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Welcoming & Accepting One Another

One Another Community  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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What does it mean for the church to welcome and accept others? Is it enough to have a pleasant Sunday service and be generally friendly? Or does welcoming others in Jesus' Name require something more?

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St Lawrence

Lawrence was a deacon serving in Rome in the third century when a wave of persecution broke out. When Pope Sixtus and others were killed Lawrence knew it was only a matter of time before they came for him. As keeper of the Church’s goods, he had already been responsible for giving alms to the poor. Now he started giving them even more.
Soon Lawrence was called before Roman officials who demanded he hand over the church’s treasure. He replied that indeed the church was rich and asked for three days to get everything in order.
The days passed and the Roman officials arrived not to a church filled with silver and gold but one filled with the poor, blind, lame and leprous.  “Here  are the treasures of the church” declared Lawrence.
The official were furious and in the year 258 had Lawrence executed.
Lawrence was right about the treasures of the church was he not?
Sources: wikipedia, americancatholic.org
Today, as we continue our One Another Community series we are talking about what it means to be a church that welcomes and accepts one another.
In church circles we talk a lot about welcoming each other, and accepting each other.
And in our attempts to be more welcoming and accepting, we’ve tried a variety of different approaches.
From the methods that we use in our worship services, to our greeting area, to the refreshments and snacks that we offer, and on and on.
Yet still, we keep having to prove to ourselves and to a lost, yet watching world that we are, in fact a welcoming people.
Why is it that we have done so much to be welcoming, yet we will still have to prove that we are welcoming?
If we still feel the need to prove how welcoming we are, doesn’t that mean that we, in fact, are admitting that we are not welcoming?
And why haven’t our coffee, donuts, energetic music, relevant preaching, and relaxed dress codes and atmosphere worked?
I’ll tell you why: Because none of those things are what Jesus asked the church to do or be when it comes to reaching their communities in His Name.
Furthermore, the very fact that we spend so much time, thought, energy, and money trying to change this and reimagine that when it comes to our “church welcome systems” is yet another admission that we, as believers, think that what people really want in life is a place where they can wear jeans, listen to modern music, hear an entertaining oral presentation, while enjoying donuts and coffee, so by God, that’s what we’re going to offer them.
Wait a minute? Isn’t that what Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks do?
Are we that confused?
Did Jesus say that the church runs on Dunkin’?
That might be humorous, but apparently much of the American church thinks so.
And what that means is that we, as Christians, have come to believe, or at the very least, accept the lie that the welcoming that we are to do is a mere momentary Sunday morning experience that is divorced from ourselves, and entirely dependent upon Christian ministry gimmicks.
And because of that, we have forgotten how to be a welcoming people.
Moreover, the work of welcoming, as a Christian, really has very little to do with Sunday morning worship services, and much more to do with our everyday lives and how we interact with and relate to those around us.
Because assimilating people into a small group program and a service team is not the mission of the church, and its not a sufficient replacement for the love that we are commanded by Jesus to demonstrate toward others.
Yes, that’s a part of what ends up happening, but that’s not what being a welcoming church truly is.
We are going to look at this morning, and we are going to break it down, section by section, in what I hope is a conversational, yet challenging morning for us.
And we will see in , and by extension through Scripture, that being a welcoming church has much more to do with adopting people into our church family than it does assimilating them into our church programs.
Let’s pray as we come to God’s Word this morning.
Romans 13:8–14:4 ESV
8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. 11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. 1 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
At the beginning of this section, the Apostle Paul reiterates the most important thing: that we are to love one another, and in terms of relationships between people, we are to love each other as if they were us.
Romans 14:1–4 ESV
1 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
In other words, you know how you want to be loved, that’s how you need to love others.
And to be clear, the command here is not for other people to love you the way you want them to, the command is for you to love others the way that you want to be loved.
And if we all would just obey this command, we would all love each other, and we all would be loved.
But, the truth is, we don’t obey this command very well, because we flip the command around. Instead obeying the command as it was given, that I am to love you the way I want to be loved, we re-write it and re-state it to say that you have to love me the way I want you to, and if you don’t then I have a spiritual exemption or a spiritual excuse not to love anyone.
In fact, we even live by the very opposite when we do to others what they have done to us. When treat others the way they treat us.
That’s not what Jesus commands. We don’t return the favor, we extend an invitation into the family of believers.
I can just sit in my corner and pout, and hold myself hostage, and make you chase me around.
Some of you today are sitting here and you are in sin because you are refusing to love others, and instead you are waiting around demanding that everyone else obey this command, except for you.
And when everybody takes that approach, no one is loved.
And for the church to be a loving church, each individual must love as they are commanded. The church is a nickname for God’s people. The Church is not an institution that exists apart from those who are a part of it.
We cannot love each other if we don’t love each other.
In fact, we even live by the very opposite when we do to others what they have done to us. When treat others the way they treat us.
That’s not what Jesus commands. We don’t return the favor, we extend an invitation for others to be adopted into the family of believers.
Next, Paul again reminds the believers to resist temptation and sin.
So, in setting up the scene for , Paul reminds believers to love one another as themselves, and to resist temptation by “putting on” the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, by imitating Christ’s character and living in close and active relationship with Him.
Now, we come to chapter 15 and the first thing that Paul mentions is the believers’ tendency to judge the sincerity of one another’s faith.
This is the first obstacle in welcoming and accepting others:
We do not acknowledge the sincerity of faith of one another when someone’s expressions or emphases regarding Christian differ from our own.
Paul uses the illustration of food, most likely because in the days of the early church, Jews and Gentiles were learning how to bring their cultures together under one new culture, which is, Christ Culture.
Part of that learning meant that the old laws that had been fulfilled in Christ were no longer necessary, so things like eating unclean meat were no longer required of God’s people.
Jesus Himself said that its not what you put in your mouth that makes you unclean, but what comes out of it, because what comes out of the mouth is the overflow of the heart.
The “stronger” believers that Paul mentions are those who have matured in their faith to where they understood that their obedience to God, and their salvation from Him, did not hinge on what they ate. The “weaker” believers that Paul talks about are those who are still growing, and putting more emphasis on things like abstaining from unclean foods than they need to.
And right here, I want to take a brief ADD moment to illustrate what it means to be spiritually mature.
Ok, back to Romans.
Part of our welcoming and accepting one another is to not make accusations about the sincerity and/or authenticity of one’s faith just because they are more or less mature than you are.
We do not welcome people as God wants us to when we hold up our own personal Christian litmus tests, and try to make everyone conform to it. “You’re not a real Christian if.......”
Romans 14:5–12 ESV
5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. 10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
Here is the second obstacle to welcoming and accepting others:
As individuals, we all have the tendency to believe that we are the benchmark for what it means to live the Christian life, and if someone doesn’t match our benchmark, they’re invalid.
God’s Declarative and Permissive Wills (explain)
Ultimately, we all will bow before the Lord and He will judge our lives.
For believers, we know that our judgment is not to determine salvation, but to determine our rewards, or lack thereof, based on what we did with our lives from the moment we were saved.
Since we all will bow to the same judge, we know that we do not bow to each other. And when we try to force conformity from each other, we sin because we are trying to usurp God’s authority over each other. And we are not commanded to do that, we are commanded to love each other as Christ loved us, and as we want to be loved ourselves.
This does not mean that we can’t make certain judgments about people’s lives based on their fruit, but we are not judging whether or not they deserve our love and welcome.
Romans 14:13–23 ESV
13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. 16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. 20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. 21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. 22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
Romans 15:13–23 ESV
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. 14 I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. 15 But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; 20 and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, 21 but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.” 22 This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. 23 But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you,
In these last verses of this chapter, Paul effectively sums up what we just talked about, and breaks it down like this:
If we are going to be a biblical welcoming and accepting church, then the stronger among us must take care not to injure the weaker, and the weaker among us must take care not to falsely accuse the stronger of a counterfeit faith.
I mentioned earlier that to welcome someone into a church family is more akin to adoption than it is to assimilation.
We have errantly come to accept the laziness of the idea that people just want a coffee shop experience on Sunday, and then we know they belong if they join a small group.
I know that sounds counter intuitive to Valley’s current small group encouragement right now, but its still true.
To welcome someone according to Scripture is to make room for them in your life and in your home (whether figuratively or sometimes literally), and that means that we need to include their lives as God created them and designed them.
To live in Christ Culture means that we welcome different cultures and traditions, and we celebrate all of them. Not neglecting or rejecting any aspects of a person’s life that, of course, is in agreement and alignment with what is acceptable to God.
The work that the Apostle Paul was doing in the early church was bringing two entirely different cultures together and telling the worship one God, in one faith, at the same time, in the same place, with the same songs, the same Scripture, as a part of the same family.
The early did not set up the way we do in America.
We have traditional services, and contemporary services, and sometimes multiple different congregations will meet in one building, yet the congregations themselves never interact, though the profess to worship the same Lord.
do you see a problem with that? Or at least how that can lead to division within the church that is avoidable?
Make no mistake, Paul’s work was incredibly difficult. To bring Jews and Gentiles together. One with all kinds of tradition, and the other with no set standards.
Yet they were expected to worship God together, and to love each other. Not in theory, but in practice. Not from afar, but at the same time, in real time.
I suggest to you that it is not mere change that churches have a hard time with, its allowing someone else’s culture and tradition to be treated and welcomed as equal at their table.
Its resisting the urge to try and turn everybody into another version of ourselves, so that we can be affirmed, and instead trying to help people discover who they are in Christ and affirming them in that way.
How important is your own personal culture?
Are you willing to sacrifice parts of it so that others can be adopted into your family?
that’s what God is commanding us to do.
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