own will. John Flavel, taught that God’s intent is not our immediate welfare but our eternal blessing, with this in mind we are able to see exactly what gap doubt fills in the life of the believer. It seeks to force our concern on our immediate satisfaction and comfort, God has promised to take care of our needs and calls us to occupy our mind and heart with seeking first His kingdom and righteousness. Focusing on the eternal is different than believing in eternity and what God has prepared for those who love Him. The belief can simply be called to mind when we have to give an account of what we believe, whereas conscious belief, or in other words, a focused belief is what keeps our mind filled with the right thoughts.
Spiritual needs and the confession of hope
The gathering of God’s people should benefit all who gather and the way to do this, as taught in Hebrews, is by encouraging one another in the faith. Since faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Rom 10:17), we often only understand this as how people will come to faith initially, but it also speaks of how Christians will grow in the faith. We don’t get our faith from somewhere else after we are saved, we continue to receive it from the Word of God. As we consider this encouragement we clearly see that the primary thing being shared is their faith in God and the promise of His coming (Heb 10:25). Being around people who believe the same thing, praying together, singing together and whose fellowship is founded on their union with Christ is what we miss when we neglect the gathering or are unable to gather through social distancing measures. It may be possible that you miss other things, and it just might be possible to miss (as in not notice) what we are actually missing.
There are perhaps many who will not identify that their lack of maturity or spiritual decline is connected to not gathering for the purpose for which God wills, which is not to be confused with a personal connection to believers. The book of Hebrews addresses those who do not go on to maturity, though they have been enlightened, having tasted the heavenly gift, even shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the age to come, to only then fall away. It is impossible to restore these people again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding Him up to contempt. (Heb 6:4-6)
Called out, Called Together and to stay together
The Church is brought forth by the Word of God in every sense, it is not a human idea that made its way into something we practice, neither is it founded on shared interests. Instead, we are the people called out of the world by the Word of God and brought in the gathering of God’s newly formed community, who continue to gather in order to worship God in Spirit and Truth. Our worship of God is what identifies our new identity as one who belongs to Jesus, therefore neglecting to meet together is like turning your back on your identity, its either that or your true identity is being revealed as one who once attended but never really belonged. This is a matter that the letter of Hebrews does not overlook, to put it another way, your walk identifies you.
What we need from each other is the reminder and encouragement to keep the faith and we do this by gathering. This is why we are exhorted to hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful (Heb 10:23). When our desire is to do the word of God, following through the will of God from belief into actions we will be convinced of who Jesus is, what Jesus did, and what He taught (John 7:17), therefore, the gathering of the Church is faith in action, fulfilling the will of God. Our need to keep the faith is connected to encouraging others to do the same and this is what ought to happen when the Church gathers.