Even though we were post-COVID in 2022, the effects of the pandemic continued. One of the results for churches everywhere has been a re-shuffling of the deck, where people have moved around some, but the worst part has been that some cards simply fell out of the deck. I wrote in my journal last February, “Online church can be and is a great blessing to the shut-in, but it can also be a great disincentive as well.” What happens when the shut-in becomes a stay-in? The person who could not get out because of the virus or because of other extenuating circumstances can easily become the person who won’t get out when those circumstances are just a memory. This is what the writer of Hebrews is saying in chapter 10. Verse 25, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some.” The habit of some has become to not meet together with other believers, and the time when the believers are in the habit of meeting, since Jesus rose from the dead, is the first day of the week. The word there for habit is ethos in the Greek, which literally means custom, usual practice, or manner of living. We are known by and marked by our ethos, the way we customarily live our lives. If we only gather with the saints when it is convenient to do so, then our ethos, our manner of living, is marked by that. But we are invited into the assembling of ourselves together on a weekly basis. That’s why the church was called ekklesia in the New Testament, 115 times. It means “called out,” and the people of God are spiritually and by God’s grace called out of the world and into Christ, into his body, a local fellowship and assembly of believers. That means they are also physically called out of their homes and called into the place where the church is meeting, if they are physically able. We have to be very careful with the habits we create, especially any habit that draws us away from the physical gathering of God’s people.
The writer of Hebrews is concerned about this and wants the people of God to be concerned as well. What should we do? Verse 24: Let us consider one another. The word means to observe, to notice. We love each other and notice when something is wrong, or when someone has been missing the gathering. That’s good, but then we are called to consider “how to stir up one another to love and good works.” The idea there requires a moving towards another intentionally in order to bring them in, draw them back, call them again towards love and good works. And in verse 25, the writer adds, “encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
I remember the story of a pastor who visited a church member years ago who had stopped coming. They sat together in the man’s den, just the two of them, and there was a roaring fire in fireplace. The pastor told the man he missed him at church and encouraged him to come back. The man made some excuses as to why he wasn’t coming and ended with, “Pastor, I am doing fine. I’ll come back to church one day but honestly, I can’t really see the need for it sometimes. I still read my Bible, pretty much, and still pray when I think about it.” The pastor nodded and got up from his chair and walked over to the fire. He took the poker from the hearth and reached in with it to pull one of the small logs away from the burning pile of wood. Then he sat down, and the two men watched in silence as the small log that had been separated from the pile of wood smoldered for a few minutes and then went out. The man nodded and said, “Thanks for coming by, pastor. I’ll see you all on Sunday.”