Are these sentiments in harmony with Bible doctrine?
Let’s consider a well-known passage from Hebrews chapter 10. As believers who understand the vital truth about the sanctuary in Heaven where our High Priest is ministering in our behalf, we are graciously invited to have “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh” (verses 19, 20). Here is depicted the direct, vertical relationship we are privileged to enjoy between our individual souls and our Creator.
In view of that, we are urged, “Having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our hope without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised)” (verses 21–23).
God’s wonderful faithfulness motivates the individual conscience to enjoy spiritual communion with Him—a distinct relationship with Him, that, as the famous hymn describes, “None other has ever known.” What a privilege to be individually enjoyed by each one of us! Here we envision the precious opportunity every soul has in clinging to the first of the two tables of stone in the Ten Commandments.
But does it all end there? Is that all there is? No, there is a second table of stone with another set of responsibilities that we also owe to our Creator and His heritage. It depicts a horizontal relationship with our fellow human beings. The passage in Hebrews continues:
“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” (verses 24, 25).
Back in the days of the apostle Paul, just as today, it was evident that the manner of some people was to forsake the assembly, that is, to avoid meeting together with others for worship.
But instead, the apostle teaches, we are to exhort one another—and he also explains that the closer we get to the end of probationary time, the more important this becomes. Why? What is the Lord trying to show us here?
“Never entertain the thought that you can be Christians and yet withdraw within yourselves. Each one is a part of the great web of humanity, and the nature and quality of your experience will be largely determined by the experiences of those with whom you associate. Jesus says: ‘Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst’ (). Then let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhort one another; and so much the more, as we see the day approaching.
“Make the social meetings of the church as interesting as possible. Let everyone present feel that he has a duty to perform in the meeting.”1
“One person is not to do all the witnessing for Jesus; but everyone who loves God is to testify of the preciousness of His grace and truth. Those who receive the light of truth are to have lesson upon lesson to educate them not to keep silent, but to speak often one to another. They are to keep in mind the Sabbath meeting, when those who love and fear God, and who think upon His name, can have opportunity to express their thoughts in speaking one to another. . . .
“Let each one seek to become an intelligent Christian, bearing his responsibility, and acting his personal part to make the meeting interesting and profitable. . . .
“The Majesty of heaven identifies His interests with those of the believers, however humble may be their circumstances. And wherever they are privileged to meet together, it is appropriate that they speak often one to another, giving utterance to the gratitude and love that is a result of thinking upon the name of the Lord. Thus shall God be glorified as He hearkens and hears, and the testimony meeting will be considered the most precious of all meetings; for the words spoken are recorded in the book of remembrance.”2
But what if these people disappoint me and do not meet my expectations?
Christ gives an interesting warning about the way in which preparation for His soon coming involves the relationship between ourselves and our fellow believers:
“Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods. But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” ().
As believers in the three angels’ messages, most of us are aware of the evils of self-indulgent intemperance and the importance of avoiding “to eat and drink with the drunken.” We also are aware of the need to evangelize the unbelievers of the world. But Jesus brings out a vital point in this passage:
We cannot be “smiting” our fellow servants, either! “Fellow servants” are fellow believers who serve God, and it is not our place to gossip about their shortcomings, for such a focus reveals that an attitude that says in the heart (even if not in the outward profession), “My lord delayeth his coming.” “My Lord (yes, the Lord whom I profess) is taking longer than I expected,” so the archenemy’s temptation to criticize and backbite rises to the surface.
The prophet Jeremiah describes, “I heard the defaming of many, fear on every side. Report, say they, and we will report it. All my familiars watched for my halting, saying, Peradventure he will be enticed, and we shall prevail against him, and we shall take our revenge on him” ().
In contrast, the Lord’s messenger in our day illustrates for us a more appropriate attitude regarding the frailty of fellow believers:
“My brethren, clear your souls before God. Cease your criticizing and fault-finding. Satan will keep you at this till the Lord comes, if he can. He knows that thus he can most effectually hinder the Lord’s work. Backbiting is cannibalism. God calls upon His people to have nothing to do with it, but to come to Him, that they may have light and life and salvation. We need the wisdom that comes from above. Pure, this wisdom is ‘peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated’ (). If it were not, the love of the Father would not have been so constantly exercised toward us.
“Again and again God has pardoned our transgressions. Now there are steps that we must take. And what are they? Let us try to understand. You will remember the time that the news came from Europe regarding the financial embarrassment of the publishing house in Christiania. Some in this country said that we ought to let the institution go; that the managers ought to have known better than to get so heavily in debt; that they had no right to be in such a situation. But had such advice been followed, would it have placed the workers in the publishing house in Norway on vantage ground, where they could carry on their work for the Master? Light was given me that the institution was to be placed where it could do its work. But the workers there could not do this without help. Their brethren in other lands were to help them, standing with them shoulder to shoulder, making their interests and their loss their own.”3
“Whenever you see or hear something that needs to be corrected, seek the Lord for wisdom and grace, that in trying to be faithful you may not be severe.
“It is always humiliating to have one’s errors pointed out. Do not make the experience more bitter by needless censure. Unkind criticism brings discouragement, making life sunless and unhappy.
“My brethren, prevail by love rather than by severity. When one at fault becomes conscious of his error, be careful not to destroy his self-respect. Do not seek to bruise and wound, but rather to bind up and heal. . . .
“Brethren, regard yourselves as missionaries, not among heathen, but among your fellow workers. It requires a vast amount of time and labor to convince one soul in regard to the special truths for this time. And when souls are turned from sin to righteousness, there is joy in the presence of the angels. Think you that the ministering spirits who watch over these souls are pleased to see how indifferently they are treated by many who claim to be Christians? Man’s preferences rule. Partiality is manifested. One is favored, while another is treated harshly.
“The angels look with awe and amazement upon the mission of Christ to the world. They marvel at the love that moved Him to give Himself a sacrifice for the sins of men. But how lightly human beings regard the purchase of His blood!
“We need not begin by trying to love one another. The love of Christ in the heart is what is needed. When self is submerged in Christ, true love springs forth spontaneously.
“In patient forbearance we shall conquer. It is patience in service that brings rest to the soul. It is through humble, diligent, faithful toilers that the welfare of Israel is promoted. A word of love and encouragement will do more to subdue the hasty temper and willful disposition than all the faultfinding and censure that you can heap upon the erring one.”4
Continuing back to the passage in Hebrews: In the next verses we are warned that “if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries” (, ). It’s interesting to notice that this warning about willful sin comes right after the admonition that we are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. Is there a connection here? Evidently it would appear that we could become more likely to commit willful sin—which is so deadly to our soul—if we are not continually in a situation in which we are held accountable to uphold Christlike behavior. When we are alone for too long, it becomes too easy to overlook our own defects of character.
“There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise.” “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (; ; ). When we seek to avoid and escape this sharpening process, we tend to become spiritually dull.
“Those who do not feel the necessity of seeking the assembly of the saints, with the precious assurance that the Lord will meet with them, show how lightly they value the help that God has provided for them. Satan is constantly at work to wound and poison the soul; in order to withstand his efforts we must breathe the atmosphere of heaven. We must individually get hold and keep hold of Christ.”5
Here again is reference to a precious individual work—yet it also reveals how important it is to assemble with others in Christ’s name. Why?
“The world in its wisdom knows not God. The world cannot see the beauty, the loveliness, the goodness, the holiness of divine truth. And in order that men may understand this, there must be a channel through which it shall come to the world. The church has been constituted that channel. Christ reveals Himself to us that we may reveal Him to others. Through His people are to be manifested the riches and glory of His unspeakable gift.
“God has committed to our hands a most sacred work, and we need to meet together to receive instruction, that we may be fitted to perform this work. We need to understand what part we shall individually be called upon to act in building up the cause of God in the earth, in vindicating God’s holy law, and in lifting up the Saviour as the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world’ (6). We need to meet together and receive the divine touch, that we may understand our work in the home. Parents need to understand how they may send forth from the sanctuary of the home their sons and daughters so trained and educated that they will be fitted to shine as lights in the world. We need to understand in regard to the division of labor and how each part of the work is to be carried forward. Each one should understand the part he is to act, that there may be harmony of plan and of labor in the combined work of all.”
“When difficulties arise among church members, let them be cleared away before the Sabbath comes. This should be regarded as a Christian duty by every church member. ‘Let the peace of God rule in your hearts and be ye thankful’ (7). Are you troubled and perplexed? Sweep away the rubbish that has been accumulating before the door of the heart and open the door, inviting Jesus to come in and abide as an honored Guest. Bring peace and comfort into your own hearts and the hearts of others. This is most blessed missionary work.”
“Many claim that it matters not what one believes, if his life is only right. But the life is molded by the faith.”8
And “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” ().
“It is a serious mistake to neglect the public worship of God. The privileges of divine service should not be lightly regarded. Those who attend upon the sick are often unable to avail themselves of these privileges, but they should be careful not to absent themselves needlessly from the house of worship.”9
“The truth spoken by the living preacher will have greater influence than the same matter will have when published in the papers.”10
“Study the sacred Word prayerfully, for your own soul’s benefit. When you hear the word of living preachers, if they has a living connection with God, you will find that the Spirit and the word agree.”11