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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. (Romans 12:9–18).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Social media was abuzz this week with a photo of Ellen DeGeneres sitting with former president George W. Bush having a good laugh in the Dallas Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones’ private suite. Twitter users were surprised at the unusual seating arrangement, and some were angry to see, as DeGeneres put it, “a gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to a conservative Republican president.” She took a lot of heat for this particularly from the LGBTQ community.
“I’m friends with George Bush,” DeGeneres explained Monday on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” “In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have.” “We’re all different, and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s OK.” “Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them.” “When I say be kind to one another, I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone.”
Obviously, Ms. DeGeneres and I part ways on a number of important topics. But I think she has a very reasonable point about just being kind and cordial—something this world could use more of.
Now, I don’t bring this up to hold her as a role model, but to make a point. Ellen was just talking about basic civility and human decency and many people were scandalized. St. Paul describes something even more scandalous: genuine Christian love, love not only for the fellow Christian, family member, but for the stranger!
This is a Welcoming Workshop. I presume you are here because you wish to learn how to help your congregation be more welcoming—unless you’re like one of my elders who told me: “I wasn’t sure I could make it, but I’ll come because it seems to be real important to you, Pastor.” Whatever your reason, I’m glad you’re here and we will be focusing on welcoming today.
As I started preparing this devotion, I did a search for various Bible passages that speak of welcoming. I didn’t really find any that fit what we are focusing on today. Then I thought of the word “hospitality,” after all, that is what we’re really trying to do, isn’t it? We’re trying to learn how to be more hospitable.
The Greek word usually translated “hospitality” is filozenia, “love of strangers.” It is this kind of love St. Paul mentions in our text, along with filadelfia, “brotherly love,” filostorgos, “familial love,” and agaph, “love.
Paul’s God-given understanding of love stands in sharp contrast with what much of our world perceives love to be. All too often, our love degenerates into something like “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” In other words, love becomes a response to favorable treatment from someone else or a least depends upon such a response in return. Otherwise, love is withheld. Paul calls such conditional love “hypocritical.” Thus, he encourages us to love “without hypocrisy,” that is regardless of what comes back in return, whether good, evil, or nothing.
As sinners living in a fallen world, such love does not come to naturally, but must come from outside of us. We are by nature, hypocritical, self-centered, loveless. Love for neighbor, love for family, love for friend, love for the stranger—even one’s enemy!—must come from outside of ourselves.
Much theological hay is made of the many Greek words for love and their distinctive nuances you’ll find in our text. But richer by far is the observation that all uses of the noun “love” (agaph) thus far in Romans communicate the love of the triune God—the Father (5:5, 8; 8:39), Christ (8:35), and through the Spirit (5:5) for us. The same is true of the verb “to love” (agapaow). Only here does Paul begin to use agaph of the Christian’s love. Love from God in Christ through the Spirit to us then serves as the foundation and motivation for all responsive Christlike behavior. This follows what 1 John 4:19 says: “We love because He first loved us.”
Origen summarizes the theological basis for what follows using Paul’s language:
It happens that we hate things we ought not to, just as we love things we ought not to. We are ordered to love our brothers, not to hate them. If you think someone is ungodly, remember that Christ died for the ungodly. And if you think that because your brother is a sinner you do not have to love him, remember that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.[i]
Love is the sum and summary of all God’s Law, His commandments. Love for God and love for neighbor. Jesus, citing Leviticus 19:18 says to the rich young man who wanted to know what good deed he must do to inherit eternal life (Matthew 19: 16 ff). “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Everything we want someone to do for us, we should do for them. Everything we realize helps us so much: a helping hand, a kind word, a little attention, silent understanding in sorrow, and sincere participation in our joy. It’s things like that we should do for our neighbor.
Love needs to be made concrete and apparent in this way. It’s so easy for us to think that love is a general feeling of kindness. Love is not the same thing as decency or kindness. It goes way beyond that! Love must hate what is evil. It must “hold fast to what is good” (Romans 12:9), even if no one else does. Love has its own image that sometimes doesn’t fit in modern society at all. It can have a completely different, biblical view on abortion and divorce and how to spend your Sundays than other common, well-meaning people do, and it can do that without despising anyone. It prays for those who persecute and does favors for its enemies and is at peace with everyone, “if possible, so far as it depends on you” (Romans 12:18).
Above all, however, love is not a principle or theory or teaching. It’s a way of behaving in a concrete situation. Paul gives us a long list of examples: you’re appreciative toward people and take note of what they do; you aren’t apathetic. Instead, you gladly help others. You’re anxious to show hospitality and don’t regard your home as a private domain that you keep to yourself but understand the happiness that exists in sharing the comfort of a home with others. You’re happy when others are happy without feeling envious but delighted that it’s going so well for them. You can cry with those who cry and suffer with them, not with conventional phrases and meaningless clichés , but as a friend who understands and experiences how others feel in a way that can be felt and experienced without words.
Love for your neighbor assumes there is a neighbor, a tangible human being. Love doesn’t exist in general. It’s always a question about living human beings. It’s about the people we see around us in need of love. Love is an essential motivation and quality for becoming more welcoming congregations. May God grant us to grow more and more in our love for one another and all our neighbors. Amen
Let us pray:
Help us, Lord Jesus, to see not with cold eyes that see only indifferent people we want to avoid or dismiss as quickly as possible. Help us to see our neighbor whom You’ve put in front of us. Help us to be the kind of neighbor You want use to be for that person. Be with Amy, our presenter for today, give her words of wisdom and insight and a reminded of your love and grace. Help us in our congregations to be welcoming, to sincerely love one another with our hearts so we can help one another, support one another, carry one another’s burdens, and gladly do what we can to reach out to the lost and lonely. May we be joyful in hope, patient in suffering, and steadfast in prayer. For Your name’s sake. Amen
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are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway
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[i] Origen, Romans (Bray, Romans, ACCS NT 6:315), quoting in italics Romans 5:6 and 1 Timothy 1:15.