This message is the second in our series about hospitality. Last week, Greg unpacked the Greek word for “hospitality” (philoxenia), which is a combination of the words “philio” (to love) and “xenos” (stranger, other, foreigner). Xenos is anyone who is outside your realm of familiar and comfortable people – someone who is different from you, in nationality, parents, culture, language…maybe even someone who strikes you as strange. We are called to love the stranger. People tend to stay inside their social group with people who are familiar and comfortable to them, and they tend to ignore folks who are outside their that group.
Many times, inside our domain of comfortable and safe people, we can view those outside these comfortable groups with suspicion. If this isn’t recognized and named, this suspicion turns to fear. The Greek word “xenophobia” encapsulates this as a combination of “xenos” and “phobia” (fear). This is a fear of the “other.”
Historically, xenophobia happens (most frequently) when a dominant majority begins to feel like they are losing their dominance, and they develop a fear towards the minority. The majority begins to use phrases like:
– “Those people are trying to undermine our way of life!”
– “Those people are taking over our jobs!”
– “Those people are taking away our loved ones!”
– “Eventually those people are going to take over and we won’t even recognize this place anymore!”
These are expressions of xenophobia. We are called to do the exact opposite.
Instead of having a phobia for the stranger, we are to have a love for the “other” in our midst (and beyond), and that love is not to be an abstract love, but a concrete love with concrete actions so they don’t feel like a stranger. In doing so, we collapse the “us-them dynamic” that (social-scientists say) characterize all social groups.
In the Kingdom, there is no “them” but only “us.”
God showed extravagant philoxenia to us, and we are to be willing to extend this to the stranger. We are to reflect God’s character to others. We are to welcome the stranger just as Christ welcomed you. We are called to be people of hospitality. The first place to do this, is within our churches. We come together, not only to receive, but to give and extend ourselves to each other, especially those who are different from us. Hospitality is simply love for the “other,” and each one of us in the church must take responsibility for this, especially in our midst. (Greg then challenged everyone to meet and get to know one family, person, or group that we don’t know yet every time we gather).
2 Major Passages About Hospitality:
- Matthew 25:46-47. Throughout church history, this passage has been appealed to the most about hospitality.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Side note: Greg briefly mentioned that many get hung up on the mention in this passage (and elsewhere in Scripture) about “eternal fire” and “eternal punishment” and noted that he does not agree with the way many in the church have understood/explained those, saying he does not believe they are consistent with the character of God as revealed in Jesus on the cross. Woodland Hills doesn’t have a doctrine for this, so Greg noted this as his personal opinion. For more on this topic, he encouraged to revisit his sermon from 2015 titled, “Going to Hell (In a Nutshell)” which can be accessed here: http://whchurch.org/sermon/going-to-hell-in-a-nutshell/
In this passage, Jesus makes our willingness to show hospitality to the stranger the criteria for what it means to be the children of God (Matthew 5:43-48) and He personally identifies with the stranger in need (Matthew 25:40, 45). What’s happening here (in this “judgment day”) is not punishment, it’s a revealing of character – God’s character, and our character, and what is/is not compatible with that character. People dismiss Jesus when they dismiss the stranger in need. This judgment is about naming what is real. We are to cultivate a life that is compatible with the Hospitable God in His Hospitable Kingdom.
This blows away the typical way we’ve understood the American “gospel” (believing all the right things so we can get something good when we die). What good is it to invite Jesus in to your heart if you won’t invite Him into your home when He’s homeless? You can invite Jesus into your heart all you want but it doesn’t do much good if you won’t give Him any food when He’s hungry? You can invite Jesus in to your heart but are you giving Him clothes when He’s naked, or visiting Him when He’s sick or in prison and when He’s one of the judged “nobodies” of society? That’s what manifests whether or not you have Jesus in your heart and whether His love is there – when you’re putting on display the character of the Kingdom.
“Welcoming Jesus is about seeing and adoring Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor.”
Jesus says that it doesn’t matter what you believe if you’re not looking out for the other. We are conditioned to look out for our needs and the needs of our loved ones, but everyone does that – even the animal kingdom. Nothing distinctly “Kingdom” about that, but we show forth that we’re children of a distinct Father, a distinct King, a distinct God, when our attention and our concern goes beyond our family, friends, and those we’re comfortable with – and now we see and we notice the stranger and make space for them. In doing that we’re noticing Jesus and making space for Him.
So the question is, can we see Jesus, and notice Him in the disguise of:
-The person with a disability that has little contact with the outside world
-The hungry, the naked, the sick, the prisoner, and the homeless
-The grieving neighbor whose spouse walked out on the family
-The elderly lady in the parking lot who clearly needs help getting groceries into her car
-The gay teenager you know who’s being bullied on the internet
-The middle eastern clerk that others look at with suspicion
-The senior citizen who is lonely and has no one who visits them
-That new person who comes to your church and doesn’t know anybody yet
The extent that you do this to the least of these…you do it to Jesus.
- Luke 10:29-37. The second major passage about hospitality is known as “The Parable of the Good Samaritan.”
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
The first thing Greg mentions about this passage, is that this discussion takes place over the question of “Who is my neighbor?” In essence, the law expert in this passage is asking, “how can I get out of going out of my way for people in ways that make me uncomfortable?” Throughout history, if there’s something in the Bible we don’t want to obey – we make it complicated so we can dismiss it as unknowable or reduced to something easy for us to not obey. Jesus stops that immediately by implying that this isn’t about identifying this man’s neighbor, it’s about challenging this man to be the good neighbor.
The second thing Greg highlighted in this passage, was how the hero of this story was the Samaritan, while the “bad guys” were the priests and the Levites. But in the 1st century, the Samaritans were viewed as “the bad guys” (they had intermarried with non-Jews throughout the centuries). The point of this parable is that Jesus is illustrating, is for us to be neighbors to all without consideration of nationality or race or gender. In the Kingdom of God, there is no hierarchy, Samaritan vs Jew, or them vs us. There is only those who have received Jesus’ hospitality and extend that philoxenia to others.
The third thing Greg mentioned about this passage, was that in the 1st century, people just didn’t go on leisurely walks where there were robbers – they were traveling somewhere. This implies that the Samaritan was busy on his way to someplace, but he made space for the man in the ditch, and was willing to sacrifice for him, while the others walked on the other side of the road to avoid being noticed. This story is about making space to care for the other and share what you have for meeting the needs of the other.
What hinders our efforts in hospitality?
People make judgmental grids for who deserves help and who doesn’t.
We cannot do this, because in God’s Kingdom, Jesus tore down the walls of separation and made only one new humanity. We are to look at everybody through the grid of new creation. There’s only one opinion we are allowed to have of people, and that’s to realize that Jesus considers them valuable enough to die for them. They have unsurpassable worth.
We feel overwhelmingly busy.
We all lead full lives in this culture, yet we think we don’t have time or we’re too busy or we don’t have any more margin in our crazy lives to help the stranger. We have to embrace the truth that the stranger is Jesus. We think we don’t have the margin, but we actually have more margin than ever before. It’s all about priorities.
Greg showed a graph to illustrate this point (find that graph in the slides PDF).
We still need leisure time, but we need to make sure that our leisure time doesn’t get pushed to the top of our priority list. When you grab onto a new priority, something’s got to get bumped off, so we’ve got to constantly evaluate our priorities and assure that we are making room for Jesus. If you’re passionate about Jesus, then you’ll be passionate about others. The Samaritan showed that he made his neighbor a higher priority than getting to where he needed to be at that moment.
We still need boundaries. The Samaritan made room for the stranger, but he didn’t cancel his traveling plans. In the same way, we still need boundaries around our families, and our friendships, our marriages. Boundaries are legitimate. If we do not know our limitations we will won’t know what we can and can’t do, and may end up hurting more than we help.
In conclusion, Greg challenged everyone with these questions: Is there any space in our life for the stranger? The “other” among us? Those that are off everybody else’s radar screen? Does it look like the Samaritan in this passage? If not, are we really seeing the stranger as Jesus? What priorities need to be adjusted in the regular flow of my life so that I’ve got space beyond me and my loved ones to include the stranger?
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2 thoughts on “There is no Them // Part Two”
I struggle a bit with the whole ‘compatible’ part. We are saved, by grace through faith, and it s NOT of ourselves. ( works). We become part of the new creation. At what stage does our character become’ compatible’? We are either saved by grace, or we are not. Yes, we are to reflect the kingdom, but not everyone can welcome in strangers. What about the women who live alone? What about people with Aspergers, who struggle with people? What if our gifts lie in different areas? When we single out things that are ‘compatible’ with the Kingdom, are we saying everyone has to be the same and if you don’t welcome strangers, you are not in? I think the main thing is to have a kind heart. Jesus was kind to all. If I come across someone I can help in some way, I will do that. Jesus should make our hearts kinder, if he lives in us.
Greg’s last two messages have been interesting as they appear to, in part; echo (for me) two of his books, “The Myth of a Christian Nation” and “The Myth of a Christian Religion”. Briefly, while it is difficult to encapsulate the full thrust of these two volumes in a few words, the former book concerns where nations that are supposedly grounded on ‘Christian beliefs’ become a ‘Christian nation’…however, this is far from the truth given their subservience to political issues rather than what Jesus teaches. In almost similar fashion, the second book points to society seduced by faith and politics that while termed ‘Christian’ is, at times, far from what Jesus taught.
So, in essence, while some can tick the box that they live in a ‘Christian’ country and attend a ‘Christian’ church…their lives tell a far different story that they are not a true citizen of the Kingdom.
As Greg brings out in the messages, it is about ‘us’ and not ‘them’…’us’ being the sons of God and not a political, “Christian” product of society.
While Greg’s books are well argued, in recent times I have come across Dr Albert Mohler’s book, “Culture Shift – The Battle for the Moral Heart of America” that also echoes some similar thoughts…but perhaps from different angles.
Mohler uses Augustine’s ‘The City of God’ to premise his writing where he introduces the thesis (P36),
“As Augustine explained, humanity is confronted by two cities—the City of God and the City of Man. The City of God is eternal and takes as its sole concern the greater glory of God. In the City of God, all things are ruled by God’s Word, and the perfect rule of God is the passion of all its citizens. In the City of Man, however, the reality is very different. This city is filled with mixed passions, mixed allegiances, and compromised principles. Unlike the City of God, whose citizens are marked by unconditional obedience to the commands of God, citizens of the City of Man demonstrate deadly patterns of disobedience, even as they celebrate, claim their moral autonomy, and then revolt against the Creator.
Of course, we know that the City of God is eternal, even as the City of Man is passing. But this does not mean that the City of Man is ultimately unimportant, and it does not allow the church to forfeit its responsibility to love its citizens. Love of neighbor—grounded in our love for God—requires us to work for good in the City of Man, even as we set as our first priority the preaching of the gospel—the only means of bringing citizens of the City of Man into citizenship in the City of God.
Because of this, Christians bear important responsibilities in both cities. Even as we know that our ultimate citizenship is in heaven, and even as we set our sights on the glory of the City of God, we must work for good, justice, and righteousness in the City of Man. We do so, not merely because we are commanded to love its citizens,
but because we know that they are loved by the very God we serve.”
Mohler goes onto argue,
“From generation to generation, Christians often swing between two extremes, either ignoring the City of Man or considering it to be our main concern. A biblical balance establishes the fact that the City of Man is indeed passing and chastens us from believing that the City of Man and its realities can ever be of ultimate importance. Yet we also know that each of us is by God’s own design a citizen, however temporarily, of the City of Man. When Jesus instructed that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, He pointed His followers to the City of Man and gave us a clear assignment. The only alternatives that remain are obedience and disobedience to this call.”
Effectively, from the time of the Fall in the Garden of Eden, the ‘City of Man’ (or kingdom of man) was established and proceeded down the road of destruction to the present day.
God’s loving and gracious interventions have seen His plan to establish the ‘City of God’ on Earth (“thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven”), culminating with the incarnation where we see Jesus, the True Citizen of the ‘City of God’ in complete obedience to the Father’s will.
The interaction of a believer with the political aspects is interesting as Mohler makes the observation (p19),
“Throughout most of Christian history and the history of Western nations, law and morality were understood as being on parallel tracks, indispensable to each other.
Public laws were simply the codification of a moral worldview.
Now we live in a day in which that understanding is completely changed. With the advent of modernity, and now the postmodern age, the view that public law is or ought to be predicated on Christian morals is no longer taken for granted. Not only is that idea questioned, but it is even rejected out of hand. Many in Western societies are now absolutely convinced that there should in fact be no relationship whatsoever between Christian morality and public law.”
The question then arises as to where the believer stands on such issues. Mohler argues that (p17),
“Love of neighbor for the sake of loving God is a profound political philosophy that strikes a balance between the disobedience of political disengagement and the idolatry of politics as our main priority. As evangelical Christians, we must engage in political action, not because we believe the conceit that politics is ultimate, but
because we must obey our Redeemer when He commands us to love our neighbor. On the other hand, we are concerned for the culture, not because we believe that the culture is ultimate, but because we know that our neighbors must hear the gospel, even as we hope and strive for their good, peace, security, and well-being.”
Needless to say, there are many other issues raised in Dr Mohler’s book, just as there are in Greg’s that are both worthy of further study in this area.
In relation to the ‘compatible’ aspect you raise Tracy, the above may be of some assistance. However, I think the point Greg is driving at is essentially one of maturity of the believer in the Spirit. While you become a son of God at the time of belief, it is through life experiences that our faith and maturity is tested and strengthened. When we were children, our parents would give us tasks that we were capable of doing that would provide confidence for moving forward. In like fashion, in our work in the ‘City of Man’, we learn to crawl before we walk, taking into account our circumstances of life.