The Importance of the Local Assembly – Genesis 28:16-2210 min read
And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not. (17) And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. (18) And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. (19) And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first. (20) And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, (21) So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God: (22) And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.
All who understand Scripture’s use of metaphors and pictures will understand that the local assembly, the local church, is pictured as a temple (2 Cor. 6), which can also be called the house of God. Wherever we find the theme of God’s house and His presence, we find a type of the local assembly. Especially does Genesis 28 present a vivid picture as we will see shortly.
The Importance of the Local Assembly
Understand, first of all, the importance of God’s assembly, for which there are three main reasons.
1. The assembly is important, because the Lord is there. Is this not what struck Jacob and stopped him in his tracks? He realized something that many under-emphasize today: the Lord’s presence. In Matthew 18, the Lord mentioned the church in its local aspect, and He gives a description of it in verse 20 – “For where two or three are, having been gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (See also Rev. 2:1 / Hag. 1:13,14 / Gen. 49:10). This certainly adds significance! Does it not? Where the Lord is, we must find His people. The Lord is in His assembly; that is where we must be.
2. The assembly is important, because it is the house of God. What this truth of the house of God does for us is it applies the truth of His presence as we have seen previously. Throughout the pages of Scripture we see God’s pattern of communicating with His people: His desire was to dwell with them and to have a gathering centre unto Himself. And not only that, but the house of God means a specific order and pattern of the gathering to His presence. This is why Exodus and Leviticus exist – to give a pattern for the Tabernacle and what went on inside it. With the assembly, it too is a place that God has chosen to place His mark and His name. It is God’s pattern for His people in the New Testament. “This is none other than the house of God,” and therefore it must be priority.
3. The assembly is important, because it is the gate of Heaven. We have seen a progression in firstly noticing the fact of His presence, then the pattern of that fact, and now we see an application of what it means for us in regards to the assembly’s importance. When it comes to the gate, we must understand that in the Bible, “gate” often refers to a city’s place of administration (Gen. 19:1; 23:10,18; 34:20). The assembly as the gate of Heaven is God’s centre of administration regarding the things of earth. This is a truth we see in Matthew 18:18, “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” We as a collective people are called to uphold truth and manifest it unto the world. We are called upon to administer God’s will in evangelism, teaching, and such. Without the assembly, a main channel of God’s working is completely gone. The assembly is vital!
The Nature of the Local Assembly
Understanding the importance of the local assembly also demands that we know and comprehend its character and its nature. Just as God does not send us to preach the gospel without a message and method, so He does not give us a place of gathering without doctrines accompanying it.
1. First of all, the assembly is marked by the fact that it is the gate of Heaven. Amazing! No closer can we come to Heaven on earth than in the assembly. Both Heaven and the assembly (1) are made up of believers, (2) are in His presence, (3) are centred around a Person, (4) are composed largely of worship and service. And yet with the tremendous joy we have in the local gathering, it is but a vague foretaste of glory. When we gather in God’s house (which is the people), we are connected to Heaven; we are at its gates. And therefore, God’s assembly should take character from God’s Heaven in its holiness, beauty, purity, and such characteristics.
2. The assembly is marked by awesomeness. Jacob could rightly say of the house of God “How dreadful is this place!” Truly this is fact since it is the gate of Heaven. And where there is a glimpse of Heaven, there is an awesomeness about it place, because it is filled by an awesome God. He is the great Sovereign, high and exalted; the assembly takes character from that.
3. And where there is awesomeness, there must be fear, for we see that Jacob was afraid when he acknow-ledged the divine nature of the place. There is both a doctrinal aspect to this and a practical aspect. Doctrinally, we acknowledge God’s presence according to His promises. Practically, we apply this to our lives in maintaining a reverent fear for the house of God. Do we, then, present ourselves in both attitude and appearance with a fear of God? Truly this is a question with which we must challenge our own hearts.
4. Finally, on a very practical note, the assembly is marked by giving, for Jacob gave a tenth unto the Lord in context of the house of God. Many speak of what they can get from the assembly and become frustrated when they do not get anything from the meetings. Well, in reality, we are not responsible for our getting (apart from our paying attention to the spiritual food provided in the assembly), but rather our giving. Rather than ask “what did I get from the assembly this week?” we must ask “What have I given?” Will we be willing to give emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and physically?
The Certainty of the Local Assembly
Certainty? How can one be sure about what God wants of His people in regards to the church? We can be certain on the authority of His Word.
Notice Jacob’s assurance regarding the fact that where he dwelt was the house of God. He said “SURELY, the Lord IS in THIS place…. this is NONE OTHER but the house of God…” He was both certain (“Surely, the Lord is…”) and specific (“this place”). How? Well, as one reason, he had revelation from God that this was so. Secondly, he knew from experience that this was so.
In our Christian lives, it is of no doubt whatsoever that the assembly is vital. And yet many believers would be totally undecided about assembly doctrine. In fact, some would even be criticized for saying “God has ordained our gathering.” However, God does in fact give clear assembly instruction in His Word, and we are responsible to know them and be specific, as well as being certain and firm, about these things. If God did not want us to have a specific pattern, why did He so clearly lay it out in His Word? The house of God is precious to His heart. It is also precious for Him to see His house operating the way He ordained and revealed. Let us understand assembly truth.
The Attitude Toward the Local Assembly
Also notice Jacob’s attitude toward the house of God; he feared the Lord in it, and he made it his priority to set it apart in his mind and his life as precious. We know this, because he rose up early in the morning to anoint the stone which was his pillow. The question is, are we marked by fear and reverence in the house of God? And do we see it as set apart and precious in our lives since we know the Lord is there? Many would make God’s house secondary. Let that be far from us! Let us rather be as David with a desire to see God’s house built and who could declare that a day in God’s courts are better than a thousand anywhere else. Let us be as Samuel who learned and was raised in the house of God. Let us be as the Lord Jesus of Whom it can be said “The zeal of Thy house has consumed me.” What is our attitude? Does it need to be changed?
The Impact of the Local Assembly
Notice the impact the house of God had on Jacob’s life, and with this we will close. With Jacob, the time he spent with God molded him to godliness, because “iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” And with us the assembly with have tremendous impact on our spiritual growth; and as we continue in fellowship with Heaven, in communion with God, and in unity with His people, we will be “sharpened,” as it were, by godliness. Jacob proved later in life that his time spent in the house of God changed his life forever.
But also, we know he was impacted by the fact that the place called “Luz” was afterwards called “Bethel,” which means “house of God.” A name of a place doesn’t change, unless something significant happened there and unless a significant person impacted the place. Certainly with Jacob, there was reason to change the name. No more was it just another piece of land, but it was the house of God. And with those who have been received into the assembly, they will find that their attitude will change towards the things of God’s presence. No more is God’s assembly just “Luz”; by no means! It is Bethel to us. We now understand its preciousness and significance.
Finally, notice the change in Jacob’s service. Before Bethel, he was an utter swindler, and as far as we know, without desire to serve God. But after, we see him vowing (keep in mind that vows carried great weight in this time) to submit to God’s Lordship and give Him a tenth of his possession. (See Young’s Literal Translation for help with v. 20-22). Truly, for us, discipleship cannot rise so high as when it is done in fellowship with the assembly. O may we allow our service to be revolutionized by His presence!
Let us then take these few thoughts and understand the tremendous weight the subjects of the assembly carry. May our joy be to serve in God’s house. May it be said of us “The zeal of Thy house has consumed me.” And so, for you, perhaps you are not part of a local assembly; will you consider becoming a part of it? Perhaps you have not looked deep into the doctrine of God’s assembly; will you consider searching the Scriptures to see if where you gather is according to God’s pattern? Have you been drifting away from the people of God? Have you not given anything to it lately? Have you acted irreverently in the presence of the Most High? May we hold its importance dear to our hearts.