Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 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.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Roman church that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Today, this verse is unfortunately reduced to nothing more than a mantra one is told to abide by in order to instantly and easily receive salvation, with no strings attached. One of the worst wrongs ever perpetrated upon Christendom is the false narrative that all one has to do is “ask Jesus into your heart, and you will be saved.” This teaching completely ignores the biblical mandates for repentance (Acts 17:30), baptism (Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21), and faithful, obedient living (Matthew 28:19-20; Hebrews 5:9; Revelation 2:10). Plus, it makes Paul’s directive to Rome mean something much different than what the early church would have understood it to mean.
Our study of Hebrews over the past few months has shown us a group of Christians pressured to renounce Christ instead of confessing him. The persecution brought onto Jewish Christians by their fellow Jews was severe (Hebrews 10:32-36; 12:3-12). So confessing Christ back then was not a simple, one-time admission of faith in an air-conditioned church building surrounded by approving friends. The early church would not have understood salvation to have been achieved by simply giving a verbal affirmation of faith and then going on with one’s life. No, confessing Christ most likely meant immediate and complete ostracism, abandonment by one’s family, loss of job and property, jail time, and even death. The reason Hebrews was written to give teachings we’ve studied that show the superiority of Christ over the various tenets of Moses’ law was to encourage these Jewish Christians to not give up and return to Judaism, to instead “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering” (Hebrews 10:23a). Just as Paul promised salvation to those in Rome who would continually confess Christ in such a hostile environment, so also the Hebrew writer alludes to the guarantee of salvation to those who would hold fast to their confession by reminding them that “he who promised is faithful” (v. 23b).
Dedicated Christianity that stays the course in the midst of severe trials is difficult. One cannot do it on one’s own. Thus, the Hebrew author tells the early Christians to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” by “not neglecting to meet together” (vs. 24-25). The early church met together to worship God and learn from his Word (Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34; 14:26ff). They did so on the first day of each week (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2). Yet worship and instruction were not the only reasons they came together. They also met to “stir up one another to love and good works.” They needed to “encourage one another” (v. 25) because most if not all of them were facing severe pressure to abandon the Christian religion. Apparently, some of them had begun to cave to this pressure, as seen by “neglecting” – literally in the Greek, abandoning or deserting (cf. Matthew 27:46; 2 Timothy 4:10) – the worship assemblies so much that it had become habitual (“as is the habit of some” – v. 25).
The Hebrew writer wanted his brethren to avoid going down that path. He wanted them to continue to meet together to both worship and be strengthened by the encouragement they gave each other during these difficult times, and to do so “all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (v. 25). Contextually, “the Day” likely refers to the day of Judgment and Christ’s second coming to which the Hebrew writer had previously alluded (9:27-28). This view would fit the context of the only other time the Greek word for “meeting together” is used in the New Testament (2 Thessalonians 2:1). Basically, God wanted them to continue to exhort each other to stay dedicated and active in his service. He wishes the same for his followers today.