Why Christians Can’t Neglect the Local Church


The author of Hebrews penned his letter to a group of struggling, first-century Jewish believers in order to encourage them to persevere in the faith. These believers were facing persecution and being tempted to forsake Christ and retreat back into the Old Covenant. To keep them believing in Christ, the author provides them a thorough, biblically-saturated argument for the superiority of Christ’s sacrifice and his New Covenant ministry.  

The three exhortations of Hebrews 10:19-25 are built on the last three-and-a-half chapters where the author had been laboring to articulate with precision the sufficiency of Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ is the eternal priest-king (Heb 7:1-21), the guarantor of a better covenant (Heb 7:22) who is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him (Heb 7:25). He has offered to God a perfect sacrifice that cleanses God’s people from all their sin for all time (Heb 7:26-28). Furthermore, Christ’s New Covenant not only provides full forgiveness of sins, but a new heart that desires to obey God (Heb 8:8-12). He accomplished this grand work of redemption by giving himself as a once-for-all sacrifice of atonement that cannot be repeated (9:1-10-10:18). Now cleansed by the blood of Christ, we can enter into God’s very presence and take refuge in him as our heavenly Father.  

In light of this privilege of full access to God (Heb 10:19-21), the author gives his readers three indispensable keys to perseverance. For the sake of our endurance in the faith, we must (1) draw near to God (Heb 10:22); (2) hold fast our confession (Heb 10:23); and (3) consider how to stir up one another to love and good works (Heb 10:24-25). It is this last exhortation on which I will focus in this article.  

Think Hard About How to Stir Up One Another
The third and final exhortation in this passage is to consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. In verses 22-23, the author exhorts his readers to continually draw near to God and hold tenaciously to their confession of hope in Christ. In verses 24-25, the author has his listeners look horizontally to other members of the congregation. Just as important as it is to draw near to God and remain faithful to Christ under fire, so it is to give serious thought to how to stir up your brothers and sisters to love and good works. This spiritual discipline is vital for our perseverance and for the perseverance of our brothers and sisters.   

The word “consider” is translated elsewhere in the New Testament as “think,” “observe,” “notice,” “ponder,” “perceive.” The author has already used this word Hebrews 3:1 when he exhorted his listeners to “consider Jesus.” In that passage, he instructed the people to give serious thought to Jesus so they would have the strength to endure their present challenges. In Hebrews 10:24 the author calls us to think intentionally, seriously, and continually, about how to stir up our brothers and sisters to love and good works.    

The word “consider” is important because it tells us that effectively motivating a brother or sister in Christ to love and good works is not typically accomplished by spontaneity. Damage is often inflicted when a zealous Christian just “gets a feeling,” and then proceeds to exhort a fellow believer about what they should or shouldn’t be doing. The author’s point here is that it takes careful thought to effectively stir up our brothers and sisters to love and good works (see also Prov 15:28; 18:3; 18:13; 29:20).  

But it’s also important to note the word translated in the ESV as “stir up.” The NASB translates this Greek word as “stimulate,” and the NIV renders it as “spur.” It’s translated in Acts 15:39 as “sharp disagreement” (ESV), to describe the time when Paul and Barnabas did not see eye-to-eye on how to handle a particular situation. John Mark had abandoned them on a previous mission trip, but Barnabas presently wanted John to join them again to visit the new, recently-planted churches. Paul didn’t think that was a good idea. As a result, the two men engaged in a serious conflict and went their separate ways.   

The word is used again in Acts 17:16 to describe how Paul felt about all false worship in Athens. “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.” In this case, Paul was clearly upset—he stirred up with righteous anger over the idolatry he observed in this city. The author is not using the word negatively in Hebrews 10:24, but the word does retain the same force as in these other examples. The point is this: we are to think hard about how to provoke others to love and good works, and such provoking may require a firm word now and again.

Whatever tone these exhortations take, however, our efforts to motivate our fellow Christians must include thinking carefully about our brother’s place in life, their circumstances, and their gifts so that we can effectively motivate them to love and good works. This element of careful thought is essential because you can’t motivate one person to love and good works the same way you motivate another person to love and good works.

For example, you will likely encourage an older married woman to love and good works differently than you would a mommy of young children. If you don’t give careful thought to the differences between these two people—their place in life, age, gifts, abilities, and time—you may end up placing burdens on them that God didn’t intend them to bear.   You may, for example, exhort the mommy of young children to get busy with door-to-door evangelism, start a Bible study, lead a ministry, and volunteer at the local woman’s shelter. But these good works would be more easily fulfilled by an older woman whose children are out of the home. This is one reason why the author instructs us to consider how to motivate others to love and good works. We have to think about people specifically and offer tailor-made exhortations, not just generic, shoot-from-the hip ideas.   

Why Love and Good Works?
Why focus on love and good works? Because love is the mark of the Christian, as Jesus tells us John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” As we noted above, the aim in his letter to enable his readers to persevere in the faith. But if you are persevering in the faith, you will be persevering in love as well. Indeed, persevering love for God’s people is one of the primary pieces of evidence that your faith is genuine (cf. Matt 24:12; see also Heb 6:9-10).  

Provoking our brothers in Christ to love and good works, therefore, is really the same thing as exhorting them to continue in the faith. This connection between faith and love is why the author uses such a strong word to describe how we are to motivate others to love and good works. It’s not just a matter of Christian obedience: it’s a matter of perseverance in the faith.  

But just as importantly, none of this love between Christians can occur apart from intentional engagement with a local body of believers. The author makes this point in how he connects verse 24 with verse 25.   

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 but encouraging one another all the more as you see the Day drawing near

Hebrews 10:24-25, emphasis added

The link between these two verses indicates that the stirring up of verse 24 cannot happen if Christians are neglecting to meet in verse 25. Stimulating one another to love and good works can only happen in a context where believers are regularly gathering together. The negative phrase, “not neglecting” and the contrasting statement, “but encouraging one another” tell us that the corporate fellowship is essential for fulfilling the instruction to stirring up one another to love and good works. You can only consider how to stir up one another to love and good works by meeting regularly together, and the opposite of neglecting fellowship is encouraging one another. It’s all tied together.     

Here’s the implication: If you are not in consistent fellowship with members of a local body, you can’t develop relationships with those believers. And if you can’t develop relationships, then you can know people well enough to stir them up to love and good works, and they can’t know you well enough to encourage you. We need to learn each other’s strengths, weaknesses, circumstances, trials, opportunities, abilities, life-stages, and maturity to become effective spiritual motivators of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  

How the Habit of “Neglect” Develops
The author knew that there were Christians connected to this local church who had developed a habit of neglecting corporate worship and fellowship. It was a problem in the first century, and it is a problem today. The author calls it a “habit” or a “custom” because this neglect of corporate worship was a settled practice that had grown over time and, like any habit, was increasingly difficult to give up.  

Once you get used to doing your own thing and filling your schedule with what you want to do or what you think you must do, it becomes mighty difficult to carve out time for weekly worship with believers in the local church. Once you get a taste of a little extra cushion in your schedule or being able to sleep in on a Sunday after a hard week of work, or just the freedom to hang out at your house every weeknight, it’s hard to get back into a rhythm of regular fellowship. Once you start relying on that paycheck you earn by working on days when you could be with other Christians, it is challenging to re-engage with the body of Christ. Your neglect becomes a habit, and this habit is hard to break.  

In contrast to neglecting the local church, we are to encourage one another regularly. Why? Because Christ’s return draws nearer every day, and we all need help to persevere in the faith: “…but encouraging one another all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” As we ponder the reality of Christ’s return—an event that draws closer with every passing day—and mediate on the breathtaking realities of heaven and hell, salvation and judgment, the preciousness of every human soul, and the necessity to persevere in the faith, we should be exhorting each other “all the more.” Our encouragements should increase, not decrease, as Christ’s return grows closer.  

A Matter of Obedience and Perseverance
Yet I expect that there are some reading this article who are presently neglecting corporate worship and fellowship. Perhaps you’ve made it a habit to regularly miss church and you currently reside on the margins of church life. Maybe you don’t have deepening fellowship with other believers because you are floating from church to church, or you just go to church to hear preaching and then zip out the door after the service. Perhaps you just watch sermons online.  

If these scenarios describe your situation, you need to realize that you have disabled yourself from obeying the primary instruction of Hebrews 10:24. Due to your neglect of the church, you can’t consider how to stir up other believers to love and good works because you don’t know anyone well enough to do that. You should be concerned about this pattern because your neglect of the body indicates a lack of love for the body.  

God has designed the church in such a way that we are all dependent upon one another for our growth and maturity in the faith. None of us persevere by ourselves. We need each other. But if someone neglects fellowship, they can’t get to know other believers and therefore can’t stir them up to love and good works. And if we are not being stirred up to love and good works, we may be in danger of falling away from the faith. So, if you claim to love other believers—which is one of the primary marks of a genuine believer—you can’t neglect corporate fellowship.  

The Bitter Fruit of Neglecting the Church
I’ve been a Christian for 23 years, and for a good portion of those years I’ve been actively engaged in Christian ministry. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with professing Christians who had drifted away from the local church and who were presently neglecting fellowship. In every single instance these professing Christians had developed strange theological views, or they were ensnared in various sins, or they were easily tempted to sin and folly, or they were making patently foolish choices, or they were living selfishly, or they were proud and arrogant. Or, as was often the case, their life was characterized by all the above, and their pride was usually expressed in how they would resist exhortations and in the way they are blind to their spiritual immaturity. In a great irony, professing Christians who neglect the local church often tout themselves as spiritually mature when they are actually incredibly immature, which is clear for all to see, except them.  

Here’s the bottom line: I’ve never met a healthy Christian who lived his or her Christian life independently of the body of Christ.

Here’s the bottom line: I’ve never met a healthy Christian who lived his or her Christian life independently of the body of Christ. Scripture tells us that God designed salvation and sanctification in such a way that we simply won’t grow or remain spiritually healthy when we are apart from the local church. We will become enamored with sin and unmotivated to give ourselves in service others. These patterns are deadly for our spiritual lives. Pursuing faithfulness to a local body of believers is not an optional addition we can add to our Christian race; it is essential to help us finish our Christian race. If you have yet to commit yourself to a local church body, Scripture exhorts you to find a sound church and plant yourself deeply in it for the good of your soul and the good of your brothers and sisters.  

For help locating a solid Christian church, please read and listen to the following resources:  

“What Should I Look for in a Church: A Practical Guide”  

“Episode #13: What Should I Look for in a Church, Part 1”  

“Episode #14: What Should I Look for in a Church, Part 2”  

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