Living As a Family

(Hebrews 10.23-25)

Jason Procopio

We’re in the third week of our Advent series. During the month of December, as we near the family holiday of Christmas, we’re taking a break from our series in Luke to see what it means to be the family of God. The first week we looked at what it means to belong to the family of God. We talked about the fact that if we are Christians, then we are all members of the body of Christ, and that as a local body, no member is more important than any other. And we saw at the end that God’s plan for his people is never laid out in the Bible as coming to church and listening to sermons; his plan is not that we come to church, but that we belong to the church.

Like it or not, this is the way the Bible talks about the church: it’s not a bunch of Christians undertaking rogue evangelism all by themselves. The church is meant to flesh itself out in local bodies of believers who live the gospel with one another and who, through the gospel lived out with one another, fulfill the mission that Christ gave us to make disciples of all nations.

So we laid out the general principle, and this week we’re going to take it a little further: if we’re meant to belong to the local family of God, then what does it look like to live as the local family of God, here at Eglise Connexion? 

I’ll invite you to turn with me to the letter to the Hebrews, chapter 10; our main text will be verses 23 to 25, but we’ll start reading at verse 19.

Context

While you’re going there, just a bit of context. Hebrews is a theologically dense letter—the first nine and a half chapters are all about how God promised salvation to his people through the Old Testament prophets, how he foreshadowed and predicted Christ’s coming in the Old Testament, and how he made good on those promises through the coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus came, he lived, he died, he was raised and he ascended in order to purchase our salvation for us, to grant us access to God’s presence. And we have in him absolute assurance that through his blood we have perfect access to a God who loves us and who has made us his own.

So given that reality (v. 23):

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

So there’s the goal: we are to hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering. We went to Marseille this past summer on vacation and took a boat our of the old port into rocky seas for an hour or so. It was a windy day, so that boat was jumping all over the place—it was a blast, but a little unnerving. It was a relief to come back into the port at the end of it, and to feel the waves calm down, and even better when the boat was tied to the dock. It was a relief to finally feel steady again. 

That’s what he’s talking about: we have sure footing on which to found our hope, for he who promised is faithful. So it doesn’t depend on our ability to be perfect, but on God, who is perfect for us in Christ.

The thing is, we forget that so easily. We’re so inclined to desire independence and self-sufficiency that we think, “I can do this,” and when we see that we can’t do this, we panic—we forget that all that time we don’t need to try to “do this” on our own. He’s done it for us

But he knows that we all have a tendency to forget these things: it’s hard to believe that there’s nothing we can do to make God love us any more than he already does. It’s hard for us to remember and really believe that Christ really has opened this “new and living way” for us, that we really can draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” It’s hard for us to hold fast to the confession of our hope WITHOUT WAVERING. He knows it’s going to be a struggle. 

Brothers and sisters, that struggle is what the Christian life is. The Christian life is the constant fight to remember who God is for us in Christ: to remember it, to believe it, and to pursue it. This is what it looks like to live as a Christian.

So what the author is going to say next is a response to that reality: given our tendency to forget, to hold the confession of our hope loosely, to waver, how do we remember that he who promised is faithful? How do we believe all that God is for us in Christ? How do we pursue God on his terms, as the one who has granted us life?

The answer? We do it together.

 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 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. 

So for the rest of our time we’re just going to try and unpack these two verses. We’re going to take them bit by bit. And I’ll just tell you where we’re going: 

The author has given us the goal: to continue drawing near to God, to hold fast the confession of our hope, to remember that God is faithful in his promises to us, to remember the hope we have in him. That’s the goal. That’s the Christian life.

Next he gives us a tool to help us get to that goal: stir up one another to love and good works. 

Then, he tells us how to use that tool: first, by meeting regularly and intentionally; second, by encouraging one another.

And lastly, he tells us why we need to start doing this now.

The tool: stir one another up to love and good works (v. 24)

 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works...

We hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, in part, by stirring one another up to love and good works—that’s love for God and love for others, and obedience to God’s commands. I say “in part” because some of this is obviously individual—the Bible calls us all to a personal relationship with God; all of us are called to learn from God by meditating on his Word, studying it, praying it, responding to it. We remember our hope in Christ, and hold fast to our confession of faith in him, when we come before him, alone with nothing but the Bible on our knees, and ask him, “Father, speak to me through your Word. I need to hear your voice, because your words bring life. Help me to see you clearly.” These are things I have to do—no one can do them for me. 

But at the same time, I can’t do it alone. Children have to do homework when they get home at night; but of course that doesn’t mean that they don’t need to go to school. We saw two weeks ago that the church is the body of Christ;  we are individually members of that body; and the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you” (cf. 1 Corinthians 12.21). 

I need you to stir [me] up to love—love for God and love for others—and good works—obedience to his commands. And you need me to stir you up to love and good works. 

This is why he phrases it the way he does. When he says, let us consider how to stir up one another, in the Greek, there is no “how.” The object of “consider” is “one another.” We are called to consider one another, in order to know how to stir one another up to love and good works. 

This means that we need to know one another, and know one another well. The better you know someone, the more appropriately you’ll be able to discern how to stir one another up to love and good works. Now, I don’t think this means that we can’t do it if we don’t know each other well (as we’ll see in a minute). But the better we know each other, the more we consider one another, the more we’ll be able to see how to apply the gospel to each other’s lives. We’re all very different, and we all have different things that tend to drive us to Christ. 

And this takes a lot of time. It’s a learned skill. Recognizing the struggles of others and speaking the gospel into those struggles doesn’t come naturally to most people—it needs to be practiced, and observed, and imitated. Considering how to stir one another to love and good works is the tool God has given us to hold fast our confession, but we need to learn how to use that tool. We need to grow in our ability to wield it. So he tells us how to use the tool in v. 25. 

The first “how”: meet regularly and intentionally (v. 25)

Verse 24 again:

24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some...

Now I know when I talked about this two weeks ago, some of you heard what I said and thought I was being too extreme, that I was making a pretty large leap between what Paul said about the body of Christ and getting on to you for not being more present. I don’t think it was a large leap at all, but I was willing to take that shot because I knew we were coming here today.

If we are to know how to stir one another up to love and good works, if we are to know how to hold to the confession of our hope without wavering, we must not neglect to meet together.  (La Semeur : Ne délaissons pas nos réunions…) First of all, in corporate worship: in our regular Sunday gatherings.

Since the very beginning of the Church, it has been the norm of the church to gather together on the Lord’s Day (normally the day during which you didn’t work) to worship together, to hear the Word preached, and to take Communion together. The early church patterned their lives after the life of the people of God since the beginning of the law of Moses, when God declared that the Sabbath be a day of rest and reflection on the person and work of God.

But somehow, in modern churches regular attendance at the gatherings of the local church has become accessory rather than normative. And that’s a problem: as Nathan Rose pointed out in an article on his website, there are several dangers that come when we decide to not prioritize the weekly gatherings of the local church. 

He lists several dangers in his article, but the greatest danger he mentions is also the simplest: when we decide not to prioritize our weekly assemblies, we disobey God. He quotes Greg Gilbert’s commentary on the passage we’re reading today: 

Hebrews 10.25 commands us to not [neglect] to meet together.

“At the very least, therefore, we have to say that, for every Christian, attendance at church gatherings is not optional. The author of Hebrews—and therefore the Holy Spirit himself—commands Christians to be present when the believers to whom he or she belongs gather.”

Brothers and sisters, we must not neglect to meet together. Somehow Christians in Paris have adopted the lie the city tells us that we absolutely must get out of the city at least once a month: to rest, to recharge our batteries. Now, I understand that living in the city is hard—I live in the city too. We do need rest. But somehow we’ve forgotten that the “rest” that God prescribed for his people isn’t getting away from the weekly gathering of God’s people; part of the rest he prescribed IS the weekly gathering of God’s people. Coming together to sing God’s praises and to meditate on his goodness and to hear his Word preached is the one of the primary means by which he recharges us and gives rest to our souls. 

Am I saying Christians can never miss a Sunday at their local church? Of course not. But we have become far too liberal with our idea of what is a “good reason to miss” and what isn’t.

But it goes even further than that—I don’t think the author is just talking about the weekly gathering. Look at the way he puts it: 

24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some...

Some Christians make it a “habit” of not meeting with other Christians. That is, it’s not just missing from their weekend routine—spending time with other Christians is simply missing from the rhythm of their lives. 

This is especially difficult for people who are intimately attached to their schedules. Your day fills up with activity after activity after activity—with stuff you have to get done—and you get to the end of the day and you don’t even have time to read your Bible, much less to spend time with other Christians. 

We have gotten into the “habit” of being insular—of cutting off our avenues of friendship and communion and fellowship—and we do it because it’s comfortable. 

There’s comfort in a carefully ordered schedule; there’s comfort in a carefully ordered checklist; and of course there’s comfort in isolation itself, because if we don’t spend significant time with other people, that means no one can see the stuff we’re really struggling with. No one really ever sees us as weak. 

Anyone can give the impression of strength for a couple hours at a time. This is why marriage is so devastating for so many people: living in intimacy with someone else exposes to the other person everything we try to hide from everyone else. When we spend this much time with another person, inevitably that other person will notice things about us that we’re ashamed of. 

Most of us want other people to only see us through an Instagram filter; we know what angles frame our faces in just the right way, what lighting brings out the color of our eyes, and we micromanage ourselves to such an extent that no one ever gets to see the unvarnished, unfiltered ME. And many of us have gotten so used to living this way that we don’t even know what it would look like to not live like that, to really show our true selves to our brothers and sisters.

That’s why in the Bible you won’t often hear the kind of language we use in Christianity today—things like, “Be authentic with one another. Share your hearts. ‘Love on’ one another.” The Bible is much more pragmatic and effective—it says, “Spend time together. Lots of time. Don’t neglect to meet.” Because if we do that, if we make fellowship a habit, then all that other stuff will come by itself. We all reach a point when we spend enough time with one another that we can’t help but let our guard down. 

Brothers and sisters, our schedules are not an excuse. We don’t get a day off from this. Every day belongs to him; whatever ever we do—whether we eat or drink—we do for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10.31). We learn to stir up one another to love and good works [by] not neglecting to meet together.

The second “how”: encourage one another (v. 25)

24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another...

This is the second “how” to our stirring up to love and good works—it is what we are to do WHEN we meet together. When we come together, we are to encourage one another.

Can I be honest? We’re really bad at this. I am an American, so don’t want to take potshots at the French, but since I’ve lived here a third of my life, and I have a French wife and a French son, I think I’m fairly well qualified to say it: the French aren’t great at encouraging. They’re great at arguing; great at criticizing; not fantastic at encouraging.

But here’s the thing: contrary to what we may think, Americans aren’t good at it either. We’re good at encouraging superficially—we’re great at making people feel good—but biblical encouragement goes a lot further than telling someone why they’re “great” or “special.” It’s a lot more than saying, “Oh, I know that’s hard. I’ll pray for you.” 

Biblical encouragement is directing their attention to what is true. (The meaning of the word in Greek is more subtle—it rides the line between encouragement and exhortation, and is actually translated by both in the Bible.) Biblical encouragement is taking someone by the chin and lifting their eyes to what God says about himself—telling them, “I know it seems like your circumstances are dire, but here is what’s actually true.”

So somewhat counterintuitively, sometimes encouragement hurts. Sometimes in order to really encourage someone, I need to help them see that they’ve put their hope in the wrong thing. 

For example, how many wives have been disappointed in their husbands? All of them. And the advice Christians often give women who are disappointed in their husbands goes something like, “Don’t worry; he’ll get better. Keep praying for him, and I’ll pray for him too.” While that might not be untrue, and while we should encourage wives to pray for their husbands, that’s not the hope the Bible sets out for disappointed wives. The Bible says that a wife’s ultimate hope for joy and stability is not her husband, but Christ. That it is not her job to make her husband the man she wants him to be; that’s God’s job. Christ is her true Husband, and he is never absent, nor is he cruel. So she can remain faithful, diligently and patiently obeying the Lord in her home and in her marriage, trusting that God is not ignorant of her husband or unmindful of his faults, and resting in the joy she finds in Christ alone.

Do you see the difference?

Now, this is complicated, and it’s scary, because we know that what the person in front of us wants at that moment is probably just a pat on the back and a sympathetic ear—and those things are definitely important. But if we stop there—if we never drive our sisters and brothers to look deeper, to lift their eyes to the promises that find their fulfillment in Christ—then we’re not faithfully encouraging them; we’re simply sharing niceties. Faithfully encouraging someone very often means helping them to see the false gods they have put their hope in, and lifting their eyes to see the true God, whose gospel gives them true hope. 

This, brothers and sisters, is the way we will stir one another up to love and good works: by not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but by encouraging one another to keep Jesus front and center, utmost in our affections and in our desires, as soon as the need presents itself. By saying, “Here’s who Jesus is. Here’s what Jesus did. So keep your eyes on him. Keep your eyes on Jesus.”

This is our responsibility—and it’s a weighty responsibility.

More and more as the Day draws near (v. 25)

24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 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. 

There’s an urgency here we can’t afford to ignore. Encourage one another all the more as you see the Day drawing near. The “Day” he’s referring to is the Day of Judgment, the return of Jesus Christ, when he will come back and will judge the living and the dead. There is a day coming when Jesus will return, and we will be judged by how we do this. That's not to suggest that if we don’t do a good job here we won’t go to heaven; but we will still have to answer to the living God for what we have done, or have neglected to do. And that “day” when we’ll have to answer to God is drawing near.

The author isn’t saying this to scare us, but to spur us to action. To get us off our tails and into each other’s lives. NOW. 

The day is drawing near. Every minute that passes is one less minute we have to wait until Christ’s return. So there is no time to lose—we must begin these things today; and if we’re already doing them, we must commit to doing them “all the more.”

how we begin

Now for those of you who already do this, you see what you have to do. By the grace of God, you grow in those areas you’re already doing well—you grow in your commitment to the local body of Christ you’re a part of; you grow in your knowledge of the gospel and your knowledge of your brothers and sisters; and you encourage them with the truth of the gospel as the need arises.

What about for those of you who don’t do this? who aren’t living like this? He’s talking about increasing in something we’re already doing—what if we haven’t even started yet? What if we’ve just arrived, and haven’t been able to develop these kinds of relationships within the church? Or what if this kind of intimate, vulnerable interaction is just hard for us? Or what if we’ve been wounded in the past by relationships—even relationships in the church—and just don’t think we have the strength to dive back into that again?

There are four ways we can begin to bring the command of this text out in our lives today, even if we haven’t been doing any of it up to now.

Firstly, don’t assume you have to know someone well in order to encourage them in the gospel.

I say this because of the urgency of verse 25—all the more as the Day is drawing near. Of course you’ll do these things better if you know your brothers and sisters well—that’s why he tells us to not neglect meeting together. But don’t imagine that because you don’t know someone well enough, you get a pass on this. If you know the gospel, but you’re waiting to speak it to a brother because you’re trying to put just the right psychological spin on it, don’t flatter yourself: the gospel is far more effective than whatever fancy phrasework you could muster.

The author says a little earlier, in Hebrews 3.12-13:  

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Exhort one another today—don’t let it wait. The Day is drawing near. Truth shared imperfectly, but when I need it, is far better than that same truth shared perfectly, but too late. Do it lovingly, do it prayerfully, but do it—encourage your brothers and sisters with the truth.

Secondly, make fellowship a priority.

Like I said before, we live in a culture where our smartphones rule our lives. Everything is programmed and planned, and when a notification goes off we think have to obey, or our worlds will just fall apart. That leaves precious little time for each other—for many of us, spending time with other Christians is simply missing from the rhythm of our lives. 

But if we are to truly “consider one another for stirring up to love and good works,” we need to make our brothers and sisters a priority. We need to be available. We need to open ourselves to them. Loanne and I often tell people that if you’re in the area, just passing through, then just drop by. Call first, to make sure we’re there—and if it’s really not a good time, we’ll tell you—but our door is open. 

If we are to live like this, we must make time spent together a habit. It’ll be messy; it’ll be annoying; it’ll be painful, because others will be able to see those aspects of our lives we want to pretend aren’t there. But if we are to live like this, there’s no way around it. We must make one another a priority.

Thirdly, commit to a local church for the long haul.

Christians tend to go to church like they’d go to a café—they like this café, they go when they happen to be around, but it’s not remotely a priority for them, and if there’s another café that’s slightly more convenient, or which has a slightly different atmosphere, then that café will do. This is especially true of Christians in the city, where they have several churches to choose from.

But the kind of relationship the Bible demands of us takes time. We can’t expect to be equipped to serve the body and encourage the body if we neglect the body. 

So whatever church you happen to call “your church,” if it’s a church where the Bible is faithfully preached, where the sacraments are rightly administered, and where the saints are equipped for the work of ministry, commit to that church, and be in it for the long haul. Resist the temptation to leave the city for a bigger, more affordable house in the suburbs—where you’ll be more comfortable, sure, but far less present and available to your brothers and sisters. And if you have to leave (because sometimes it is necessary), then find a faithful church in your area and commit to that church for the long haul.

Your brothers and sisters need you (and you need them too), and you won’t be able to love each other well if you’re only peripherally present.

Lastly, be patient.

These things take time, and they won’t be perfect. The church will disappoint you. Other Christians will disappoint you. It won’t be all you hoped it would be (because you were probably hoping for something unrealistic, or that wouldn’t have been good for you to begin with). And that’s okay—that’s part of what it means to grow in holiness.

But when things are disappointing, don’t give up. Keep at it. Be patient. Be forgiving. Show grace to your brothers and sisters. Encourage them in the Word, and let yourself be encouraged by them, even if it’s not what you were hoping to hear. This is where God has brought you, and God is not cruel—he never does anything on accident. If he brought you here, it’s because he knows that this is exactly what’s best for you. 

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 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.