1 1 Practice Hospitality, Romans 12:9-21 (May 25, 2014) 9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. 20 To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. PRAY We are taking a break for the rest of May and June and the first part of July from 1 Corinthians and going instead to do a topical series on what we re calling Grace Core Values. Now, it s usually not a good idea to do a lot of topical sermons, and we don t at Grace Bible this is the first topical series in my tenure here. Most of the time we simply walk through some part of the Bible each Sunday at Grace. But they can be helpful from time to time, especially in the summer months when people are in and out a lot (certainly, I ll be out a lot in June and July), because from time to time Jim and I (Jim s actually going to preach most of the sermons in this series) will see areas of church life we want to highlight. Some may be areas that are important to the life of the church and we just need to be reminded of them, they may be areas where we see a need and want to encourage you to devote more time and attention to them, or it may just be that we want to take time to highlight something about Grace that makes us a little different from other churches in the area. This is not to say that the core values we re going to discuss are the only values we have at Grace or are even consistently the most important ones (as soon as Jim and I published the sermon card with all the topics we selected, we thought of half-a-dozen more that we could easily have preached instead), but it s just that for one reason or another these topics have been laid on our hearts and we want to talk about them. Certainly that s true of today s topic. In our text for today, Paul gives instructions to the church at Rome; what they must focus on. And he starts it off with the most important spiritual gift and fruit love. Verse 9: Let love be genuine. Verse 10: Love one another with brotherly love. We are in the church to love one another. We all know that, no one s going to argue with that. Love is primary and non-negotiable in the life of the church.
2 2 But what will it look like when we do it? Practically, how do we go about doing this? There are thousands of ways we can love one another, but one particular way I want us to focus on this morning from this text is through hospitality. I believe that perhaps the most important practical thing we can do as part of Grace Bible Church to promote love in our fellowship, in this church, is to practice hospitality. That s what we ll look at, under three headings: first, the purpose of hospitality. Second, the practice of hospitality. Third, the problems (plural!) with hospitality. Fourth, the power for hospitality. First, the purpose of hospitality. What exactly are we talking about when we talk about hospitality? We talk a good game when it comes to hospitality in Mississippi, don t we? We pride ourselves on it at one point on our license plates in Mississippi we had the slogan The Hospitality State. We pride ourselves on our Southern hospitality. But what is it? For a lot of people, hospitality means place settings with the good china, cloth napkins (not paper towels), multi-course meals, dressing up, best behavior, bringing out the silver, and everything s perfect. Everything s just so. A spread on the table that looks like it should be in Mississippi Magazine or Southern Living magazine. Maybe something that would make it on a show on the Food Network. That s hospitality. That s not at all what the Bible means by hospitality. A better word for that might be entertaining, not hospitality. So what is it? In verse 13, we read this: Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. And the Greek word translated as hospitality is a wonderful Greek word (when I first heard it a few years ago I couldn t get it out of my mind) it s the Greek word philoxenia. It s a combination of two Greek words: phileo (which means love ) and xenos (which means foreigner or stranger ; we get our word xenophobia from it fear of strangers ), but philoxenia literally means the love of strangers. And when understood this way, you can see why hospitality was so vitally important in the ancient world. They didn t have hotels back then, so travel was much more difficult than it is today. The only way, in fact, you could possibly make it from point a to point b was if people went out of their way to practice the love of strangers. Hospitality. So it was common in the ancient world (and even up until the last sixty or seventy years or so in our country) for people to open up their homes, open up their kitchen, open up a bed, so that strangers could be welcomed and cared for on their journey. Now that kind of hospitality is not nearly as important today. There are hotels where people can find shelter when they travel, they are all over the place. And if you can t afford to stay in a hotel you can call ahead, or text ahead, to a friend or a friend of a friend in the city you re going to in order to have a place to stay. Thanks to the automobile and the interstate highway system (let alone the airplane) travel doesn t take nearly as long as it used to, so the sheer number of places you need to stay each night on your journey has radically decreased. So that kind of hospitality regularly bringing
3 3 people you do not know into your home to feed them and so that they could spend the night for days at a time that kind of hospitality isn t quite so important anymore. Nevertheless, here s our working definition for the kind hospitality we need to practice today: we need to take strangers, serve them in some way (often in your home), and with the hope they will become friends. That s hospitality, Paul says. Second, the practice of hospitality (how do we do it?). Three ways: first, (and this is fairly obvious) you must locate strangers. If we are going to obey Paul s injunction, we ll have to find strangers and invite them to come and eat with us. But how? you might ask. Where do I find a stranger? Am I supposed to drive out to Batesville and pick up hitchhikers on I-55, bring them home, feed them, let them stay in my house? No at least, I m not advocating that. I m not saying that s the only way to practice hospitality. That s one way to do it. But here s a simple way to practice philoxenia there is a room full of people here, many of whom you don t know. They are strangers to you. And here s what so many of us do we walk right past them. We come into church, we grab our coffee, we say hello to a couple of people we do know, and then we go to our seat. And as soon as we can after the service, we take off. We are all every Sunday walking past so many people who are potential recipients of our hospitality. There are people at work that you don t really know you might know their names, generally what they do at the workplace, but you don t really know them they re strangers to you. If you are student at Ole Miss, then with each class you take you ll find yourself regularly around a dozen of more complete strangers. And if you live in a neighborhood of some kind (whether single-family homes, or mobile homes, or an apartment complex, or a residence hall which should cover just about everyone), you have people living around you, at least some of whom will be strangers. Strangers are all around us. Second, you must also keep friends from turning into strangers. I m fairly certain that when Paul uses the word philoxenia, he does mean that Christians are to show love to people who are literally foreign to us; people whom we don t know. But those, of course, aren t the only people to whom we should show hospitality. In verse 10 Paul doesn t only say, Be kind to strangers, but he says: Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. And then, verse 13a: Contribute to the needs of the saints Who are the one another s and the saints? These are other Christians, people in the church, whom you already know. To truly practice hospitality, it s not enough to show kindness to strangers. If you re not careful, if you re not deliberate, if you don t work at it, then pretty soon your friends will become strangers. I won t ask you to raise your hand, don t respond but how many of
4 4 you were once really close to someone, you would have considered that person a good friend, but now you re no longer close? Nothing happened, there was no big betrayal on either end of the relationship, you just drifted apart. What happened? One or both of you neglected the relationship, you did not show kindness to one another, and now this friend has become a stranger to you. To practice hospitality the way Paul describes it we must both find strangers and work to keep friends from turning into strangers. Third, with strangers and friends, you must invite them. Hospitality is a practice, it s a discipline, and that means it s going to require effort on your part. Hospitality won t just happen without your being intentional about it. So once you ve identified both friends and strangers (and that s a lot of the people in your life, isn t it), now you ve got to do something you must invite them. But where, and to what exactly? I ll give you some ideas (got these from a sermon Tim Keller gave once on hospitality it was very helpful). First, just invite them to your physical home. Say, Would you like to eat supper at my house (apartment, dorm room)? Some will say no. Many will wonder, OK, what is he trying to sell me? They ll be suspicious, but many will come. Many will be intrigued at the idea of seeing where you live, and interested at the prospect of a free meal, and, very often, honored that you would have them in your home. People know that s a big deal, and so many will not take an invitation like that lightly. And when they come, get to know them, ask them questions about their lives, and be open and tell them about yourself. And by the way, it doesn t have to be fancy. If you can make it fancy and you like doing it, great. But please don t think it must be; don t think you have to serve steak each time you have someone over. You won t be able to do it as often as one pastor said, you can serve peanut butter and jelly especially if you get the right kind of peanut butter. This isn t Mississippi Magazine, this isn t Southern Living magazine, that s entertaining we re talking about hospitality. Everything doesn t have to be perfect. In fact, Mimi s reading a book about food and hospitality right now, and in one chapter the author says this: What people are craving isn t perfection. People aren t longing to be impressed. They re longing to feel like they re home. If you create a space full of love and character they ll take off their shoes and curl up with gratitude and rest. No matter how small, no matter how undone, no matter how odd. It s hospitality we re after, not a segment on the Food Network. Second, invite them here (church, your spiritual home). Hospitality, remember, is no longer about sheltering travelers from the elements. Rather, it s about turning strangers into friends. And sooner or later, if the gospel is important to you, and the body of Christ, the church, is important to you, you re friends are going to have to know. If these people to whom you re showing hospitality aren t a part of a Bible-believing church, ask them to come with you here one Sunday. Offer to go and actually pick them up and drive them here (it can be very intimidating for a lot of people to show up here on a Sunday
5 5 morning cold and have to find you in the crowd). And then, afterwards, take them to lunch, and maybe have a conversation about the sermon. Third, Christians should be getting together and eating informally all the time. Remember, hospitality is not just getting complete strangers into your home (perhaps it s not even primarily that), but it s keeping your friends from turning into strangers. Philoxenia is a wonderful word in this passage, but there s another wonderful word, too. In verse 10a, we read: Love one another with brotherly affection. Brotherly affection translates a single Greek word philadelphia the love of brothers. We don t just love strangers as Christians; we love other Christians, too. We are hopefully full of philoxenia and philadelphia. So, ideally, Christians are regularly and frequently breaking bread together. An active Christian life isn t so much one where your calendar is full of church activities, but where you are eating with other Christians and sharing good, edifying conversation. This was, by the way, the model of the early church. Acts 2:42-47: 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Fourth, you could host a community group in your home. Our church is always in need of people who are willing to welcome other Christians regularly into their homes, so you could talk to Jim and say, You know, I d be willing to have a small group meet in my home. You don t have to actually lead the group, it won t be every week (eight times a semester), but you can watch lives change. Fifth, you can serve here on Sunday mornings. When we open up this building each Sunday for worship, we are saying to anyone who wants to come, Please let us show you hospitality. And it takes a lot of volunteer effort to make sure it s done well. We need ushers, we need nursery workers, we need parking lot attendants, we need people to assist our children s Sunday school teachers, we need help with serving the Lord s Supper once per month. Anyone of those is a great way to practice hospitality through our church. So, sounds great, right? Why isn t everyone doing this all the time? Third, the problem with hospitality. First of all, it s expensive. Those of you who do this regularly know. Inviting people into your home and feeding them, or taking them out to eat, either way, it costs money. Even if you do only serve peanut butter, it adds up (especially if you re buying the good peanut butter that stuff s expensive).
6 6 Second, even if you can afford hospitality, it s still expensive in that it takes time. It takes time out of your week when you could be doing other things either work or recreation. It takes time to clean up before you practice hospitality and after you practice it (you don t have to make things perfect, but you know may want to put the laundry up before you have people in your home, sweep off the driveway, cut the grass before people come over so they don t think they re going into an abandoned property). Third, it takes work. At the end of the day, or at the end of a work week, when you re tired, and the kids are tired, it will take extra energy in order to practice hospitality. There is an expense of time, money, and energy to do it. That s a real problem. Fourth, look at these three verses Romans 12:14-16: 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. There will be two temptations that come with hospitality: first, you will be tempted to show it only to the people with whom you re comfortable. The temptation in trying to practice hospitality will be that you only do it with people whom you like (that s the rejoicing with those who rejoice part), and never with people who are different from you, or who are difficult for you (that s the weeping with those who weep part). If you only ever invite people that are just like you, that enjoy all the things you do, that see the world just like you do, that just fit with you, then you re never going to really be practicing philoxenia you ll never turn strangers into friends. Paul wouldn t have to say, Live in harmony with one another if he didn t assume that sooner or later you d have to deal with people who are naturally disharmonious from you. Then Paul says (verse 16b): Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. In other words, go out of your way to practice hospitality with those who there s no way can help you get ahead in your life, in your career. Deliberately choose people who are younger than you, who aren t as wealthy and influential as you are, who are newer to town than you and so don t have the connections in Oxford or at the University that you do. Go out of your way to invite them into your home and love on them. The second temptation will be to show hospitality only to people who can help you. You ll say you re practicing hospitality but in reality you re just trying to climb up the ladder by impressing and building relationships with the people who can help you. But that s not really practicing hospitality that s not love of strangers. That s networking, that s loving yourself. It can take all kinds of forms, too. Mimi and I have been in churches (not in Oxford I can t think of a single instance in our time here) but we ve served in churches where certain members would have over to their house to eat, but they weren t really interested in loving on us or getting to know us or welcoming us to the community, but it became clear there was an agenda behind their invitation. They had certain things they wanted done in the church, or they wanted to
7 7 make sure we didn t listen to these certain people in the church, so they tried to manipulate us into doing things their way. That s not hospitality; that s manipulation. You re going to feel that temptation too you re going to find yourself wanting to show hospitality to the people who can help you get what you want, but remember real hospitality is expensive. Not just in terms of time and money and energy but influence in real hospitality, you re not getting influence from people, but you re giving your influence to others you re bringing them into your network, not always looking to plug into theirs. So, if hospitality is so hard, so expensive, so difficult, then why do we do it? What s the point? Fourth, the power of hospitality. Christians have for centuries recognized that there is tremendous power in inviting people along with you, to your home, to eat, to worship. But what is it? What will it be about inviting someone over to your house that will transform them? Will it be how nice and clean your house is, how expensively and tastefully furnished it is? Will your guests take one look at your house and say, Oh, my, God is surely with this one? Is it your food how good it is, how much there is? Will it be your electrifying conversation, your witty insights into this American life? Will it be the background music? What is it exactly about hospitality that makes it so powerful that Christians have this mandate to practice it? It s none of those things. It doesn t matter how nice your home is, what kind of food you serve, it doesn t even matter if you are a poor conversationalist (though, I ll admit, it helps a lot). One commentator put it like this: For Christians, the expectation is that God will play a significant role in the ordinary exchange between guest and hosts. This expectation lends to hospitality a sacramental quality [there are] numinous qualities [in other words, spiritual, ineffable, incalculable] qualities [to] hospitality. There is a sacramental quality to hospitality. What does that mean? Well, think about it what is a sacrament? Baptism, the Lord s Supper. But what elements make up those sacraments? Common things water, bread, wine. Nothing special, but when set apart for the Lord they have tremendous power in our lives. And hospitality is the same way nothing special. It doesn t matter what the food s like or what your home is like. But when devoted to God s purposes, he will give it power. Tim Keller: to have someone over to your house, to listen to their problems, to meet someone new in your neighborhood and invite them into your home, and just listen to them. Just welcome them. That s not social work. That s not counseling. That s not spiritual direction. You re not a trained spiritual director. You re not a trained counselor. There s no technique involved. It s just common. It s just getting together over [a meal]! Yet God can work powerfully in that. I love Galatians 6:2, because this verse might sum up what I think happens through true hospitality better than any other single verse in the Bible: 2 Bear one another s burdens,
8 8 and so fulfill the law of Christ. I can t tell you how many times over the years Mimi and I were going through some kind of stress in our marriage or family or maybe at work and we found ourselves invited in by either friends or Christians that were new to the church that we didn t know very well. And we walked in kind of stressed, maybe even not really wanting to be there, but after receiving hospitality for an hour-and-a-half or two hours, we walked out, and the stress was gone. What happened? They didn t counsel us, they didn t give advice, the issue may not have even come up. Yet by showing us hospitality, they bore our burdens. I can t explain it, I just know I ve experienced it so often. By showing us hospitality somehow through the power of the Holy Spirit they took at least some of the burden we were carrying around off of us and shared it. There is real power in hospitality. The end of Galatians 6:2: and so fulfill the law of Christ. What s the law of Christ? Almost all the commentators agree: to fulfill the law of Christ is to love one another. And friends, if we as a church begin to seriously, intentionally, frequently practice hospitality, we will fulfill the law of Christ with one another, we will love each other. And this church will be like a light on a hill to this community. If we truly at Grace Bible Church practice hospitality with one another, love one another, fulfill the law of Christ to one another, our light will shine into the darkness, and people will come to know the Lord through it. John MacArthur tells the story of a woman who came to his church in Los Angeles years ago. She was Jewish, and she went to the synagogue down the street from their church to be counseled and they wouldn't counsel her in her marital problem because she hadn't paid her dues. And so she was upset, and she walked down the street to the nearest religious building to get some help. So she came to that church and wandered in, it was Sunday. He wasn t at all sure whether she wanted to come in or not, but by the time she knew where she was, she was in a group, she was caught up in the crowd going into the church, and she found herself in the place. And she became a Christian. And later on she told MacArthur her testimony. She said, I was so upset that they wouldn't counsel me, so I just came in here, and I'm telling you, it changed my life. MacArthur thought she was talking about his preaching (as preachers tend to do), and so he said, Did you enjoy that service that day? She replied, I don't even know what you said. I was overwhelmed by the love of these people for each other. It was so foreign to anything I'd ever experienced. And it was that that drew me to my Messiah. There is power in Christian hospitality. One last reason to practice hospitality. I asked Jim to read earlier in the service from Deuteronomy 10: He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:18-19.
9 9 The people of Israel were sojourners, they were strangers in the land of Egypt, God says, but God loved these strangers, showed them hospitality, made them His treasured possession, and settled them into the promised land. That s Israel. Do you know what God has done to us, Christians? 12 [R]emember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2: You were strangers to God, but through the blood of Christ you who were once far have been brought near to him. Friends, Jesus practiced hospitality with you you were a stranger, and he made you a friend. He was not overcome with evil (verse 21), but he overcame evil with good. And did it cost him? You better believe it cost him it cost him his blood, it cost him everything, to reconcile you a friend of God. But he did it, and so you now can look for the strangers in our midst. Look for the strangers at church, at work, at school, in your neighborhood, open up your home to them, and love on them. It doesn t have to be fancy, it can just be peanut butter and jelly. But see if God won t turn strangers into friends. And if we ll all commit to doing this at Grace, let s just see if God will begin to bring the nations to him in Oxford through our hospitality. Amen. Let s pray together.