Last week we noted the Bible’s clear and consistent directive for believers to function together as one body, which is called a “church.” We anchored our understanding in Hebrews 10:25 “(Let us) not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” We acknowledged that fallen humans have a natural resistance to this. We also noted that both modern churches and modern individual Christians probably bear some responsibility for the increasing infrequency in American church engagement.
This week we’re looking at the topic positively, i.e. what the church actually IS designed to be. And to do so, we’ll once again anchor our understanding in Hebrews 10. Here we find two very important things that the church is supposed to do, both products of love, which are essentially opposite sides of the same coin.
1) Spur On
“And let us consider how we may SPUR ONE ANOTHER ON toward love and good deeds.” (vs. 24)
The Greek word here for “spur on” is παροξυσμὸν. It means a “sharp encouragement.” Sharp. It’s like getting poked. Getting poked is not fun. But it does get your attention. And it can only be done when you’re in arm’s length of someone. To “spur one another on,” therefore, means you have to be close enough to someone to know in what areas they need accountability. And you have to be close enough that you actually give them access into your life too, so that they perceive your spurring as love, not control and judgment.
Some of us have been hurt in the past, now have real trouble letting people into our lives, and have a tendency to think “that’s none of your business.” A Christian community doesn’t function that way. There’s a level of openness, closeness, and transparency by which we can reach out and spur one another on toward growth, i.e. “love and good deeds.” And we invite others to do the same for us.
Furthermore, a spur really isn’t used to direct a creature. That’s what the bridle is for. A spur prevents a stubborn, lazy horse from just standing there. The writer to the Hebrews seems to be suggesting that the nature of the sinful flesh is that, when left to ourselves, we get spiritually lazy. We need others to keep us moving. This is the power of accountability.
What’s embarrassing to me is that much of the modern secular world seems to understand this far better than the church today. Why do you think Weight Watchers is such an effective weight loss program? Why do you think Alcoholics Anonymous is such an effective rehab program? Why do you think CrossFit, explosively popular, is such an effective physical fitness program? With all due respect to CrossFit people, is CrossFit effective because people can’t, on their own, find boxes to jump up on for less than $250/month??? The power is in the peer accountability. The modern western world is increasingly rejecting individuality for the sake of communal accountability and guess who was telling us to do this 2000 years ago?
But it’s not just intense and sometimes painful accountability that we need from fellow close Christians. We each need to be part of a body of believers because we also need gentle encouragement too. “(Let us) ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (vs. 25)
The Greek word here is παρακαλοῦντες – it means to come alongside someone and call out to them. It’s comforting. It’s tender. It’s actually the same word (Paraclete) used sometimes for the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. But to really encourage someone you need to know them well enough to know what fears, guilt, etc., they’re really struggling with. Furthermore, to truly encourage someone, you have to be so close to Christ yourself that when you minister to your friend, you’re not merely offering your best advice, but it is the Spirit of Christ living inside you ministering to them.
What does this mean?
Modern western individualism is constantly driving us deeper into ourselves. The sinful nature in us also focuses us inward upon ourselves. This is the road to death. When left to ourselves, we fall apart. Literally. Sin is the human heart turned inward upon itself. And “the wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23) Our bodies fall apart, i.e. decay, upon death as a physical manifestation of what sin does. Sin makes everything fall apart.
Our world is losing a consciousness, or at least a value, of God’s presence. Does anyone really need any convincing that the world in its present form falling apart right? Charlottesville and North Korea are not the result of too many people comprehending the glory of God. They’re the result of people completely lacking consciousness of a Creator (design), Redeemer (grace), and Judge (consequence).
Without God’s intervention, by his Spirit, in his people, i.e. without God’s presence, the world falls apart.
Without God’s intervention, we would have fallen apart – if Christ had not gotten involved with us, died and risen from the grave in our place, we would be left for dead in our sins. But Christ DID come for us. Christ DID rescue us from the sins that would’ve torn us apart. And now, in the era of the Spirit, God now lives in his Church. Consequently, if we don’t have other Christians interacting with us in meaningful ways, it’s basic logic that we should absolutely anticipate that our spiritual lives will fall apart.
And let me take it one step further. When Jesus calls believers the “salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13) he’s saying that without Christians graciously working to his glory and for the city’s needs, a community will ultimately fall apart. And for anyone who would look to northern European “non-God-conscious” communities as near utopias to prove my point wrong, I’d simply direct you to some current thinking that I believe will inevitably rip a nation apart. Just give it time. Humanity minus God inevitably decays.
The Apostle Paul writes in Colossians 1 that in Christ, all things hold together. If the Bible is, in fact, inspired, then “ALL things” – our universe, our civilizations, our churches, and we as individuals – only get held together by Christ.
And here’s the irony: we get held together only because, for our sakes, Jesus loved us enough to get torn apart. An individual who stays just an individual will ultimately end up alone forever. That’s hell. Jesus was more than just a mere individual. He was an equal person in the relational Triune God, but he became hellishly alone on the cross, so that we who’ve tried to live as individuals would be held together as family forever. To the degree we understand that, we will start living with fellow believers more as a family each day…and we will work to adopt more and more brothers and sisters into this Christian family.
I understand that quite a few people have felt burned by their church before. This shouldn’t surprise us when we understand that churches are filled with sinners saved only by grace. If you’ve ever been hurt by “the church” before, I’m asking you to let that go – to forgive just as God, in Christ, has forgiven you (Eph. 4:32). And I’m asking you now to help create the church that you always hoped the church would be – Jesus as our head, believers living together as a fully functional, healthy, transparent, and interdependent body, showing a more beautiful way, the grace of God, and the Savior who is the only medicine for this world’s sickness.