The Importance of Attendance:
Am I There When I am At Home? Pt. 1
“There’s no place like home.” This statement may call to mind the classic image of a girl named Dorothy holding her dog Toto and reciting these words while tapping together her ruby slippers in hopes of returning to Kansas. For others, this simple sentence sparks remembrance of the voice of Perry Como and those lyrics so often repeated by travelers en route to family gatherings: “There’s no place like home for the holidays.” Regardless of the memories invoked by the phrase, the statement rings true. Indeed, there is no place like home.
In thinking of “home,” what images come to mind? Does the word “home” cause thoughts of a house, a favorite chair, a favorite coffee cup, a lawn (in need of mowing), preferred restaurants, sports teams, highways, buildings, local television and radio stations, neighbors, and work? Such details are common and understandable aspects that people connect with the idea of “home.” However, another question remains: where does the local congregation rank on this list of things associated with home? If a Christian’s thought of “home” revolves around the physical and secular details rather than the spiritual details and the local congregation, then perhaps that soul should reevaluate his priorities (Matthew 6:33). Perhaps he should spend more time exhorting and being exhorted by the local brethren (Hebrews 3:13; 10:25).
A Christian journeyed to Italy to visit another brother and to provide help during a period of hardship and distress. During his stay he grew very sick, and it was not known if he would survive his illness. As he lay there, uncertain of whether he would ever see home again, what were his thoughts? Did he long for his own house, his native cuisine, or the familiar scenes of the city he called home? No, his concern was for the local congregation in his hometown, because after he recovered and was about to return home the apostle Paul had this to say about him: “Yet I suppose it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labor, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants. For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness because that ye had heard that he had been sick” (Philippians 3:25-26). Epaphroditus’ greatest concern was that his beloved brethren in Philippi would be worried about him upon learning of his sickness, and he wanted to be with them to comfort them. Epaphroditus’ example gives valuable lessons for Christians today in their priorities at home and their relationships with the local congregation.
First, Epaphroditus’ focus on the local congregation can be seen in his competence. There can be no doubt that Epaphroditus was more than just a sporadic presence in the congregation at Philippi. He was so well known and trusted that they chose him to deliver their financial assistance to Paul (Philippians 4:18). A Christian who is not reliable enough to be present with the local brethren is certainly not reliable enough to take presents to distant brethren. Many delinquent and infrequent Christians wonder why the elders and members at the local congregation do not give them more to do, but the answer is that their delinquency has proven their unreliability. Since it is the case that whatever a person does to the church he also does to Christ (Acts 9:4; cf. Galatians 1:13), it is also true that whatever a person does not do for the church he does not do for Christ. A Christian’s unnecessary absence not only proves him to be unreliable to the local brethren, but it also proves him to be unreliable toward Jesus.
Second, Epaphroditus’ focus on the local congregation can be seen in his concern. He was selfless in the face of severe sickness, being more worried about their wellbeing than his own (Philippians 2:26). He had such a close relationship with the local brethren that his greatest concern upon becoming sick was their sadness; such a relationship does not result from infrequent and halfhearted association. Like Epaphroditus, those who consistently demonstrate their love for the Lord and His people by their regular attendance are the ones who, when sick, are more prone to worry about the wellbeing of others instead of themselves (Philippians 2:3-4).
Third, Epaphroditus’ focus on the local congregation can be seen in his confidence. He knew without question that the local congregation was concerned for him (Philippians 2:26). He had no need to ponder, “I wonder if they are worried about me,” but instead he could say with certainty, “I know that they are worried about me, and I wish to comfort them.” What a contrast can be seen between Epaphroditus’ attitude and that of so many infrequent members today. The more time that Christians spend with each other, the more confidence they can have in their mutual concern for one another. Why is it that those wayward or sporadic brethren who become offended and irritated when faithful Christians approach them about their spiritual condition are the same ones who often fall ill or face distress and then act neglected because no one from the local congregation called or visited during their time of need? It is the unarguable Christian duty of the local congregation to offer help to those who are physically and spiritually sick (James 1:27; 5:19-20; Galatians 6:1); this cannot be neglected. However, if a pew stays empty more than it is filled, then why should faithful brethren be surprised when that pew is empty? In fact, such people often maintain such loose communication with the local church that it becomes impossible to know if they are sick, out of town, or just staying at the house to watch a ball game. It is an interweaving of hypocrisy and selfishness that expects to be left alone in the midst of spiritual sickness but then expects cards, calls, and company in the face of physical sickness. Epaphroditus was the exact opposite; in health he sought to serve the Lord, in sickness he hoped that the brethren would not be too worried about him, and in recovering he longed for the opportunity to comfort those who had been worried about him. He looked forward to spending time with them once again and enjoying their fellowship upon his return “home.”
What is “home?” Does “home” revolve around a physical and secular description, or is “home” connected to spiritual priorities and the local body of believers in Christ? Which is more desirable: to be in one’s own house or to be in God’s house? Remember that God’s house is the church (I Timothy 3:15), and the church is not the building, but the body of baptized believers (Acts 2:41, 47). If a Christian who is physically capable of being with the local brethren chooses to be absent from that fellowship, then he chooses to be absent from Christ. He chooses his own house over God’s house. Irregular attendance limits one’s effectiveness for God and his opportunity to give and receive exhortation from His people (Hebrews 3:13; 10:25). Being there is important.
For Epaphroditus, there was no place like home. Being at home meant being with the brethren. What about me? Am I there when I am at home? Am I at home when I am there?