Last Sunday was the first time that I missed worship and Bible study on the Lord’s Day in quite a long time. I missed it in two senses: first, I missed in the sense that I wasn’t there. Because I was still recovering from a cold with fever, chills, etc., I wasn’t physically able to attend. And second, I missed worship in the sense that I wanted to be there but I couldn’t be.
I feel all too often many miss worship only in the first sense. They simply are not there. They could have been, but they missed worship only in the first sense because they were not likely to miss in the second sense. When your heart is not into worship and Bible study like it should be, it’s easy for the rest of your body to be absent.
Hebrews 10:24-26 is often cited about the importance of attending the worship services of the Lord’s church, and well it should be. Occasionally, however, some criticize the use of this passage because it speaks of “forsaking” the assembly. A missed worship service here or there, for whatever reason, certainly can’t be construed as “forsaking” the assembly. “Forsaking” the assembly means to absent yourself from worship and Bible study for an extended period of time. Is this true?
You would never know this from the context itself, nor from the language used in it. There are three primary terms, all related, that are worth examining in this regard.
(1) The word translated “forsaking” in Hebrews 10:25 is the term enkataleipo. It appears nine times in the New Testament. In addition to being used in Hebrews 10:25; we find it in Hebrews 13:5; 2 Timothy 4:10, 16; 2 Corinthians 4:9; Romans 9:29; Acts 2:27; Mark 15:34 and Matthew 27:46.
The last two passages, Mark 15:34 and Matthew 27:46 contain the words of Jesus on the cross as he asked of His father: “why have You forsaken me?” Acts 2:27 says that God “will not leave my soul in Hades…” The verses in 2 Timothy 4 say “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world” and “at my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me.” Romans 9:29 refers to God “leaving” a seed (referring to a remnant, and ultimately, Christ). In 2 Cor. 4:9 Paul says that he was “Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed…” The remaining verse, Hebrews 13:5 admonishes Christians to be “without covetousness; be content with such things as you have” for God has said “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Thayer defines the term: “to abandon, desert, … to leave in straits, leave helpless” and “to leave behind among, to leave surviving.” Nothing in the definition of the term, nor in its usage, demands that the act of forsaking takes place only over a long and extended period of time. Christ was only on the cross for six hours, yet He said His Father had forsaken him. Paul said that brethren had not come to his first defense, and thus forsook him, but that was just one occasion.
(2) The term enkataleipo, though appearing only nine times in the new covenant, is a form of the simpler kataleipo. This second term appears 25 times in the text of the New Testament and appears (KJV) as “leave” (22 times), “forsake” (2 times) and “reserve” (1 time). Thayer says that it means: 1) to leave behind; 1a) to depart from, leave; 1a1) to be left; 1b) to bid (one) to remain; 1c) to forsake, leave to one’s self a person or thing by ceasing to care for it, to abandon, leave in the lurch; 1c1) to be abandoned, forsaken; 1d) to cause to be leftover, to reserve, to leave remaining; 1e) like our “leave behind”, it is used of one who on being called away cannot take another with him; 1e1) especially of the dying (to leave behind); 1f) like our “leave”, leave alone, disregard; 1f1) of those who sail past a place without stopping. This term appears in the following passages: Matt 4:13; 16:4; 19:5; 21:17; Mk 10:7; 12:19; 14:52; Lk 5:28; 10:40; 15:4; 20:31; Jn 8:9; Ac 2:31; 6:2; 18:19; 21:3; 24:27; 25:14; Ro 11:4; Eph 5:31; 1 Th 3:1; Titus 1:5; Heb 4:1; 11:27; and 2 Pet 2:15.
(3) The term kataleipo itself is a conjunction of (a) kata, which is sometimes translated according to, after or against, depending upon context and usage, and (b) leipo, a root word appearing only six times and translated as lack, wanting or be wanting, and destitute. Thayer says of leipo 1) to leave, leave behind, forsake, to be left behind; 1a) to lag, be inferior; 1b) to be destitute of, to lack; 2) to be wanting, to fail. The usage of this term can be seen in Luke 18:22; Titus 1:5; 3:13; James 1:4, 5; 2:15.
Forsaking the assembly, that is any willful absence of the Lord’s Day worship service, is wrong…even if it happens only once. If you have the opportunity and ability to attend but lack the will to do so, and thus fail to attend, you have forsaken God’s assembly.
The Defender, Mt. Vernon Church of Christ Weekly Bulletin, January 7, 2018.