Appreciating Christian Gatherings
“Let us consider one another to incite to love and fine works, not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together.”—HEBREWS 10:24, 25.
1, 2. (a) Why is it a privilege to attend a gathering of true Christians? (b) In what sense is Jesus present at gatherings of his followers?
WHAT a privilege it is to attend a Christian gathering, whether it be made up of fewer than ten or of several thousand worshipers of Jehovah, for Jesus said: “Where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst”! (Matthew 18:20) True, when making that promise, Jesus was discussing judicial matters that needed to be handled correctly by those taking the lead in the congregation. (Matthew 18:15-19) But can Jesus’ words also be applied in principle to all Christian gatherings that are opened and closed with prayer in his name? Yes. Remember, when Jesus commissioned his followers to do the disciple-making work, he promised: “Look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.”—Matthew 28:20.
2 There can be no doubt that the Head of the Christian congregation, the Lord Jesus Christ, is keenly interested in all gatherings of his faithful followers. Moreover, we can be sure that he is present with them by means of God’s holy spirit. (Acts 2:33; Revelation 5:6) Jehovah God too is interested in our meeting together. The primary purpose of such meetings is for praise to be lifted up to God “among the congregated throngs.” (Psalm 26:12) Our attending congregation meetings is an evidence of our love for him.
3. For what important reasons do we appreciate Christian gatherings?
3 There are other good reasons why we appreciate Christian gatherings. Before he left the earth, Jesus Christ appointed his anointed disciples to act as a “faithful and discreet slave” in supplying timely spiritual food to the household of faith. (Matthew 24:45) An important way that such spiritual feeding takes place is through congregation meetings as well as larger gatherings—assemblies and conventions. The Lord Jesus Christ guides this faithful slave to provide vital information at such gatherings for all who want to survive the end of this wicked system and gain life in God’s righteous new world.
4. What dangerous “custom” is mentioned in the Bible, and what will help us to avoid it?
4 Hence, no Christian can afford to develop the dangerous custom noted by the apostle Paul, who wrote: “Let us consider one another to incite to love and fine works, not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together, as some have the custom, but encouraging one another, and all the more so as you behold the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24, 25) Meditating on the privilege and benefits of attending Christian gatherings will help us loyally and wholeheartedly to support such gatherings.
Meetings That Build Up
5. (a) What effect should our speech have at meetings? (b) Why should we not delay in inviting interested ones to attend meetings?
5 Since Christians pray for Jehovah’s holy spirit to be active at Christian meetings, each individual attender should do his best to work in harmony with the spirit and “not be grieving God’s holy spirit.” (Ephesians 4:30) When the apostle Paul wrote those inspired words, he was discussing the proper use of speech. What we say should always be used “for building up as the need may be, that it may impart what is favorable to the hearers.” (Ephesians 4:29) This is especially important at Christian gatherings. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul stressed the need for meetings to be upbuilding, instructive, and encouraging. (1 Corinthians 14:5, 12, 19, 26, 31) All in attendance benefit from such meetings, including new attenders, who may well conclude: “God is really among you.” (1 Corinthians 14:25) For this reason, we should not delay in inviting newly interested ones to congregate with us, for doing so will speed up their spiritual progress.
6. What are some factors that help to make a meeting upbuilding?
6 All who are assigned talks, interviews, or demonstrations at a Christian meeting want to be sure that their speech is both upbuilding and in harmony with God’s written Word, the Bible. In addition to uttering accurate speech, we should express feelings and emotions that are in harmony with the loving personalities of God and Christ. If all who present parts on a meeting program are conscious of reflecting ‘the fruitage of God’s spirit,’ such as joy, long-suffering, and faith, then all in attendance will surely feel built up.—Galatians 5:22, 23.
7. How can all attenders contribute to an upbuilding gathering?
7 Although only a few may have parts on the program at congregation meetings, all can contribute to an upbuilding gathering. Often there are opportunities for the audience to answer questions. These are occasions for publicly declaring our faith. (Romans 10:9) Never should they be used as an opportunity to promote our personal ideas, to boast of our personal achievements, or to criticize a fellow believer. Would that not grieve God’s spirit? Differences with fellow believers are best handled privately in a spirit of love. The Bible states: “Become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving one another just as God also by Christ freely forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) What a splendid opportunity Christian gatherings give us to apply this fine counsel! To that end, many arrive at the meetings early and linger after it is over. This also helps newly interested ones, who have a special need to feel welcome. Thus all dedicated Christians have a role to play in making the meetings upbuilding by ‘considering one another and inciting one another to love and fine works.’
8. (a) What commendable sacrifices do some make to attend meetings? (b) What example does Jehovah set as a shepherd?
8 While it may be relatively easy for some to attend Christian gatherings, for others it requires an ongoing sacrifice. For example, a Christian mother who has to work secularly to help provide for the necessities of her household usually comes home from work tired. She may then have to prepare a meal and help her children get ready for the meeting. Other Christians might have long distances to travel to get to the meetings, or they may be limited by infirmities or old age. Certainly, Jehovah God understands the situation of each faithful meeting attender, just as a loving shepherd understands the special needs of individual sheep in his flock. “Like a shepherd,” the Bible states, “[Jehovah] will shepherd his own drove. With his arm he will collect together the lambs; and in his bosom he will carry them. Those giving suck he will conduct with care.”—Isaiah 40:11.
9, 10. How can we derive the most benefit from meetings?
9 Those who have to make big sacrifices in order to be regular at meetings may be limited in the amount of time they can spend on preparing the material to be considered. Keeping up with the weekly schedule of Bible reading makes attendance at the Theocratic Ministry School more rewarding. Similarly, preparing in advance for other meetings, such as the Watchtower Study and the Congregation Book Study, makes these more beneficial. By reading the study material in advance and by giving consideration to at least some of the cited Bible texts, those with time-demanding family situations will be more ready to have a meaningful share in these important Bible discussions.
10 Others, whose circumstances are less limiting, can spend more time in meeting preparation. For example, they can do research on the scriptures that are cited but not quoted. Thus all can be prepared to make the most of the meetings and have a fine share in building up the congregation by their talks and comments. By being well prepared, elders and ministerial servants will set a fine example in giving short, concise answers. Out of respect for Jehovah’s provisions, those in attendance will avoid any distracting practices while meetings are in progress.—1 Peter 5:3.
11. Why is self-discipline needed to be prepared for meetings?
11 Activities and amusements that are not vital to our spiritual health may consume too much of our time. If so, we need to examine ourselves and “cease becoming unreasonable” in regard to the use of our time. (Ephesians 5:17) Our aim should be to ‘buy out the time’ from less important matters so as to spend more time in personal Bible study and meeting preparation, as well as in Kingdom service. (Ephesians 5:16) Admittedly, this is not always easy and requires self-discipline. Young people who give attention to this are laying a fine foundation for future progress. Paul wrote to his younger companion Timothy: “Ponder over these things [Paul’s counsel to Timothy]; be absorbed in them, that your advancement may be manifest to all persons.”—1 Timothy 4:15.
Examples From God’s Word
12. What outstanding example was set by Samuel’s family?
12 Consider the fine example set by Samuel’s family, who regularly participated in arrangements for gathering with fellow worshipers when God’s tabernacle was located in Shiloh. Only males were required to make annual visits to festival celebrations. But Samuel’s father, Elkanah, took his whole family along as he “went up out of his city from year to year to prostrate himself and to sacrifice to Jehovah of armies in Shiloh.” (1 Samuel 1:3-5) Samuel’s hometown, Ramathaim-zophim, was possibly situated near the coast at modern-day Rentis in the foothills of “the mountainous region of Ephraim.” (1 Samuel 1:1) Thus the journey to Shiloh would have involved a trip of about 20 miles [30 km], a fatiguing trek in those days. This is what Elkanah’s family loyally did “year by year, as often as [they] went up into the house of Jehovah.”—1 Samuel 1:7.
13. What example was set by faithful Jews during Jesus’ time on earth?
13 Jesus also grew up as part of a large family. Every year the family traveled from Nazareth about 60 miles [100 km] southward to attend the Passover festival in Jerusalem. There are two possible routes they may have taken. The more direct route involved a descent into the Valley of Megiddo and then an ascent of about 2,000 feet [600 m] up through Samaritan territory and on to Jerusalem. The other popular route was the one taken by Jesus on his last trip to Jerusalem in 33 C.E. This involved walking down the Jordan Valley to below sea level until he reached “the frontiers of Judea . . . across the Jordan.” (Mark 10:1) From this point, “the road up to Jerusalem” is a distance of some 20 miles [30 km], involving an ascent of more than 3,700 feet [1,100 m]. (Mark 10:32) Regularly, crowds of faithful festival celebrants made the arduous trip from Galilee to Jerusalem. (Luke 2:44) What a fine example for Jehovah’s servants in affluent lands today, many of whom can attend Christian gatherings with relative ease, thanks to modern forms of transportation!
14, 15. (a) What example did Anna set? (b) What can we learn from the fine attitude displayed by some new meeting attenders?
14 Another example is that of the 84-year-old widow Anna. The Bible states that she “was never missing from the temple.” (Luke 2:37) Moreover, Anna showed a loving interest in others. On seeing the babe Jesus and learning that he was the promised Messiah, what did she do? She thanked God and began “speaking about the child to all those waiting for Jerusalem’s deliverance.” (Luke 2:38) What a fine attitude, a model for Christians today!
15 Yes, attendance and participation at our meetings should be such a delight that, like Anna, we never want to be missing. Many new ones cannot help feeling this way. Having come out of the darkness into God’s wonderful light, they want to learn all they can, and many express great enthusiasm for Christian meetings. On the other hand, those longer in the truth must guard against ‘leaving the love they had at first.’ (Revelation 2:4) Serious health problems or other factors beyond a person’s control may at times limit meeting attendance. But never should we allow materialism, recreation, or lack of interest to cause us to be unprepared, passive, or irregular meeting attenders.—Luke 8:14.
The Finest Example
16, 17. (a) What was Jesus’ attitude toward spiritual gatherings? (b) What good custom should all Christians try to follow?
16 Jesus set an outstanding example in showing appreciation for spiritual gatherings. At the young age of 12, he demonstrated his love for God’s house in Jerusalem. His parents lost track of him but eventually found him discussing God’s Word with teachers in the temple. In response to his parents’ concern, Jesus respectfully asked: “Did you not know that I must be in the house of my Father?” (Luke 2:49) Submissively, the young Jesus returned with his parents to Nazareth. There he continued to show his love for meetings of worship by regular attendance at the synagogue. Thus, when he began his ministry, the Bible reports: “He came to Nazareth, where he had been reared; and, according to his custom on the sabbath day, he entered into the synagogue, and he stood up to read.” After Jesus read and explained Isaiah 61:1, 2, the audience began “to marvel at the winsome words proceeding out of his mouth.”—Luke 4:16, 22.
17 Christian meetings today follow this same basic pattern. After the meeting is opened with a song of praise and a prayer, verses from the Bible (or verses quoted in Bible study material) are read and explained. True Christians are under obligation to imitate the good custom of Jesus Christ. As far as their circumstances permit, they find delight in being regular in attendance at Christian gatherings.
18, 19. What splendid examples have brothers in less affluent countries set respecting meetings, assemblies, and conventions?
18 In less affluent parts of the earth, many of our brothers and sisters set a fine example of appreciation for Christian gatherings. In Mozambique it took a district overseer, Orlando, and his wife, Amélia, 45 hours to walk some 55 miles [90 km] over a high mountain to serve an assembly. Then they had to make the same trip back to serve the next assembly. Orlando modestly reported: “We felt that we had done nothing when we met up with the brothers from the Bawa Congregation. To attend the assembly and return to their homes involved a six-day journey of about 250 miles [400 km] on foot, and among them was a brother 60 years old!”
19 What about appreciation for weekly congregation meetings? Kashwashwa Njamba is a frail sister in her 70’s. She lives in Kaisososi, a small village about three miles [5 km] from the Kingdom Hall in Rundu, Namibia. To attend the meetings, she walks a round trip of six miles [10 km] through the bush. Others have been mugged along this route, but Kashwashwa keeps coming. Most of the meetings are conducted in languages she does not understand. So how does she benefit from attending? “By following the scriptures,” says Kashwashwa, “I try to work out what the talk is about.” But she is illiterate, so how does she follow the scriptures? “I listen for the scriptures I know by heart,” she answers. And over the years, she has stored quite a number of scriptures in her memory. To improve her ability to use the Bible, she attends a literacy class arranged by the congregation. “I love to attend the meetings,” she says. “There are always new things to be learned. I love to associate with the brothers and sisters. Even though I can’t speak to all of them, they always come and greet me. And most important, I know that by attending the meetings, I am making Jehovah’s heart glad.”
20. Why must we not forsake our Christian gatherings?
20 Like Kashwashwa, millions of Jehovah’s worshipers throughout the earth show commendable appreciation for Christian gatherings. As Satan’s world heads toward its destruction, we cannot afford to forsake the gathering of ourselves together. Rather, let us remain spiritually awake and show deep appreciation for meetings, assemblies, and conventions. That not only will make Jehovah’s heart glad but will richly benefit us as we partake of divine teaching that leads to eternal life.—Proverbs 27:11; Isaiah 48:17, 18; Mark 13:35-37.
□ Why is it a privilege to attend Christian gatherings?
□ How can all in attendance contribute to an upbuilding meeting?
□ What outstanding example did Jesus Christ set?
□ What lesson can be learned from brothers in less affluent lands?
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They Appreciate Weekly Meetings
Millions of people live in cities plagued by poverty and crime. Despite such circumstances, true Christians among them show commendable appreciation for Christian gatherings. Reports an elder serving in one of the Soweto congregations of Gauteng, South Africa: “In a congregation with 60 Witnesses and unbaptized publishers, we have between 70 and 80, and sometimes more, attending our meetings. Although the brothers and sisters do not travel far to attend, the situation in this part of Soweto is rough. One brother was stabbed in the back while walking to a meeting. At least two sisters were grabbed in an attempt to rob them. But this does not stop them from coming. On Sundays, we have a short song practice after we have closed the meeting with prayer. At least 95 percent regularly stay behind and sing all the songs to be used in meetings the following week. This helps newly interested ones to learn the songs and sing along.”
Rural dwellers have other obstacles, such as long distances that they have to travel in order to attend meetings three times a week. One interested couple live nine miles [15 km] from the Kingdom Hall in Lobatse, Botswana. For the past year, they have attended meetings regularly with their two children. The husband repairs shoes to support the family. The wife sells small items to supplement the family income so that they can pay for transport to and from the meetings.
On a recent summer evening, after a meeting with the circuit overseer, this family found themselves stranded at a bus stop at 9:00 p.m. The buses had stopped early because of bad weather. A police officer stopped in his van and asked what they were doing. On hearing about their plight, he took pity on them and drove them the nine-mile [15 km] journey home. The wife, who is an unbaptized publisher, said to her husband: “See, if we put the meetings first, Jehovah always provides.” Now the husband has expressed a desire to become a preacher of the good news too.
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Witnesses such as these in Romania set a fine example of appreciation for Christian gatherings