The patient husband and I have challenged ourselves to be more purposeful in our practice of hospitality this year — to “meet the stranger at the gate” in our own little rural setting by inviting someone new and different into our home each month. January was wonderful! We enjoyed an evening with a couple we’ve worshipped with for a long time, but have never (shame on us!) taken time to get really connected.
Hospitality is really not all about preparing food and vacuuming up the dog hair before the guests arrive. Karen Mains defines it as “serving people and making them feel welcome and wanted.” Dorothy Patterson emphasizes hospitality’s “unselfish desire to meet the needs of others.” Of course, a nice meal and candles on the table created that welcoming environment, but the writer of Hebrews is cheering me along and clarifying my thinking about this practical discipline, basing his encouragement upon the solid foundation of our open invitation to enter the presence of God. In the first eighteen verses he reviews the amazing provision that comes to us through the offering of Christ’s body. I’ve highlighted “therefore,” because the rest of the chapter follows from a relationship based upon this understanding and embrace of New Covenant realities highlighted in pink:
The blue highlighted phrases are God’s invitation to draw near, to live in unwavering hope, and to enter into community for the purpose of maximum love and acts of righteousness.
This summons to community is a demonstration of the exquisite geometry of God’s grace which flows vertically into the life of a believer. Then, in a healthy community, it keeps on moving at a right angle, bent outward, into the life of another. This is the “mechanics” behind the work of the Spirit in gifting believers for mutual care: encouraging, strengthening, warning, comforting one another. According to I Corinthians 12:8-10, when the church gathers, God gives gifts for whatever needs to be done. As each one expresses her unique combination of gifts in her own distinct way, the glorious right angle of God’s grace flows and needs are met through love and good works.
- This is how we draw near to God. In community, we see God more clearly because He becomes visible in His people. John Piper challenged his congregation whenever they learned anything new about God to share it with someone else right away!
- This is how we hold fast in hope. Amy Carmichael urged her orphanage staff members to “hold one another to the highest” — a most gracious way of saying, “Confront one another about unworthy attitudes, sloppy discipleship, and faithless communication.”
This assumes, of course, that when we gather, each one is in the business of “considering one another,” that is to say, looking past the end of my own nose to the needs of someone else. This also assumes a level of interaction that really is not practical in the context of Sunday morning worship. While Hebrews 10:24, 25 has been used as a call to roll out of bed on Sunday morning and get yourself to church, the work of getting close, staying close, and going deep with one another requires something more.
Hebrews 10:25 ends with an air of urgency, indicating that mutual care may become increasingly essential the further we progress along the arc of redemptive history. The “perilous times” that Paul predicts in II Timothy are not an excuse to download those plans for a family bunker and then take refuge — unless you invite your neighbors into the bunker with you! What we see here is a call for an even more intense focus, a greater leaning into the spiritual discipline of fellowship “as you see the Day approaching.”
Will you join me in the challenge to “stir up love and good works” through the ministry of hospitality? We’re only just beginning, because plans for February didn’t work out. The couple invited had to cancel: their adorable granddaughter was born several weeks early! Nonetheless, we’re committed to reschedule for the month of March. It’s pretty much a guarantee that the house won’t be as clean as I’d like, but the food will be plentiful, the boys will be rowdy, the socially overwhelming “home-schooled” St. Bernard will be banished to the basement, and we will follow God’s prescription. We will draw near to Him; we will hold fast to our hope in Him; and we will let His power and blessing flow through us into the lives of others.
**Be sure to share (in the comments section) your plans/goals for mutual care based on Hebrews 10! You’ll encourage me and others, I’m sure!
Only three weeks left in our study of The Epistle to the Hebrews, a letter to a congregation of struggling Jewish Christians written by an unknown author sometime before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. My Sunday school class and I will be landing on a few verses in each chapter with the goal of getting an overview of this fascinating and complex book. These mid-week reflections and observations are intended to initiate a deeper pondering of the week’s assignment in preparation for our discussion the following Sunday. If you’re interested in learning more, here’s last week’s blog post.
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