This pandemic has brought about many questions for all of us. We are stuck at home, alone with our thoughts, and many of us are wondering when things will go back to normal and we can gather again on the Lord's Day.
In light of this many have asked the question: are we disobeying the command of Hebrews 10:25 by not gathering? I think this is an excellent question, but I do not think we should be quick to answer yes or no. We should consider the context, the command, and the call to care for one another.
First, it's helpful to consider the context of Hebrews 10 and its recipients. The writer is in the middle of a discourse regarding our redemption through Christ's sacrificial work. He then moves to talk about our assurance of faith.
(v21-22) "since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith..." And in verse 23, he says, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful."
So in this section of Hebrews the author is reminding us that we have been given, through Jesus, unrestricted access to God (10:19-21). *This truth motivates certain actions.
First we are to draw near (v22), secondly we are to hold fast our confession (v23) and lastly we are to consider how to stir up one another to love and good works (v24).
24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 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.
The word for “neglect” (enkataleipontes) is a very strong word. It refers to "an abandonment or forsaking.” The ESV translates this term as “neglect,” since it implies a failure to do something one ought to be doing.
It’s the same word that Jesus cried from the Cross (Matthew 27:46) when he felt forsaken by God. It’s the same word used in 2 Timothy 4:10 of Demas who deserted prisoner Paul. It’s not a word of “oops, I’ve kind of let this discipline slip in my life”. No, it’s a word of “I am intentionally abandoning you.”
This type of neglect is very different than not being able to gather on the Lord’s day because of an intended season of restriction (for the care of others). This type of neglect is the intentional action of giving up meeting, even when one could, because they are being selfish and sinful.
So the command in this text is not calling us to gather in defiance, it’s calling us to gather in obedience because we are caring for our fellow believer above ourself. So when we find ourselves in a pandemic we aren’t disobeying Hebrews 10:25 by not gathering together for a season out of love and concern for one another.
We are called in Scripture to submit to our authorities. (Romans 13:1-7, Titus 3:1). Right now, in the midst of a pandemic, we ought to submit to the directives of organizations like the CDC. When our governing authorities aim to do us good then our submission to that authority is clear. But this submission is not absolute. *Our ultimate authority is God.
And so the Christian position has always been to obey the governing authorities unless they require you to go against the will of God (and this is expressly outlined in Scripture).
So a bad reason to defy governing authorities is when they are doing something for our care, and for the care of our fellow neighbor. A good reason to defy governing authorities is when they are demanding or forcing us to listen to them rather than God (Acts 5:27-32).
I think, on the subject of Hebrews 10, it’s also helpful to remember that the audience of Hebrews was not faced with a shut down due to compliance to government and care for their fellow man. The reason some were “neglecting to meet together” was due to the fact that they were facing hardship and persecution (v32-34), and they didn’t want to face the cost. Again, it was because they are being selfish and sinful.
It is a very different situation if we were being forced to give up our gatherings on the Lord's day because we were being restricted from, or persecuted for, preaching the gospel and worshipping together.
More Christian’s sin today, and are lazy towards this command to ‘stir up one another to love and good works’ because they have a tendency to put themselves first and forget the commands of Scripture.
This is why the writer of Hebrews is reminding them of the work Christ has done, the redemption we’ve received, and the family we have been brought into (through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ).
Again, *this truth motivates certain actions. So, while we cannot meet, there are still ways that we can obey this command.
Notice the other great concern for “neglect”, which is a neglect of caring for one another. That, while we cannot meet together face-to-face, we can still “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works”. I think to neglect that would be to violate or be disobedient to the full command and instruction in Hebrews 10:25.
I think another way that we would be disobeying the command of Hebrews 10:25 is if, when we are able to gather together again, we remained in isolation and simply live streamed the service(s) from our homes because we grew comfortable and even complacent.
So are we being disobedient to the command of Hebrews 10:25? No, I don’t believe so. So long as we still “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” *[even when we cannot gather].
I think this would even be possible to see in how we commonly respond to the flu and cold season each year. Many people stay home from the Lord’s Day gathering for a week or two (as not to spread their sicknesses), but we don’t call that disobedience, we call that care.
I believe the same point is applied here. Care is different than neglect. We are not neglecting “one another”. Pastors have not stopped teaching, they have not ceased to shepherd, and for many Christians they have not stopped praying or considering how to “stir up one another to love and good works”.
If those things stop, then we are truly disobeying the command of Hebrews 10:25. But in this time our prayer should be to ask God to give us the ability to gather again! We should long for the ordinary means of grace in the gathering of God’s people on the Lord’s Day. That should drive us to a deeper love and care for one another!