What is the purpose of assembling? There are two reasons we find in Hebrews 10:23-25. Some translations break verse 23 off from the next verses, but in the Greek, they form one thought. Verse 23 tells us to hold fast the confession of our hope. What is the confession of our hope? We confess that Jesus is Lord - He is our hope. If we really mean that (if we hold it fast) then our lives will show it.
We show Jesus’ status in our lives when we put doing His things and being with His people above whatever else we might be doing. If we decide that we would rather sleep in or go play soccer or even go to work instead of assembling with our brethren, we have no business saying that Jesus is our Lord.
Jesus gave gifts to the church - apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (Ephesians 4:11-13). If we say we do not the evangelists, pastors, and teachers, but can read what the apostles and prophets wrote on our own, we are showing that we do no appreciate what Jesus gave. He is not our Lord. We should certainly be studying the Bible on our own, but Jesus gave us evangelists, pastors, and teachers for a reason and a large part of their work is in the assembly.
Verses 24 and 25 give the second reason - to encourage one another to love and good works. Verse 24 says that we are to “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.” If you are doing that, and you have some great word of encouragement to give a certain brother, how do you feel if they are not there? It is discouraging rather than encouraging. Unfortunately, the ones we want to encourage the most are often the ones who are not in the assembly.
No Christian is so strong as to not need encouragement. I think about Paul when he was on trial. In 2 Timothy 4:16, he said that no one stood by him at his first defense - “may it not be counted against them.” What does that last part mean? It means that as far as Paul considered it, it was sinful for his brethren not to be there when he needed encouragement. He just had a forgiving attitude about it. If a brother or sister comes to the assembly needing encouragement (one of the main purposes of assembling) and we are not there when we could have been, we are in the same situation.
So that leads us to our next point - is it as sin to miss the assembly? On the surface, the answer is obviously “no.” If someone is physically unable to be there, he is not sinning by not being there. Paul was a faithful Christian even when he was in prison for years. But even in prison, Paul surrounded himself with his brethren as much as he could. We can see that from the letters he wrote while in prison.
But what about when we miss the assembly because we are making a choice about what is important? Work or assembly? Funeral or assembly? Sleep or assembly? Soccer or assembly? I believe the wrong or right of it comes down to our motives.
We can sin even in going to church if we have the wrong motives. If you are going only for what you get out of the service, you are sinning - we are supposed to be considering how to stir each other up. If you go only because you know someone will yell at you if you miss, you are sinning - not that we don’t need that motivation sometimes, but that must not be the reason we are going to church. If you go to church because you think that girl that sits in the front row is really cute, then you are sinning - it isn’t a sin to think she’s cute, but it’s a sin for that to be the reason you assemble with your brethren. There are an infinite number of wrong motives for assembling - we need to make sure we going for the right reasons.
When we work on Sunday instead of coming to church, why are we doing that? Are we after the overtime pay? Then we are sinning. Money has become our Lord and we are not holding fast the confession of our hope. Is it the only way you can provide for your family? I can’t judge that. But you must be looking for another way so that you can meet with your brethren. Perhaps the church will have to work with your schedule - the church at Troas met very late in the evening, I suppose so that everyone could be there. But meeting with our brethren is vitally important.
If you do something that keeps you from regularly assembling with your brethren, you are really asking for trouble. I have known really good men who did some terrible things after they got weak from irregular assembly with their brethren due to work or school. We are influenced by the worldly people every day and if we miss our dose of edification from the spiritual people, we will become weak.
In South Africa, we have a terrible time of people missing the assembly because they are at funerals on Sunday. There may be a time when the only way for you to do the family good is to be at the funeral, but I don’t know why that would be. You can take food to the family or go comfort them some other time. The reason most people go to funerals is because the community or their family expects them to be there. But Jesus expects us to be with our brethren when they are assembling! Hold fast the confession of your hope.
As a side-note, what is the top reason that people stop assembling with their brethren? It is because they are sinning and they know it - Hebrews 10:26. We don’t want to be with our brethren when are sinning willfully - they will try to get us to stop! But that is the worst time to stop assembling. If we continue in sin, we can only expect God to punish us in Hell. We need to stop sinning. So even if we are really struggling with sin, we need to assemble.
So then the question comes up for those in congregations that meet more than once a week - do I have to assemble “every time the doors are open” or only on Sundays? If we really understand the purpose of assembling, this question will not enter our minds. Instead, we will be asking, “when can I assemble with my brethren?”. We will want to meet as often as we can.
The church in Jerusalem understood the need to assemble together. They met every day in the temple (Acts 2:46). It does not seem that everyone was there every day - they were not there whole time anyway. Acts 5:7 says that Saphira came in three hours after her husband - and you know what happened to her, so don’t be late! Joking aside, it does not appear that their meeting together was as “organized” as our mid-week Bible studies. They were able to take out the bodies and bury them while the church was gathered there. But they were meeting together as often as they could to encourage and edify each other.
Hebrews 10:25 has an expression at the end that is important. It says that we need to assemble and encourage each other “all the more as you see the day drawing near.” No matter what the “day” here means, we can get the idea that as time goes on we need to be with our brethren more and more. If we ever think that we are mature to the point that we no longer need it, then we have no maturity at all. We all need our brethren more and more.
In closing, I want to talk to the parents. Parents here have the practice of leaving their children home at night. This means that they are present for Sunday night or Wednesday night assemblies. This is bad training for them. If they are not trained to understand how vitally important assembling with the brethren is, they will have to learn the hard way if and when they become disciples of Christ. You may be hurting them for eternity by training them the wrong way.
Hold fast the confession of your hope. Consider how too stimulate one another to love and good works. Encourage each other by assembling together - and so much the more as you see the day approaching.