Did God Really Say... Do not forsake the gathering of the believers.?
Do you know the tactic Satan used to deceive Eve in the Garden? It was simple really. Simply by referring to God by an impersonal name, devoid of His character, the enemy caused her to question much about God and therefore, the rightness of His singular command. You can see this by taking notice of Satan’s subtle, yet strategic, shift of language in Genesis 3. Except when Satan speaks, every time God is referred to in the second creation account and story of Adam and Eve, two words for God are used, Elohim Yahweh, LORD God. This two-part name, which is the one God used to introduce Himself to Moses, combines the formal /generic name for God (Elohim) with the personal name of God specifically given for His people—Yahweh, meaning Jehovah. The two names in combination encompass God’s character--that He IS the Almighty but also has an interest in and personal care for His people. Satan, however, wanting Eve to forget the character of Yahweh, said to the woman, Did Elohim really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?[2
This tactic the deceiver used to tempt Eve to disobey God’s good command is the same tactic the devil uses today. Alter the perception of who God is and an individual finds a ready excuse to disobey the LORD God’s commands. For example, with over-emphasis on the love of God and not the fear of God, disobedience is easy because He will surely forgive. Or, if one has believed in a God who aligns with the image of our modern culture of relativism, then disobedience is easy because we think we get to pick and choose the commands we deem appropriate. After all, Did God really say…?
With the closing of churches during the Covid pandemic, many of those professing Christ as their Savior have become quite comfortable with attending church online. Even with their subsequent reopening, most churches, even the smallest ones, continue to broadcast services live for those who choose to stay at home. Such actions, by churches and their congregants seem reasonable and certainly worldly-wise in the face of the possible loss of life. After all, did God really say…
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 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. For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:23-27 ESV)
Those verses are packed to overflowing with promises and commands, all of which are given with a particular time in focus—as you see the Day drawing near. All around us, Christians buzz with an excitement over the certainty that WE ARE in the last days! The signs foretold in Scripture that point to the Savior’s return, seem to be unfolding before us. Yet, even as they eagerly anticipate the return of our Savior in the last days, Christians in vast numbers are falling prey to Satan’s original tactic of deception from the first days. Did Elohim Yahweh really say that we should hold fast without wavering and that He would be faithful to those who do? Did Elohim really say that we are to continue meeting together, fulfilling the many roles of the church? Did Elohim really say that if we deliberately sin by disobeying His command to meet together, when we know the truth, we should have a fearful expectation of His judgment?
Does the presence of a pandemic excuse us from obeying the simple, direct commands of Elohim Yahweh?
I recently heard someone speak about the dangers people face daily in the Middle East for their faith in Jesus Christ. She described the numerous subterfuges the underground church must go through to physically meet together for worship and encouragement as the body of Christ. If just one of them is reported to the authorities, the individual will likely be tortured to reveal the other members of their house-church. The decision to gather together anyway is literally one of life and death. To the Western way of thinking, the tremendous risk of betrayal by parents, siblings, children, and one’s spouse in that part of the world must surely cause believers to remain isolated in fear. Such is not the case. Instead, like the early church, the transforming truth of the Gospel compels them to live out their faith in obedience to LORD God despite the risk, and as they do; they discover that, indeed, He who promised is faithful.
Although it may seem that we are making wise decisions to protect ourselves and others in the face of danger, in reality, our disobedience reveals our view of God’s character. Brothers and sisters, Satan has deceived us into fearing a virus more than we fear Elohim Yahweh. By attempting to control a possible outcome through disobedience, our actions demonstrate a false belief that we are more powerful than the sovereignty of God. His command to physically meet together does not become irrelevant because of risk to us or others. In Luke 14:26-27 Jesus says, If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. We know from other passages that Jesus is not saying to neglect one’s family for he tells us that to do so is to be worse than an infidel. However, Jesus is making a point. He must come first. Jesus also said, Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. If we love our own lives or the lives of our family members more than Him, we are not true disciples.
God’s specific command that Christians continue to meet together all the more as you see the Day drawing near must not be overlooked. In God’s foreknowledge, He is fully aware of what those days will bring—plagues, wars, betrayal, danger, and hardships beyond measure. In His goodness, He also knows that at such times, His children will need, more than ever, the benefits of functioning as a body. According to Scripture, there are numerous reasons that the physical gathering together of believers cannot be replaced with remote worship. How can you celebrate the Lord’s supper online? How can you encourage your brothers and sisters or even your own children in obedience to the Almighty when you are cowering in fear at home? How can you testify to the world that your God is indeed faithful and worthy of all that you have, when you are content to watch church in your pajamas? How can you benefit from the accountability and encouragement other brothers and sisters provide, when no one sees you? How can the body of Christ, with its many members, each of which serve a unique and valuable function, operate when parts are missing?
It is not only congregants who will be held responsible by LORD God for their sin of disobedience, but also the church leaders who enable them and by their silence encourage them to disobey as the Day draws near. The prophet Hosea gave a message to the priests of old. Apparently God held them responsible for their lack of a righteous example and teaching, which directly led to the lack of knowledge that caused God’s people to perish. Although the role of the priests of the old covenant is not the same as the elders, pastors, and teachers of the new, the responsibility for both groups to be shepherds remains, as does the higher standard to which they are held. Therefore the strong message in Hosea 4:6-7 is one that modern church leaders should consider carefully. It says,
Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children. The more priests there were, the more they sinned against me; they exchanged their glorious God for something disgraceful (NIV).
How can parishioners expect to take seriously the command to not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing when the leaders of churches are enabling them in their sin of disobedience?
Because the signs of the end times seem upon us, Christians fearfully banter about the coming reality that we may soon have to choose between denying Christ and our own lives. This is, after all, foretold for the last days. I would contend, that the first of many tests is upon us. Will we choose to demonstrate our love for the Savior by obeying His command to not give up meeting together, or will we love safety and convenience more? When the prophet Jeremiah complained to God about the wicked around him, God responded with, If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan? If we cannot follow a simple command in the prelude to the threats still to come, how will we manage in the thickets?
If you are one of many who, for whatever reason, has chosen disobedience previously, repentance is at hand. Do not be afraid! LORD God did really say that He would be faithful as we hold fast as obedient children, and all the more as the Day approaches!