Has the assembly of the God’s people in the same room at the same time reached antiquated status? What is the big deal if we stop gathering as frequently or faithfully in the local church context as every previous generation of believers? These questions and others like them are being quietly or brashly asked all around us today. They are also being answered but…typically only on a surface level. Pastors are focused primarily upon the attendance and offering numbers of local church gatherings. Pewsters, on the other hand, are trending toward only gathering when it is convenient or “extra special.” Let’s be honest-both of those perspectives sound noble or organic but are actually self-serving for the most part! These tendencies and the tension between the two are the result of amnesia toward God’s sanctified reasons for why we are to assemble as the ekklesia.
We wrote about “being the church instead of being in church” in an earlier post. Despite technological advances and cultural trends of our day, I believe the Bible clearly affirms in multiple texts including Colossians 3:12-17 several deeper and exclusive motivations to never abandon the vital gatherings of believers:
Allow “gather time” to connect you to corporate tenderness.
Co 3:12a, 14 “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness…And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.”
“Bowels of Mercies” refers to a tender sympathy of heartfelt compassion. Sympathy is heart-felt compassion for ANOTHER PERSON-an attribute impossible to “put on” all by yourself. “Kindness” carries the idea of benevolence in action. Corporate gathering times alone give us OBJECTS upon which we can act out our kindness. “Humbleness of Mind” refers to the outward expression of that inner attitude. Humbleness is modesty, it places self last, and regards self as least. You cannot learn to place self last if you do life all by yourself on a regular basis! “Meekness” is not weakness, but lowliness or delicate consideration for others. It is the opposite of arrogance and self-assertion. Much of self-control cannot be learned or expressed in isolation! “Charity” is agape or godly love, often connected to “love feasts,” or corporate gatherings.
TOUGH Christians are disconnected from corporate gatherings; TENDER ones are faithful and all-in with the same! You can go pretty deep with knowledge on your own, but you cannot with the “tender disciplines” of our faith without others! Choose to fight the tendency to only love yourself by being a part of every gathering that the church God place you in feels led to schedule and maintain.
Allow “gather time” to connect you to corporate forgiveness.
Co 3:12b-13 “…long suffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.”
“Long suffering” speaks of patience under provocation and of the long endurance of offense. It combines joy and a kind attitude toward others, along with perseverance under provocation. Anybody can “gut it out,” but the one who keeps gathering must learn how to suffer with the right verbal tone and body language before others that are watching and maybe even the immediate cause of the suffering. “Forbearing” means to put up with things we dislike and get along with those who disagree. Christians CAN disagree without being disagreeable but not without regular practice in the assembly! “Forgiving quarrels” (charizomai) is built on the same root as the word grace and means “to bestow favor unconditionally.” This means that the Christian will always treat the offending party graciously.
Christians that really struggle to practice Christlike forgiveness are disconnected from corporate gatherings; ones that are really adept at consistent forgiveness are faithful and all-in with the same! Can you experience the full range of forgiveness while alone-no! There are levels of giving and receiving forgiveness that Christ only offers when we are gathered together! Your ability to be “forgiving one another” is in direct proportion to the frequency of your “gather time.” Don’t avoid it because of “those hypocrites, heathens, or immature believers.” Run toward it as often as possible to learn more fully how to forgive like God in His house!
Allow “gather time” to connect you to corporate peace.
Co 3:15 “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.”
In interpersonal relationships “peace” (transcendent, God-given tranquility) should rule (“arbitrate, decide every debate”). Just as it “takes two to tangle,” it takes at least two to experience God’s resolving peace of a difference! Our default position is to wrongly believe that avoidance of difficult people equals peace. Gathering helps us not only have peace from resolving wrong but being grateful for all that is we share that is right. An attitude of gratitude contributes to an enjoyment of spiritual tranquility, whereas grumbling makes for inner agitation. There is difference in the spiritual health of a believer who is only grateful for their own private, one-dimensional blessings and one that has a much longer list for the BLESSINGS SHARED WITH OTHERS!!! This peace we experience when we gather is not just to be authoritative but unifying of Christ’s body. Is it really “divine peace” that we claim to have if it is unable to help us actively, regularly have unity with other very flawed and feeble people like us?
Too often we view PEOPLE and PEACE as opposites of one another-when nothing for the local church believer could be further from the truth! “I just need some personal space” is way too often more about selfish pursuit of comfort instead of growing peace. Those with the deepest, abiding sense of peace are not the ISOLATED but the INTERCONNECTED! There is nothing wrong with peaceful solitude for a season, but ultimately the context of developing and sustaining “peace that passeth understanding” is IN COMMUNITY!
Allow “gather time” to connect you to corporate communication.
Co 3:16-17 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.”
Verse 16 speaks to the worshipful communication that we can only experience in community with other believers. First, we are to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly. As we saturate our hearts and minds with His holy word, and seek to walk in obedience to it, then the word of Christ is really at home in our hearts. The second thought is that in all wisdom we should be teaching and admonishing one another. Teaching has to do with doctrine, whereas admonishing has to do with duty. We owe it to our brethren to share our knowledge of the Scripture with them, and to seek to help by practical and godly counsel. The third thing is that with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs we should sing with grace in our hearts to the Lord. Much of the so-called “Christian” music of today is shallow and even unscriptural. By ourselves we are prone to fall into this kind of pseudo-worship! Together, we challenge each other to truly worship “in spirit and in truth.”
Verse 17 concludes with the active communication (“do”) that we only share together. This verse is an all-inclusive rule by which to judge our conduct as Christians. The great test should be: Can I do this in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ? Would this be to His glory? Could I expect His blessing to rest on it? Would I want to be doing it when He comes back again? Without each other, we tend to not ask this question or distort the answer to fit our selfish, glory-seeking agenda! Paul concludes with “thanks” again. It is a perpetual duty for those saved by grace and destined for the courts of heaven-something we will do in a gathered throng for all of eternity!
We need physical checks on what we are HEARING AND SAYING that can only happen by gathering with other gifted, grounded believers! (Cooky, quirky thoughts become way too “valid” to the isolated.) God gave us a voice, ears, and the rest of our body to fully engage in what is being SAID, HEARD, AND FELT in His visible body-the local church where you have no business not gathering!
As one author put it, “The church is a gift from God-some assembly required.” Church leaders, stop making the gathering all about physical metrics or militant attendance. Church member or attendee stop making it all about soft convenience or optional participation. Mark it down. There are levels of tenderness, forgiveness, peace, and communication that you will never reach in autonomous isolation. Hebrews 10:23-25 reminds that gathering is about much more than superficial agendas, “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.” There is an ultimate day of gathering that is much closer than it feels and adds a level of intensifying need to gather with those God has providentially put into our lives. Remember the “why’s” and insistently gather around them for the glory of the soon-coming Jesus.
(Here is a link to the sermon on this subject.)