Monthly Archives: August 2017

Giving and Receiving

Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality (Romans 12:13).

Christians are instructed to be hospitable several times in our New Testament, and hospitality is highlighted as a necessary behavior of elders and worthy widows in the church (Romans 12:13, 1 Timothy 3:2, 5:10). Hospitality is a strength demonstrated in the characters of both Abraham and Lot (Genesis 18:1-8, 19:1-3). The widow of Zarephath was richly rewarded for her hospitality to Elijah (1 Kings 17:7ff) and the wealthy woman of Shunem was blessed by God for her hospitality to Elisha (2 Kings 4:8ff, 8:1-6). The hospitality of Abraham and Lot, sharing food and shelter with strangers, stands in stark contrast to the attitudes of the men of Sodom in Genesis 19, validating God’s mercy to Abraham and Lot while condemning Sodom and Gomorrah (and later generations of Judah, consider Ezekiel 16:49-50). Their example is referenced as a reason for God’s people today to also be diligent about hospitality, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). Hospitality, sharing our food, our homes, our transportation, our resources, with others, is putting Christian faith and love into practice. Perhaps the more we have that can be shared the more responsibility we have to share it, as when Paul warned that the rich should not put confidence in wealth, but rather, “Command those who are rich in this present world … to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:17-18). Whether we have much or little, Christians are called upon to share and be hospitable even to strangers, and especially to fellow believers.

The caveat, “willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:18), means that hospitality calls for not only sharing a meal or a ride or time or conversation or a place to sleep, as a duty, but also doing so with a gracious and willing heart. “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9). As one who has been a guest in many homes and at many tables, I personally greatly appreciate willing hospitality, and know that it can be very uncomfortable to be the recipient of hospitality given grudgingly, as an obligation rather than a generous gift. How much a person has may not directly reflect the willingness to share. Some of the finest hospitality I have ever received has been graciously given by people who had very little, and for whom the giving was actually a sacrifice. Such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

The story of the Philippian church begins in Acts 16, with the conversion of Lydia by the river. She promptly extended an offer of hospitality to Paul and his companions, to use her home as their residence and base of operations, an offer the itinerant preachers promptly accepted (Acts 16:14-15, 40). That gracious beginning for the Philippian church led to a congregation that flourished and continued to engage willingly and enthusiastically in “the matter of giving and receiving” as they shared with Paul several times during his travels, from Thessalonica to Corinth and even to Rome.

 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God (Philippians 4:15-18).

In this “matter of giving and receiving,” Paul wrote that the giving was credited (by God) to the account of the Philippian brethren, a pleasing sacrifice. Consider though, that for their gracious gift to do its job, it was necessary for it to be graciously received. The story of Philippi might have been much different if Paul and company had declined the offer of hospitality from Lydia. The story of the gospel, from the traveling of Jesus and the first sending of the twelve through the rest of the New Testament has depended both on the gift of hospitality and on gracious reception of the gifts provided. Consider the many times Jesus was a guest in people’s homes, and especially the hospitality of Peter in Capernaum. Recall too the instructions Jesus gave the twelve about their demeanor toward those who would volunteer to host them, and the blessing they should bestow on the kind and generous (Matthew 10:11-13, and consider Luke 10:5-8). It is important not only to be gracious in offering hospitality, but also gracious in receiving it.

Perhaps most of us have witnessed at some time a competition to be the giver, reluctance to be the recipient of buying lunch or some other small kindness. Sometimes such a competition to be “the giver” can become toxic, spoiling the happiness of the sharing and distorting the spirit of generosity. Recall that the Lord said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'” (Acts 20:35). So, it is important to be a giver, to practice hospitality, but it is also important to graciously let others practice hospitality and be blessed in the giving. Excel in giving, and also let others excel in giving. It is the Lord’s will that we be willing and gracious hosts, and also his will that we be gracious to others by accepting their hospitality in turn, as did Jesus himself.

~ Charles Fry

Submitting for the Lord’s Sake

Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God (1 Peter 2:13-16).

In verse 16, Peter makes the astounding statement that we are free. Paul speaks to this freedom in Romans 6:18, “and having been set free from sin,” and again in Romans 6:22, “but now having been set free from sin.” Sin and its wages bound man (Romans 6:23). Romans 8:1-4 explains that through Christ Jesus we are able to overcome the flesh and walk according to righteousness in God’s perfect law of liberty. We are free indeed!

In Romans 8:14, Paul explains that, “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” God gave us His Spirit as a guarantee that we are adopted and thus are joint heirs with his Son (Ephesians 1:13-14). This same concept is used in Philippians 3:20, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

Paul tells us in Romans that we are adopted into the family of God and in Philippians that we are citizens in heaven. The family of God is a nation of people, a kingdom which “shall stand forever” (Daniel 2:44). We belong to a kingdom which breaks down physical barriers. Ephesians 2:6 goes so far as to say that we already sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. We dwell in a spiritual habitation which cannot be bound by family or nation. There is no race, no nationality, and no language to distinguish one from another for, “Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11). In the only kingdom which will stand forever, it does not matter whether one is American, Asian, African, European, or Australian. All, through the Spirit of God, are one family and one nation under one perfect law which liberates us from sin and death.

Peter, however, reminds us that liberty is not for vice. Have you heard children say they cannot wait to grow up so they can do whatever they want and then 10 years later they are pining for the simplicities of childhood? Liberty does not come without responsibility. Our freedom from sin means we are bound by the responsibility to do what is right. Romans 6:18 states, “And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”  We don’t say, “Oh boy, I’m free in Christ, therefore I’ll have a good time in this life, because He will have to forgive me.” Rather we say the opposite. Because of our freedom, we make it our aim to be pleasing to him.

As Peter explains, we are to set aside our rightful liberty to obey the commandments and ordinances of man. Though we are free in regard to earthly bounds, dwelling in a spiritual kingdom, we acknowledge God’s goodness and put to silence the ignorance of foolish men by submitting ourselves to earthly kings (1 Peter 2:15).  Verse 13 is very clear that this is “for the Lord’s sake.” Consider this example: how many enjoy paying taxes?  I’m certainly thankful to have earned a living, but paying and filing the resulting taxes are not a real thrill. According to Peter, we pay our taxes not for our own sake (for keeping us out of the courts or saving our reputation), but for the Lord.  Romans 13:1-2 go even further, suggesting that governing authorities are authorized by God. This suggests that our submission to governing authorities is evidence of our obedience to God. We might be free from physical bonds, but we must remain subject to the physical institutions God set up.

For many, this may be troubling, because we see governments continuing to pursue policies accepting evil as good. Let us not forget we are free from that progression toward evil. We dwell in a kingdom of righteousness and truth. Regardless of man’s opinions, God’s kingdom will still uphold truth. Therefore, we are not free to speak ill or refuse to submit to the governing authorities, even when they tarnish righteousness.

Consider the circumstances under which Paul and Peter wrote. Nero was emperor, and he led the empire as a glutton for sexual impulse, a soul devoid of love, and a pagan. History writes that he committed incest, kicked his pregnant wife to kill their unborn child, married men, and committed rape.  More notably, Nero is said to have blamed Christians for a fire in Rome. Rumors spread that Nero set fire to the city for his own amusement. To get the heat off, Nero directed the masses to the Christians, enacting the first government enforced persecution against the followers of Christ. One would be quite hard pressed to find much good to say about Nero. Yet that very bleak backdrop was not justification, according to both Peter and Paul, to forego submission to the governing authorities. Even Nero received his authority from God (John 19:11).

Our ruling bodies receive their power from above. Whether they recognize where their authority comes from or not does not matter. Therefore, we must submit ourselves to them, and speak no evil of them. Not for their sake. Not for our sake. But for the Lord’s sake.

In a world that is ever decaying and decomposing, we have hope (Romans 8:18-21). We are free from this world. The rulers of our day may make decisions contrary to the law of God, but they cannot destroy the law of God. God’s perfect law of liberty will stand firm forever. We must submit ourselves to governing authorities knowing they are appointed by God, and our submission is well pleasing to Him.

~ Joshua Riggins