January 10, 2016
In small groups we meet to encourage and spur one another on.
I. Think about stirring one another up (Hebrews 10:24)
II. Meet together (Hebrews 10:25)
III. Encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25)
As I mentioned, we’re calling today ‘Small Group Emphasis Sunday.’ Here’s what is going to happen. First, I’ll make a few comments on Hebrews 10:24-25, which is a great small group text. Then a representative from each of the current small groups will share just a little bit, two or three minutes about the who, when and where of their groups and maybe what makes them distinctive.
Finally, we’re going to split up the whole congregation and ask you to take your chair to one of the corners of the room where you can hear a little more about one particular group. If you are involved in a group, even a little bit, please go to that group. If you are not, just pick one that might work. Even if you know that none of these will work, please hang out with one. Maybe you can become an affiliate member, someone involved in the activities of the group, who gets their communications even if you can’t attend the normal weekly meetings.
Small groups are a place where we can meet to encourage and spur one another on. Hebrews 10:24-25 encourages and even commands us to do that. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25not 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.
We see first that community requires conscious effort: “Let us consider how to stir up another up” or spur one another on. I’ve always loved the fact that the author says ‘let’s think about this,’ ‘let’s be intentional about this.’ It isn’t something that just happens without thought: we have to set our minds to it. We plot, scheme, strategize about how we can help others. And notice that this is plural: literally we ourselves think together. We don’t need the y’all Bible to see this. It says “let us consider.” It’s a group activity: scheme together. Small groups are a great place for this edifying scheming to happen.
And what are we supposed to scheme about? How to spur one another on; how to provoke each other to active love. Provoke isn’t a gentle word. The root means sharpen or goad. It’s the picture of someone putting spurs in the sides of a horse. We’re supposed to consider how to goad people into community: What will motivate so-and-so to get involved? How can we encourage this person? How does God want to use that person? And the goal of our thinking, the goal of our goading, is love. Spur one another on to love. Now in order to understand this, remember that love is more than an emotion – not less, but definitely more. We’re trying to figure out how to help people on to acts of love and works of goodness, of compassion, of simple kindness.
Small groups are a great place to launch these acts of love. Babysitting for a mom who has a doctor’s appointment; setting up or cooking for a wedding, helping someone diagnose a car or put up a fence. And it can include working together to show love to others: volunteering at Galveston Urban Missions, or at a food bank or Crisis pregnancy center or a car wash to raise funds for a missions trip or for a family in need. A small group is a great place to conspire together to commit acts of love and good works toward each other and toward others.
My own experience with small groups confirms this. I’ve told these stories before. When Gail and I moved to Texas, far from family and friends, we tried several churches. Eventually we tried Clear Lake Bible Church. The difference there was this guy who leaned back over the chairs, introduced himself and invited us to the small group that met at his home. That guy was Paul Christiansen. Frank and Cheryl Kittle were part of that group, along with many others who became life-long friends. And it made a huge difference. In 1983, when our firstborn, Bethany, was just six weeks old, my father passed away, in Florida. I don’t even remember who we called, but within the hour Sandra Christiansen showed up, helping us figure out how to pack and how to travel with a brand new baby. Before we left much of the small group had checked in, to offer encouragement and help and prayer. These people were family to us.
We are called to be intentional, to consider what will spur others on to love. But all such schemes require something very simple: you’ve got to show up. Your schemes must transform themselves into actual presence. Verse 25: “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some.” Some among this letter’s recipients had a habit of not meeting with other Christians. Like many today, they isolated themselves, thought they could live as Christians without contact with others. But not one of the ‘love-one-anothers’ can be done in isolation.
So the instruction here is “don’t neglect to meet together.” Don’t forsake it, don’t abandon it. The Greek word used is “synagogue,” the Jewish meeting place. Over the centuries the Jews had been scattered across the nations. But wherever they went they would meet - synagogue - on the Sabbath, to read the Torah and to pray. The word is actually strengthened here. A Greek prefix intensifies it: really meeting together; emphatically meeting together.
There are of course, many ways of meeting together, from corporate worship, where we celebrate God’s presence and His word, to one-on-one, where we listen to each other’s deepest needs and carry each other to the Lord. But small group is an essential in-between, more personal than Sunday morning but with more corporate strength than one on one. You can’t spur on everyone in the church body to love, but you can positively provoke one another in a small group.
So I encourage you not to consider small group a burden but a privilege, a place to refreshed by the love that we share with one another. We can have fun in small groups. We can serve in small groups. We can ‘one another’ in small groups.
Finally, we are to be careful to use small groups to encourage, to build up rather than breaking down. Verse 25 again: “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 key word is encourage. It could be translated exhort, urge, appeal, console, cheer up. Let me end with a few of the places this word is used in Scripture to give a feel for what we are called to do. First, we are to comfort each other. Paul says in 2nd Corinthians that we are comforted in our afflictions “so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction.”
But we are also to exhort each other. 2 Corinthians 5:20 “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” We appeal to each other to walk with the Lord. We plead, we challenge. And we do it from Scripture. In Thessalonians Paul says: “Therefore encourage each other with these words.” We encourage each other with the words of Scripture and we consciously seek to say things that will build each other up, and draw others closer to the Lord.
So what have we said? First, that in small groups we have the opportunity to think together about how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. We think about how to provoke ourselves to love and show it in practical ways. Second: in order to love and care, or to be loved and be cared for, you’ve got to show up. Let us not neglect to meet together, especially in small groups. Third, when we meet, in addition showing love by our deeds, we also want to encourage with our words and build each other up from Scripture. It’s a simple program: In small groups we meet to encourage and spur one another on.