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The Heart of the Christian Life - Part 2

Tom Pennington • Romans 12:9-21

  • 2020-04-19 AM
  • Romans
  • Sermons


Well, I want us now to the Word of God, and I invite you to take your copy of God's Word and turn with me to Romans, chapter 12; Romans, chapter 12. These are certainly challenging times for all of us, and this has been a particularly difficult week for many in our church family. All of us, of course, are still adjusting to the new normal with the added precautions that have to be taken with revamped work schedules, with homeschooling. About fifteen in our church family, that we know of at this point, have lost their jobs in recent weeks; several members are sick with the coronavirus; about forty in our church are first responders, and they have to deal with this pandemic daily in a very personal way; several families in our church have had or are about to have surgeries; some have newborns in the NICU; one family this week has been devastated by the sudden and unexpected death of a husband and father.

These are hard things; these are difficult circumstances; and we know that our God, our Father, is concerned about what we encounter in this life. He's concerned about those circumstances. Peter reminds us that we are to cast all of our care upon Him. I Peter, chapter 5:7, "…because He cares for you," He cares for you. So, He is concerned about these circumstances that we are currently facing.

At the same time, He is also concerned, not only about the circumstances, but about how we respond to those circumstances. And the reason that's important is because our response, our reactions, really reveal our hearts. The right response to the circumstances in your life and the circumstances in the lives of those you love can express a genuine love for God as well as a genuine love for them. That's really the point of the passage that we come to this morning in our study of Romans, chapter 12. Let me read for you again a portion of this paragraph we're studying, Romans, chapter 12, and I'll begin reading in verse 9. Paul writes:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

This paragraph continues to the end of the chapter; but for our purposes this morning, I'll stop there in our reading.

Verse 9, particularly the first half of verse 9, is really the heading or the theme of this entire paragraph that runs from there to the end of chapter 12. This paragraph reminds us that the first and greatest priority of every Christian is love, to love God and to love others. In fact, we could say that the heart of biblical Christianity is love; it's the heart of the Christian life and experience.

Now, as we have watched this passage unfold before us, we noted first of all, "The Greatest Priority of A Christian," the greatest priority of a Christian; that's the message of the first half of verse 9, "Let love be without hypocrisy." He says, "Love and let your love be genuine, let it be real, let it be sincere from the heart." (Paraphrased.)

Beginning then in the middle of verse 9, and running down through the end of the chapter, having highlighted the great priority, the greatest priority, Paul goes on to show us, "The Practical Expressions" of that love. What does love look like in the life of a believer?

So, the rest of this chapter then, shows us how our love for God and for others should express itself. We've noted several practical expressions of love so far. We noted, in the second half of verse 9, that our love, particularly for God, is revealed in our response to God's Word. Last time, in verses 10 and 11, we noted that our love is reflected in our response with some key biblical attitudes that we walked through together. If we love, those attitudes will be manifest in our hearts and lives.

This morning, I want us to consider a third practical way that our love for God and our love for others is expressed, and that is this, "Our Response to Difficult Circumstances." That's the message of verses 12 and 13.

I really am amazed how God, in His providence, weaves together the ongoing consecutive exposition of His Word with the circumstances of our lives. I am amazed at how well this text fits with what we're all facing. Our love for God and our love for others is reflected in how we respond to the difficult circumstances of life; that's the message of these two verses. Let's read them again together. Look at verses 12 and 13:

Rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

Now, I need to begin by just asking an important question, and that is, "Is our dividing this string of exhortations, that begins in verse 9 and runs down to verse 21, into different groups, is that division just something subjective, or is there some objective basis for doing so?" There are, in fact, two clear objective reasons for dividing this list up into groups as we're doing as we study this passage together.

The first is the syntax, that is the way the sentences and phrases are structured, especially in the original language, hints that there are several groupings or several different themes or sub themes that run throughout this paragraph. Also, there are distinct themes within each of the groups that I'm highlighting for you. And here in verses 12 and 13, all five of those exhortations that we just read again together, focus on the same theme, and that theme is how we should respond in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Specifically, verse 12, begins by talking about the difficult circumstances which are our own. Notice, "Rejoicing in hope, persevering in (our own) tribulation." Then the end of verse 12, highlights the difficult circumstances that are both our own and that of others. We respond by being devoted to prayer; devoted to prayer for ourselves, devoted to prayer for the difficult circumstances of others. And then, verse 13, highlights how we should respond to the difficult circumstances solely of others, "…contributing to the needs of the saints, (and) practicing hospitality."

Now, those are not airtight categories; there is some overlap, but I think that is a legitimate and valid way to look at these two verses together. So, let's start then with our response to our own difficult circumstances.

When you and I are faced with trials and difficulties and we want to express through those trials, in the midst of those difficulties, our love for God, how should we respond? Well, first of all, we should respond in this way, rejoice in your future hope, rejoice in your future hope. Notice verse 12, "rejoicing in hope."

The word 'rejoicing' is not a surprise in terms of its definition. It means 'to be in a state of happiness and well-being, to rejoice or to be glad.' Now, don't misunderstand here; Paul isn't saying, "Just be happy." He doesn't mean just be cheerful, just put a smile on your face, and pretend there are no difficulties and troubles. Nor is he telling you that you should cultivate some kind of a hopeful outlook about the future of your life and experience in this world. This is joy, not because of what we experience, but because of what we know. So, that is the question isn't it? How is it that you and I can rejoice in a world where sin and death reign? How can we be glad when we constantly experience various trials and various hardships in this life? How?

Well, notice what Paul says, he says, "Rejoice in hope." Rejoice, be glad, be happy, because of your hope. So, what exactly is hope? I've noted for us before, if you're a part of our church, you've heard me differentiate between the English and Greek words; it's so important to do so because the English word for hope is often a desire for something that is highly unlikely to happen.

We might say, "You know, I hope COVID-19 just goes away this week." Well, you can hope that, but that's really unlikely. That's how we use the English word 'hope.' But the Greek word isn't like that at all. The Greek word is a desire for something, yes, but it is 'a desire for something that I know and am certain is going to happen.' Phillips, in his paraphrase translates it as "happy certainty." That's exactly right; it's happy certainty.

Let me define hope this way, it is 'the joyful expectation and confidence of future good.' Let me say that again, it is 'the joyful expectation and confidence of future good.' So, what is this hope in which we are to rejoice? What is the future good that we can live in joyful expectation and confidence of that's going to get us through the troubles of this life?

Well, as believers, the primary focus of our hope we've already met, we've already seen it recorded in Paul's letter to the Romans. Turn back to chapter 5; Romans, chapter 5, and let me remind you and here in the beginning of Romans, chapter 5, Paul outlines the immediate benefits of our justification. Notice he says in verse 1, "Therefore, having been justified by faith," and then he begins a list of immediate benefits that are ours. Notice the end of verse 2, "…we exult in hope of the glory of God." We rejoice, we glory, we are joyfully confident in hope. We rejoice with eagerness for what we know is certain, and what is that hope? Notice, it is the glory of God.

Paul has two ideas there in mind. He has in mind that our hope is that we will see God's glory. Think about that for a moment. Your great hope, Christian, is that you, one day, will see the glory of God. This begins with the Lord's return for His own in the rapture. Turn over to Paul's letter to Titus; Titus, chapter 2, and here he explains to us exactly what our hope is. Titus, chapter 2, and notice verse 11, "For the grace of God has appeared." And he's talking about not just grace as an idea, but grace embodied in the person of Jesus Christ. "The grace of God has appeared, (in Christ as He came into our world), bringing salvation to all men." That is, men of all peoples and all nations all over the world, He brought salvation, but He also brought, verse 12, sanctification.

That grace has instructed us, that grace that brought us salvation is instructing us who have been saved, "…to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age." We are to live, notice verse 13, "looking." Here is our glorification; the grace that Christ brought brings salvation, that's from the penalty of sin; it brings sanctification from the power of sin, that's verse 12. Verse 13, it brings salvation and deliverance from the presence of sin, this is our glorification.

Looking for the blessed (Here it is.) hope (Here's our hope!) and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.

Our hope, brothers and sisters, is that we will see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. He is coming again for us!

Of course, you know that the story doesn't end there with the rapture. Seven years later, after The Great Tribulation, we will return with Him in the Second Coming and He will come to judge the world in righteousness. When He comes, He will destroy all of His enemies and He will establish an earthly kingdom on a renewed earth where He will reign for a thousand years. Jesus our Lord will live with us and we will see His glory. Then, after those thousand years are done and after The Great White Throne of Judgment, He will purge the cosmos of all evil by destroying the present universe and by creating a new heaven and a new earth, as Peter says, "In which righteousness is perfectly at home." Don't you too long for the day when we live on a planet where righteousness is at home?

And in that new world, it won't just be righteousness we'll enjoy; but in that new world, our God will personally dwell with His people forever. Revelation 21:3 says, "…the tabernacle of God will be among men." God is going to pitch His tent among us just like the picture of that in the Old Testament when the tabernacle was in the middle of the camp of God's people. God is going to literally, as it were, pitch His tent, build His home, among us and He will dwell among them. Revelation 21:3 says, "…and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them." We will see God! Revelation 22:4, says. "…they will see His face." We will see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ as we see the humanity of Christ glorified and perfected, and we will see the glory of the Father in whatever form the invisible God chooses to present Himself to us, but we will see God. That's our hope!

But not only will we see God, notice we will also share God's glory. Back in Romans, chapter 8, Paul, after saying that we will experience, "We have this hope of the glory of God," he goes on to say specifically that we will share the glory of God. Notice verse 17; Romans 8, verse 17, "…if indeed we suffer with (Christ) …we (will) also be glorified with Him." That's a remarkable statement; glorified with Christ, sharing His glory. Verse 21, eventually "the creation…will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God." We will share the glory of God and then, of course, verse 30, those "whom He justified, He also glorified."

In 1 John, chapter 3, John brings both of these concepts together when he writes, "Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not…yet…appeared what we will be. (But) we know…when He appears, we will be like Him, (There is sharing God's glory!) because we will see Him just as He is (There's seeing God's glory.)"

How does this fit into the troubles and difficulties of this life? When we understand that we will see and share the glory of God forever, it becomes a source of abiding joy even in the middle of extremely difficult circumstances. This is why Paul writes in Romans 8:18, "…I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us." Or, in 2 Corinthians, chapter 4, verse 17, "For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory…beyond all comparison." When we understand that the sufferings of this present time are not even worthy to be spoken in the same sentence with, to be compared to, the glory that awaits us, it makes it so much easier for us to bear the sufferings of this life. Oh, there's still sufferings; Paul and our God don't minimize the sufferings of this life, but compared to the glory that's coming, they're momentary and light.

And I would say as well, when we rejoice in our future hope, in spite of our current circumstances, when we intentionally do so, we show, we evidence, we demonstrate that we truly love God. Why? Because as 1 Corinthians 13, verse 7, says, love, true love, "…hopes all things." In the context of 1 Corinthians 13, of course, it's talking about our hope in others, but the same is true of our love for God. If we truly love God, our love for God hopes all things even in the middle of great difficulty and trouble.

Now, how in the world can we rejoice in hope like this? Ultimately, it's important to understand that only the Spirit can produce this hope in you. Look at Romans 15; turn over just a few chapters to Romans 15, and notice verse 13, "Now may the God of hope (the God who is the source of hope) fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Ultimately, it's God's work; it's the work of the Holy Spirit to produce this hope in us.

So, do we not have any part? Oh, we do. What we have to do is we have to preach the truth to ourselves. Here's how it works. Over the last several months as I've been meditating on this passage, my own heart has been filled with these truths. If you find yourself struggling with disease or with aging, rejoice in hope that someday you're going to receive a glorified body like our Lord's glorified body, where there'll be no disease, and no decay, and no death. If you're sick of battling your own sin and the blood that's shed every day as every inch by bloody inch is gain in the process of sanctification, rejoice in the hope that someday you will have a moral character that is perfect just like that of Jesus Christ. If you're worn down by the troubles of this life and all that you're enduring and facing, then rejoice in hope that the sufferings of this present time are just that; they are sufferings for this present time, and they are not worthy to be compared with the glory that awaits you in God's presence. Fix your eyes on your eternal hope.

But, we're still here, we're still in this world. So, how should we live right now in this fallen world even as our eyes are fixed on our future hope? Well, there's a second way to express your love for God in the middle of your own difficult circumstances, and that is to persevere in your current trials, persevere in your current trials. Verse 12, "…persevering in tribulation."

The word 'tribulation' refers to those things that squeeze us, that crush us, that pressure us. In fact, this word was used in both Greek and even in Latin to describe the pressure that a sledge exerted as it threshed the grain. To thresh grain in a large harvest floor, they would take a wooden sledge, a sledge of sorts, and then they would put on that sledge heavy rocks, and then they would drag that sledge around the threshing floor to separate the wheat and the chaff, and that heavy sledge was putting pressure, tribulation, on the wheat. That's the picture here.

This same word is used of crushing olives to extract their oil, of treading grapes to press out the wine. So, in the New Testament, this word 'tribulation' is used to refer to all of the external pressures that press down on us in this life, the circumstances that squeeze us, that pressure us, that threaten to crush us. Paul says, "Don't be surprised when tribulation comes, don't be surprised. Expect tribulation." It's like what Jesus said in John 16:33, "In the world (as long as you're here in this world) you will have tribulation." But notice he says while tribulation is a certainty, notice how we're to respond to those circumstances. We are to do so with perseverance, "…persevering in tribulation."

Persevering is the Greek word 'hupomone.' It's made up of two parts, 'under' and 'to remain, to remain under, to stay or remain under' is the idea. This is what a weightlifter does after he pushes that tremendous amount of weight above his head; and then he has to stay under that weight for a certain period of time for it to be a valid lift; and as he's under that weight, his entire body is shaking as one giant muscle to sustain that pressure over his head. He's remaining under, he's persevering under that weight. That's exactly the idea of this word. So, this isn't some sort of fatalistic sense of, "I'm just going to passively accept what I can't change." Rather, this is active, this is choosing to remain under the trial, confidently and joyfully waiting for God to intervene in His time, whether in this life or when He takes us to Himself.

Now, Paul has already taught us this as well. Go back again to Romans, chapter 5; Romans chapter 5, and right after he tells us that we are to exult or rejoice in hope of seeing and sharing the glory of God, verse 3, says, "And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations." Notice how Paul loves to connect hope, as we look to the future, but perseverance, endurance now in the middle of our troubles.

Notice, he says, "We exalt in our tribulation," we exult in it, we rejoice in it because of our tribulations. How? Notice the keyword, 'knowing.' "We exult in our tribulations knowing." We can only rejoice in our tribulation, in our trials, in those things that threaten to crush us because of what we know. And here's what we know, "knowing that tribulation brings about (or produces) perseverance."

In other words, when troubles come, when that pressure comes into our lives, it produces a growing strength like that weightlifter, a growing strength to remain under that trial. "And perseverance, (verse 4, produces) proven character." When we persevere in our trials, it shows us that we're the real thing, that we have proven character. It doesn't show God that we're the real thing; He already knows. It shows us, it only confirms the reality of our faith. We're not like that kind of soil that receives the seed with joy, but then troubles come, the troubles of this life and choke out that seed, or persecution comes, and we run away from our profession.

So, it's proven character. Verse 4, "…proven character (produces) hope." As we experience, first-hand, what God does for us and in us in the middle of the troubles of this life, it stirs up our hope in God and in our glorious future. Trials increase our hope for what's coming. You've experienced that as we have had to be disengaged from so many things in recent weeks, our hearts and minds have realized, in a fresh way, what's truly important. That's what trials do. They bring to bear in the life of a Christian a view of heaven, a view of our eternal future, a view of the blessed hope, which is the appearing of our Savior, and our eternally being with Him.

The New Testament is filled with other examples highlighting the importance of perseverance. In fact, look just at chapter 8 of Romans. Romans, chapter 8, verse 24, "For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees. But if we hope (rather) for what we do not see, (notice) with perseverance we wait eagerly for it." You see how these things relate. If we have that hope, if we rejoice in that hope, if that's where we've fixed our minds, then we can persevere, we can say to ourselves, "You know what; God will give me the strength to get through this because it's only a short time until my hope is fulfilled."

Hebrews 10:36 says, "…you have need of endurance." Listen to that, "…you have need of (perseverance) so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised." And, brothers and sisters, when we patiently endure the trials and troubles of this life, still trusting in God, it shows that we truly love God. Again, 1 Corinthians 13, verse 7, says, love, true love whether for others or for God, "endures all things."

But where does this perseverance, where does this endurance come from? Is this something you and I can just work up on our own? No, again this is something that God has to produce in us just like hope. Turn back to chapter 15 of Romans. In that same passage, Paul says the same thing about our perseverance. Notice Romans 15, verse 5, "Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus." God gives perseverance. How does He give it? How does He create and strengthen the perseverance, our endurance, to bear up under the troubles of this life? Well, we just saw the answer to that. He does so through trials as He said in Romans, chapter 5. He increases our endurance as He brings trials into our lives.

So, our love, our love is expressed in our response to our own difficult circumstances in those ways. We rejoice in hope and we persevere in tribulation. But our love is expressed, secondly, in our response to ours and others difficult circumstances. There is a response that is not only to our circumstances, but it's how we ought to respond both to our own circumstances and to the difficult circumstances of others.

The fact that we and other Christians persevere in tribulation as a gift from God as we just saw in chapter 15, verse 5, explains why Paul makes this next point and it's this, we should respond to ours and others difficult circumstances by praying in all circumstances, pray in all circumstances. If our hope is found in God, if our perseverance is a gift from God, then naturally, verse 12, we should be "devoted to prayer."

Devoted means 'to busy yourself with, to be busily engaged in, to be devoted to;' it speaks of 'continual and habitual effort,' and prayer is effort. Leon Morris writes, "Persistent prayer is a necessary part of the Christian life." This word, 'be devoted to,' by the way, is often connected to prayer in the New Testament. For example, in the book of Acts, chapter 1, verse 14, those in the upper room it says, "These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer."

But it wasn't just them as they waited for the coming of the Spirit and the events of Pentecost; it was how the early church lived. In Acts, chapter 2, verse 42, it says the believers there in Jerusalem "were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer."

The same idea is contained in different language in passages like 1 Thessalonians, chapter 5, verse 17, "pray without ceasing." Ephesians 6, verse 18, "With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints." We are to be devoted to prayer for ourselves in the midst of our own troubles and for others as they encounter trials and tribulations as well.

Now, what's the connection between being devoted to prayer and the theme of this entire paragraph, love? Well, obviously if you love others, you will pray on their behalf when they encounter various troubles and trials. If you love God, you will turn to Him in your own troubles; and when others that you care about are in trouble, you'll turn to Him in the midst of that trouble. Why? Well, it's just like a child, just like a child who suddenly finds himself in the middle of an unexpected danger, what does he do? He cries out to the father he loves; that's the point of Romans, chapter 8, you remember, when Paul says, "We cry out, Abba, Father!" It's the cry of help! "Papa!" Persistent fervent prayer shows that we love God because whenever we find ourselves in danger and trouble, He is the one to whom we immediately turn.

But it also shows that we love God because it shows that we trust Him. You see, prayer, turning to God in prayer when I'm in the middle of difficulty, when I'm in the middle of trials, that implies faith. Faith in His ability to help and in His willingness to help if it's what's best for me. So, if you love God and if you love others, you will pray in all circumstances, both for yourself and for others. So, our love then is expressed in our response to our own difficult circumstances, to the difficult circumstances in which both we and others find themselves with prayer.

And then thirdly, it's shown in our response to the difficult circumstances of others. Paul moves on in verse 13, to describe, not when we find ourselves in the midst of trouble, but when our brothers and sisters do. You see, when we see others in difficult circumstances, we can express our love for God and for them by praying for them, that's the end of verse 12, but in verse 13, there are two other very practical ways as well.

First of all, we can share in the saints' needs, verse 13, "…contributing to the needs of the saints." When this word 'needs' occurs in the plural in the New Testament as it does here, it always is speaking of material needs: food, shelter, clothing. And he says, "You need to contribute to those physical needs." This is an unusual word though. It doesn't mean to give, it's not the word for 'give' in the New Testament. It comes from the Greek word, 'koinonia;' it's often translated 'fellowship.' I mean, clearly by this verb translated here 'contributing to,' Paul does mean that we are to give from our material resources to believers who lack the basic necessities of life. But by using this word, 'koinonia,' he's also showing us that we are to do more than just give. We are to enter into fellowship with them; we are to join in partnership with them in their trouble as we meet their needs.

In fact, this is the message of 1 John. Turn with me to 1 John, chapter 3; 1 John, chapter 3, and look at verse 14; 1 John 3, verse 14. It says, "We know that we have passed out of death into life, (Here's a test of whether or not we're truly spiritually alive.) because we love (our Christian brothers and sisters). He who does not love his (Christian brothers and sisters) abides in death."

Listen, if you don't love fellow Christians, if you can't honestly say that you love them, then you're not a believer. That's what John says. Verse 15, "Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." He makes murder also a reflection of the intent of the heart. But notice verse 16, he turns on the positive side, "We know love by this, that (our Lord) laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." We don't do that every day. So, what does love look like on a daily basis? Verse 17:

Whoever has the world's goods, (In other words, you have what you need and more than you need,) and (he) sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed, and in truth.

The reality…do something and specifically contribute to their needs.

Now this is basic, this is something that is simply the expression of the love that's been shed abroad in our hearts. We are to enter into fellowship with, meaning we are to sympathize and to give toward the physical needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Now, very practically you can do that in a couple of ways. There are times, of course, when you may choose to do that directly with someone you know. You can also do that, and many of us do, through the benevolence fund here at church because that's something the elders are able to manage and to work with the families involved and care for many. But we are responsible regardless, to be contributing to, to be sharing in the needs of those who lack. That's the message at the end of 1 Timothy 6, where Paul says, "If you're rich in this world's goods (And most of us are in the U.S.) we are to be quick to do good and to share with those who don't." (Paraphrased)

Now, notice Paul explicitly says here in Romans 12, that we are to share in and contribute toward the material needs of the saints. That is, the ones who are set apart to God. We ought to be generous, and we ought to do good to all men, but our first priority is to believers.

Now, I know that can trouble believers at times. Why is that? Does this mean that God doesn't care about unbelievers and we shouldn't either? Of course not! God is good and generous and gracious even to His enemies and so should we be. But the reason that we are to first care for believers is that they are members of our family; and just as within a human family, our first responsibility is to make sure the needs of our family is met, those needs are met before we begin reaching outside the home, the same thing is true with the Christian family that is the Christian church.

That's why the focus of the New Testament is contributing to the material needs of our fellow Christians as a first priority. Galatians, chapter 6, verse 10, says, "…while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of faith." John Calvin writes about this in his commentary; he particularly commands us to assist the saints, "Although our love ought to extend to the whole human race, it should embrace with particular affection those who are of the household of faith for they are connected to us by a closer bond."

Now, when we contribute to the needs, the physical needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we show our love for them. That's what we just saw in 1 John 3, but amazingly, at the same time, we also show our love for our Lord Himself. This is what He said in Matthew 25, verses 34 and 35, "…the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who were blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.'" In other words, you get into the kingdom by grace. But here's how you've manifested that you were truly those who have been chosen to inherit by the Father. "I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink." Jesus said, "You took care of my physical needs." How, they'll say? And Jesus will say, "…to the extent that you did it to one of (the least) of these (My) brothers…you did it to me." So, we show our love for others in our love for Christ Himself when we contribute toward, when we enter into the needs of our fellow brothers and sisters.

When we see others in difficult circumstances, we can express our love for God and for them; secondly, when we commit to generous hospitality, generous hospitality. Verse 13 ends, "practicing hospitality." The Greek word for 'hospitality' literally means, 'love of strangers." Although we are to open our hearts and our homes to our friends and those believers we know well, technically that's not New Testament hospitality. Instead, it is caring for people we don't know.

In the New Testament, the practice of hospitality included hosting an entire church in your home. In fact, in Romans, chapter 16, verse 5, we discover that that was true of the Aquilla and Priscilla. That was hospitality. There were people who would come that they didn't know, that was a love of strangers. Same thing with Philemon in Philemon 2.

But you could also practice hospitality in the first century by hosting a Christian traveler in your home. In 3 John, verses 5 through 8, it talks about the importance of caring for those who were involved in ministry and were traveling because of that ministry, caring for them and making sure they have a place to stay.

It raises a question, why didn't Christians in the first century just stay in hotels or the ancient equivalent, inns? Well, they were often unavailable; there were few of them, there were great distances between them. Also, they were often unsafe and unwholesome, and they were often unaffordable to the believers that were forced to travel; and because of that, all New Testament believers were commanded to practice hospitality. Hebrews 13:2, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it." I Peter, chapter 4, verse 9, "Be hospitable to one another without complaint." In fact, this openness to care for those you don't know is a qualification for elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

Now, look again at verse 13, and how Paul puts it. He says, "I want you to practice (Literally, the Greek word is, "I want you to pursue.) hospitality." (Paraphrased) The word means 'to chase,' as in war or in hunting. In other words, we're required to extend hospitality, not just when it's expected or when asked to, or when it's required; we are to pursue it, we're to go out of our way to welcome and care for Christians that we don't know.

Leon Morris writes, "Paul is not advocating a pleasant social exercise among friends, but the use of ones home to help even people we do not know if that will advance God's cause." When we express hospitality to those who need it, who are in a situation where there's a need for them, we show genuine love and concern for our brothers and sisters who are strangers and we express a love for them. But, in so doing, we also express again a love for Christ. Back in Matthew 25, verse 35, Jesus says, "I was a stranger, and you invited Me in." And again, the believers at that time will say, "When we do that, Lord? When did we know that you were a stranger and invite you in?" Well, again, "…as you did it to one (of these least) of my brethren, you did it to me."

Now, let me just say on this issue, there are a couple of pitfalls with hospitality to avoid. First of all, let me make sure you understand, don't focus hospitality primarily on unbelievers and evangelism. There's a place for that. Some Christians will read books like, The Gospel Comes With A House Key," and become unbalanced by focusing their hospitality almost exclusively on unbelievers. But if you read the New Testament, you'll discover that Christian hospitality focuses on strangers who believe, so beware. Again, I'm not saying don't do that; I'm saying don't become unbalanced. Secondly, don't become so focused on hospitality to strangers that you neglect your own family. Don't focus on ministering so much to those outside of the home that you fail those inside. And a third danger that comes with hospitality is don't complain when practicing hospitality. 1 Peter 4:9, "Be hospitable to one another without complaint."

Now, how does this apply to us today? You know, obviously we have hotels, they're plentiful, they're safe, they're affordable, in some cases those traveling for the sake of ministry, other believers would like to stay in hotels as opposed to individual homes. Christians aren't being forced from their homes in persecution, so how can we obey this command? I would just say generally do this, pursue opportunities to use your home for the advancement of God's kingdom.

Here are a few ideas, and obviously these ideas are for when the restrictions are lifted and some degree of normalcy returns, but you think about this even as you think about changes to make as you look at future. Volunteer to host ministries of our church that include people you don't know. That's the idea here, strangers, people that aren't your friends, your best friends. So, think about hosting home fellowships, Titus 2 groups, other events. Use your home for the sake of the kingdom.

Secondly, another practical application of this would be to volunteer to host Christians who travel in ministry, missionaries, visiting speakers, musicians, people who come from away to attend our annual conference and so forth.

Thirdly, consider paying for the food and hotel expenses of traveling Christians whom you may not know well, but whom you can pretty quickly discern are in some degree of need.

Number four, intentionally introduce yourself to people in our own church whom you don't know. Here is a very basic form of hospitality. Be looking for strangers, people you don't know even in our church family, and reach into their lives. A very practical way to do that is, and I know many in our church do this, is when you find somebody in the service that you don't know and you introduce yourself, maybe they're a guest, or maybe they're just a member of the church that you've never met, invite them out to lunch, get to know them, make that stranger a friend. That's Christian hospitality. All of these are practical demonstrations of this command. But obviously, the greatest emphasis is when they find themselves in the midst of trouble and difficulty and we are willing to put ourselves out to care for them.

Now, look at that list. Is that how you are responding to difficult circumstances? Does your response to trials, your own trials and that of others show that you genuinely love God and you love them by responding in those very practical ways? This is a test of our love.

May God give us a heart to love Him by responding to even the current circumstances, the difficult circumstances we're in, by rejoicing in hope, by being committed to prayer, by being fervent in our concern for others, by being those who are committed to fellow believers. Again, look at the list, look at what Paul has taught us in Romans, chapter 12, and ask yourself in each case, and in our own circumstances, and those shared circumstances, in circumstances of others, "Am I responding in these ways, in ways that express the love I have for them and for others?" May God enable us to do so.

Let's pray together. Father, thank you for these rich truths that we have discovered together. Thank you for the reminder that, in this life, we will have tribulation; there will be difficulty in trouble. Lord, help us to respond as Paul urges us here. Lord, may we rejoice in our future hope. May we persevere in the midst of the troubles and the trials of this life, remaining under that trouble even as an expression of our love for you.

Lord, may we devote ourselves to prayer both in the middle of our own difficulties, and as we share the difficulties of others, and, Lord, may we commit to contributing to, to fellowshipping in the needs of others so that we care for them and express in so doing, our love for you and our love for others. And Father, may we be quick to put ourselves out to use our homes for the advancement of your kingdom, to care for your people, to express our love for them and our love for others.

Lord, thank you for these perfect reminders in the midst of our current circumstances, for how we ought to think and how we ought to respond. And Lord, even as we have been reminded, may you, by your Spirit, produce these things in us and may we live fixed on our future hope, we pray in Jesus's name, Amen.