Romans chapter 12 is about the practice of the Christian life.
It’s about how Christians are supposed to behave and what we are to do.
Paul makes the point quite strongly that being a Christian is inseparable
from being a member of a body, a family, a church
in which we know one another and are known.
He has saved us to be a genuine, connected, close, loving community.
I made the point last week that the importance of community in Scripture
is missed by many American Christians.
Many see the Bible as describing a private Christian walk.
Me and Jesus. What’s best for me spiritually? What I need to do to be fed?
Many read Sermon on Mount, for example, as how Jesus wants me to live.
Instructions for my inner life, and so forth.
They miss obvious fact that in Sermon, and most of NT, the pronoun you is plural.
“Y’all are the salt of the earth . . . y’all are the light of the world.”
“Let y’all’s light shine before men, that they may see y’all’s good works and glorify y’all’s
Father who is in heaven.”
“Y’all seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given
Christ is saying: This is the life of faith. Y’all to form a community and live in it.
Much of Romans 12 is about forming this community.
This is how you respond to the mercies of God in Christ.
This is how you offer your body as a living sacrifice—by living and loving in
community with other believers. Verses 9-16 in particular, list of instructions.
We’ve already looked at several of these instructions for love and life together.
What it means to love sincerely, the family nature of Christian community.
Just before Thanksgiving, looked at this command to honor one another.
I could spend many more Sundays looking at each of these instructions.
I’m not. This is my last Sunday on these verses.
Next week we’ll finish. How we deal with people outside church, enemies.
But I want us to look at one more instruction which is important for our body—
command to practice hospitality. Read the whole passage.
INTRO: What is hospitality according to the Bible?
Paul mentions it here as one of the basic responses of a Christian to God’s mercy.
And this is not the only place hospitality commanded in Scripture.
In our context—especially in our Southern context—
we usually think of hospitality as entertaining people in your home with style.
The quintessential depiction of that definition of hospitality
is Southern Living magazine.
My mother has gotten Southern Living her whole life.
As a child, I thought that every home had stacks of old Southern Living
sitting around in baskets and on coffee tables.
When we got married, a dear aunt of mine gave us a subscription for Christmas—
and she has continued to do so ever since for the past 25 years.
It’s like part of the furniture.
Every issue of Southern Living features perfectly staged photographs of
well-appointed homes, lovely tables, elaborate and stylish place settings,
tasty dinner or party menus and the latest tips and fashions for the
perfect Southern hostess.
And it is about hostesses. It is a womanly art that is depicted in Southern Living.
It is all about the feminine touch, feminine beauty and order.
One other feature of hospitality as depicted in Southern Living is that it is
focused on friends and family.
Here’s Mary Smith of Augusta, Georgia. Here’s her table and menu for the garden
party she throw every year when they invite all friends over during The Masters—
There are some photos of Mary in a stylish sundress with friends.
Maybe a stylish apron. Maybe triumphantly putting an appetizer on a table.
She’s in complete control, with this amazing spread that she’s pulled together.
If there is a picture of Mary’s husband,
he’ll just be standing there with a bourbon in hand.
So Southern hospitality is depicted as entertaining friends and family in your home
with elegance, style, and beauty by the flower of Southern womanhood.
I’m poking fun, let me hasten to say, I deeply appreciate this.
I grew up in an old, formal, antebellum town with Southern Living settings.
I have lived in the Midwest. I’ve lived amongst New Yorkers in South Florida.
And I missed this form of beautiful, elegant, feminine Southern hospitality.
But, I say all of that to make the point that when the Bible speaks of hospitality—
this is not what it is describing.
Biblical hospitality is not exclusively a feminine art,
it is not something that is must be elegant or stylish,
it is not focused primarily on friends and family,
it is not even something that necessarily takes place in your home.
So what is it?
The word commonly translated “hospitality” in the New Testament is a
compound word that is literally “love for strangers.” Philo-Xenia.
The fundamental meaning is attentiveness to people you do not know.
Paul makes this point in Romans12:13 when he writes,
“Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality”
A more literal translation is:
Contribute to the needs of the saints, pursue love for strangers.
Paul is clearly drawing a distinction between two groups of people
and commending a special love towards those people we do not know.
There are other related words in the New Testament that include nuances such as
receiving as a guest, welcoming, entertaining, accepting, recognizing,
being generous toward, doing a faithful deed, and sending forward on a journey.
Hospitality is a command, but it is exercised in different ways depending on gifts.
Remember earlier in Romans 12, Paul divides gifts into speaking and serving.
Peter makes same distinction in his first letter, applies specifically to hospitality.
“Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he
has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”
For the practice of hospitality to be successful, both speaking and serving,
word and deed believers are needed.
Strangers must be verbally welcomed and they must have needs attended to.
All this is to say that for hospitality to function in a church body,
all the members must bring to bear their various spiritual gifts.
So the penetrating question that we need to ask as a body, as a church family—
How are we doing? Are we practicing hospitality?
Does our gratitude for the mercies of God compel us to love strangers who come
into our midst? Let’s try to answer that question by looking at two points:
1. Why hospitality is important to God. 2. How we should practice hospitality.
MP#1 Why hospitality is important to God
Let me phrase it as a question: Out of all the things God could tell us to be and do,
why does he say: Practice hospitality, practice love for strangers?
Remember once again the context of this command.
The first eleven chapters of Romans are the most detailed, passionate,
carefully-argued presentation of the Gospel in all of Scripture.
You were dead in your sin. An enemy of God, a slave to the flesh.
But the Father chose you. The Son redeemed you. Holy Spirit regenerated you.
You were predestined, called, justified, glorified.
And now for you there is therefore no condemnation.
And since you are in Christ, all things are working for your good,
and nothing can separate you from the love of God.
And then, after all of this, after all God has done, he says to you—
this is how I want you to live—practice hospitality.
You can’t help wondering—Why this particular command?
Imagine your rich old uncle saying: You’re my favorite nephew, favorite niece.
I’m leaving you my estate. Please promise me you’ll practice hospitality.
You would be curious, wouldn’t you?
You would say: Uncle, you’re giving me millions, why is this important to you?
Not that I’m opposed to it, I just want to know. Why is this dear to your heart?
It would help me in honoring your wishes if I knew why.
Why does our heavenly Father want us to practice hospitality?
Why is it important to him that his church practice love for strangers?
Let’s look at what God says about hospitality in other places and see if we can
answer these questions.
The first place we’re going to look is not in what God tells us in the Bible,
but what God shows us through what is sometimes called his general revelation.
His general revelation is what we can discern from God in the world.
Here’s what I mean: As you look around the world, at the different nations,
cultures, and societies, you see that there are a few that excel in hospitality.
There are some cultures that have a love for strangers that stands head and
shoulders above other cultures.
And these are not necessarily cultures that have been influenced by Christianity—
in fact, most of them are not.
Years ago my father was in Egypt on a tour.
He was in a hotel in Cairo and he and a fellow tourist heard some music
and poked their heads inside a ballroom. They saw immediately that it was
a wedding reception and turned and walked back into the lobby.
But someone in the wedding party had seen them.
And the father of the groom came rushing out to the lobby and grabbed them.
Come, come, my friends, please join us, we would be most honored.
My dad and this other man of course declined. No, don’t want to intrude.
But this father would not take no for an answer—Please, come share our joy.
My friends, we would be most honored.
Practically manhandled them back into the ballroom, made them sit, began serving.
Introducing them to other people who seemed equally happy to see them.
Another story, you may remember this from 2005.
A four-man Navy Seal team in Afghanistan was ambushed and three killed.
The surviving member of the team was badly wounded, and he dragged himself
to an Afghan home and asked for help. The owner of the home was Pashtun.
The Pashtuns have a very rigorous code of hospitality includes care and protection
for strangers, particularly those who are in danger.
If it had been a different situation, this Pashtun man might have killed the American
or turned him over to the Taliban, but because he was a stranger who came to his
home, he provided him with sanctuary.
Both of these incidents happened in cultures barely touched by Christianity
and yet both of them are beautiful examples of hospitality in the deepest
sense of love for strangers.
You are a stranger, but share our joy, feast with us, let us be honored with presence.
Who does that sound like? It sounds like God himself.
That father of the groom, rushing out to the hotel lobby, grabbing these two
foreign strangers, giving them a table and food and music makes us think of
God the Father compelling us to come in and join the wedding feast.
It’s almost exactly like Jesus’ parable in Matthew 22.
You are a stranger, but I will shelter you in your time of vulnerability and need.
And who does that sound like? It also sounds like God.
That man opening his door to a wounded stranger, taking him in,
protecting him. It’s like God caring for us when beset by enemies.
When hear that story, can’t help thinking of parable of Good Samaritan.
As a Christian, what do you make of these stories and others like them?
These are demonstrations of God’s common grace.
Common grace is God’s general kindness to all humanity.
It’s not saving grace. It doesn’t lead to forgiveness of sins and to salvation.
The Egyptian or the Afghan is only saved by faith in Jesus Christ.
And yet, in various ways, God blesses the human race with demonstrations of his
kindness, and in so doing, he makes his character known.
I think this is the key to why God loves hospitality and expects his people especially
to be hospitable. Because hospitality exalts the grace of God.
We of all people, believers who have known his grace in its fullness,
should be especially eager to exalt his grace in this way.
We’ve looked at general revelation, God’s common grace.
Now, let’s look at his special revelation—Scripture. Key passage Deut. 10:17-19.
Moses is preaching to the Israelites before cross Jordan to Promised Land.
For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and
awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the
fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. And you are
to love those who are strangers, for you yourselves were strangers in Egypt.
This word translated stranger also alien or sojourner, one passing through.
Moses says, Israelites—you are God’s chosen people—love strangers.
Love the aliens, love the outsiders who come to you.
Lots of laws as to how they were to do that—protection, provision.
Then the reason—it’s because you are recipients of God’s grace.
It’s because you were yourselves once strangers in Egypt.
What is Egypt symbolically in Scripture?
It’s slavery to sin. It’s life before you are born again. Life before Christ.
Point is powerful—All of us were once strangers because of sin.
God’s grace found us, brought us out, make us no longer strangers, a people.
Made belong. Gave us an identity. Put us in the in group.
So when we love strangers, we are, in a most profound way proclaiming the grace
of God in Jesus Christ. Why does God love hospitality?
Why has he saved us to practice love for strangers?
Because in so doing, we demonstrate and glorify his grace to us.
Isn’t that wonderful? That God enables us and commands us to do something so
beautiful and so noble, and in doing it we glorify him.
So, that brings us to the second point
MP#2 How we should practice hospitality
As I said at the beginning, this is about our common life.
This is mostly about how we are to be as a church body and family.
How should we, as a church, pursue love for strangers?
There are a number of concepts in Scripture used to flesh out hospitality.
There is a description of Christ in Luke’s Gospel (9:11).
that ties together the various strands of hospitality.
When the crowds came to Jesus,
“He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God,
and healed those who needed healing”
First, what did he do? He welcomed them.
These people were strangers to Christ, coming to him with a great variety of
motivations and expectations. Some just wanted to get something from him,
wanted bread or healing. Some wanted to make him king, political designs.
Some truly wanted to worship him and get forgiveness from him.
But he loved all of these strangers first by welcoming them.
Jesus’ demeanor must have set people at ease and drawn them in.
There must have been an overt friendliness to Christ that was so obvious that even
his enemies noticed it with irritation.
Remember, one of their criticisms was, “This man welcomes sinners!” (Luke 15:2).
Then after welcoming them, he spoke to them.
This refers to his preaching the gospel of the kingdom.
Then he demonstrated the power of the kingdom by healing them.
Even though he was “mighty in word and deed,” he first drew people in by his
warm welcome. Christ’s hospitality prepared the way for people to hear the
proclamation of the good news of the sovereign love of God.
Here’s how I think this applies to our church.
God in his sovereign grace and good providence brings strangers to our church
on Sunday morning. They come for many different reasons.
Some come because they know people here, have been invited.
Some have moved to the area, looking for a church. May have PCA background.
Some have zero connection at all, come for less obvious reasons.
But they are not here by luck or chance, the Lord has brought them here.
We must welcome them. It’s the first, most basic step of hospitality.
This is where love for strangers begins—welcoming with words and deeds.
All churches are different, they have different strengths and weaknesses.
I think a case could be made that two things Christ Covenant does best
are teaching and fellowship.
We have emphasized these aspects of church life over the years and born fruit.
Our congregation values good teaching and expects it.
Honor is given to those who use their teaching gifts in our body.
And a great many people in our church devote time and effort each week in
preparing to teach—Sunday school, adult classes, Bible studies.
The same could be said of fellowship.
Our congregation values it and participates in it.
Year after year there are people who step forward to serve as Covenant group
hosts and leaders and those who serve support roles such as Covenant Kids.
In addition to Covenant Groups, the Women’s Ministry has provided fellowship for
the women in our congregation. This has been possible because of those who
have devoted time and effort to making fellowship events and groups work.
Christ Covenant folks come to enjoy and participate in teaching and fellowship.
We are a well-fed body with many deep friendships.
Sunday mornings are comfortable and cozy.
But hospitality takes deliberate effort to pull away from those people we know
best in order to notice, welcome, attach yourself to, and serve strangers.
I ran across a definition of hospitality by a Methodist minister, Christopher Walker:
Hospitality is “taking the initiative to welcome others and inviting others to share
in our community life.”
How do you take the initiative on Sunday morning?
Good manners alone should be reason enough for a church to practice hospitality.
A polite person would always attend to guests in his own home.
He would never become involved in deep conversations with family members
to the exclusion of his guests. Rather he would take interest in his guests and
converse with them.
But beyond this ordinary motivation for hospitality is this great, Gospel motivation.
Welcoming strangers magnifies God’s grace—
because God loved you when you were a stranger in Egypt.
The case could be made that in our gathering on the Lord’s Day,
our hospitality must at times take priority over our fellowship.
There is ample time throughout the week to meet the needs of those in our body.
but there is a tiny window for welcoming strangers who the Lord sends to us.
You can always tell a Christ Covenant friend:
Let’s get together later in the week—there’s a person I don’t know.
Let’s say hello to him and invite him to Sunday school
If we miss this significant hour of opportunity,
how will we ever grow in this particular Christian virtue?
This is not about church growth, it’s about magnifying the grace of God,
We know that Christ Covenant is not for everybody.
Our doctrinal distinctions alone are a barrier to some.
But hopefully no strangers who decides not to return to our church will do so
because he was not welcomed.
A wise man once told a young preacher:
“It’s not up to you to fill the church, just to fill the pulpit.”
The same could be said of our hospitality.
Let us learn to love strangers, and trust the Lord for the increase.
Some of you know Rev. Malcom Carter at Temple Baptist Church.
The grace of hospitality is one of his strengths.
I once heard him talking about hospitality in the church, and made a unique point.
He said that the church ought to be the closest place to heaven on earth,
because the church is a community of heaven-bound people.
So when strangers come to the church, they ought to get a taste of heaven.
And then, Rev. Carter began to ask a series of unusual questions about heaven.
When you approach the gates, of heaven, will you approach unseen—
or will you be ushered in by angels?
When you come to the gates of heaven, will you open them yourself—
or will they be the doors be opened for you?
When you cross into the courtyard of the heavenly city, will the saints and angels
be engrossed in their own conversations with each other—
or will they gather around you like a long-lost brother?
When the benediction is spoken after the great heavenly worship service
will you stand around awkwardly, wondering who to talk to and what to do—
or will you be swept into the warm welcome of the church of the firstborn?
And on and on he went, in that great Baptist preaching style—pounding it home.
What a powerful point—that welcome and hospitality are not only the beginning
of our salvation, the Lord loving us when we were strangers in Egypt—
but it is also the end of our salvation, when we are welcomed into that place
where there are no strangers, only friends—our true and eternal home.
And what do we get to do in the meantime?
We get to magnify God’s grace by loving the strangers he brings to us.
There was a former member of our church who is now in heaven—
I won’t mention her name, but most of you will know who I’m talking about.
I once heard her talking to a stranger who had come to our church
on a Sunday morning. She welcomed him, focused her attention on him,
invited him to participate in church life, and then she said, with utmost sincerity—
John, you are my new best friend!
What is that, but the glory of God’s grace and a glimpse of heaven.
As the old hymn says:
“Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God.”
Let us, by his strength, love the strangers he brings to us and practice hospitality.