Love One Another

Welcome One Another

Teaching t22035

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Christian Community
Welcome One Another

Introduction

Briefly review series topic—Christian community. Read Jn. 13:34,35. Jesus’ final mandate for his followers was that we love one another as he has loved us. This kind of loving community among his followers is absolutely critical for non-Christians to see, because this is what will show them that Jesus is alive and real and good.

What does it look like to love one another this way? The authors of the New Testament letters spelled it out for us by using many other verbs followed by “one another”—e.g., “encourage one another” and “admonish one another.”

Today we will explore another important facet of what it means to “love one another as I have loved you”—read Rom. 15:7 ESV. We will get at this by asking four questions: who, what, why, and how?

Who?

To whom was this command given? To “one another”—that is, to all of the Christians in Rome. So it applies to all true Christians—those who have personally trusted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. More specifically, Paul is addressing significant sociological differences between the Christians in Rome—differences in religious customs (14:1-15:1) and differences in ethnic and cultural background (15:5-9a).

So this aspect of loving one another has a special focus on how we (Christians) should relate to one another when we have significant sociological differences: the above plus age, race, gender, socio-economic background, political positions, cultural tastes (like dress, aesthetic preferences), past/present sin struggles, physical appearance, etc.

What?

What does “welcome one another” mean? The ESV gets it right here. NASB, NIV, and NLT all translate “accept one another”—but this is too passive. You don’t say: “I welcome my electric bill.” You say: “I accept my electric bill.” You don’t want it or like it, but you don’t burn it—you tolerate it (and pay it) because you have to.

In the same way, our culture’s emphasis on tolerating/not overtly discriminating against people because of their religious, racial/ethnic, etc. differences is passive acceptance. This is certainly right and necessary—but it falls far short of what Paul is commanding. The word is proslambano. Its root is lambano, which means to personally receive someone who initiates toward you (quote Jn. 1:12). Proslambano is even stronger—it means to actively and personally invite someone into your life.

See Acts 28:2. “They showed us extraordinary kindness by welcoming us.” Paul and his companions were complete strangers (and many of them were convicted criminals!)—yet the islanders took this initiative.

See Phm. 1:16,17. Philemon’s servant, Onesimus, had run away, probably with some of Philemon’s money or goods. He deserves punishment. But now he has become a Christian, so Paul sends him back and asks Philemon to view him as a “beloved brother” and “welcome him as you would welcome me.”

See Lk. 15:27. The prodigal son had rejected and dishonored his father and squandered his inheritance. He hoped (at best) to be allowed to work off his debt as a servant. But instead, the father welcomed him back (apolambano; synonym) as a son (see how the father did this in 15:20-24)!

The attitudinal opposite of proslambano is snobbery and prejudice.

Snobbery is believing: “I am better than you” because of such differences. Not just that I have achieved more, have better character, etc. (which may all be true), but that I am superior to you as a person because of these differences.

Prejudice is deciding to bar someone from entry into your life because of such differences. You have already decided that they are inferior or evil or a liability—so you separate yourself from them, and thence come clannishness, suspicion, etc.

Do you see how deeply these attitudes are imbedded in our society? Do you see how passive tolerance permits these attitudes—but proslambano excludes them? Do you see how Christians are often conformed to the world here? Do you see how we/you are conformed here? Do you see why this is such an important issue for those who claim to follow Jesus? . . .

Why?

Why is welcoming one another so important? Paul answers this question: “. . . for the glory of God.” “Glory” literally means “weight,” and refers to something’s/someone’s weight in terms of its/their beauty, excellence, profundity, etc. The glory of God is God’s unique excellence. Christians are to glorify God, to demonstrate through our words and deeds that God (and his Son, Jesus Christ) is the most excellent Person of all—so that others are attracted to God and join them in doing the same (1 Pet. 2:9).

How does welcoming one another do this? Because fallen human societies, with their false gods (including pseudo-Christianity), cannot do this. They are invariably riddled with social divisions rooted in snobbery and prejudice. Only a church that visibly demonstrates real love relationships between people right across these social divisions has credibility when it speaks of the God of the Bible and Jesus as real and true!

This is what happened in the early church at Antioch—Christians with significant differences demonstrated a loving community within their leadership right on out. Read Acts 13:1. Barnabas and Saul were Jews; Simeon was a black African; Lucius was a Cyrene (white) from N. Africa; Manean was from an aristocratic background, possibly the foster-brother of Herod Antipas the Rome-installed ruler. Such a community was unprecedented in the ancient world, which was riddled with racial and cultural divisions. Is it surprising, in view of their community, that the church exploded in this city? Is it surprising that it was from this church that God called Saul and Barnabas to be the first cross-cultural missionaries (13:2)? Christianity is compelling when we get this right! On the other hand, when Christians relate only along the normal racial, cultural, etc. lines, why should the world take Jesus seriously?

This is one of the big reasons why Paul wrote his letter to the Roman church. There is a sense in which 15:7 is the practical purpose of Romans. Rome was a city with many diverse peoples, filled with the typical segregation, suspicions, etc. Could Christianity do what no other religion or philosophy do—create a community of very different people who genuinely welcomed one another into their lives? They could—but only if they really understood and believed what Paul calls the gospel, because only the gospel shows us how we can welcome one another . . .

How?

What is the basis that motivates and enables us to welcome one another despite these deep sociological differences? It is that “Christ has welcomed us.” In order to appreciate this statement, we need to understand something about the main theme of Romans—justification.

Every human being has a deep-seated need to be justified—to perceive oneself as valid or approved or righteous. God created us with this need, and he created us to get this justification vertically—by being in right relationship with him (DIAGRAM #1). When humans revolted from God, their sin forfeited this vertical justification (DIAGRAM #2)—but we didn’t lose the need to be justified (DIAGRAM #3). So now we seek to be justified horizontally, by defining ourselves against other humans (DIAGRAM #4). This is why there are so many cliques in middle/high school. This is why there is racism and sexism and classism. This is why there is socio-economic and educational and political and religious snobbery and prejudice. You simply must define yourself as valid, and in a world alienated from God, you must define yourself horizontally in this way. This is why snobbery and prejudice (and the social alienation and destruction that flow from this) are compulsive and humanly incurable in our hearts.

There is only one solution—God welcomes us back to himself through his Son Jesus Christ (DIAGRAM #5). Jesus is very different from us—far more different than we are from one another. He is absolutely perfect in holiness and beauty—yet every one of us is sinful and corrupt (Rom. 3:23). He had every right to have nothing to do with us, and to condemn us for our sins. Yet he loved us so much that he left heaven and entered into our corrupt world, and he willingly died for our sins by taking on himself the judgment that we deserve (Rom. 5:6-10). More than that, he seeks us out even while we are hostile to him. And when we simply open the door of our hearts, God welcomes us into his family as his sons and daughters—like the father in Lk. 15! When this comes home to you, when you humbly receive God’s welcome through Jesus, you can begin to welcome one another (DIAGRAM #6) because:

You now realize that all of your self-justification by judging other people is no longer necessary because now you have God’s justification even though you are a sinner. You also realize that it is rank hypocrisy, because if God has welcomed you despite your differences from him, who are you to be unwilling to welcome others who are much more like you than you are like God?

You now share a new identity with other Christians that is way more important than your old identity. Who cares if you are white or black, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, hip-hop or heavy metal, geek or jock, etc. “If any person is in Christ, he is a new creature—the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17)! You share a common Holy Spirit, a common experience of God’s undeserved forgiveness and love, a common hope for the future, a common spiritual battle in which you are a “band of brothers,” etc.

This why Christ’s welcome alone enables us to welcome one another, and this is why if you are filled with snobbery and prejudice, you either have never truly received his welcome or you are not living with your focus on it!

Once you’ve received Christ’s welcome, God will lead you to take some very practical steps to welcome others. This cannot stay just theoretical, because God’s glory is at stake!

Thank God regularly for his undeserved welcome through Jesus. This is what keeps you humble and sane about how you and others are justified. “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.”

Ask God to reveal your own personal snobbishness and prejudice (Ps. 139:23,24). You may be surprised at how quickly he answers this (EXAMPLE)! Ask your spouse and/or Christian friends to tell you what they see here. Share what God shows you with others—this will deepen your conviction and desire to change.

Begin to welcome “different” people into your life in various ways. For example:

Commit to a small group of Christians that has ‘different’ people in it. That’s what God called on me to do as a new Christian. Unwillingness stunted my spiritual growth, and doing it made a huge difference in my spiritual growth. Are you holding back from committing to a home group because of this?

Develop Christ-centered friendships with some of these ‘different’ people in your home group. Stop focusing on how little you have in common sociologically (“affinity” friendships), and start building on what you have in common spiritually. Pray together, confess your sins and fears to one another, serve others together—and watch what God does. He will glorify himself by people who can honestly say: “Apart from Jesus, we would never have wanted to even know each other—but because of Jesus, we have a precious bond!” Every home group should be full of people who can say this (EXAMPLES). If you can’t say this, you’re missing out!

Invite people who ‘don’t fit’ into your home group. It is not true that home groups grow healthiest when they attract only people like themselves. This may be just a lame rationalization for perpetuating snobbery and prejudice. Conversely, home groups that continue to welcome spiritually hungry people from very different backgrounds have to focus on Jesus and really love one another (EXAMPLES).

Reach out beyond your world to non-Christians who are ‘different. Think about the amazing diversity within a two-mile radius of this place! Think about the increasing diversity within a few blocks of your home! How are you deliberately placing yourself among “different” groups of people to be a light for Christ (EXAMPLES)?