It was not too long ago, that my wife and I were not attending services on a weekly basis. We only showed up about twice a month. We had several reasons for not coming, but the fact was that by not attending services regularly, we began to suffer spiritually.
This article was inspired by some of our church literature, especially from one called, "Should You Attend Church" (March/April Good News Magazine). I want to discuss a command that God gave us; it’s an extremely important one with far reaching consequences as well as blessings. It’s the command to assemble together on God’s Holy Sabbaths or to put it more simply, whether going to church is optional or required.
God appointed the Sabbath and His annual festivals as sacred assemblies. Leviticus 23: 1-2 says, "And [the LORD] spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, The feasts of [the LORD], which you shall proclaim, holy convocations, even these are My appointed feasts.” (MKJV unless noted) Another term for holy convocation here means "sacred assembly.” Then Moses continues to list all of the holy day feasts and the Sabbath.
Lions teach a lesson
When I was a small child growing up in the church, my parents used to let us watch nature shows on the Sabbath – mostly “National Geographic.” For some reason I always remember the episodes about lions. I loved watching the lions; they were so powerful, the king of the beasts.
As I continued to watch, as I got older, something about the lion shows started to bother me. They always showed the lion hunting, but it wasn’t the killing that got to me. I started to notice that when lions hunt, the first thing they do is separate the herd. What’s ideal for a lion, as with most predators is to find prey that is weak. This weakness could mean being slower than the rest of the herd, like with a sick animal, but most of the time the prey is just young. During the chase, the lion will separate one individual from the herd, the weakest member of that herd.
As a child, this really began to bother me. I mean I could see this kind of cowardly behavior coming from maybe a hyena, (my least favorite animal) but not from a lion. I had a different image of lions in my mind. Lions were to be feared and respected, but the way these massive beasts picked off the young to devour it, it just didn’t seem that magnificent to me anymore.
I think we can learn a very important lesson from the lion. One of easiest ways for Satan to destroy us is to first separate us from our “herd.” Get us one on one, feeling alone, scared, and without the protection of our spiritual family. Then he goes in for the kill.
1 Peter 5:8 says, "Be sensible and vigilant, because your adversary the Devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking someone he may devour.”
One of the important reasons God gave us the command to assemble together was to protect us from the adversary who seeks to destroy us. We have a very real God, and we also have a very real enemy. If we give Satan a foothold by not keeping the Sabbath commandment and reject the protection that God offers through his church, Satan will use it to try to destroy us spiritually. That’s his goal.
Look at a very encouraging scripture, Matthew 16:18. In the second half of the verse Christ says, "… I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (NKJV)
Satan is truly a master of the "Divide and Conquer.” We have seen Satan use this tactic time and again to divide the church, but we typically think of this on a larger "church wide" scale, but let’s think about how Satan uses this tactic personally, on an individual basis.
Let’s look at the second part of the scripture read at the beginning of the article,
1 Peter 5:9. "… whom firmly resist in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions in the world are being completed in your brotherhood." We do share the same sufferings. We are supposed to be there for each other, to encourage and to serve.
Service versus selfishness
There are many blessings that come from keeping God’s commandment to assemble. Fellowship, friendship, instruction, we get counsel, advice, help and the list goes on. It’s a tremendous blessing to be able to worship God together with hymns and through prayer. All of these blessings are very, very important and wonderful. They are gifts from God.
Service is a must for us as Christians, and it’s even more important as first fruits. Christ calls us laborers. In Matthew 9:37, He said, “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few.” What is a laborer if he does not labor? What is a servant that does not serve? God makes it clear through this scripture and others that we will be busy in the Kingdom of God. And that each of us has a job that will involve service to God and to one another. We know that Christ left His throne, came to earth and set an incredible example of service, making Himself a slave, a bondservant, even unto death.
It's according to God’s abundant love that keeping His commandment carries with it so many blessings, but that's not the only reason we come to church. If we are able to go to church, to serve others and God, and then we choose not too--that’s selfishness. (Philippians 2:3) God will not have selfishness in His kingdom.
We can't fall into the trap of being selfish with our Sabbath. We have all had long weeks, when the Sabbath rolls around and we say to ourselves, “I just want to relax.” Believe me I know. Living in the desert, in the summer, the last thing I "feel" like doing some Sabbaths is throwing on a suit when it’s 115 degrees outside and driving 35 minutes to services. It’s sometimes easy to convince yourself that listening to a recorded sermon, or catching a webcast is enough. We can also try to use God’s words to condone our selfish actions. Saying things like, "Well, the Sabbath was made for man … not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27) and I’m tired!" But man was made to serve God and to serve one another whole-heartedly.
Of course, there are times when coming to church may not be possible. This may be due to an illness, advanced age or a distance that is just too far to make it on a weekly basis. But aside from that consider what it says in Hebrews 10:24-26. and let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins. (NKJV)
It’s amazing how our perspective on coming to church changes when we remove ourselves from the picture and focus on loving one another. We begin to see that Christ is looking for faithful and steadfast servants, of one body, in the same place, with the same mind.Remember to pray for those who can't come to church and seek God’s help in bringing them back. Take shelter from our enemy within His flock, relying on one another for encouragement and to remain focused.
Always keep Christ’s promise in mind that His church will not fail and continue to learn and prepare for the coming kingdom. Do this by consistently and zealously practicing Godly service one to another, remembering that we’re not gathering at church for ourselves alone. And let’s not ever forget that to accomplish all this, and to truly make us ready… Assembly Is Required.