We live in troubled times, certainly, and a regular response that rank-and-file Christians have to this challenge is found in the lament, “But what can we do?” This year, our annual state of the church message is going to set before you a very local response to a very global and international panic, not to mention all the totalitarian “solutions” that are being presented to us. And as it happens, the Scriptures we will bring to bear are Scriptures that are equally pertinent to our local and national situations both.
This is quite striking, because if we zoom out, we see that things have not been so bad in quite some time. But if we zoom in, looking at our local community of believers, things have never been so good. What should we do with this? How should we respond?
“Use hospitality one to another without grudging” (1 Peter 4:9).
“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2).
“Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:14–15)
Summary of the Texts
These three texts might be described as social exhortations. They have to do with our life together, with our social interactions, and they warn us about the kind of sin that disrupts such fellowship. Peter tells us to be hospitable to one another, and he tells us to do this without grumbling or complaining (1 Pet. 4:9). The reason for warning us about this is that hospitality gives rise to occasions where you want to grumble or complain. They didn’t invite you back, or they didn’t wipe their feet, or they didn’t say thank you. Hebrews 13 tells us to show hospitality because we never know who it is we might be being kind to (Heb. 13:2). The most inauspicious guest might be an angel—and when it isn’t an angel, it turns out to have been Christ (Matt. 25:40). And then in Philippians, we are warned against grumbles and disputes (temptations which, again, occur often in a community where hospitality is pursued and practiced).
But the reason I selected these three particular exhortations has to do with the larger context. Peter says that we are to be hospitable without grumbling, but what was that larger context? He was preparing his readers for persecution. Their faith was to be tried by fire (1 Pet. 1:7). Christ suffered so that we might follow His example (1 Pet. 2:21). They were going to encounter false accusations (1 Pet. 3:16). All this is the run-up to the exhortation to “be hospitable, and no whining.” And in Hebrews, we are told to take strangers in—but again, what is the context? These people had undergone great afflictions (Heb. 10:32), had been reviled (Heb. 10:33), and had had their property confiscated (Heb. 10:34). These are the people who are told to take strangers in. In Philippians, it is the same kind of thing. Be blameless, harmless. No murmuring or disputing. But what had Paul said just a moment before? “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29).
The Early Church in Acts
On the day of Pentecost, three thousand souls were added to the church (Acts 2:41). Later, as the gospel gained strength, there were about five thousand more added (Acts 4:4). This process continued, and it started to cause problems. “And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration” (Acts 6:1).
The apostles responded to this challenge in two ways. The first is that they refused to abandon prayer and the ministry of the Word—as that was the driving engine for the whole thing (Acts 6:4). But second, they made a judicious set of ordinations, setting aside godly deacons to address the problem (Acts 6:3).
And all of this was good preparation for what was to come (Acts 8:1).
Community, Hospitality, Friends
Because of the cultural disarray in many other places, and because God has been so kind to us here, hundreds of people have moved here. Perhaps you have noticed. And all the indications are that hundreds more are on the way. What does this mean? First, it means that there will be multiple opportunities to be hospitable without grumbling. Second, it means that it is quite possible that the trouble we see elsewhere is headed our way. We have no guarantees that it won’t happen, and we do have the assurance of these passages that being kind to strangers is a very good way to prepare in case it does. What can I do?
Most of you here don’t know most of you here. In a room filled with strangers, what can I do? We have to understand that God does great collective things by means of doing countless tiny things. No one raindrop feels responsible for the ocean, but each one is. This is how God works.
Koinonia fellowship is a great grace of the Holy Spirit, and we certainly have that blessing here. But do not confuse it with other things. It is not the same thing as friendship, for example. Jesus loved His disciples, and He loved them and protected them all (John 17:12). But He also had Peter, James, and John as friends (Matt. 17:1). And among those three, John was His best friend (John 13:23). So don’t try to show hospitality as a means of trolling for friends.
Christ Is Here
Now at the conclusion of this service, Christ invites you to sit down at His table. This is a glorious kindness. One of the things that it teaches us to do is this—when it comes time for us to set our tables, we should be hungry for opportunities to invite Christ to sit down at our tables. But He travels incognito, remember? You may not recognize Him until He takes the loaf from you, says grace, and breaks the bread (Luke 24:30-31). You might not recognize Him even then. You might not realize any of this until the last day.
When you come to His house, His identity is known and declared. When He comes to yours, He often comes in the disguise of a nuisance, cloaked as an irritation, camouflaged as an interruption.