Survival Gear 3
Heb. 10:25 “Let us not neglect our church meetings, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near” (LB).
Now, I know I’m preaching to the choir because you’re all here for church.
But I want to address a trend out there of moving away from church attendance to just “having your own time with God.”
The fact is that much (not all) of the American church is in decline.
The United States Census Bureau Records, along with denominational reports, and the Assemblies of God U.S. Missions all concur that:
Every year more than 4000 churches close their doors compared to just over 1000 new church starts!
Every year, 2.7 million church members stop attending.
I have heard formerly churched people say, “I don’t need church. My relationship with the Lord is fine.”
Or, “I go to church on Christian TV and get fed that way.”
Or, “I got offended in church and just can’t bring myself to go back.”
People who say these things reveal they don’t understand the purpose or importance of church to their spiritual well-being.
And I believe ignorance of that is the reason many people walk away.
But think with me: If church really doesn’t matter that much, why did Jesus die and rise again in order to birth it?
Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Upon this rock I will build MY church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18 KJV).
Jesus said it’s HIS church, not man’s, not an organization’s, but HIS church!
So how then can professing Christians treat it as an option we can take or leave?
The word “church” in the original language is ecclesia and it simply means “ones called out of the world,” or “called out ones.”
The Lord has called us “out” of one thing to call us “into” another—from the kingdom of the world to the kingdom of Christ, which includes His church.
How important is the church in the Bible?
All of the NT letters are written to churches.
The Book of Acts is the history of the acts of the Apostles as they went about preaching and planting new churches.
The Book of Revelation opens up with Jesus specifically addressing 7 different churches.
The church is so precious to the Lord that it’s called the bride of Christ, the body of Christ, God’s building, the habitation of God, and the Lord’s flock.
When the Spirit of God was poured out on the Day of Pentecost it marked the official birthday of the church.
When the Lord Jesus returns to earth it will be to gather to Himself the church He purchased with His own shed blood!
Now, in our opening verse we Christians are specifically commanded not to forsake the gathering together for worship, teaching, and fellowship.
And I assure you, if you want to survive and thrive in this dark and wicked world, the third tool in your survival gear is regular fellowship with the gathered church!
Let me share 3 key purposes for the gathering together of the saints...
First, and this is a bonus...Church is:
Good for your health
Researchers have found a surprising correlation between longevity and religious faith.
According to an analysis by Ohio State psychology researchers, church-goers appear to live an average of 5.64 years longer than atheists.
They found that church-goers often volunteer and engage in social activities throughout their lives—which is tied to a longer lifespan.
But this doesn’t surprise me because of what the church provides to believers...
Our opening verse gives one of them—“encourage one another, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near.”
Encouragement as opposed to discouragement is hugely important to mental, physical, and spiritual health.
The Bible says, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, but a good (encouraging) word makes it glad” (Prov. 12:25 Amp).
In a healthy church the Word of God is taught and preached, which is LIFE-GIVING.
Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63 NKJV).
So hearing the Word brings life!
A HEALTHY CHURCH provides all kinds of healthy life-extenders—encouragement, prayer, fellowship, a sense of purpose, peace, ministry opportunities, social activities...just to name a few.
No wonder David wrote, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord’” (Ps 122:1 NKJV).
So if for no other reason, get to church if you want to live longer!
A second purpose for the church is:
ILLUS: When wolves are on the hunt for prey, they will first find a herd of, say, deer.
They will assess the herd, looking for a deer that displays signs of weakness.
As the weak one drops back and lags behind the herd, the wolves move in and begin nipping at his legs.
Finally, out of blood loss the deer drops and the rest is history.
This is exactly how Satan operates!
The Bible says he prowls about like a lion, seeking whom he may devour.
And the “whom” he’s looking for is the weak Christian that drifts from the herd.
He soon moves in and begins to nip at the isolated Christian with temptation, discouragement, depression...all to further weaken him for the kill.
With that picture in mind, listen to this:
When Paul the Apostle was leaving the Ephesian church for the last time, after ministering amongst them for three years, he warned them saying:
“For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29).
Paul knew there were wolves out there!—False teachers. Ungodly influences. Destructive temptations.
And the Ephesian church under Paul’s skilled leadership had protected the flock from their attack!
I’ve been a pastor for 35 years now and I can tell you that I have never seen a Christian who quits attending church do as well spiritually as when they were plugged in.
God gave the church for a purpose—for encouragement, healthy, godly relationships, and to be part of a body of believers that are impacting society for Christ!
And also for PROTECTION.
A third purpose for you and the church is:
A local church that provides healthy teaching, worship, and fellowship will sharpen your spiritual walk, which is ESSENTIAL to your survival.
The Bible says, “Just as iron sharpens iron, friends sharpen the minds of each other” (Prov. 27:17 CEV).
ILLUS: If you want to sharpen two iron blades for better cutting and slicing, you can do it by rubbing them together.
Likewise, Christians are to sharpen one another, and that is one reason God gave church services!
Far too often, the only knives being sharpened in church are the ones used at potluck dinners.
We’re supposed to come together to sharpen one another with the Word of God, fellowship, prayer, and encouragement.
Watch this: If a knife is blunt, it’s still a knife, but it’s less effective, and takes twice the time to cut something with.
And when you think about it, a knife that’s dull doesn’t shine as brightly as a sharp one.
The sharpened knife has all the rust and dust removed, allowing it to shine!
The fact is, there are levels of sharpness you can’t achieve alone.
In the Garden of Eden God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18 ESV).
If that was true BEFORE the fall, how much more so AFTER the fall!
We need now MORE THAN EVER to come together with our brothers and sisters in Christ for regular fellowship and prayer—for spiritual sharpening.
The early church—which is the model for all churches for all time—knew this very well:
It says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship...” (Acts 2:42 ESV).
They were DEVOTED, COMMITTED to regular church attendance!
Jesus placed a premium on the gathering of the saints...
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt. 18:20 ESV).
And He promised greater power in prayer when we’re gathered together:
“I also tell you this—if two of you agree down here on earth concerning anything you ask for, my Father in heaven will do it for you” (Matt. 18:19 LB).
The eyes of the Lord are on the gathering together of believers!
Summary: To spiritually survive and thrive, we need the tools God has placed in our survival gear:
Daily time in the Word
Daily time in prayer
Faithful attendance to the gathering of the saints