** Sunday, April 13, 1997
There's a certain phrase which parents everywhere learn to dread, so that their hearts skip a beat whenever they encounter it. They hear it spoken rapidly at the end of television commercials, or they see it printed, inconspicuously, on the sides of boxes, and they know that it invites them to test their love for their children by enduring perplexity and pain.
The phrase is "some assembly required" - and we all know what it means. It means that when you buy your child that toy that he or she has been wanting for Christmas, what you get will not look like the picture on the box, and it will not move the way that it does on the TV commercial. You will not in fact, get the toy....you will get the parts, and a set of instructions for assembling them, to make the toy. If you don't assemble them, you will never have the toy; you will only have a collection of parts. In order for the parts to function together as a whole, they must be assembled.
That is what assembling is - putting parts together so that they all function as a whole.
Speaking of parts and wholes, many people quote the above text to make a case for attending Sunday morning worship services. When they do that, they're treating it as a whole, complete thought, but it's actually just a part of a thought. It's not even a complete sentence, it's just a phrase. Now, if you wrote someone a 20-page letter (that's what Hebrews is, a letter), would you want them to quote a single phrase from that letter (not a paragraph, not a sentence, just a phrase) to say what you meant? Or would you be afraid of having your words twisted?
The best way to know what "not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together" means is by reading the whole letter. But for now, let's just look at the sentence that the phrase if part of, and see if we can make sense of it without dangling prepositions all over the place.
Here's the sentence, first in King James Version, then in the New American Standard translation:
KJV: 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.
NAS: Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.
There are some very long sentences in the Bible :-) - and some preachers could make a very long sermon from this one, but I won't. Let's simply observe that the phrase about assembling is subordinate to the thoughts that we should
In fact, the idea seems to be that the whole purpose of assembling is to do those two things.
If we state it in the positive, then, the instruction might go like this : Keep coming together so that you all function as a whole in stimulating one another to love and good deeds, and in encouraging one another.
This is a far cry from what most of us have learned to expect when Christians gather. If asked to state their primary reason for coming together, most Christians would probably say, "To worship God." So when they attend a Sunday morning service, they might focus on how well the choir sings, or on how much freedom they feel to express themselves in worshipping God. They would evaluate the service in those terms, and they would believe that by attending a service with the intent of worshipping, they are being obedient to the instruction not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together.
A smaller number of Christians might say that their primary reason for coming together is "To receive instruction from the Word" - i.e., to hear a sermon. They would evaluate a Sunday morning service in terms of how well the pastor preached. And they would believe that by attending a service with the intent of hearing a sermon, they are being obedient to the instruction not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together.
But there's a problem here. The problem is that neither worship nor preaching has anything to do with the reasons Scripture gives us for coming together - i.e., stimulating one another to love and good works, and encouraging one another. In fact, the entire concept and dynamic of gathering to do something for one another is so completely lost that most believers can't even use the phrase "one another" in describing their meetings - unless they say something like, "Ignoring one another to focus our attention on God."
If the writer of Hebrews were attend a typical Sunday morning worship service, he would probably find it perplexing, and before it was over might cry out, "Why do you have a meeting in which most of you don't say or do anything? Why aren't you all stimulating one another to love and good works, and encouraging one another? Why have you forsaken the assembling of yourselves together?"
In fact, he might well be not only perplexed, but appalled, because he did not simply instruct his readers to keep assembling to stimulate one another to love and good works, and to encourage one another - he instructed them to do it more and more as we see the day drawing near - that is, the day of Christ's return. Well, we are now 1900 years closer to that day, but instead of assembling more and more, we have done it less and less and less, substituting worship and preaching for stimulating one another to love and good works, and encouraging one another.
Worship and preaching are both fine in their place, but when believers gather, the place for both of them is somewhere behind or below the mutual encouragement of the saints. That is what assembling is - coming together to function as a whole in mutual encouragement. You may have have worship and preaching all day long, but in order live Biblically, and to experience true church life.....