In recent weeks, there’s been a lot of discussion about the proper way for churches to worship.
One of the passages cited most often in support of meeting in person is Hebrews 10:25: “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.”
But what does the author of Hebrews mean when he admonishes those who “neglect to meet together?”
And what does that mean for churches today?
Context is key
One of the most important principles when reading Scripture is understanding the context of a given passage.
Sometimes a verse can encapsulate the larger message so well that it can stand on its own. John 3:16 is a good example. While the surrounding verses are important, they only amplify the clear meaning of that single verse.
Other times, the larger context is crucial for accurately understanding what the biblical author is trying to say. Philippians 4:13, for example, shows up on a lot of motivational posters and athletes’ tattoos because the idea that “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” is a powerful message.
The larger context, however, reveals that the only reason Paul could say that is he had learned, regardless of his circumstances, to be completely dependent upon Christ for both strength and guidance. His faith wasn’t a superpower that enabled him to do anything he wanted, but that’s how it’s often misinterpreted by those who cling to verse 13 without taking into account the surrounding verses.
So, into which category does Hebrews 10:25 fit best?
To find our answer, let’s take a look at the rest of the chapter.
What’s the context of Hebrews 10:25?
The whole chapter of Hebrews 10 is primarily about finding peace and assurance of our salvation through reliance on the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice rather than on a legalistic view of actions we can take ourselves.
The more immediate context, starting in verse 19 and continuing through the remainder of the chapter, focuses on using that assurance as a foundation for building one another up in our walk with the Lord.
Verses 24 and 25 are especially important for understanding that message: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 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, given that context, what does verse 25 mean for us today with regards to meeting in person for worship?
What does Hebrews 10:25 mean in the age of COVID-19?
To start, God wants us to know that it’s vital for Christians to encourage one another and motivate each other toward love and good works. Worshiping together is a key component of that calling, but it’s not the only place it’s supposed to happen. We should be encouraging one another and building each other up in the Lord throughout the week, and that goes for Christians in general rather than just those who attend your church.
While verse 25 pertains to church attendance, that was not the primary focus of the passage. But, even insofar as it does pertain to worship, does meeting together mean the same thing now as it did back then?
In the first century, if you wanted to talk with someone or pass along an encouraging message, it almost universally had to be face-to-face. Letters were mostly sent via personal messenger, as with the New Testament Epistles, and there was really no other way of communicating except in person. So if Christians were going to encourage one another and lift each other up, they had to be in the same place to do it.
That’s hardly the case today. And while we absolutely lose something when we meet digitally rather than physically, the latter is not essential to worshiping God or fulfilling his calling to build one another up in the Lord. That doesn’t mean churches shouldn’t be meeting in person, but especially during these difficult times, they don’t have to.
A call to encourage—whether in person or not
Whether believers gather to worship in person or digitally should ultimately be between the individual and God.
And we all need to remember that, regardless of how we attend church, our call to encourage one another and stir each other up toward love and good works is not reserved for a few hours on Sunday. Rather, it’s something we need to be doing on a daily basis.
So, if you really want to make sure you’re living in accordance with Hebrews 10:25, do not neglect to call a friend God puts on your heart or reach out to someone who seems to be having a rough day.
Being Christ’s hands and feet in that way is just as much an act of worship as what we do on Sunday morning.