The Table: Romans 12:13

Sermon: The Table (Rom. 12:13)

05.04.08, Kevin P. Larson, Karis Community Church


Two hit sit-coms of the 80s and 90s were Cheers in the 80s and Seinfeld in the 90s.  Cheers, if you know the show, featured guys like Sam and Woody and Norm and Cliff sitting around a bar sharing life, having laughs.  “Where everybody knows your name” was the theme song and the tag line.  Seinfeld, which I’m sure most of you know, showed Jerry and Elaine and Kramer and George hanging out together, mainly either in Jerry’s apartment or in the local diner.  It was the “show about nothing,” but it was really about everything—all the mundane, yet quirky details of life as experienced by four friends living life together.  Well, both shows express a longing we all have as human beings.  It’s a deep longing for community.  But, of course, to experience community, there has to be a certain degree of hospitality.  You had to have the Cheers bar, of course, for them to hang out.  Jerry had to open up his place to his friends.  Without a common place to share and converse with one another, these friendships wouldn’t have happened.


Today, in our individualistic, consumeristic world, we’re isolated people.  I think we can watch reruns of those shows and long for what these people have together and experience none of it at all.  But community takes hospitality;  it takes us opening up our homes and lives with one another.  Today, we’re taking a break from our study of Luke for the second part of a brief, three-part series.  Today we’re looking at the table—not the Lord’s Supper, but rather the “tables” in our home.  We’ll discuss the sphere of ministry found in the home.  We’ll take a look at biblical hospitality.  We’ll look at the importance of hospitality, the definition of hospitality, the practice of hospitality, the impact of hospitality, and the hindrances to hospitality.  Let us pray.


When we find ourselves lonely and isolated, why don’t we practice hospitality and build community?  Why don’t we do something about it?  We will conclude with that this morning. But first, let’s establish that it’s a problem we don’t do it—not just for us, but in our relationship with God.  First, let’s consider the importance of hospitality.  It’s easy for us to consign this for the Martha Stewarts among us, reasoning, “Some have this gift and some don’t.”  It’s easy for us to understand this as optional and not that important—something we might get to later, if possible, but not that big of a deal.  But the Bible doesn’t allow us to do this.  First, look at 1 Pet. 4:7-11 (p. 1016).  Hospitality should be practiced in light of the end.


1 Peter 4:7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies- in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.


So, what would I do if Jesus was coming back today?  Our most selfish inclinations would say, “Sit up on a hill somewhere and be the first He grabs.”  Our most selfless thoughts would say, “Share my faith with as many people as fast as I can.”  But notice here.  It says, because Jesus could come back at any time and end it all, “therefore,” says, v. 9, “show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”  When someone asked Martin Luther what he would do if the world ended today, he responded, “I’d go plant a tree.”  In other words, he would live to the glory of God, just as on any day.  Here, Peter speaks of glorifying God and “loving one another earnestly,” and he defines it as showing hospitality and using your gifts.  And notice that it’s to be done without grumbling.  It’s easy, in our sin, when we think of someone coming to stay at our place or joining us for dinner, to complain.  The Lord wants it to be done with joy, as it’s at the heart of the Christian life.  It is so central that we should be found practicing hospitality on the day Jesus returns. 


Second, look with me at 1 Tim. 3:1-7 (p. 992).  Hospitality must be modeled by church leaders. 

Now, if you were asked this question, “What do you think is essential for a pastor or elder in a church?”, would you answer, “Hospitality!”  Probably not.  You would surely mention other things.  But look at this passage:


ESV 1 Timothy 3:1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.


Hospitality, you’ll notice, comes in the list before teaching.  Does that surprise you?  And, if you study this list, you’ll also note that teaching is the only qualification that’s not really expected of everyone in the church.  In other words, hospitality is so important for the church at large, it’s so basic, that it must be exemplified by the leaders, the pastors.  It would be easy for us to eliminate a man who was drunk all the time or who slept with women other than his wife or who went around beating people up.  Those are bad examples, yes.  But a shepherd who doesn’t want to open up his home and life for others—that is just as inconceivable for Paul. 


Third, look at Rom. 12, the passage Rob just read for us (p. 947).  Hospitality is an essential characteristic of a Christian.  Now, if we were asked, “What is a Christian?”, it’s doubtful that our immediate response would be, “One who practices hospitality.”  But this is clearly what Paul wants us to see.  Here, in ch. 12, the apostle shifts from laying out the amazing truth of the gospel to showing in practical ways how it applies to life.  He says, in v. 1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God.”  In other words, he says, “Because of all of this amazing truth of the Gospel—that by God’s grace Jesus died for our sins—do this. 


He says, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  He says, in other words, “Live wholly devoted to God,” and he describes in the next 20 verses what that looks like.  What does it look like to offer your life as a living sacrifice?  It again involves using our gifts, we see in vv. 3-8.  And it also involves “love,” as we see in v. 9.  One way to express that, as v. 13 says, is to “contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”  My ESV heading here above v. 9 says, “Marks of the True Christian.”  I think that’s true.  Authentic believers are hospitable.  It is an essential characteristic for all Christians.  It shows the work of God in our life. 


And notice, it says we “seek to show” it.  Some people have translated it, “Pursue hospitality.”  It’s something we are to actively run after.  I think there are a lot of things we would list as things Christians should pursue—reading the Bible or speaking to God in prayer perhaps, but hospitality?  So, as we’ve seen, hospitality is something to be practiced in light of the end, it’s something that must be exemplified as leaders, and that is because it’s a basic of the Christian life.  It’s incredibly important.  It’s commanded.  But why?  To understand we must understand first what hospitality means.


Second, then, let’s look at the definition of hospitality.  Let’s first take what it means.  Literally, the word means “love of strangers.”  The Greek word for “love” and the word for “strangers” is put together.  It primarily involves welcoming people into your home.  It’s mainly associated in the Bible with providing meals or lodging.  But note: it’s not just tea and cookies and small talk.  It’s the idea of opening up your life to others.  And also: it’s not the same as entertaining.  It’s not impressing people and trying to put on some big show.  It’s making people feel wanted and welcome.  It’s loving strangers—and this, I think, can refer biblically to believers or unbelievers.  In the first century, traveling missionaries and Christians fleeing persecution relied on the hospitality of Christians.  Inns were awful.  And pagans were brutal. 

So hospitality was very important.  But, as we’ll see, Jesus modeled for us extending welcome to unbelievers, as well—people truly strangers, not God’s people.   It involves both.


Let’s consider then where it’s from—this idea of hospitality.  We could spend hours on this, but we’ll just briefly consider it.  First, the Old Testament background.  Simply put, the nation of Israel, God’s people, were sojourners cared for by God and called to welcome strangers, also.  Consider Abraham.  God called him in the book of Genesis to leave his land and go to someplace only God knew, dependent only upon His care, His hospitality.  And this would be the same for his children, the nation of Israel.  They end up as slaves in Egypt for 400 years, trusting the Lord.  After they’re delivered from there, they head out for the Promised Land, but, due to their sin, they end up wandering in the desert for 40 years, dependent upon God’s care.  Then, after they finally reach the promised land, they are removed from there, due to their sin, and they find themselves as aliens in Babylon, again only having God to rely upon for care.  Because of this experience of His hospitality, He expected Israel to extend it to those around them.  See Lev. 19:33-34:


Leviticus 19:33 "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”


God says, “Love strangers, “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”


Let’s consider the New Testament.  Interestingly, this idea of being “sojourners and exiles” is carried over there.  In 1 Pe. 1:1, Peter the apostle addresses the letter to the “elect exiles of the dispersion.”  In v. 17, he tells God’s people, the church to “conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.”  Ch. 2 and v. 11 reads, Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” 

Brothers and sisters, during our time here on earth, as we await a heaven, and finally, a new heavens and new earth, God calls us exiles.  This is not our final home.  And while here, we’re experiencing God’s amazing, kind hospitality.  He’s caring for us, the new people of God, just as He did Old Testament Israel.  And these New Testament commands of hospitality that we’ve already seen flow out of gratitude for this hospitality we’ve received from Him.


But additionally, consider the life and ministry of Jesus on earth in this.  When we speak of the incarnation, we speak of the time the eternal God the Son put on flesh and walked on earth.  During that time, Jesus was a guest and a host.  He received hospitality and extended it.  He made Himself totally dependent upon God’s care while on earth.  He was an alien and stranger in the world.  His being born in a stable set the tone for his entire life.  He says, in Lk. 9:58, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."  Throughout His ministry, He and His disciples depended upon the hospitality of others.  He was a guest.


But Jesus was also an amazing host, displaying God’s hospitality.  He welcomed anyone who would come to Him to be a part of God’s kingdom.  As we have seen and will see so much in Luke, He reached out to the marginalized—the poor and hurting and oppressed, inviting them to Himself.  As we have already seen in Lk. 5:27-32, he hung out at the table with tax collectors and those others called “sinners.”  And He commends that type of living to us.  Jesus challenged the sinful, exclusive patterns of fellowship by the Pharisees and others in that day.  He encouraged those around Him to give to those that couldn’t give in return.  Jesus gives us a powerful model in the Bible of hospitality. 


Let’s turn now to what it expresses.  What do acts of hospitality say?  First, it expresses love for Jesus.  Turn to Mt. 25:31-46 (p. 831).  Here Jesus is on the last day dividing the sheep (His people) from the goats (not His people).

They’re divided on the basis of their hospitality for others.  Some, it says, give food to hungry people, share drink with thirsty people, show welcome to strangers, give clothes to naked people, visit sick people and prisoners.  This again shows how important hospitality is—sheep do it, while goats don’t.  But also notice what happens.  Jesus says, in vv. 34 and 35, that those who do such things actually do them for Him.  The righteous ask, “Jesus, when did we do these things for you?”  And Jesus responds, in v. 40, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”  At the end of the passage, Jesus tells the unrighteous the opposite.  Our Lord here so closely identifies Himself with strangers that hospitality toward them is showing hospitality to Him.  It is an expression of our love for Jesus.


Second, we can say it expresses love for others.  It shows unity among the people of God.  Again, the reason why the Pharisees got so mad at Jesus when He ate with the tax collectors was because that eating expressed His love and acceptance and fellowship with Him.  Therefore, when we sit down for a meal with people in the church who are different from us—different ethnicity, different social status, different economic level, different ages, different interests, different backgrounds, different life stages—it shows the power of Christ to bring people together.  It is a visual demonstration of Gal. 3:28, which reads, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  What most people in the world want is not really community.  They want affinity.  They want to hang out with people who look and act and talk just like them.  God isn’t satisfied with that.  That isn’t what the new heavens and new earth will be like.  Hospitality can give people a glimpse of that right here, right now.  It is a powerful display of love for others.


Third, hospitality expresses the grace of God in salvation.  What is grace?  It’s the opposite of wages.  There we do something and get what we deserve. 

If we don’t get our paycheck, we get mad, and rightly so.  But grace is something entirely different.  It’s unmerited favor.  It’s getting God’s blessing that we don’t deserve.  And nothing pictures this better than hospitality, sharing our homes and lives with others.  Let me give you some advice: when someone buys you a meal or invites you into their home, resist the temptation to say, “Hey, I’ll get you next time.”  Let the person have the joy of giving you something freely, imitating the grace of God which is free but not cheap.  Resist the urge to pay people back.  But those are people who can repay.  Grace is seen more cleary when extended to those who can’t.  Listen to Jesus in Lk. 14:12-14:


Luke 14:12 He said also to the man who had invited him, "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just."  


As we sit down at the table with others, giving generously of what God has given us and particularly to those who can’t give back, it powerfully pictures the love of God.  So welcoming people into our homes and around our tables expresses love for Jesus, love for each other as Christians, and the love of God toward sinners like us.  In sum, it gives a picture of the gospel.  A simple meal is much more powerful than you might think.


Now this isn’t a meal, I realize, but it displays what I’m talking about.  I was sitting at the corner of 9th and Broadway on Wednesday talking to my friend Bill when I looked up and saw a group of guys pushing a huge Chevy Suburban across Broadway.  I noticed that joining three young African-American men was a guy all spiffed up in a suit and tie.  I then looked closer and noticed it was my friend, David White, the Executive Director of the Missouri Theatre Center, our new home in the fall.  I jumped up and helped out.  I said, “Is this in your job description?”  He shot back without hesitation, “Yes, it is.”  What an example! 

Here we have a well-known civic leader, in a suit and tie, pushing a Suburban for complete strangers.  What a picture of the gospel.  He understood Jesus had gotten him out of much trouble and knew no other reaction than to help others.


So that’s hospitality.  But, you might ask, how do we do it?  I want to third briefly consider the practice of hospitality.  Fundamentally, we have to understand it is a heart.  It’s a way of life.  It is a person who has been gripped by grace, who understands God’s welcome and hospitality, who is profoundly grateful and extends that to others.  But that heart again translates into action.  It involves doing.  And biblically, it primarily involves providing meals and lodging.  It means opening your home and sharing your life with others.  It looks like having conversations and sharing laughs and consoling hurts.  It’s making the home God has given you a place of ministry.  Let me give you some practical thoughts now:


·         Start small, but start now—even if you’re a student.  Offer what you can.  If you wait until you’re totally ready, you’ll never do it.

·         Make your place welcoming and comfy.  No, it doesn’t have to be perfect.  It doesn’t have to be spotless, but make it a place where people can relax.

·         Choose a home with this in mind.  Don’t buy something miles and miles away.  Don’t buy something without a great kitchen and living room.  Buy a place of ministry.

·         Make a list of people you think God would want you to reach out to and start working through the list.

·         Start with neighbors.  No one knows their neighbors anymore, so this can speak volumes in our culture.

·         Pick people unlike you.  It’s easy to have friends over.

·         Pick people others pass over.  That’s what Jesus did.

·         Learn some quick and easy recipes.  File them away.

·         Learn how to do it on the cheap.  That removes one excuse.

·         Schedule time to practice hospitality. We need to be more spontaneous, but we must start somewhere.  Schedule time in advance and then plan ahead.

·         Remember the holidays.  That is a hard time for many people. 

·         Practice here at our worship Gathering.  No one should ever come and walk away and say people are not hospitable.  You can stretch yourself by welcoming people here.

·         Focus on listening to people attentively.  Try to monitor how much you speak.  Try to truly hear those you host.

·         Be creative in how you show hospitality.  Consider hosting people around a sporting event or favorite TV show.

·         Men, lead the way in this.  Women are often associated with this, and they excel naturally at this, but it’s usually the men that hold it back.

·         Pray for opportunities.  Ask God for courage and strength and follow-through in extending His welcome to others.

·         Find a mentor.  There are capable people in our church that can show you exactly what to do.  Listen to them. 


Those are just some ideas.  Remember: hospitality is something that has to be pursued.  Yes, it’s supposed to be a lifestyle.  But that only comes through time and faithfulness.  My challenge to you: this summer, try to do it twice a month, involving people in our church and people far from God.  Pray about this and seek to do it, in His strength.  Recently I went to a conference in Louisville and got to stay with the Schreiners who visited us in February.  They excel in this.  They had a room all ready for me to stay in.  They offered me a seat on the couch, gave me some milk and cookies, and we chatted late into the night.  The next day, Diane had to take their daughter Anna to school while she was making me scrambled eggs.  She just handed me the spatula and said I’d have to finish.  It made me feel like I was at home, that I was one of the family.  That’s hospitality.


Fourth, let me move on to the impact of hospitality.  If you consider the diagram in your bulletin again, I want you to see the home as a key sphere of ministry.  The pulpit, the realm of the church, what we talked about last week, is critical.  So is the square, the city, where we’ll head next week.  But the table, I want you to understand is incredibly powerful.  I think we can see four results that flow from it.  First, it results in ministry to believers.  Much can happen around the dinner table or sitting on the couch.  Conversations happen where people open up and can apply the gospel specifically to each other’s lives.  A level of intimacy happens that just can’t happen here on a Sunday morning.  We can begin to share our lives with each other—our joys and our sorrows, our triumphs and our failures.  We can speak the gospel and live out the gospel and model the gospel to one another.


Second, it results in ministry to unbelievers.  When we invite them into our home much amazing ministry can take place.  They can see the gospel lived out in front of them. 

They can see Christians love each other.  They can begin to comprehend grace by our generosity to them.  They can experience Christian community, the fruit of knowing Christ, before they even experience Christ Himself.  This is powerful.  Recently, I’ve been reading this book called The Celtic Way of Evangelism by George Hunter.  He explains that Patrick and his buddies reached Ireland back in the fourth and fifth centuries mainly by incorporating the people into community.  Rather than the Roman model, “present the Christian message, invite them to decide to believe in Christ, and welcome them into the church and its fellowship,” they did something different.  Writes Hunter,


You first establish community with people, or bring them into the fellowship of your community of faith.  Within fellowship you engage in conversation, ministry, prayer, and worship.  In time, as they discover that they now believe, you invite them to commit (p. 53).    


Hunter says they understood that “Christianity is more caught than taught.”  The missionaries to the Celtics, he claims, understood that often “belonging comes before believing.”  And he argues quite persuasively that this also fits with postmodern people today.  This is similar to what Mark Driscoll states in his book The Radical Reformission:

·         In reformission evangelism, people are called to come and see the transformed lives of God’s people before they are called to repent of sin and to trust in God.

·         Reformission evangelism understands that the transformed lives of people in the church are both the greatest argument for, and the greatest explanation of, the gospel. 

·         In this way, reformission evangelism depends on friendship and hospitality as conduits for the gospel. 

·         Often they convert first to the church and friendships with its members, and second to God, whom they meet in their friendships and experiences in the church.

·         Reformission evangelism considers it vital that lost people be brought close enough to witness the natural and practical outworking of the gospel in people’s lives. 

·         Reformission evangelism blurs the lines between evangelism and discipleship, enabling non-Christians to learn a great deal about Scripture and the Christian life before making a decision for Christ.   

In a world of lonely, disconnected people, hospitality can be powerfully used by God to reach people far from Jesus.


Third, hospitality results in glory to God.  This is a key impact of the table, as that is what we as the church were created for.  When the gospel of Jesus is proclaimed among members of His church and when non-Christians see and hear the gospel around the table, God gets much glory.  That must be our primary concern as Christians.  But, fourth, hospitality results in joy for you and for me.  As we gather around the table with one another, we experience the community we were made for and we desperately long for.  We are part of the household of God!  We don’t have to dream of Cheers or Seinfeld or Friends or whatever.  We have something greater, based on a common bond much, much deeper.  It’s not about “nothing.”  It’s built on Jesus.


Let me move on to our fifth and final point.  Let’s consider the hindrances to hospitality.  We come full circle to where we started.  Why don’t we practice hospitality and experience community?  Heb. 13:2 warns us to “not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.”  It’s easy for us as fallen humans to neglect it.  In fact, everything about us moves the opposite direction.  Why?  Well, consider what hospitality necessitates.  It requires availability.  You have to be free to be hospitable.  It needs flexibility.  You have to adjust your schedule to that of others.  It necessitates spontaneity.  You have to be ready for drop-ins and unexpected guests.  It requires vulnerability.  You have to open your not-so-perfect homes and not-so-perfect lives for others to see.  This is hard.  And hosting strangers can be uncomfortable or even scary.  It needs generosity.  You must share your time, your home, your food.  Above all, it necessitates charity.  You have to love others, and that’s not easy for us to do. 


Here’s why we don’t do it: we are swimming in an individualistic, consumeristic culture.  And that culture encourages us to isolate ourselves and miss out on community.  It reinforces our selfishness, our lack of love, our sin.  Every inch of us gravitates that direction, away from obedience here.  Like any sin, doing it feels good for a time.  We come home, kick our shoes off, turn on the TV and don’t think about others.  But it belittles our glorious God.  It’s disobedience.  It is sin.  And like all sin, it robs us of joy.


Fleeing from the busyness and stressfulness of life to isolation seems restful to us.  We say we don’t have time, and that could be true; but maybe we just need to change our lives to reflect biblical priorities.  More than likely, though, we don’t want to make time.  Why don’t we use the table for ministry?  It’s because we are sinners and fools.  We don’t get the gospel.  We don’t see our dependence upon grace.  We don’t see the welcome mat God has laid out for us.  We’re not grateful.  And it harms us greatly.  The community found in hospitality, although it can be quite draining at times, is the most rewarding, invigorating thing we can possibly experience.  It is far more energizing than isolation.  But sadly we buy the lies and don’t listen to God. 


The good news of that gospel, though, is that Jesus came and was perfectly hospitable.  He died on the cross for people who are selfish and stubborn and stingy.  Through faith in Him, His welcoming life and His death at the hands of unwelcoming people is applied to selfish sinners like us.  And then the Lord begins by His grace, slowly but surely, to work that loving hospitality in us.  Brothers and sisters, amazing community is right before us.  A world around us is waiting to see and experience it.  Rom. 15:7 says, “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”  But we can’t do it on our own.  We need the power of Christ.  Let’s repent and pray to God, asking Him to give us a change of heart that will lead to a change of life in this area.  And let’s fling open our doors.