“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” – Hebrews 3:12-14 (ESV)
There is a reason wild animals often travel in packs (or flocks, or gaggles, or schools, or what have you…) Simply put: there is safety in numbers. The first Christians clung together because they had to. It was a survival tactic – safety in numbers. These people knew persecution, particularly from the ruling Romans.
Here in the United States, we do not truly know persecution on the scale the early church experienced. We are free to worship where and how we please, comfortable in the knowledge that our government is not going to crack down on us for openly praising Jesus. (Please… no political comments. Not gonna go there…)
However – and can we be blunt here? – being a Christian isn’t always easy. We meet plenty of opposition from the enemy on many fronts in many ways (and, as a side note, we must remember that ‘we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” [Ephesians 6:12, ESV]). At home, when we don’t let the kids watch the trendy TV show or wear the trendy clothes because of the immortality of it all. At work, when we refuse to laugh at the dirty joke or get involved in the office gossip or – forbid it! – we slip up in a moment of stress and say something we otherwise would not have uttered. At social functions, when we refuse to tip a drink like everyone else. At any setting where we dare to mention Jesus to an unbeliever who is less than receptive to the Truth.
Folks, true Christianity is tough. Our values are completely at odds with those of the world. And, get ready, because stepping up in your faith is going to bring some opposition your way. Be prepared to be treated differently. Accept that there will probably be some who call you a “Jesus freak,” “hypocrite,” or “narrow-minded” (some openly, but most behind our backs).
This is why it is so important to be part of a community of believers. By this, I do not mean merely attend church services on Sunday. I mean plug in. Get involved. Serve. Get involved in a small group and build meaningful relationships. We need one another – for growth, for support. If we’re going to follow Christ – in reality, not just playing lip-service to the notion of being a “Christian” – we need to be surrounded by people who have our backs. We need to “exhort one another every day.”
I love that word “exhort.” It comes from the Greek term παρακαλέω (parakaleō) which Strong’s defines as “to call near.” As brothers and sisters in Christ, as fellow believers in community with one another, we are called to draw near to one another as a support system, to help keep one another on track. And with all the opposition and temptation we face as Christians – and, trust me, the enemy is not going to let up until his defeat is complete – we need each other. We need to be in community with one another. We need Godly influence and help on a daily basis.
Today, I want to encourage you – to exhort you – if you are not plugged in a church somewhere, get plugged in – involved, active in the community of believers, serving the body of Christ. The blessings of being plugged into a small group or other ministry within the church far outweigh the stuff that is stopping you. Don’t let past hurts or hang ups or busyness stop you from getting involved. Make being an active part of the body of Christ a priority in your life. Rephrase: the priority. After all, when everything else is gone, what is left? God.