Study the Word: Bulletin Articles
What is “forsaking the assembly”?
Many of us are familiar with the text Hebrews 10:25, that states, “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” The question is, just what does this mean?
Some contend that a Christian can skip a Sunday here and there, and since they don’t “abandon” church services altogether, these people cannot be accused of forsaking the assembly. Let’s take a closer look at this idea. The word forsaking in this passage means to leave behind, leave to desert. Does this mean that in order to forsake the assembly you have to leave and not return? It can, but not always.
Consider when Jesus was hanging on the cross. There is no question that he felt all alone. He uttered the words, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Mk. 15:34). This is the exact same word that the Hebrew writer used. This isn’t a discussion of whether God forsook Jesus, or if Jesus just felt that way. The point we need to see is, could Jesus really use that word in that situation? I mean, wouldn’t Jesus have to wait weeks or months to then use the term? No. One can forsake when a person is not where they ought to be.
If a child of God decides I am going to take a first day of the week off and I will gather with the saints next week, the scriptures are teaching they have forsaken to assembly. Why? It is a place where they ought to be (I Cor. 11:17-18; Acts 20:7; I Cor. 16:1-2). If this is not true, then there needs to be a cry for consistency. If one can skip a first day of the week, then everyone can. If not, why not?
Also, this is creating a double standard. If one says I will be back thenext Sunday – are they not expecting/demanding that the church will be gathered then? So, he/she expects brethren to be there when they want, but they can’t expect the same in return. That isn’t right, and we all know it.
There is no question that such behavior of hit and miss, is a heart problem. When the Lord demands to be worshipped (Jn. 4:24), and they have a disposition of – I will do it when it fits into my schedule, you know the Lord is not pleased. On top of that we have to be mindful of the example and precedent this sets forth for their children and other members. Jesus said that we need to be lights in a world of darkness (Matt. 5:13-15). Just where is the example of seeking first the kingdom of God when we would rather to something else (Matt. 6:33)?
To help to understand that forsaking the assembly occurs when someone takes a Sunday off from worshipping when one could, think about a marriage. If a husband goes off with another woman for just one night, can you really say he forsook their wife? Yes!!! Even if they planned to go back to their mate the next day, he has forsook the vow that he made. Saints are described as being married to the Lord (II Cor. 11:2). Therefore, when we choose not to gather with the saints to honor our Lord, is that being faithful? We know it isn’t.
Even though we have clearly explained what it means to forsake the assembly, let’s look at yet one more example. In Mk. 14:50, it reads that when Jesus was arrested all his followers forsook Him. That word also means to forsake, to leave. Notice that this word was used even though very little time has passed. The point is made yet again that a Christian can be guilty of forsaking the assembly by taking a day off from worship.
This begs the question – what does it mean when someone does skip a day of worship? The answer is obvious, they need to repent of their sin (Lk. 13:3). Local churches may have a hard time knowing if members are guilty of such, since many are creative in coming up with “reasons” why they couldn’t make it. The fact is, you might fool mankind, but you can’t fool the Lord. After all, you don’t have to answer to man, you answer to the Lord (II Cor. 5:1).
What is “forsaking the assembly”?
Many of us are familiar with Hebrews 10:25: “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” What exactly does this mean?
Some contend that a Christian can skip a Sunday here and there and not be accused of “forsaking the assembly” because they have not abandoned church services altogether. The word “forsaking” means to leave behind, leave to desert. Does this mean that a person is forsaking the assembly if they leave and do not return? Yes, but not always.
Consider when Jesus was hanging on the cross. There is no question that he felt all alone. He uttered the words, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34). This is the exact same word that the Hebrew writer used. This article is not a discussion of whether God forsook Jesus or if Jesus just felt that way. My point is this – was Jesus correct to use the word “forsaken” in that situation? Did Jesus not have to wait weeks or months to then use the term? No. One can forsake when a person is not where they ought to be.
If a child of God decides they are going to skip services on a Sunday – even if just for one week – the scriptures teach that they have forsaken the assembly. Simply put, they were supposed to be there (I Cor. 11:17-18; Acts 20:7; I Cor. 16:1-2). It is not logical to say that it is okay to miss one Sunday or to miss on occasion when God’s word is clear about our regular attendance.
This thinking also indicates a double-standard. If a Christian misses one Sunday and says they will be back the next Sunday, they are clearly expecting that the church will be gathered then. This person expects the brethren to be gathered, but the brethren cannot expect the same in return. That is not right, and we all know it.
Problems with “hit and miss” attendance are ultimately problems of the heart. The Lord demands to be worshipped (John 4:24). If our response is to do it when convenient or only when we feel like it, we should not expect the Lord to be pleased. We also need to be mindful of the example this sets for children and other members. Jesus said that we need to be lights in a world of darkness (Matt. 5:13-15). We cannot honestly say that we are seeking first the kingdom of God when we would rather be somewhere else (Matt. 6:33).
To further understand that a person can forsake the assembly by only missing one Sunday, think about a marriage. If a husband goes off with another woman for just one night, can you really say he forsook their wife? Yes!!! Even if the husband planned to go back to their mate the next day, he forsook the vow that he made. Saints are described as being married to the Lord (II Cor. 11:2). Therefore, when we choose not to gather with the saints to honor our Lord, we are not being faithful.
Let’s look at yet one more example. Mark 14:50 describes how Jesus was arrested and all his followers deserted (forsook) Him. Notice how the followers were described as forsaking Jesus even though very little time has passed. Yet again, a Christian can be guilty of forsaking the assembly by taking a single day off from worship.
This begs the question – what does it mean when someone skips a day of worship? They need to repent of their sin (Luke 13:3). Local churches often struggle to know if members are guilty of this as people can be creative in coming up with “reasons” why they could not attend. You might fool fellow Christians, but you cannot fool the Lord. We will ultimately answer to the Him, not man (II Cor. 5:1).
Okay, how do we do that?
We all know how easy it is to tell someone to do something. The hard part is the knowing how to give instructions. If a person does not know how to do something, then it is a waste of time to instruct them to do so. Though some might not recognize it, God’s people always have enough information when He commands them.
Consider this command that James writes: “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you,” (James 4:8). On the surface, it sounds great that God will draw near to us. How do we draw near to God though? Based on what James wrote, knowing how to draw near to God is critical! Without this, He will never draw near to us. Fortunately, the Bible contains instructs us about many ways we can draw near to God. If we do the things found in this list, God WILL draw near to us!
Pray. This has to be one of the most obvious ways to draw closer to God. Christians are admonished to pray continually (I Thess. 5:17). To get close to someone, you must communicate with them. This is as true of our earthly relationships as it is with our Heavenly Father. James stated that the prayers of a righteous man can avail much (5:16) – a close relationship with God is obviously one of those things.
Studying the word of God. Listening to what the Father has revealed will aid in developing that close bond. When you have the word of God abiding in you, you are strong (I John 2:14). Those who do not take the time to listen to God are clearly not feeding on His word, and the word is what gives strength (Acts 20:28).
Staying away from sin. Those who walk in the light have fellowship with the Father (I John 1:3-7). When one is in sin, they are going away from the Father, not drawing nearer. Pleasing our God and obeying Him will strengthen the relationship (Heb. 11:6).
Worshipping. When saints gather to glorify their God, they are naturally strengthening their bond with the Creator (Acts 2:46-47). God recognizes genuine worship that uses both the lips and heart (Matt. 15:7-9).
Telling others about God. When a person tells others how much they love their spouse, it strengthens the marriage. Similarly, Christians who tells others about their Heavenly Father are drawing near to Him (Acts 7). The Son of God indicated this as expressed in His prayer to the Father (John 17).
Developing one’s talents. When children of God use their talents, they are positive examples to those around them. The goal is let our own lights shine and inspire the lost (Matt. 5:13-16). By growing, we become more useful to our Father (II Pet. 3:18).
Being faithful to the end. Those who fight the good fight of faith know that they will be with the Father for eternity (II Tim. 4:6-8). After writing that God will draw near to us if we draw near to Him, James wrote the following instruction: “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8). Clearly, fostering a relationship with God requires deliberate action.
Being with other Christians. Spending time around others who are in fellowship with God will encourage us and help us grow even closer to the Father (I John 1:7). Remember, fellow saints are members of the same spiritual body (Gal. 3:27).
We are told to draw near unto God because God will draw near unto us. Are you preventing God from drawing near to you? Let us do our part and trust that God WILL do His!