Christ’s Cure for Lonliness
When a pastor takes time off from preaching normally his stress levels decline. But I have to admit that for the past month I’ve experienced significant levels of stress. On three separate occasions I developed a sense of dread bordering on foreboding, my mouth felt as if I was trying to swallow cotton balls, I had that queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. That feeling you get when you’re not sure what is going to happen next. Each time I experienced these symptoms I had difficulty even getting out of the car. My legs felt heavy and with each labored step my apprehension grew.
Thankfully I knew what was happening to me and more importantly why this was happening to me. You see for the past three weeks I have visited three churches which I had never visited before. Yes, I became the “first time guest” at three very different churches.
I had a good reason for visiting these churches. I wanted to experience what it is like walking into a church for the first time and I wanted to use what I learned to help us as we welcome new people to our church.
What I experienced at one of the churches I visited had a tremendous impact on me and as I’ve taken time to reflect on my experience I realized that this church stood far above the other two churches.
Now please understand I didn’t have what I would consider to be a negative visitor experience during any of my visits. Though I was disturbed by someone clipping their nails during the service. But one church provided me with a very positive experience.
What was it that they did that made such an impression upon me?
It’s our subject for this morning Christian hospitality.
MARKS OF A TRUE CHRISTIAN
The text for this morning is just one of a series of exhortations by the Apostle Paul to the believers in the church at Rome.
If we back up to verse 9 Paul writes:
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”
(Romans 12:9, ESV)
Paul then goes on to show us how genuine Christian love is to function in nine different areas.
Briefly they are:
- Showing kindness to one another. Or as the KJV says “be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love.” James Montgomery Boice makes a helpful comment. He writes; “Kindly is based on the word kin, meaning family. So again, we are being told that we are to love and treat Christians as we would members of our family.”
Here at Grace we like to, and we intentionally refer to our church as a family. Why? Because that is what we are. The good Dr. said one time referring to God’s family “that the Spirit is thicker than blood.”
Meaning you should not be surprised if you are closer to people in your church than you are to some of your family members. We’ve probably heard the saying that “blood is thicker than water.” Which means that our family is more important to us and we make them a priority. But in the church “the Spirit is thicker than blood.” We learned in our study of Ephesians that all the dividing walls have been torn down between those who are in Christ. We are all one, we all are partakers of the same Spirit.
- We are to prefer one another. Paul says we are to out do one another in showing honor. That means that we make the other members of the family the priority. Their needs come before our own needs.
- We are to never be lacking in zeal. Paul says do not be “slothful in zeal”. Let me be like the cool pastors and make this real and relevant to you. Don’t be lazy! In whatever you ought to be doing don’t be a lazy tail!
- We are to be fervent is spirit. The word fervent comes from a verb meaning to boil. When water boils it’s active, it’s molecules are getting agitated and they begin to move around and bubble. What happens as water boils? It produces steam! How powerful is steam? Ever heard of a steam engine? Steam is powerful, it can produce motion and change. Your genuine love for Christ and others should lead you to be fervent in spirit.
- We are to be actively serving the Lord. Jesus said in Luke 6:46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46, ESV) Love for Christ leads us to serve and obey him.
- We are to be rejoicing in hope. What does hope mean to you as a Christian? It means that you have complete confidence that what God has promised will become a reality even though we have not seen it or received it yet.
- We are to be patient in affliction. Paul says we are to be patient in tribulation. Paul does not mean that we are to give into pessimism or to fatalism. What he does mean is that we should be patient in waiting with confidence that God will resolve the problem, or the circumstances that are trying to us. We are to remember God’s promise that all things work together for good.
- We are to be continual and faithful in prayer. Paul’s words are to be constant in prayer. The Believer is to pray without ceasing. Jesus told us that we must watch and pray so that we will not enter into temptation. I believe Paul is encouraging us to not grow weary and give up on prayer. Most believers spend some time in prayer, but there is always the temptation to give into the false belief that God is not listening, that God is not at work so why pray and our prayer life suffers. Paul encourages us that one of the ways that our genuine love for Christ and our love for others is displayed is through persevering prayer.
- We are to be participating in helping to meet the needs of the saints. Part of helping to meet the needs of the saints is by seeking to show hospitality.
Understand when Paul wrote these words many Christians were being persecuted and forced out of their homes and fleeing for their lives. They needed help they needed a place to stay and food to eat. Paul encourages other believers to show hospitality to them. Hospitality is the practical outworking for our genuine love for Christ.
Therefore, hospitality was more than mere friendship, or being cordial to others, it was for some a matter of life and death. Hospitality is more than saying “Sorry to hear about the tough time you’re having I’ll be sure and pray for you.” No, they prayed but they took them in, they turned a stranger into an honored guest.
I highlight that distinction because what do we have today? We have a whole industry built called the “hospitality industry”. In other words, people are paid to be nice to you. You pay them for a place to stay. You pay them for the food you eat.
Occasionally Sherry and I like to drive down to Pigeon Forge and stay at a place called the Christmas Inn. It’s a unique place for obvious reasons but one thing stands out. They have doormen dressed like characters from Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” and as you approach the doors they greet you smile at you and open the door for you.
Why do they do that? Are they just exceptionally nice people filled with the Christmas spirit all year long who want to be hospitable to Sherry and I or are they getting paid to smile say hello and open the door? I think you know the answer to the question.
That is not the kind of hospitality that Paul is exhorting believers to exhibit. Hospitality in the Near East was the process of turning strangers into guests. And they took it very seriously. One commentator described it as a carefully choreographed dance that had to be followed very closely so that there were no breaches in protocol. To turn a stranger into a guest would take time and effort on the part of the host.
Now let’s revisit my experience of being a first-time guest at three churches. The first church I visited showed me that they cared about me. How did they do that? Yes, they were friendly (all churches claim to be friendly) but they did more than shake my hand and say hello and glad you’re here this morning.
They did all those things (and to my knowledge didn’t have professional greeters they were just members of the congregation) but then they went and brought others to me and introduced them to me. They did that several times. Within a few minutes of my arrival I had met five or six members of the church. They took time to make sure that I knew they were glad I was there and wanted me to feel comfortable. I described it to others as being welcoming but not smothering. They were showing me genuine hospitality. I wasn’t considered to be an outsider (although I very well could have been seen in that light). I wasn’t considered an oddity again I very well could have been seen in that light. They were doing what they could to turn a stranger into a guest. And they did this after I had told them that this was a one time visit and I pastored a church in Berea. They still were hospitable to me.
They were actively practicing biblical hospitality. The key word is active. It’s easy to neglect biblical hospitality. Why else would Paul remind these believers to seek to show hospitality?
Hospitality is mentioned several times in the Scriptures.
“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1 Peter 4:9, ESV)
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2, ESV)
A REFLECTION OF GOD
Why is God so concerned that His children show hospitality? Because as we practice hospitality our actions teach others about God, they reveal something of what He is like. As we practice hospitality we are showing them something of God’s glory.
Hospitality is not a New Testament concept. We find it early in the Old Testament. For instance, God gave clear instruction to the children of Israel that they were to be hospitable. In Leviticus we read:
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:33–34, ESV)
Why were they to do this? At first, we might say “well they should do this because they knew what it was like to be strangers when they spent those 400 years in Egypt”. But that’s not what the verse says. The last part of verse 34 says “I am the LORD your God.”
They were to show hospitality because He was the LORD their God. How they treated others was a reflection on the character of God.
What does hospitality look like? Again, the text provides clear instruction. “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you (just like they are a part of you) and (here is where we as Christian struggle) you shall love him as yourself.”
Literally the word hospitable means the “the love of strangers”.
That’s what God the Father has done for us through Jesus Christ. In Christ we have the ultimate display of hospitality! All those who are in Christ, who have been born again have experienced God's ultimate display of hospitality.
Paul reminded the Believers in Ephesus
“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:11–13, ESV)
Let’s pay attention to the language Paul uses. He reminds them that at one time they were separated from Christ, at one time they were alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and at one time they were strangers to the covenants of promise. But now all of that changed as they were brought near by the blood of Christ.
We are to be hospitable because God has been hospitable to us.
SEEK TO SHOW HOSPITALITY
Notice exactly what Paul says in verse 13. He said, “seek to show hospitality”. He didn’t simply say show hospitality he said, “seek to show hospitality”. Paul says because of who God is and what God has done for you, you are to be more than nice people, you are to seek to show hospitality, literally you are to pursue hospitality
Picture in your mind a chase or a hunt. That’s what Paul had in mind. Pursue others, chase others, go after others with the intent of catching them. Seek, make the effort, strive toward showing hospitality.
Just like your persecutors were chasing after you that is what you should be seeking to do for others in order to show them hospitality.
I must confess that I’m convicted by these Scriptures.
As I was preparing this week the lyrics of a song kept coming to mind. A song that reflects an ongoing and worsening problem in our culture.
The song is “Hey You” by Pink Floyd. This song was originally released in 1979 but the words are just as haunting today as they were then.
“Hey you, out there in the cold
Getting lonely, getting old
Can you feel me?
Hey you, standing in the aisles
With itchy feet and fading smiles
Can you feel me?
Hey you, don't help them to bury the light
Don't give in without a fight”
“Hey you, out there on your own
Sitting naked by the phone
Would you touch me?
Hey you, with your ear against the wall
Waiting for someone to call out
Would you touch me?
Hey you, would you help me to carry the stone?
Open your heart, I'm coming home”
Notice the plaintive cry’s “Can you feel me?’ “Would you touch me?” Then “Open your heart, I’m coming home”. Craving for human interaction in the midst of his isolation.
Sounds of silence
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence
Fools, said I, you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence
I find the third verse particularly haunting. “And in the naked light I saw ten thousand people maybe more. People talking without speaking, People hearing without listening, People writing songs that voices never share And no one dared disturb the sound of silence.”
A recent study highlighted in Fortune magazine revealed that “54% of respondents said they feel like no one actually knows them well. Additionally, 56% of people said the people they surround themselves around “are not necessarily with them,” and approximately 40% said they “lack companionship,” their “relationships aren’t meaningful,” and that they feel “isolated from others.” The study went on to say that those who make up generation z and millennials reported being lonelier than older generations.
What do these songs and studies point too? A glaring and growing need for Christians now more than ever to practice hospitality. Seek to show hospitality!
Will you as a Christian dare to disturb the sound of silence? People may be hostile to Christ but that only serves to amplify their loneliness and emptiness and that provides us with an opportunity to befriend them.
If the study I referenced is accurate that means one out of every two people you meet are lonely and don’t believe they have any meaningful relationships in their lives. To us as Christians that give us a tremendous opportunity.
As we go about our lives keep this in mind. One out of every two is silently screaming inside “Hey you can your feel me, would you touch me?”
I’m grateful that our church does indeed practice Christian hospitality. You are to be commended for that. Keep it up, let’s get even better than we are. Let’s use the dark side of our technological age to our advantage for Christ. Let’s not simply friend them on social media, let our love be genuine and seek to show them hospitality.