The Importance of Assembling

First Century Christians lived in a time where their government declared war on Christianity. The assaults on people of faith were not done in secret (Heb. 10:32-34). Lands, homes and property were taken by the governing powers. Preachers were regularly interrogated by civil authorities for speaking the truth about Christ (Acts 5:17-18).

Members of the church did not want to assemble because of the government intrusions (Heb. 10:35-39). It just wasn’t safe going to church. Aquila and Priscilla were forced to leave their home in Rome due to the edict of Claudius (A.D. 49) expelling all Jews from the city (Acts 18:1-2). Apparently, many Christians were likewise caught up in the explosions throughout the Roman Empire as history records the “plundering of their possessions” (Heb. 10:34) assumedly as they fled. Philo accounts how Jews in Alexandria were forced to leave their homes and herded together in the city (In Flaccum 8.56). “Their enemies overran the houses now left empty and began to loot them, dividing up the contents like spoils of war.” The incidence was “accompanied by other acts of public outrage and violence (cf. F. F. Bruce, NICNT: Hebrews, 269). 1 Would we blame these Christians for not attending services given their concerns for their personal welfare?

The Hebrew writer records how the early Christians “endured a great fight of afflictions;” became “gazing stock both by reproaches and afflictions,” while implying many were mistreated by simple association with other persecuted Christians (Heb. 10:32-33). Philo (Against Flaccus 72, 74, 84-85, 95, 173) and Josephus (Against Apion 1.43) recorded how Jews were subjected to public humiliation and abuse in a theater during an organized massacre (A.D. 38).

Of course, we know how Paul spent many years in prison for his faith (Col. 4:18; Phil. 1:7; Heb. 10:34). We could reminisce of Stephen’s murder (Acts 7:58ff), John the Baptist’s execution (Matt. 14:6-11), or James death under Herod Agrippa (A.D. 43). Not to mention the persecution lead by Saul that left many Christians injured or dead (Acts 22:4-5).

It is in this environment that the Hebrew writer warns the brethren not to forsake assembling (Heb. 10:25). He immediately conjoins such an act to willful sin (Heb. 10:26-31). After which he implores them not to quit their faith after everything they have been through already (Heb. 10:32-39). The act of forsaking the assembling of saints is indicative of one who draws back to perdition (Heb. 10:39). To further encourage the battered brethren, the author of Hebrews sights many examples of people with the kind of faith that doesn’t draw back (Heb. 11). Endurance becomes the theme as the Hebrew writer returns to the hostility present at that time (Heb. 12:1-4). Ultimately, Christ is the perfect example of faith as one “who endured such hostility from sinners.”

Isn’t it strange how our brethren will often water down the importance of assembling? The early Christians went to church knowing it could mean their arrest, torture or humiliation. To be associated with Christians was enough to ruin one’s life. Yet, the book of Hebrews chronicles the explicit commands and exhortations not to throw their faith away by forsaking the assembling. Forsaking church services is a reflection of our faith.

Imagine our brethren on the judgment day telling Christ on the throne that they thought it better to miss the assembling of the saints for any number of reasons. There were sporting events, family socials, overtime at work, minor health complaints, the need to sleep in, etc. What would the early Christians think of those excuses after all they went through? God wouldn’t excuse their desire to forsake church services just because they were being persecuted! God certainly won’t excuse our forsaking church services for any reason within our control.

In the near future, persecution might be added to our list of reasons to forsake. Will we miss the assembling of the saints just because it could cause us to lose our possessions, our dignity or even our life? Christ “laid down His life for us” (1 Jn. 3:16). Is He asking too much when He requires our attendance in worship to Him?

1Daniel H. King, Sr., The Book of Hebrews, Truth Commentaries, Guardian of Truth Foundation, p.351.

By Steve A. Hamilton

shamilton@rap.midco.net

 

 

Temperance

Definitions of words change over time. For example, the word “gay” has always meant to be happy. However, its definition presently includes the relationship between homosexual people where half a century ago no such reference could be found in any dictionary. Ironically, according to the first edition of the Webster Dictionary that was published in 1828, the word “gay” use to be a term of derision for drunks. The third definition under the word “gay” in that publication reads, “Inflamed or merry with liquor; intoxicated; a vulgar use of the word in America.”[1]

Likewise, the definition of the word temperance has changed since the year 1611 when the King James Version of the Bible was first published. “Temperance” is defined as moderation but it used to include in its definition the idea of abstinence. “Philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1640) defines “temperance [as] the habit by which we abstain from all things that tend to our destruction; intemperance the contrary vice.’ ” [2]

In the first century, the Greek word “enkrateia” from which we get our English word “temperance” as translated in the King James Version meant abstinence as a form of self-control. Josephus wrote in The War of the Jews (2, 8, 2), “These Essences reject pleasures as an evil, but esteem continence [enkrateian], and the conquest over our passions, to be virtue.”[3]  Continence means the “total abstinence from sexual activity.”[4]  This is exactly how this word in its verb form is used in 1 Corinthians 7:9. It reads, “but if they cannot exercise self-control [enkrateuomai], let them marry” (NKJV). The idea of moderation for the exercise of self-control would certainly have been an inappropriate connotation for this verse. Obviously, the exercise of self-control in this passage is abstinence from fleshly desires.

Abstinence in the exercise of self-control should be the connotation that is carried with the Greek word “enkrateia” wherever it is found in the New Testament; not moderation. When the Apostle Paul reasoned with Felix over the exercise of self-control (“temperance”, KJV) in Acts 24:25, he was instructing Felix to control himself by abstaining from his fleshly desires. When the Apostle Paul instructed the Corinthians how to obtain the imperishable crown as an athlete in 1 Corinthians 9:25, he was telling them to be abstinent (“temperate,” KJV) from all fleshly desires. The same could be said in all the other passages where this Greek word is found (Gal. 5:23; Tit. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:6).

Jesus said the desire (lust) to commit adultery is to sin in one’s heart (Matt. 5:28). He said a very similar thing in regard to murder. The desire (anger) to murder is to sin before the act is committed (Matt. 5:21-22). Does it not follow that the desire (looking) to drink an alcoholic beverage is to sin before one ever gets drunk (Prov. 23:31-32)? Abstinence from all fleshly desires is commanded through the word “enkrateia” in the New Testament which includes abstinence from the fleshly desire to drink alcohol. “The works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery… murders, drunkenness, revellings [riotous conduct often associated with drunkenness], and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is… temperance: against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:19-23; KJV). Temperance in this passage means abstinence in the exercise of self-control from all fleshly desires; drinking alcohol included.

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[1] Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language, Facsimile First Edition, 1828.

[2] Samuele Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible, (Berrien Springs 2004), pp. 210-211.

[3] Josephus, The Works of Josephus, translated by William Whiston, (Peabody, 1987), p. 605.

[4] Ed. Victoria Neufeldt, Webster’s New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, (Cleveland & New York, 1988).

By Steve A. Hamilton
shamilton@rap.midco.net