God’s Family Welcomes One Another
Series: God's Family
Big Idea: God’s family welcomes one another
- How do we welcome?
- Why do we welcome?
- What’s the point?
Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman
The first time that I ever attended a Protestant Sunday church service was right around my sixteenth birthday. I got quite dressed up because after growing up attending Mass on Christmas and Easter with my Catholic mother, I thought that’s what you do. The church I attended was quite large, so they had a Sunday service just for high school students, so I went to that. I knew from the moment I arrived that I was overdressed, but momma says that there is no such thing as overdressed, so it was cool. To my introverted horror, they began the “church service” with games (games!) that required audience participation. Apparently, this was supposed to make high school students feel more comfortable being at church. Thankfully for me, or so I thought, I was able to avoid leaving my seat. The particular game on the docket that morning was “fruit baseball.” That’s right, youth leaders pitch pieces of fruit and high school students hit the fruit as hard as possible. This is all supposed to loosen you up for a sermon, or something. So, the fruit baseball game begins, and I figure I’m safe because I’m seated somewhat behind the batters. You guessed it. The youth leader pitches a tomato or something, an uncoordinated high school student somehow swings and misses, the tomato hits me and explodes all over my uncommonly nice clothes. Welcome to church! You might think that was the end of my story with Community Presbyterian Church. It wasn’t. What began that Sunday was two years of being “welcomed” into a church family that forever changed my life. Even that Sunday they thoughtfully apologized to me because they could see that I was an overly serious stick in the mud who did not like tomato on his pants. The youth pastor spent countless hours teaching how to follow Jesus. The other students brought me into their friend group, social lives, and even their families. Their dads helped disciple me. When I sinned, there was forgiveness. I was immature, but they were patient. Where I was gifted, my gifts were fanned into flame. For two years, I was known, and I was welcomed! Being welcomed may seem to you a good, but small thing. To me, it’s massive. And that brings me to the third big idea of our God’s family series: God’s family welcomes one another. Citylight Church is at the beginning of a new ministry year, which for us runs July to June. This year, we are asking the Lord to give us a year of unprecedented family because the church is God’s family. A year of unprecedented family, characterized by richer relationships than ever before, deeper roots in God’s word and this geographic area than ever before, and wider reach to our neighbors than ever before because anyone can get in on God’s family by the grace that is in Jesus Christ alone. The church is God’s family and God’s family welcomes. As we read a moment ago in Romans 15:7: Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. A spiritual hero of mine, Ray Ortlund Jr., says that Romans 15:7 is nearly the entire New Testament in one verse. A culture of rich, welcoming relationships is the crown jewel of a church that has been welcomed by Jesus for the glory of God. We are going to take Romans 15:7 in three parts with three questions: 1. How do we welcome? 2. Why do we welcome? 3. What’s the point?
HOW DO WE WELCOME?
Romans 15:7: Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. How do we welcome one another? Two words at the beginning of Romans 15:7 give us a clue to the answer. The first word is “therefore.” Romans 15:7 is continuing and drawing to conclusion nearly two chapters of the Apostle Paul urging Christians who are members of the same church but don’t see eye to eye on some pretty fundamental issues, to get along and love one another. The second word that provides a clue to how to welcome one another is the word “welcome.” Ray Ortlund Jr. points out that the Greek term translated “welcome” = “take to oneself.” So, with the words “therefore” and “welcome” understood, we are ready to give answer our question “how do we welcome one another?” We welcome one another by taking to ourselves, into our hearts, schedules, and finances, fellow Christians that we might have little affection for or in common with naturally, because of our mutual gospel-faith in Christ.
That definition may still leave you wondering how to welcome others practically. The other “one another” commands in the NT will help! “Love one another with brotherly affection” (Romans 12:10a). “Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10b) “Don’t pass judgment on one another’s secondary differences” (Rom. 14:13) “Build one another up” (Rom. 14:19) “Live in harmony with one another” (Rom. 15:5) “Greet one another” (1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12, etc.) “Serve one another…” (Gal. 5:15) “Don’t provoke one another” (Gal. 5:26) “Don’t envy one another” (Gal. 5:26) Bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2) Speak the truth to one another (Eph. 4:25; Col. 3:9) Be kind to one another (Eph. 4:32) Bear with one another in meek patience, forgiving complaints against each other (Col. 3:12-13) Don’t retaliate against one another (1 Thess. 5:15) Don’t speak evil against one another (Jas. 4:11) Don’t complain against one another (Jas. 5:9) Confess sin to one another (Jas. 5:16) Pray for one another (Jas. 5:16) Show hospitality to one another w/out grumbling (1 Pet. 4:9).
That’s how we welcome one another. Taking other Christians to one’s heart, schedule, and wallet is the feel and vibe of a church that loves gospel-doctrine. Perhaps a few real-life snapshots will help. It’s Sunday morning. You make every effort to arrive a few minutes early. You warmly greet people like their family on your way in instead of jetting to your seat. You’re open to how the Lord may be orchestrating your steps so that you can pray for or speak an upbuilding word to someone. Your eyes are open for people who look unsure about where they should go or have a brown newcomers bag in their hand. You walk over, you greet them, you point out where the bathroom or kids ministry is, and you invite them to sit next to you. After the church service is over, you linger like after a family meal. You ask people how the Lord met them in the service, how you can pray for them, or what the upcoming week looks like. If they’re happy, you rejoice with them. You pray together. That’s welcoming. Another snapshot. It’s Wednesday evening and you’ve had a day that feels like it was a month long and all you want to do is veg-out, but your Citygroup gathers on Wednesdays. You tell yourself, “I don’t feel like rallying the kids, or just myself, and go.” But you know that welcoming requires presence, so you go. During Bible discussion, that slightly socially awkward group member is dominating a little bit, but you bear with them, rather than complaining against them in your heart or to your spouse on the drive home. You even ask them follow-up questions and draw them out. When you break up into smaller groups for prayer, you take the risk and in an appropriate, non-dramatic fashion confess your sins or share your suffering specifically to others and ask for prayer. As friendships grow, you ask a group member or two of your same gender to meet up outside of group regularly to pray, study the word, and encourage one another. You welcome one another in for Christ’s sake. Final snapshot. Someone in our church walked in the temporary insanity called sin and their sin was against or affected you. Maybe it’s not even sin. Maybe you have a disagreement about a current event or a political issue about which you feel strongly. Instead of speaking about the wrong done to you to others first or avoiding it and getting embittered, you go to the person and in a non-accusatory fashion to speak the truth in love to them about what you think they did and how it made you feel. Truth, repentance, grace, and forgiveness are shared. The relationship is better for it, not worse. That’s how we welcome one another and it’s the vibe we all long for at Citylight Church. How do we welcome one another? By taking one another to ourselves – our hearts, our schedules, our wallets. Question: what might your next step be in taking others in Citylight to yourself?
WHY DO WE WELCOME?
Romans 15:7: Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Why do we welcome? Let’s start with why we don’t. Remember, Romans 15:7 concludes nearly two chapters of the Apostle Paul urging the Jewish Christians in the church at Rome and the Gentile Christians at the church in Rome to welcome one another despite not even agreeing about what food is acceptable to eat. We don’t welcome one another – bring each other near to our hearts and schedules – because we are all naturally easy to get along with or because we have a lot in common. Rather, we welcome one another despite natural hostility because Christ welcomes us despite our sinful hostility toward him. To answer the question “why do we welcome one another?” Paul brings us back to the baseline of the gospel and the good news that Christ has welcomed us despite our sins, weaknesses and annoyances. The fact that Paul brings us back to the baseline of the gospel means that so much is at stake in our welcoming. An unwelcoming church risks unsaying the gospel doctrine it affirms on paper. Welcoming one another – taking to ourselves, into our hearts, schedules, and finances, fellow Christians that we might have little affection for or in common with naturally – is the vibe and feel of a church that loves gospel-doctrine. We welcome one another because Christ has welcomed us!
I want to show you a few of my favorite passages that magnify the way Christ has welcomed us. The first is Romans 15:8-9, which follow right on the heels of our text this morning. How has Christ welcomed us? For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. Christ welcomes both Jews with their kosher convictions and Gentiles with their ham and cheese sandwich convictions by becoming a servant to all of us on the cross. We serve others because Christ has served us. Hebrews 12:2: looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Jesus endured the ultimate sacrifice, taking the curse of our sin upon himself on the cross, joyfully. It was for the joy of welcoming us that he endured it. Jesus never welcomes us begrudgingly. Always lavish, nothing moderate about it. So, we welcome others likewise. Matthew 11:28-29: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus doesn’t welcome us to a modest arm’s length. He brings us near, to his heart, that is gentle, lowly, and removes unnecessary burdens. Romans 5:8: but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Christ welcomed us when we were yet sinners. Yes, it’s difficult to welcome people that you don’t naturally have a lot in common with or get on with naturally. But consider Christ. You could not have less in common with him. There is nothing in you that would naturally endear you to him. And yet, he took the initiative, he made every move, and he paid every sacrifice to welcome you. In Him, we are eternally welcomed despite all the inconveniences he endures to welcome us by grace.
Same question: what might your next step be in taking others in Citylight to yourself? Here is the wonderful news. No matter how much intentionality, strength, courage, sacrifice, or humility it may take, you can always draw strength and purpose from the welcoming of Christ that you have received, are receiving, and will receive forever.
WHAT’S THE POINT?
Romans 15:7: Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Christians welcome one another for the glory of God because Christ welcomed us for the glory of God. In other words, the point of welcoming one another is not ultimately so that we can enjoy rich, joyful relationships. Rich relationships are the penultimate point. The ultimate point of welcoming one another is that our welcoming shows off and puts on display the glory of God. In his commentary on Romans, NT scholar Tom Schreiner illuminates the point that the Apostle Paul is making about the glory of God so well that I want to read it to you. “Toleration [welcoming] of one another is mandated because thereby God’s name is glorified, and the primal sin of Romans 1:21, where God is not glorified and thanked, is reversed by the harmony, expressed in worship, in the community…Such united praise fulfills God’s ultimate purpose, which is that his name would be honored and praised among all peoples (cf. Gen. 12:3).” Our welcoming one another is stunningly and scandalously significant. When we welcome one another in our exuberant worship, our rich relationships, and our unified witness to the world, we are reversing the primal sin of not glorifying God and instead we are showing off his wisdom and power to unite diverse people as family through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
A few years back I had one of the coolest experiences a Philly pastor can have. I was invited to preach at the Eagles Bible study because I think the chaplains were on vacation. I kid you not, I preached a sermon on the first chapter of Haggai. Not sure what I was thinking. I haven’t been invited back. But on the way into the building is one of the most beautiful trophy cases you can imagine and inside is the Lombardi trophy from the Eagles 2018 shellacking of the New England Patriots. The trophy case is gorgeous, and it shows off the Eagles’ remarkable accomplishment. Friends, you, God’s family, are God’s trophy case. When you welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, you show off God’s unsearchable wisdom and power to unite diverse people as family through Jesus Christ. Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you for the glory of God. God’s family welcomes!