Whenever in life you do something that is very difficult or out of step with the rest of the world around you, it is good to have someone (or a big bunch of someones) to do it with you.
For a full decade of my life in New Jersey before moving here to Maryland, about five or six mornings per week I arose at 5:30 to meet a friend to run and train for marathon competition. Apart from dreadful weather (10 below zero or 30 below wind chills qualified as good conditions), we met with each other and together ran about 10,000 miles over those years.
I have often referenced the profound impression that was made upon me three years ago when visiting in France with the people of my son Jesse’s church (he was studying at a university there along the French Rivera). It was clear that these folks profoundly needed each other. Their faith and values so alienate them from the broader culture around them that they completely depend upon relationship with each other.
And though we in America appear to be headed in the cultural post-Christian direction of Europe, it is not quite as profound for us. But even so, we are clearly out of step with the world around us as followers of Christ. And that is not new, it has always been true of the church.
Therefore a fifth reason we give this week as to why we value gathering is for mutual support and encouragement. The writer to the Hebrews made this same essential point to these early Christian Jews who were out of step both with their background and the secular world around them. In Hebrews 10:19-25 …
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
The Lord never envisioned his people to be self-sufficient islands and loners. Totally the opposite. Those who avoid community are not self-sufficient, but self-deluded. And it becomes a habit or pattern of life. As people drift away, over time it becomes a habit that is difficult to break and re-establish relationships in the church community. It is simply not a lifestyle that works in the long run.
A summary passage about what the early church looked like is that of the first Christians in Jerusalem as seen in Acts 2 …
Acts 2:42ff … They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
This is a picture of a highly-functioning body. And as outsiders look in, this sort of relational group is attractive to a watching world.
Over the years at TSF, we have had a strong family of relationships, service, and mutual encouragement. But we can always be better. So I encourage you to throw in as never before. Keep gathering. Get involved in body building, the building of the body of Christ, the Church.