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There is no Them // Part One

• Greg Boyd

Today Greg opens our two-part series called “There is no Them” with a message about the amazing consistency and unmistakable clarity we find in both the Old and New Testaments about our calling to welcome and embrace strangers into our lives and communities.

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Today we start exploring the 2-part series called “There is no Them” by exploring the biblical mandate for hospitality. The word itself sounds trivial, like something out of a Miss Manners article, but what we are talking about is much deeper than that and is a deeply biblical concept.

In Rom 12:13 We are told “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” Here, Paul uses the Greek word for hospitality, Philioxenia. Philio means to love, “xenas” is someone who is an other, a foreigner. This same root is where the word xenophobia comes from (which is the fear of people different from you). Xenophobia toward other cultures is in the rise right in our culture right now, but to some extent it’s always been this way, because there is an Us/Them dynamic to all social groups. We do things this way, talk this way, believe this way– and so by definition “they” do not. It’s part of our fallen nature that we gravitate to those that are like us but not “others.”

But the call we are given by God is to have a genuine love of the other — And it’s not just an abstract love or appreciation, but a concrete love. An outreaching, so that others don’t feel like a stranger, and are embraced as members of your group. What we are called to is the complete opposite of xenophobia: Philioxenia.

One place we can see this call is in Deuteronomy 10:16-19. “Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. 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 foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” God loves the strangers and feeds them, he defends orphans and widows. And he says that because you yourselves used to be strangers when you were in Egypt, you should also love the stranger.

And secondly we see this same thing in Leviticus 19:33-34. “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

Now, having a cultural emphasis on hospitality was not uncommon in the OT or in the ancient world as a whole. There were no hotels, so when traveling, you had no choice but to rely on strangers for lodging and food. You did the same thing when you traveled. Everyone did this, but it was not unlike doing so for your next door neighbor, who was still part of your community. But Israel was given a categorical command toward OTHER. Take care of the “other”, the foreigner — in a culture, no less, which was highly suspect of foreign nations. The command to love aliens and foreigners as yourself, this was unprecedented. Nobody else did this, in Israel or otherwise.

God gives two essential reasons for this command: First, it is because this is what God is like. God is hospitable to all strangers, shows no favoritism, doesn’t take bribes [and don’t forget in the ancient near eastern world, “bribes” also known as sacrifices & burnt offerings, is how you gained favor from your gods!] and loves the widow and the fatherless. Part of the meaning of being the people of God is to be like him. So because God is like this, so you should be like this. The second reason God gives is because remember you yourself were an alien in the land of Egypt. And it was terrible. So because you had it so bad when you were foreigners, you should do the opposite.

The New Testament gives the same calling and gives the same two essential reasons: Ephesians 2:1-2, 4-6 “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. …But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” and a little later in Ephesians 2:13, 19-30, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. … Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

We were dead in our sin, total strangers to God, like the way that a corpse relates to the living (I.e. Not at all!) We’re as far away as we could possibly be. We were aliens to God and in bondage to darkness and sin, as “xenus” to God as we could possibly be. But despite this, God welcomed us in. He had extravagant hospitality toward us, canceled our debts, took us in as members of his own family. We were outsiders, but now have been brought near, and not just near but inside of Christ, his son. This is as near as one can possibly be. This is Philioxenia on steroids!

That is why we are called to do the same to others. As Paul says in Romans 15:7, God accepted us. So do the same to others. We are called to reflect God’s character, be imitators of God. Mimic him. (Ephesians 5:1-2) Jesus says the same thing. Luke 14:12-14. When you have a party, don’t just invite your friends or your rich neighbor. Invite the poor the lame and the blind. Because they can’t repay you. When you invite your friends and family, they’ll likely just reciprocate. There is nothing new about that, that’s just quid pro quo, and reinforces the “us” aspect of a community. It’s not a sin, it’s just not distinctly kingdom. What is distinctively kingdom is to go out of your way to invite outsiders. Like the poor. They were xenus (different from or “other”) to everyone.

And indeed we see, Jesus partied with tax collectors and prostitutes, outsiders, rejects, and invisible people. He intentionally broke down social walls. This is what the Hospitality of God looks like. Jesus swam upstream against the culture, and shared with everyone.

Early Christians were similarly known for how they adopted this mindset, it’s part of how the religion spread so fast in the beginning (when it was against the law). When a plague would hit a town they would stay behind and serve the sick. They were known for their hospitality. When God reigns over a people, his hospitality will be evident. Of course this doesn’t mean we can’t have special relationships that we have boundaries around. It just means can’t live our entire life inside those comfortable boundaries. We have to make space, and welcome outsiders into our comfort zone.

This calling is not going to be easy or to be taken lightly. We have to be serious about this, because everything in our culture pushes back against it. Our culture conditions us to be self absorbed, and protective of our identity group against “others” entering our cities and communities. It’s natural and it’s everywhere. So countering this is going to be very much swimming upstream. You will need to think long term, and start with baby steps. (More of these baby steps will be presented in part two of this series next week.)

The first baby step is to change your thinking. We aren’t ever going to do this unless we create space for strangers, and not just physical space but mental space. As it is, we all tend to think about our own welfare, and that of our family and friends. On a day to day basis, our routine does not include space for strangers. Matt 5:47 acknowledges this, saying even Gentiles do this. So the first step is to notice this about yourself and pray about it. Ask God to help free you from this cultural self-absorption. It’s not a sin to care about your own people, but let’s stretch ourselves. Make a point to notice Others, and show concern for them. Talk to them, strike up a conversation. Start this process with creating mental space for others. Make this part of your conversation with God this week. Pray God’s blessing on “others” and agree with their unsurpassable worth.

And ask the Holy Spirit to show you something else you can do– or just be creative. For example, there is a gas station near Greg’s house owned by an Arab family. So he learned how to say hello in Arabic. He goes in each time and greets them in Arabic! Of course they smiled and got a good kick out of it but one day the owner genuinely thanked him for the gesture, and said it makes him feel a little more welcome here. Exactly! Philioxenia at work!

The second baby step to put this into practice is to get involved in a ministry at church. That’s a great way to show hospitality, meet people, serve people, and put this lesson into real, concrete practice. Because it’s not just about saying hello to the person sitting next to you at church, it’s ultimately about action, and serving those others, and ideally, forming relationships.

Also consider joining a growth group. We facilitated the formation of small groups here at WH for a while, but found that they all became closed to outsiders. So now we are encouraging people to join growth groups, which are intended to stay open to outsiders. They meet Tuesdays and you can find more info on them here.

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Topics: Calling, Discipleship

Sermon Series: There is no Them

Downloads & Resources

Audio File
Study guide

Focus Scripture:

  • Romans 12:13

    Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality (phileoxenia) to strangers.

  • Deuteronomy 10:16-19

    Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

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13 thoughts on “There is no Them // Part One

  1. Trent says:

    Great work on the new site! I do miss the reflection questions though! It would be cool to see them again.

    1. Amanda Churchill says:

      Hello Trent!

      Glad you’re enjoying the new site! Thanks for saying something about the reflection questions, we do plan to continue to include them, and did include them with this sermon, but for some reason they aren’t currently showing up on this page. I’ll work on getting that fixed. In the meantime, if you click the above link for the printable study guide, you will see the questions included there at the bottom.

      Hope this helps!

      1. Tom says:

        Hey Amanda,

        For me, the link for the study guide pulls up another window but the new window is not populated with any content. It just has print buttons on the top of the page with nothing else…


    2. etellewyn@gmail.com says:

      Hi Trent, the Reflection Questions are now included in the Study Guide, not as part of the summary. Thanks!

  2. Tom says:

    Hey Amanda,
    The Study guide link for this sermon actually pulls up the guide for the previous sermon by Brianna Millett from 9/5.

    Thanks for checking into this,

    1. etellewyn@gmail.com says:

      Hi Tom, Can you tell me what happens when you click the study guide link for a different sermon (any one)? Do those work as expected? I’m not able to replicate your issue on my end so I am trying to figure out where the problem might lie. Thanks!
      -barbara- (WCH webmaster)

      1. Tom says:

        My issue finally resolved itself, not sure how, when it happened the other day and I was able to get the guides. Today, pulling up on my phone, I’m having the same issue with it just pulling up pages with 2 “print” buttons. Today this is happening in the imagination sermon with Brianna and last weeks there is no them sermon.


  3. Denise says:

    Neither the reflection questions nor the study guide pulls up when clicking the link for the study guide. Page is blank with only a print button. Page is also blank when I hit the print button in hopes magically it would appear. I went back and tried four previous sermons with the same results.

  4. etellewyn@gmail.com says:

    Very good to know, thank you for reporting this issue! I think this may be caused by our site cache (makes the site faster). I have made an adjustment to the configuration which seems to be solving this issue for me. Can you please confirm if this solves the problem for you? Thanks!
    (WH webmaster)

    1. Tom says:

      The adjustment did the trick for me. I checked 4 previous sermons and all is well.

      1. etellewyn@gmail.com says:

        Good to hear! Thanks for letting me know!

  5. Patty says:

    Hello Amanda or other,

    Just wondering as I’m checking out the Worship Set on Spotify. Is it possible that last Sunday’s music was not uploaded as of yet. The site says Sept. is available with 2/3 for the earlier dates. Maybe I’m not using it correctly. Also what was the name of the first song in worship on Sunday….it had the words….”God is My Rock” …but probably not the title of the song. Thank you! I’ll look back on here later. We appreciate your work on here! ~ Patty

    1. Amanda Churchill says:

      Hello Patty!
      Thanks for checking in about the Spotify playlists! We have gotten a little behind on curating those playlists, but we will be updating them as soon as possible! As for that specific song you were asking about, it looks like that weekend the first song we sang was “Defender” by Kings Kaleidoscope.
      Hope that helps!

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