23 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)
24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. KJV
These verses tend to upset or confuse a lot of folks, when it is really quite simple. Some want to ignore it completely. They want to only be part of the invisible church so that they can be invisible from the gathering of the believers to do church at Bishop Burger King or Monseigneur McDonalds. Maybe it is at the lake or in the tree stand, but they are all so close to God there. When I was in the military quite a few lads left the unit to see Friar Fastfood instead of going to a meeting of the saints.
Others go to the other extreme and say that you cannot have God as your Father if you do not have the Church as your Mother. Others do not go quite that far but will threaten you with fierce rumblings of God's wrath if you are not at all four formal services and all the special meetings that might be called including a three week revival or evangelistic service.
If you read the first chapters of Acts it does not seem to many into the invisible church nor did they have to be threatened to attend church every day! A church supper, prayer and preaching every day sometimes until midnight was a thrill for them even though they worked from dawn to dusk. Of course, they did not have the distractions of ESPN or 500 other channels, Iphone, Ipad and aye, yi, yi and yada, yada, yada to fill their evenings.
Of course when you pray until the Spirit fills you so that you can preach the Word of God with boldness that takes some time. Also when you read an entire epistle at one service and not just a verse or a block of verses that takes some time as well. If all you have is one epistle or book of the Bible you read it again the next night and the next. Repetition is how we learn and that much repetition should bring about some learning and renewing of the mind. Is it any wonder they turned the world upside down? Might be a lesson there.
Nonetheless, while each person is actually the church, and not the building, the passage clearly states the the parts of the body or the building blocks of the church/kingdom are to meet regularly. Very hard for the folks given the gifts in Ephesians four to do their job if the people that they are to train for the work of the ministry are not there on a consistent basis.
Other than to receive training and blessings from church attendance you can see that you are to attend to give as well. You have gifts you need to use as they were given for the edification of the body. You are there to provoke one others as they provoke you to love and good works. Yes, I know some folks seem to think their gift is to exercise the negative connotation of provoke and they do all they can to provoke debate and disunity at every opportunity and at times the best of us are provoked to sack them like a quarterback or open up the can of whoop butt that they hand us and beg us to open it. They can make it very hard to deny their request, but let that trial of your patience strengthen you so that you can better provoke others to love and good works.
Unfortunately, we need to be provoked in the right way because there is so much to distract us and hold our attention and energy that we get off mission. We exercise our talents and gifts to make money to give our family nice things. Yet, we fail to realize that the most valuable things we can give them besides our time is an example of our good works for and love towards the saints as well of those outside of the household of faith. While we are provoking others it reinforces our soul as well and then others provoke us as well and hopefully all that provoking and reinforcing will keep us in a frame of mind to hear the Spirit and not the call of the flesh and satan. How often do we need that? Much more than we think. Daily worked very well for the first century church. Man, they had power and fruit. May we be able to get a portion of their mantle!
We are also to exhort one another as we see the day approaching. What day, Sunday? No, the day we stand before Christ at the BEMA. When we get there we will be feeling mighty stupid and ashamed that we made such a light thing of being in church to be trained and to serve. When we see how much we could have done and how little we did, it will be a shocker! Hence, the call to exhort one another.
The closer we get to that day the more we should do that and maybe the more often we should meet. Yet, for folks enraptured with the Rapture it is hard get people to put in four hours a week let alone a daily meeting. Sunday night service is gone in many churches as is Sunday School or even the old Training Hour in evening so where do we get discipleship training since most Sunday morning messages are evangelistic as that is the usual time a unbeliever may visit with his believing friend or relative? Some Wednesday nights are no longer prayer and bible study. The choir and band practices and maybe there is an AWANA program for the kids so the parents in the choir have their children care for while they practice. I was an Asst Pastor at a church once were two of the elders did not make it to the prayer meeting but showed up at the end to practice their music. Odd that.
So all some get is one sermon per week. Not exactly what this passage seems to be conveying at all. Yes, there are legitimate reasons to miss. If you are sick or dead, though if you are dead and saved you will be like the first century Christians in that you will be in worship daily. If the only job you can get forces you to work on the days the Body meets then you must provide for your family or you are worst than an infidel. YET! If there are others in the same situation then a service should be created for people who can't make the normal meetings. Indeed, if we would get real then we would have a church service every day and even three shifts to make sure all can be ministered to despite any work obligations. That could be done, but folks would have to be spirit filled to make it happen.
If you can find suitable employment that would give you the days off to meet with the standard meetings of the Body then you should endeavor to work at that place. DO NOT! I repeat, DO NOT quit your job because you cannot get Sunday and Wednesday off. Make arrangements with your pastor to see if the staff can set up a service or Bible Study for you and others that may be in this situation or let him give you some guidelines on how to conduct a cell group as a part of the local church. You do not want to be a loose cell running about, but should work through the local Body. Many pastors dislike the cell group concept because of the abuses that they have seen. Done correctly, they can be a grand evangelistic tool and an aid to the Body, not a destructive cancer cell.
There used to be just one church per town. Now, it is like a buffet and though beef is beef you will find the same kind of church in several trays of the bar, but one has jalapenos, one doesn't, one is BBQ and the other pot roast, but basically the same thing. This ought not to be if we are indeed one Body that has one Lord, one faith and one baptism. Most often, it is carnal preferences and man-made divisions keeping the Body from being one. Yes, sound doctrine will divide, but there is not reason to have eight churches with the same doctrine in the same town. Seven are redundant and poor stewardship. We need revival to fix that issue.
Well, now that we have that backdrop I am sure you are wondering how this the title go with this message. This is where that comes in. Besides the basic failure to see the need of church attendance or wanting a buffet or being footloose and fancy free there are some other excuses people use to avoid church. I have been hurt in church. Come on, let's compare scars. I bet I have you beat. They are too hard line or strict at that church. There are nothing but hypocrites in the church. There are too many beliefs and heretics running around. Shoot, the devil shows up to the church more than the saints.
There is some truth in all of that. Yet, Jesus contended with all that and yet He still met in the synagogue with those people. Think about it. Who were the primary attenders? The Pharisees and the Sadducees were the main event. They ran the show. What kind of people were they?
The Pharisees were the hardliners. Man, they had things down to a science. They tithed mint, cumin and anise. Yes, Sir, they knew about tithing. They came up with all sorts of rules on how to wash hands, plates, etc. They can judge the people and know how a man could get out of caring for his parents and yet be righteous. Well, righteous by their definition anyway. They knew the rules as they made most of them up and you better not break the rules. That is why they hated Jesus. He broke all of their rules and taught people what was really the true will of God for their lives. Yes, He hit the hardliners right where they lived. He took their rules and rituals to the spiritual woodshed and wore them out.
The Pharisees have both the hardline and the hypocrite role down as they pretended to be holy and worshippers of God obedient to His laws, but they wrote laws supposedly as interpretation of God's laws that were really their ideas to make them look good while taking the easy way out and yet binding heavy burdens on the populace. They were indeed hypocrites as they were good at acting the part, but that was all it was, just an act. Some really were seeking to do right like Nicodemus and even Paul who were zealous for God though they were not on target with His will. Even so, Jesus still showed up at the synagogue though it was full of hypocrites.
I need to throw in a couple of extra H words here and that is hospital and hurting. Many unbelievers think the saints should never fail and when they do they are quick to use the hypocrite word. A person who is ill needs a hospital and that is part of the role of the Church. The Great Physician runs the Church/Hospital and hurting people come to Him and it.
A person taking treatments for a physical ailment may forget to take his meds or may suffer a setback during therapy. So also, may a spiritually ill person suffer some setbacks during the therapy he is receiving from Christ and the Church. That does not make him a hypocrite or actor. It merely validates that he needs the therapy. So be sure you know if a person is hurting and off his meds or if he is merely playing a role before you hang the hypocrite label on him. Jesus came to the synagogue in spite of the hardliners and hypocrites to help the hurting.
Then we have the Sadducees who were the heretics of the day before the Church was birthed in Acts 2 and another set of heretics came on the scene. These lads also said they were seeking God, but instead of paying lip service like the Pharisees while making end runs around the God they claimed to be sovereign these lads just shrunk God to a level they could control or endure.
They did not believe hardly anything the Law and the Prophets said as they did not believe in miracles, angels or the resurrection of the dead. They basically had a God equal to what we might call the Social Gospel. The morals were fine, but we do not need a powerful or miraculous God. Just give us a form of godliness. After all, being a religious leader is a respectable and cushy position why do anything else? They would be equal to many of our Liberal preachers today as well as several cults. Use the Bible and the name of God, but deny the power. If they were honest they would be social workers or psychologists instead of preachers, but they aren't and so they keep on the facade of belief. Hmm, that makes them hypocrites of even a higher degree than the Pharisees. Jesus did not stay away from the synagogue, but rather went to teach the truth and expose the heresy of the Sadducees and the hypocrisy of both groups.
That brings us to the final group, the heinous!
33 And in the synagogue there was a man, which had a spirit of an unclean devil, and cried out with a loud voice,
34 Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art; the Holy One of God.
35 And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. And when the devil had thrown him in the midst, he came out of him, and hurt him not.
36 And they were all amazed, and spake among themselves, saying, What a word is this! for with authority and power he commandeth the unclean spirits, and they come out.
37 And the fame of him went out into every place of the country round about. KJV
Yes, the devil and his minions show up regularly up at church. They are more faithful than the saints as they are there at every service. They are harassing the saints. They are stirring up tares to rip and tear up the church. They are deceiving the young and weak as well as depressing the aged.
We do not like to think about this in the Western or Civilized nations. We think all that demon stuff happens only in third world nations where voodoo and other heathen practices are prevalent. Demons in the West may act more civilized, but they are just as active. Indeed, they have hidden much of their activity by doing things we have come to accept as a part of aging or medical conditions and even some mental issues are more likely demonic activity rather than physical damage to the brain or hormonal imbalances. We have however made them all medical issues that we pump lots of drugs into a person when the real cure would be a spiritual healing of guilt or even spiritual warfare to end oppression from demons and in some cases possession.
Someone may ask at this point two questions. Are you a really a Baptist and are you saying all mental and physical illness are from demon activity? Yes, I am a Baptist. In fact, I am possibly more Baptist than some Baptists that might ask that question. Remember the Sadducees did not believe in angels, fallen or non-fallen. The Bible clearly teaches that demons exist and will be active in the world except for the bulk of the Millennium until the last battle at the end. That being so, why do we think we would be exempt from their shenanigans and tactics? Were there not demons involved in some of the illnesses that Jesus healed? Was not the demoniac exhibiting some symptoms that we see in some folks that are declared mentally ill?
They are not going to give up things that work though they may not always make them as plain as they did back then since they can do more damage if people believe that everything is just a medical condition or resulting from some trauma. In places where they are feared they can clearly manifest themselves as the fear brings about control and they love to see the fear and suffering in those they torment. In places where they are considered a figment of the imagination or in some other way have their existence denied they get the same thrill and maybe even a larger thrill by watching the fear and suffering one go through all the medical attempts for a cure like the woman with the bloody flux knowing full well that it is a waste of time since the real cause is not being addressed.
The problem is real and many mock the idea because there so many charlatans out there. Indeed, the demons are quite possibly in cahoots with some of them. They can cause the illness or duress and when the charlatan does whatever rigamarole he says will heal the person they stop doing what they were doing. The person may be healed, but still possessed or oppressed by the demon so they are not really cast out but using deception to lead people to believe the diatribe of a false prophet. After all, will not many say to Christ in that day that they did miracles and cast out devils in Jesus' name, but He will cast them out and call those people workers of iniquity? Will not the Anti-Christ with lying wonders that will deceive everyone, but the elect?
Yet, we do need to become skilled in spiritual warfare and people can be made free. The Word is still powerful and the same Father, Son and Holy Spirit can cast out demons and heal. You just need discernment to know what is real and what is fake. The war is won. We are in a mop up exercise, but we still have weapons to use against the same enemies. Be wise. Jesus was not deterred from attending the synagogue because of the heinous ones. He merely cast them out. If God's people get wise and do battle the heinous will leave or be thwarted in any plans that they have to hurt people and the mission of the Church.
So, what's you excuse? Jesus did not use any. He had to deal with the hardliners, the hypocrites, the heretics and the heinous? What makes you better than Him to cop out and seek to appear to be spiritual? Some do not like organized religion. I have not seen any form of disorganized religion do any better. Indeed, Christ worked within the organization that God ordained and man corrupted until He fulfilled the Law. Then He established His Church and the Apostles gave us the rules to run the organized Church. Yes, it is a relationship, but all things are still to be done decently and in order as He is not the author of confusion. So scratch that argument as well.
If you are so much better than the average Christian then it is your duty to show up and exhort the brethren. Provoke us to love and good works. If you don't, you may as well come and join up with the hypocrites because you are one of them if you do not do your duty. If you know to do good and don't do it then it is sin so you are in a bit of a quandary. I guess it comes down to the old adage of put up or shut up. Come show us how to fix things or be quiet. You are a Pharisee or Sadducee so you have nothing to say in the matter. You have no dog in the fight.
Some might say as I did, that the church will fall down if you come in because of things that you have done. Are you more heinous than the demons who are faithful attenders? I have my doubts, so come and let Christ set you free. Come to the hospital and let Him heal your hurt then give you wisdom to help the other H word attenders.
I told a fellow once who felt like he did not fit in to watch me. When they throw me out then you worry. He told me later that he often checked to see if I was still there when he felt out of place. He is now a worldwide evangelist. Come on in. I am still here so there is room for you. If Jesus can hang out with such a sorry crew and do what He was called to do so can you. Hallelujah for the Cross! Maranatha!