The New Worship & Loving People
Last week, we learned that Jesus’ coming has fulfilled and replaced the Old Testament “worship service” way of worshipping God, and has inaugurated a new way to worship God (CHART). Because we have received God’s eternal kingdom through Jesus’ death, we worship him by expressing our gratitude to him (12:28). But we also worship him by the way we live our lives. 13:1-7 is a snap-shot of this lifestyle worship, which begins with describing three different groups of people we are to love (read 13:1-3). We can depict these groups as three concentric circles—starting with people who are closest/have most in common with you, and moving outward to those more different and distant from you. (Though these love relationships are described sequentially in this text, we are to pursue them simultaneously.)
Keep on loving each other as brothers (13:1)
Read 13:1. The first circle is loving other followers of Jesus. “Brothers” here refers not to blood relatives, but to fellow-Christians. When you receive Christ, you get a new family! You become children of the same Father and the same Holy Spirit comes to live in your hearts. This is why you naturally feel a new bond/attraction toward other Christians when you receive Christ. This is God’s Spirit drawing you into family life with other spiritual brothers and sisters.
“Loving each other as brothers” emphasizes a level of involvement with other Christians that goes way beyond mere attendance at large meetings like this one (“RITUAL OF FELLOWSHIP”). It describes involvement with a smaller group of Christians that is both frequent and personal. It echoes what Jesus said to his disciples in Jn.13:34,35 (read).
Jesus built relationships with this small group of men. He spent a lot of time with them and he got to know them deeply—he encouraged them when they were fearful, put up with their idiosyncrasies, forgave their offenses, confronted their foolishness, cast vision for their lives, etc.
And he calls on us to relate to a small group of Christians in this same way. Are you involved enough with some Christian friends that you know when they need to be encouraged, that you put up with their annoying idiosyncrasies, that you forgive their offenses against you, that you challenge them when they are being foolish, that you remind them of God’s vision for their lives? And are letting them know you enough that they can love you in these same ways? If not, you aren’t involved enough, and you are missing out on this key part of the new worship! (HOME GROUPS)
Why is this so important? Because we simply can’t grow spiritually without this kind of mutual support, any more than children can develop into healthy adults without real family involvement. And there is the reason Jesus mentions here. The world is a lonely place, and Jesus wants people in the world to see his followers loving one another in such a way that they think, “Maybe Jesus is alive and real after all.”
“Keep on...” alerts us to the fact that there are forces designed to deter us from loving one another in this way—forces that we need to consciously resist.
There is the force of social opposition. These Christians were being persecuted, so they were tempted to not gather together to build one another up. That’s why the author said 10:25 (read). Although we live free from political persecution, some of you take flak from friends and family members for your involvement with other Christians. Are you letting this flak deter your involvement—or are you taking a stand?
There is also the force of busyness—“I simply don’t have time to do this.” Career, family, hobbies, etc. all have their proper place—but when they crowd out the time and energy needed for Christian community, something is wrong with your priorities. If you really want to grow spiritually, if you really want to see others meet Christ, you need to make time for this kind of involvement. And you will also discover that this kind of involvement will help you to represent Jesus well in the other places you spend your time (family; work; etc.). God will provide a way for you to so this—do you need to adjust your schedule to make time for this?
There is also the force of conflict with other Christians. If you get involved this way, your brothers and sisters will hurt your feelings, let you down, disappoint you, etc.—and you will do the same to them! If you say “I didn’t sign up for this,” you will wind up distancing yourself from this kind of involvement to your own spiritual detriment. But if you hang in there and humbly work through these conflicts—learning to apologize and forgive—you will experience a tested closeness that is life-changing for you and others! Do you need to do this so you can re-engage?
We’ve talked a lot about this already in the last few weeks—so let’s move on...
Do not forget/neglect to entertain strangers (13:2)
Let’s look at the second circle (read 13:2). “Entertain strangers” is usually translated “show hospitality”—it is the Greek word philoxenias which literally means “love strangers.” “Strangers” in this context refers to people outside God’s family—people who don’t yet know Christ. God dearly loves the people who don’t know him, his heart goes out to them in spite of how lost and foolish and sinful they may be. So to worship God involves responding to the impulse of his heart to show and share his love to those who don’t know him!
“Do not forget” is better translated “do not neglect.” I’m glad he said this, because it’s so easy for me to neglect loving people who don’t know Jesus!
Christian community is so safe and enjoyable that I want to spend all my spare time with my brothers and sisters, rather than venturing out into the lives of people who are far from God. Yet, as we saw in Jn.13:34,35, unless we are inviting strangers to experience our loving community and learn how they can get in on it, we are rejecting Jesus’ reason for giving us this mandate! This is why the New Testament emphasizes that we should all be intentionally committed to loving strangers (Rom.12:13).
Leading other younger Christians is such a challenge that it is easy for me to justify not making non-Christian friends so I can show and share Jesus’ love with them. Yet the New Testament emphasizes that Christian leaders must be people who set an example of loving strangers (1Tim.3:2; Titus1:8).
“... for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” This is a reference to Gen. 18,19—where Abraham and Lot showed hospitality to three people who turned out to be angels! The point is not that we may have the same experience—it is that the strangers we interact with are super-significant, and that our expressions of love can have a huge impact. C. S. Lewis puts it this way:
“It may be possible for (me) to think too much about (my) own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for (me) to think too often or too deeply about that of (my) neighbor ...It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with (people)... There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with... snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”1
Here are some practical ways you can worship God by loving strangers:
You can ask God to give you us his love for people who don’t know him—and to give you opportunities every day to show and share his love at work, in your neighborhood, at the grocery store, etc. Every encounter is an opportunity to do this!
You can open your home to those who don’t yet know Christ. Invite your neighbors over and get to know them. Invite your friends over so they can feel the love in your home and see the community you have with your Christian friends. Open your home to host Bible studies that include non-Christians (EXTOL HOME GROUP & OUTREACH GROUP HOSTS).
You can deliberately place yourself among whole groups of people that you would not otherwise meet—to be a light of Jesus’ love and to share how his love has changed your life as God leads you (VOLUNTEER & HOBBY GO-GROUPS; BEFRIEND & SERVE MEMBERS OF COLUMBUS’ IMMIGRANT COMMUNITY).
Remember those in prison & those who are ill-treated (13:3)
Now let’s look at the third circle (read 13:3). The heart of God goes out to his own people, and beyond them to those around us who don’t know him—and it goes out beyond these to the people we will never see unless we make a special effort. But God sees them—the people who (justly or unjustly) are imprisoned (both here and abroad), and the people who are exploited and oppressed and powerless to do anything about it.
EXAMPLES: 28 MILLION AIDS VICTIMS IN AFRICA; HUMAN TRAFFICKING ACROSS BORDERS AROUND THE WORLD [600,000-800,000/YEAR] & IN U.S. [15,000-17,000/YEAR]2; 500,000 PRISONERS IN HELLISH S.AMERICAN PRISONERS FOR YEARS—MANY WITH NO TRIAL SCHEDULED; GENOCIDE IN DARFUR (200,000-500,000 SO FAR); MILLIONS WHO DON’T HAVE ENOUGH TO EAT [2.8 BILLION LIVE ON LESS THAN $2/DAY; 4 MILLION BABIES DIES EACH YEAR IN DEVELOPING WORLD]
God sees them, and God loves them—Jesus showed us that in his public ministry. And to worship God means feeling empathy for their situation (“... as if you were their fellow prisoners... as if you yourselves were suffering”) and finding a way to show them God’s love to them.
“Remember” is important because it is so easy to forget about these people. Prisoners are in prisons—separated from normal human society. Most of the poor and oppressed live in countries far away from the U.S.—and when most of us do travel to other countries, it is usually not to be among them. Most of us live in neighborhoods without any poor and oppressed people—and we can go to work and visit friends and never interact with any of them. Some of us want it this way, some of us have just never thought about it.
It’s also important because even those of us who do think about it have something within us that wants to forget. When I start thinking about the incredible amount of poverty and injustice and oppression in the world, I reflexively start to close my heart almost immediately—because I sense that this pain will overwhelm me and drive me crazy. After all, what difference could I possibly make in such an ocean of misery? But George Verwer said something about this two years ago that changed me. He said, “Open your heart and let it in. When you do this, your heart also becomes open to God’s love as his love pours out through you to these people. Your heart will be more full of God’s love, and God will show you how he wants you to express his love to them.”
Here are four practical steps you can take to worship God in this way:
Pray! This is a spiritual battle/issue, so God’s power must be enlisted through prayer.
Get informed. Ask God to open your eyes to this reality, and then deliberately access information about the poor and oppressed—there is no excuse for ignorance in the Global Village! (EXAMPLES: Read Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger; follow Nicholas Kristoff’s articles in the New York Times; take a short-term trip to a developing country) As you do this, God will begin to open your heart and guide you into specific ways he wants you to express his love.
Tell others. Share what you learn with your brothers and sisters in Christ, your children, your friends at work, your neighbors, etc. This is one way that we share God’s love with non-Christians, and God will work through you to sensitize many of those with whom you share.
Do something. You can’t do everything—but this is no excuse to do nothing! You can do what God shows you to do—and this can set off a ripple-effect bigger than anything you ever imagined! (EXAMPLES: Operation Christmas Child; weekly fast that supports IGL child; HADF (researched for financial integrity & effectiveness; build a house in Tijuana; serve in &/or give to Prison Fellowship)
Repeat worship theme: gratitude for God’s grace spilling out into a lifestyle of loving service to the people God loves! Remember—no sequentialism here!
NEXT WEEK: The New Worship & Our Sexuality
Every year, 600,000-800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders (U.S. State Dept.). 15,500-17,500 are trafficked into the U.S. each year (CIA). www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2006/
U.S. considers anyone under 18 involved in prostitution as a victim of human trafficking. Most are U.S. citizens who come from abusive homes, run away, and are then lured into prostitution. Toledo is one of the top U.S. cities for recruiting these children into prostitution. Last January, 31 people were arrested during a raid on this activity in Toledo. www.toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=20060108/NEWS08/601080333
1 C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974), pp.14,15.
2 See www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2006/ and www.toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=20060108/NEWS08/601080333