Encourage in Love
And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near. (10:24–25)
The third mark of a positive response to the gospel is love. The particular expression of love mentioned here is fellowship love. The Jewish readers were having a hard time breaking with the Old Covenant, with the Temple and the sacrifices. They were still holding on to the legalism and ritual and ceremony, the outward things of Judaism. So the writer is telling them that one of the best ways to hold fast to the things of God—the real things of God that are found only in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ—is to be in the fellowship of His people, where they could love and be loved, serve and be served. There is no better place to come all the way to faith in Christ, or to hope continually in Him, than the church, His Body.
The day drawing near could refer to the imminent destruction of the Temple, which brought all the sacrifices and rituals to a close. The Old Covenant simply could not function without the Temple, which, when the book of Hebrews was written, was about to be destroyed by Titus. But I believe the primary reference is to the coming of the Lord, which makes the passage apply to all of us. The only place where we can remain steadfast until He returns is with His people. We need each other. We need to be in fellowship with each other, as we mutually strengthen each other and encourage each other.
Some years ago, a young man sat next to me on a plane and we struck up a conversation. When he discovered I was a minister, he said, “I used to belong to a church, but it seems to me that a person’s relationship to Christ ought to be personal, not institutional. What do you think?” After thanking the Lord silently for providing such an open opportunity for witness, I said, “I certainly agree with you.” He then asked if I knew how he could have a personal relationship with Christ—to which I also answered in the affirmative. I thought to myself, “He certainly seems to feel his need for Christ,” and so I asked if he had studied the truth of the gospel and the evidence for Christ’s claims. He replied, “Yes, but I just don’t know how to get to Him.” “Are you ready to commit yourself to Him?” I asked. He said that he was, and as we prayed together he made the commitment. The next Sunday he was in our morning worship service, and afterward asked me if our church had anything going on during the week that he could become involved in. This young man gave every evidence of being a true believer. He felt his need, he studied the evidence, he made a commitment to Jesus Christ, and was showing every desire to hold fast to Christ and to have fellowship with His people.
The writer is saying very simply, “The door is open, the way is made available to enter into God’s presence. Come in and stay and fellowship with His people, and enjoy God’s company forever.”
10:24–25 / The third exhortation in this section directs the readers to be concerned with the welfare of others in the community of faith. There is a need to spur (or “stimulate”) one another on toward the basic Christian conduct of love (cf. 13:1) and good deeds. It is worth noting that we have encountered the three great virtues of faith (v. 22), hope (v. 23), and love in three successive verses (cf. 1 Cor. 13:13). The mutual encouragement that our author has in mind can occur, of course, only in the context of Christian fellowship. But some, perhaps even in this community, had been neglecting to come together. The avoidance of public meetings on the part of Jewish Christians may have been caused by the understandable desire to escape persecution, whether from the Romans or from the non-Christian Jewish community. Perhaps in the light of past experiences (see vv. 32–34) as well as threats concerning the imminent future (12:4), it was deemed wise to avoid attracting attention. Despite the twofold let us (both are added by niv) in verse 25, no new exhortations are present; rather, the material in this verse supports the exhortation of verse 24. The way in which the readers can manifest their concern for one another is through active participation in fellowship, on the one hand, and through mutual encouragement, on the other. Christians need each other, and especially in trying circumstances. The whole matter, moreover, is to take on a special urgency with the increasing sense of the imminence of the eschaton, as you see the Day approaching (cf. the quotation of Hab. 2:3 in v. 37).
10:25. To spur other believers forward in the Christian life, followers of Christ must meet together. Some of the readers of Hebrews were neglecting to meet together for worship, and this limited their ability to give and receive encouragement toward good works.
Christians who meet together with the aim of promoting godliness and love for one another can be remarkably successful in their ventures. Regular fellowship with believers is an essential ingredient in Christian growth. The readers of Hebrews knew that the Day of Christ’s return was drawing near. The closeness of this day compelled them to stimulate one another in an outburst of energy and concern.
Persecution may have led some believers to drop out of the fellowship. The remedy they needed was to begin meeting again. The verses following in 26–31 showed the final outcome of neglecting to meet with other believers. Such careless living could produce a contempt for Jesus and a renunciation of Christianity.
In Attending the Worship Services
25. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
One of the first indications of a lack of love toward God and the neighbor is for a Christian to stay away from the worship services. He forsakes the communal obligations of attending these meetings and displays the symptoms of selfishness and self-centeredness.
Apparently some members of the Hebrew congregation to whom the epistle originally was addressed showed a disregard for attending the religious services. They did so willfully by deserting the “communion of the saints.” From sources dating from the first century of the Christian era, we learn that a lack of interest in the worship services was rather common. The Didache, a church manual of religious instruction from the latter part of the first century, gives this exhortation: “But be frequently gathered together seeking the things which are profitable for your souls.”
In an earlier chapter the author of Hebrews warns the readers not to follow the example of the disobedient Israelites in the desert, and not to turn away from the living God (3:12). The author exhorts the readers to “encourage one another daily … so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (3:13). He realizes that among some of the members spiritual zeal has declined. Therefore once more he says, “But let us encourage one another” (10:25). Not only the writer of this epistle but also all the members of the church have the communal task of encouraging one another daily. Together we bear the responsibility, for we are the body of Christ.
As Christians we must look to the future, that is, to the day when Jesus returns. The closer we come to that day, the more active we should be in spurring one another on in showing love and doing deeds acceptable to God. We would have appreciated more information about “the Day,” but the author is as brief as other writers of the New Testament who mention it (see, for example, Matt. 25:13; 1 Cor. 3:13; 1 Thess. 5:4). Says Philip Edgcumbe Hughes: “When spoken of in this absolute manner, ‘the Day’ can mean only the last day, that ultimate eschatological day, which is the day of reckoning and judgment, known as the Day of the Lord.”
24–25 The third appeal is a summons for the continued caring for one another that finds an expression in love, good works, and the mutual encouragement that active participation in the gatherings of the community makes possible. The note of Christian love completes the triad of faith (v 22), hope (v 23), and love (vv 24–25), which is developed by means of the coordinated cohortatives in vv 22–25 (cf. 6:10–12 for this same triad).
The exhortation κατανοῶμεν ἀλλήλους εἰς παροξυσμὸν ἀγάπης καὶ καλῶν ἔργων, “let us keep on caring for one another for the stimulation of love and good works,” centers on the responsibility of Christians to exhibit practical concern for one another. By considerateness and example, they are to spur one another on to the love and good works that had distinguished them as a community in the past (see Comment on 6:10). Exemplary service of fellow Christians had once been the hallmark of the congregation (cf. vv 33–34) and seems to have persisted in some measure. But the writer urges that the expression of love within the fellowship be deepened and extended. In this context ἀγάπη is not a technical term for the meal at which the Eucharist was celebrated (as urged by Glombitza, NovT 9  143–46), but a caring response to need in the lives of other Christians. “Good works” are tangible expressions of caring love, as in 6:10. Active support and concern for the welfare of one another are matters of critical urgency in the life of a community exposed to testing and disappointment (cf. F. F. Bruce, 253; Peterson, “Examination,” 271).
The appeal in v 24 is supplemented by two participial phrases in the present tense, μὴ ἐγκαταλείποντες τὴν ἐπισυναγωγὴν ἑαυτῶν, “not discontinuing our meeting together” and ἀλλὰ παρακαλοῦντες, “but rather encouraging one another” (v 25). These contrasting phrases indicate the importance of the regular gathering of the local assembly for worship and fellowship. The contrast serves to define the specific character of the term ἐπισυναγωγή, “meeting together”: it is the place or occasion for mutual encouragement and exhortation (cf. P. E. Hughes, 417–18; Mora, La Carta a los Hebreos, 49–50; Schrage, TDNT 7:841–43). The present tense of the participles expresses the common responsibility for these mandates (Michel, 347).
The failure of the writer to specify why some members of the community had stopped taking an active part in the meetings of the house church has invited a wide range of conjectures (see Schrage, TDNT 7:843, nn. 11–15). The reference to “custom” or “habit” (ἔθος) implies a situation of indifference and apathy, which is consistent with other indications throughout the sermon (2:1–3; 3:7–15; 4:1; 5:11–14; 10:23) (cf. Mora, La Carta a los Hebreos, 50). It is natural to think that the neglect of the meetings was motivated by fear of recognition by outsiders in a time of persecution, or by disappointment in the delay of the parousia, or by some other acute concern. It is sobering to discover that in the early second century in Rome it was simply preoccupation with business affairs that accounted for the neglect of the meetings of a house church (Herm. Sim. 8.8.1; 9.20.1). Whatever the motivation, the writer regarded the desertion of the communal meetings as utterly serious. It threatened the corporate life of the congregation and almost certainly was a prelude to apostasy on the part of those who were separating themselves from the assembly (so H. Montefiore, 177–78; Williamson, Philo, 261; Thompson, Beginnings of Christian Philosophy, 34). The neglect of worship and fellowship was symptomatic of a catastrophic failure to appreciate the significance of Christ’s priestly ministry and the access to God it provided.
The reason the meetings of the assembly are not to be neglected is that they provide a communal setting where mutual encouragement and admonition may occur. The parallel passage in 3:13 (ἀλλὰ παρακαλεῖτε ἑαυτοὺς καθʼ ἑκάστην ἡμέραν, “but encourage one another every day”) may actually presuppose a daily gathering of the house church for mutual encouragement. The verb παρακαλεῖν includes the notions of warning and reproof as well as encouragement, with the implication that reproof should be given in a loving way (cf. Forkman, Limits of the Religious Community, 47–50). The entire community must assume responsibility to watch that no one grows weary or becomes apostate. This is possible only when Christians continue to exercise care for one another personally (Dahl, Int 5  411–12).
The urgency for encouragement and reproof is that the community experiences an unresolved tension between peril and promise so long as it lives in the world. The neglect of the meetings of the assembly by some of the members sufficiently attests the reality of spiritual peril. The promise is indicated by the approaching “Day of the Lord” (v 25b), when God’s plan for his covenant people will be brought to realization. The sober reminder that the Day of the Lord is drawing near offers a further incentive for continued active participation in the life of the community. It indicates that the tension between peril and promise will ultimately be resolved eschatologically. The description of the parousia in 9:28 as the return of the heavenly high priest with salvation to those who wait for him is supplemented here with a complementary OT formulation implying judgment as well as salvation (cf. Marshall, Kept by the Power, 144; A. L. Moore, The Parousia in the New Testament [Leiden: Brill, 1966] 148–49).
25. Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, &c. This confirms the view that has been given. The composition of the Greek word ought to be noticed; for ἐπὶ signifies an addition; then ἐπισυναγωγὴ, assembling together, means a congregation increased by additions. The wall of partition having been pulled down, God was then gathering those as his children who had been aliens from the Church; so the Gentiles were a new and unwonted addition to the Church. This the Jews regarded as a reproach to them, so that many made a secession from the Church, thinking that such a mixture afforded them a just excuse; nor could they be easily induced to surrender their own right; and further, they considered the right of adoption as peculiar, and as belonging exclusively to themselves. The Apostle, therefore, warns them, lest this equality should provoke them to forsake the Church; and that he might not seem to warn them for no reason, he mentions that this neglect was common to many.
We now understand the design of the Apostle, and what was the necessity that constrained him to give this exhortation. We may at the same time gather from this passage a general doctrine:
It is an evil which prevails everywhere among mankind, that every one sets himself above others, and especially that those who seem in anything to excel cannot well endure their inferiors to be on an equality with themselves. And then there is so much morosity almost in all, that individuals would gladly make churches for themselves if they could; for they find it so difficult to accommodate themselves to the ways and habits of others. The rich envy one another; and hardly one in a hundred can be found among the rich, who allows to the poor the name and rank of brethren. Unless similarity of habits or some allurements or advantages draw us together, it is very difficult even to maintain a continual concord among ourselves. Extremely needed, therefore, by us all is the admonition to be stimulated to love and not to envy, and not to separate from those whom God has joined to us, but to embrace with brotherly kindness all those who are united to us in faith. And surely it behoves us the more earnestly to cultivate unity, as the more eagerly watchful Satan is, either to tear us by any means from the Church, or stealthily to seduce us from it. And such would be the happy effect, were no one to please himself too much, and were all of us to preserve this one object, mutually to provoke one another to love, and to allow no emulation among ourselves, but that of doing good works. For doubtless the contempt of the brethren, moroseness, envy, immoderate estimate of ourselves, and other sinful impulses, clearly shew that our love is either very cold, or does not at all exist.
Having said, “Not forsaking the assembling together,” he adds, But exhorting one another; by which he intimates that all the godly ought by all means possible to exert themselves in the work of gathering together the Church on every side; for we are called by the Lord on this condition, that every one should afterwards strive to lead others to the truth, to restore the wandering to the right way, to extend a helping hand to the fallen, to win over those who are without. But if we ought to bestow so much labour on those who are yet aliens to the flock of Christ, how much more diligence is required in exhorting the brethren whom God has already joined to us?
As the manner of some is, &c. It hence appears that the origin of all schisms was, that proud men, despising others, pleased themselves too much. But when we hear that there were faithless men even in the age of the Apostles, who departed from the Church, we ought to be less shocked and disturbed by similar instances of defection which we may see in the present day. It is indeed no light offence when men who had given some evidence of piety and professed the same faith with us, fall away from the living God; but as it is no new thing, we ought, as I have already said, to be less disturbed by such an event. But the Apostle introduced this clause to shew that he did not speak without a cause, but in order to apply a remedy to a disease that was making progress.
And so much the more, &c. Some think this passage to be of the same import with that of Paul, “It is time to awake out of sleep, for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.” (Rom. 13:11.) But I rather think that reference is here made to the last coming of Christ, the expectation of which ought especially to rouse us to the practice of a holy life as well as to careful and diligent efforts in the work of gathering together the Church. For to what end did Christ come except to collect us all into one body from that dispersion in which we are now wandering? Therefore, the nearer his coming is, the more we ought to labour that the scattered may be assembled and united together, that there may be one fold and one shepherd. (John 10:16.)
Were any one to ask, how could the Apostle say that those who were as yet afar off from the manifestation of Christ, saw the day near and just at hand? I would answer, that from the beginning of the kingdom of Christ the Church was so constituted that the faithful ought to have considered the Judge as coming soon; nor were they indeed deceived by a false notion, when they were prepared to receive Christ almost every moment; for such was the condition of the Church from the time the Gospel was promulgated, that the whole of that period might truly and properly be called the last. They then who have been dead many ages ago lived in the last days no less than we. Laughed at is our simplicity in this respect by the worldly-wise and scoffers, who deem as fabulous all that we believe respecting the resurrection of the flesh and the last judgment; but that our faith may not fail through their mockery, the Holy Spirit reminds us that a thousand years are before God as one day, (2 Peter 3:8;) so that whenever we think of the eternity of the celestial kingdom no time ought to appear long to us. And further, since Christ, after having completed all things necessary for our salvation, has ascended into heaven, it is but reasonable that we who are continually looking for his second manifestation should regard every day as though it were the last.
Let us consider one another (vv. 24–25). Fellowship with God must never become selfish. We must also fellowship with other Christians in the local assembly. Apparently, some of the wavering believers had been absenting themselves from the church fellowship. It is interesting to note that the emphasis here is not on what a believer gets from the assembly, but rather on what he can contribute to the assembly. Faithfulness in church attendance encourages others and provokes them to love and good works. One of the strong motives for faithfulness is the soon coming of Jesus Christ. In fact, the only other place the word translated “assembling” (Heb. 10:25) is used in the New Testament is in 2 Thessalonians 2:1, where it’s translated “gathering” and deals with the coming of Christ.
The three great Christian virtues are evidenced here: faith (Heb. 10:22), hope (Heb. 10:23), and love (Heb. 10:24). They are the fruit of our fellowship with God in His heavenly sanctuary.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 267–268). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Hagner, D. A. (2011). Hebrews (pp. 165–166). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Lea, T. D. (1999). Hebrews, James (Vol. 10, p. 187). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of Hebrews (Vol. 15, pp. 290–291). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 Lane, W. L. (1998). Hebrews 9–13 (Vol. 47B, pp. 289–290). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
 Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews (pp. 239–242). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 315). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.