Your Welcome is You're Welcome
As a pastor, I have a deep desire for my congregation to grow as a welcoming and inviting community. Humanly speaking, we feel good to be invited. Whether it is a party, a wedding, or just a meal shared with friends, the very experience of receiving an invitation communicates value and belonging. And so, I regularly encourage my congregation to invite people to come and see what our local church is about.
That concept of welcome and invitation is so woven into the implicit expectations of a church that we often lose sight of the theological basis for being a welcoming people toward our siblings in Christ and the non-Christians that visit our churches.
Paul is addressing that very theological underpinning of being an inviting people in chapter 15 of the book of Romans. Romans 15:7 serves as a summary and a hinge when it reads, "therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God." The welcoming of one another, in this context between Jew and Gentile, is rooted in Jesus's action toward us and culminates in the glory of God.
Jesus, The Welcome of God
Paul goes on in verses 8-11 to say,
8 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.
As it is written,
“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.”
10 And again it is said,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”
11 And again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.”
Here we have in verses 8-9 a parallel statement about God's blessing on both Jew and Gentile. As God's saving purposes were revealed in human history through Jesus, so God's truthfulness was put on display and his promises to the Jews fulfilled. But that is not all. In Jesus, a long hidden mystery was revealed, that God by mercy would also welcome Gentiles as engrafted members of his covenant community (Eph 3:6; Rom 11:11-24). And so Jesus, the Messiah, has become to both Jew and Gentile the clear display of God's veracity and mercy (John 1:17).
That alone is a mystery so profound that angels themselves wanted to look in on it (1 Pet 1:12). But to take it a step further Paul includes three Old Testament quotes as proofs to the welcome that God has extended to both Jew and Gentile. What makes these quotes so interesting is the typological way in which Paul places them on the lips of Jesus, the Messiah. He had already done this in Romans 15:3 where he applied Psalm 69:9 as the very words of the Messiah. And so what we see in these three thematically synonymous quotes is the convergence of a divine invitation into Christian worship with the very voice of the Messiah:
1.“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.”
2.“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”
3.“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.”
What we have in these verses is the apostle Paul basing his imperative to be a welcoming people on the very welcome we've received from Christ himself.
The Unwelcome Struggle
And that then becomes our challenge as the people of God. We don't always find ourselves as the welcoming people of God. In fact at times we can be cold, apathetic, distant, and unapproachable towards those inside the church and outside of the church. To provide you with some examples consider the following temptations towards Christian grouchiness.
1) You are given the opportunity to welcome someone in the name of Jesus but because they come from a different ethnic or socio-economic background you shy away from the opportunity out of discomfort.
2) You are relatively new to a church and so make the excuse that you should be welcomed rather than do the welcoming.
3) You think only those people on the "Greeter Team" should do the welcoming at your church.
4) You are overworked and under rested and so aren't a very pleasant person to be around. You make the excuse that when work is less you'll invest more in the folks that live in your neighborhood and go to your church.
There are so many reasons that we can come up with to avoid and excuse ourselves from basic Christian love toward others. We look at our self or we look at other people and the list grows. The apostle Paul provides a third person to look at in the text we've just studied.
Jesus, our Welcome
It is only as we look to Christ and hear his voice inviting us to himself and into the worship of God that we can become truly welcoming people. There are so many reasons that our condemning hearts can concoct as to why Christ should not welcome us. Our sin, our blatant rebellion, our practical agnosticism are all reasons we might expect God to speak to us with wrath rather than welcome. But Jesus in his great cross work has reconciled us to God and so to one another and is reconciling us with the world (2 Cor 5:18-21). We are ambassadors of that welcome, of that grace.
So here are some practical tips on how to become a more welcoming person as a Christian:
1) Reflect on the truths taught in Romans 15. Remind yourself of how welcoming God has been toward you in the gospel and repent for disbelieving the depth of his love.
2) Think of longstanding relationships that you have with non-Christians but with whom you may have neglected to bring up the gospel. It is never too late to invite someone to Christ. Repent of your gospel cowardice and invite someone to repent, believe in Christ, and become a worshiper of the one true God.
3) Begin to change the habit of how you speak to people at corporate worship. Think of ways that you can verbalize to Christians and non-Christians that you are glad to see them and are glad that they have come to worship.
4) Let the welcome of God Stoke your affections for him and his worship. There are few cures for cold hearts in worship than hearing God in Scripture welcome you and invite you to adore his son.
Sinclair Ferguson "A Friend" (sermon from the "What is a Christian?" series preached at First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, SC on 10/12/2011)