by Mike Ratliff
Διό, ἀγαπητοί, ταῦτα προσδοκῶντες σπουδάσατε ἄσπιλοι καὶ ἀμώμητοι αὐτῷ εὑρεθῆναι ἐν εἰρήνῃ καὶ τὴν τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν μακροθυμίαν σωτηρίαν ἡγεῖσθε, καθὼς καὶ ὁ ἀγαπητὸς ἡμῶν ἀδελφὸς Παῦλος κατὰ τὴν δοθεῖσαν αὐτῷ σοφίαν ἔγραψεν ὑμῖν, ὡς καὶ ἐν πάσαις ἐπιστολαῖς λαλῶν ἐν αὐταῖς περὶ τούτων, ἐν αἷς ἐστιν δυσνόητά τινα, ἃ οἱ ἀμαθεῖς καὶ ἀστήρικτοι στρεβλοῦσιν ὡς καὶ τὰς λοιπὰς γραφὰς πρὸς τὴν ἰδίαν αὐτῶν ἀπώλειαν. (2 Peter 3:14-16 NA27)
Wherefore, beloved, these things awaiting, be diligent, spotless and unblemished found with him in peace, consider the longsuffering of our Lord as salvation, as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given to him, as also in all his letters, speaking in them concerning these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist as they also do the other Scriptures to their own destruction. (a personal translation of 2 Peter 3:14-16 from the NA27 Greek text)
Carefully read the passage I placed at the top of this post my brethren. If you prefer, read 2 Peter 3:14-16 from your own preferred translation. If you do, go ahead and read 2 Peter 3 to keep it in context. What is it? As believers, we are called to remain faithful understanding fully that the Day of the Lord will surely come. In this, our expectation as those in Christ is that we are to be gathered unto our Saviour forever. That is our blessed hope. This includes the tremendous blessing of our Resurrection, which I find dreadfully neglected in the teaching nowadays. Now, let us look at another passage that stresses these same exhortations, but has been misused for centuries to teach something else entirely.
In our last post Slavery Freedom Faith and Fruit, the discussion, of course, centered on legalism and our freedom in Christ. As a refugee and victim of what of what we call “Churchianity,” I have been seeking the will of God in this ever since He allowed the circumstances to prevail in which the leadership at our old church in which I served as a Deacon and Bible Teacher to drive my wife and I out because I would not submit to the their plan to go Purpose Driven. My wife and I have visited and become close to many church fellowships since then, but God has never allowed us to become permanent members. Something has always kept that from happening. I will not go into details, but I am sure that those of you with discernment already know that it has everything to do with this ministry. Either they want no part of me or they want to control it. There was one church that my wife liked and it was close to our house, but one of the Deacons there was so rude to me the last Sunday we were there (and my wife witnessed it) that we never went back.
What is up with that? I am not pointing any fingers. As anyone who reads what I write knows, I fully grasp that God is Sovereign, therefore, what is going on He allows. I long ago committed myself to learning and obeying and ministering here via what He taught me through His Word and interactions with the world and the visible church.
Since that discussion on Slavery Freedom Faith and Fruit, of which I did not comment in much at all, I have been researching the controversy of the legalism and church attendance et cetera. I could make a career out of writing about nothing but that. In any case, in my own case, as most of you know, I came from a Southern Baptist background. It was hammered into me as a child that we had to be there in “Church” every Sunday morning and evening and Wednesday, et cetera. When I became old enough, I had to attend Royal Ambassadors (which I detested). I was already a Cub Scout (which I loved). The R.A. stuff was like legalism on parade. I was not old enough back then to know what that meant, but I knew that it was just more religiosity (which I already hated). Later, when I became older, we had something on Sunday evenings called Training Union. It was like Sunday school, but on Sunday nights. So, on Sunday’s I was there in the morning for Sunday school then for “Church” then a few hours later we went back for Training Union then more Church. Later in the week, I had to go to R.A.’s on Wednesday night, et cetera. As an adult, all this was repeated but with more and more days during the week being taken away with meetings and gatherings and “fellowships.” When I was a Deacon, I had to give up my Saturday mornings twice a month for meetings plus all the other days we had to give up for the other stuff Deacons have to do.
All of that and all I really wanted was to open my Bible and have someone help me understand it and then later as an Adult, open my Bible before others and help them understand theirs. I wanted to pray with them and worship our God. All this other “stuff” just was a colossal waste of time that took time away from things I would have much preferred to be doing. During the 1980’s, we had a pastor who forced all the Deacons and their families to be at Church on Sunday evenings on Super Bowl Sunday. If not then there would be repercussions. During those years when Joe Montana was winning all those Super Bowls in San Francisco, I think I saw one of them because I was visiting away from home or something. What passage of scripture did this pastor use to enforce this? It was Hebrews 10:23-25. Here it is from the KJV (which is what he used).
Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto 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 ye see the day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25 KJV)
Let us put this into context. Hebrews 10 is a continuation of the discussion from Hebrews 9 comparing the Old Covenant with the New Covenant, which describes our redemption through the blood of Christ and how that is far superior to all that blood shed in the sacrifice through the Old Covenant that could not atone for anyone’s sins. Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant (Hebrews 9:15). In Hebrews 10:1-18 we have Christ’s Sacrifice once for all. In other words, he does not have to go to the cross repeatedly. The atonement through His sacrifice was sufficient for all those He purchased through His blood.
Now we come to Hebrews 10:19-39 which is part of a larger context that runs through Hebrews 12:29. This section of Hebrews is a call to faith and endurance just as Peter’s call was in 2 Peter 3. In this section of Hebrews we see the superiority of Christ and that His salvation culminates in exhortations to faith and perseverance. Let us focus on vv19-31.
Ἔχοντες οὖν, ἀδελφοί, παρρησίαν εἰς τὴν εἴσοδον τῶν ἁγίων ἐν τῷ αἵματι Ἰησοῦ, ἣν ἐνεκαίνισεν ἡμῖν ὁδὸν πρόσφατον καὶ ζῶσαν διὰ τοῦ καταπετάσματος, τοῦτ᾽ ἔστιν τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἱερέα μέγαν ἐπὶ τὸν οἶκον τοῦ θεοῦ, προσερχώμεθα μετὰ ἀληθινῆς καρδίας ἐν πληροφορίᾳ πίστεως ῥεραντισμένοι τὰς καρδίας ἀπὸ συνειδήσεως πονηρᾶς καὶ λελουσμένοι τὸ σῶμα ὕδατι καθαρῷ· κατέχωμεν τὴν ὁμολογίαν τῆς ἐλπίδος ἀκλινῆ, πιστὸς γὰρ ὁ ἐπαγγειλάμενος, καὶ κατανοῶμεν ἀλλήλους εἰς παροξυσμὸν ἀγάπης καὶ καλῶν ἔργων, μὴ ἐγκαταλείποντες τὴν ἐπισυναγωγὴν ἑαυτῶν, καθὼς ἔθος τισίν, ἀλλὰ παρακαλοῦντες, καὶ τοσούτῳ μᾶλλον ὅσῳ βλέπετε ἐγγίζουσαν τὴν ἡμέραν. Ἑκουσίως γὰρ ἁμαρτανόντων ἡμῶν μετὰ τὸ λαβεῖν τὴν ἐπίγνωσιν τῆς ἀληθείας, οὐκέτι περὶ ἁμαρτιῶν ἀπολείπεται θυσία, φοβερὰ δέ τις ἐκδοχὴ κρίσεως καὶ πυρὸς ζῆλος ἐσθίειν μέλλοντος τοὺς ὑπεναντίους. ἀθετήσας τις νόμον Μωϋσέως χωρὶς οἰκτιρμῶν ἐπὶ δυσὶν ἢ τρισὶν μάρτυσιν ἀποθνῄσκει· πόσῳ δοκεῖτε χείρονος ἀξιωθήσεται τιμωρίας ὁ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ καταπατήσας καὶ τὸ αἷμα τῆς διαθήκης κοινὸν ἡγησάμενος, ἐν ᾧ ἡγιάσθη, καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς χάριτος ἐνυβρίσας; οἴδαμεν γὰρ τὸν εἰπόντα· ἐμοὶ ἐκδίκησις, ἐγὼ ἀνταποδώσω. καὶ πάλιν· κρινεῖ κύριος τὸν λαὸν αὐτοῦ. φοβερὸν τὸ ἐμπεσεῖν εἰς χεῖρας θεοῦ ζῶντος. (Hebrews 10:19-31 NA27)
Therefore, brothers, having boldness for entering the Holy of Holies by the blood of Jesus, which He opened for us a new and living way through the Curtain, that is to say, His flesh, and since we have a great Priest over the House of God, let us approach God with a true heart in a full assurance of faith having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold firmly the confession of the hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful, and let us consider one another to stir up love and good works, not abandoning the gathering together of ourselves, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and by so much more as you see The Day approaching. For when intentionally sinning after we received the full knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment and a blazing of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone having declared the Law of Moses invalid dies without mercy upon the word of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God and trampled upon the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, having insulted the Spirit of Grace? For we know Him who said, “To Me is vengeance, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (a personal translation of Hebrews 10:19-31 from the NA27 Greek text)
Let us reason together with honest and open hearts here my brethren. As we look at the context of vv23-25, which so many use as a command for Christian brothers and sisters to “assemble together” whenever the church leaders say so. Here is my translation of vv23-25:
Let us hold firmly the confession of the hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful, and let us consider one another to stir up love and good works, not abandoning the gathering together of ourselves, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and by so much more as you see The Day approaching.
The KJV translated the Greek word ἐλπίδος as Faith, but is it? Here it is the Genitive, Singular of ἐλπίς or elpis. It is translated as “hope” everywhere in the KJV New Testament except here. The context of these three verses, then, is Christians not wavering concerning their hope in what that their faithful God has promised. What has He promised believers? As I stated above, the Resurrection from the dead is huge along with our glorification and the return of Jesus Christ. Consider Acts 23:6 where Paul refers to our “Hope and resurrection of the dead.” Look at Acts 24:15, “having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.
(Acts 24:15 ESV)” We see this again in Acts 26:6 and 28:20. Look at Romans 5:2, “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”
Consider Romans 8:19-25:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.(Romans 8:19-25 ESV)
Now, back to Hebrews 10. In v24, let us read it in the context of what we just studied. Here it is, “and let us consider one another to stir up love and good works…” Why are we to consider each other to stir up love and good works amongst ourselves? What is the motivation? It is because of the hope of glorification in the resurrection that we are to keep on another in mind to incite each other to love and good works.
Here is v25, “not abandoning the gathering together of ourselves, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and by so much more as you see The Day approaching. ” The words “gathering together” translate the noun ἐπισυναγωγὴν, the Accusative, Singular of ἐπισυναγωγή or episunagōgē, “a gathering”. The noun form of this word is found in only one other place in the New Testament, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2, “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.” This gathering together in Hebrews 10 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 are obviously talking about our being gathered to Christ.
Hebrews 10:25 is not referring to Christians “going” or “not going” to church on Sunday, but to something far greater and more profound. As we put the verses in context, we see that we are to be exhorting, beseeching or comforting one another more and more as we see the day of the Lord drawing nearer and nearer. We should be about encouraging one another with the hope of the promise of our coming resurrection and what awaits us in Christ at His return. The admonition in v25 is that so many are not encouraging one another this way, but are focusing on religiosity or other things, much like today.
When I look at how this passage has been used to enforce religiosity upon people rather than encouraging them into conforming them unto the image of Christ as it really says, I can see now why the spirit of Laodicean Church (Revelation 3:14-22) that is so fully in place in our time is falling victim to deceiver after deceiver and supposedly solid leader after supposedly solid leader falls into mediocrity if not apostasy. No, we should not be surprised at this, but seek to be conformed to the image of Christ and be fully of the spirit of the Philadelphia Church (Revelation 3:7-13) as we encourage one another inciting one another unto good works as the day of the Lord is seen to be drawing nearer and nearer.
Soli Deo Gloria!