To Obey God or Men?

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb.10:24-25, ESV).

You have probably heard these words quoted on many occasions to encourage folk to be more diligent about attending upon the “means of grace,” by which is usually meant the scheduled worship services of the congregation. Maybe you have quoted them yourself in this connection, as have I. A neglect of the corporate worship of God has been seen by many as a symptom of spiritual decline, and indeed that may well be the case.

Alongside these words let me place some other words. These were spoken by Peter and the apostles to the Jewish authorities who were trying to shut down the preaching of the Name of Jesus:

“We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

So, when the Government tells us, in effect to limit, or cease the physical gatherings of the church (allowing 4m2 per person, for example), should we appeal to Heb.10:24-25 as revealing the infallible will of God in the matter, then quote Acts 5:29, and take the consequences?

It should be said immediately that if Heb.10:24-25 does indeed convey the infallible will of the Lord regarding attendance at worship services, then yes, we should obey no matter the consequences. But does it?

May I suggest that such is not the meaning of our text? The text has a context, which is Heb.10:23 – “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Far from seeing our Faith as an individual matter, it is a “con-fession,” where the “con” means “with.” That is, with other Christians. If we let the sins of others discourage us, and retreat from them, we are denying that God has called us to be his family – brothers and sisters in Christ.

Our text in Hebrews 10 is not a legalistic demand for attendance at meetings: it is a warning against isolationism and individualism. Meeting together is one (important) way to “hold fast our confession,” as we encourage one another. When that is not possible, which it may be for various reasons, then we must find other ways to encourage, to edify, to bless. And all the more, as we see the Day of the Lord drawing near. Don’t let social distancing be an excuse for failing in the duty of mutual love and edification.