This morning, we are beginning a new sermon series entitled: “God’s Heart for Our Neighbors.” As a church, we’ve just spent four weeks focusing on national outreach to America and Canada (through the SBC’s Annie Armstrong.) Now, in the coming four weeks, we’re going to focus on local outreach to Forest, Bedford, and Lynchburg (through FBC’s ministries).
In the coming Sundays, you’re going to hear some specific sermons and testimonies of how God uses ordinary people to reach others. During this series, we’re also going to be introducing some new local outreach ministries. For instance, we will be launching a program to help area families with children of special needs (called Buddy Break). We’re also starting up English as a Second Language Classes. Finally, on May 7 & 14, we will be hosting an ministry fair to help you get personally involved.
But, before we talk about what we, as a congregation will do, we need to talk about what we, as individual Christians, must do. One of the clearest statements about God’s heart for our neighbors comes at the end of the book of Hebrews. The author writes, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers…”
Here are five truths about loving your neighbor from Hebrews 13:2:
- Neighbor-love is a command. (“Do not”)
The author of Hebrews begins by saying, “Do not.” In other words, reaching out to those around us isn’t a mere suggestion or simply a good idea. Loving others isn’t something that “spiritual Christians” do. It’s something that all Christians do. Neighbor-love is part of King Jesus’ expectations for every one of us.
It’s been said before, “The greatest fruit of a Christian is another Christian.” And that becomes a reality, when we obey Jesus’ command to make disciples, love strangers, and preach the gospel to every creature. When it comes to local outreach there are only two choices: obey or disobey. Let’s be sure we obey.
- Neighbor-love must be intentional. (“neglect”)
The author of Hebrews adds, “Do not neglect…” The word “neglect” here can also be translated as “forget.” Clearly, some of these Christians had a bad habit of forgetting to do outreach. They had busy schedules, busy lives and busy families. Their week was eaten up, like ours, with work, school, soccer practice, PTA meetings and church. However, they let those good habits crowd out an essential habit: spending time and showing care for those around them.
Sometimes, neglect or forgetfulness is the result of laziness or absent-mindedness. We don’t mean to disobey. We just forget to. Which is exactly the point. We have to proactively and intentionally think about how we can minister to others.
- Neighbor-love requires action, not just talk. (“to show”)
The text continues, “Do not neglect to show…” We are not told in this passage to talk about hospitality, Tweet about hospitality or write about hospitality. Instead, we are told “to show” hospitality. For most of us that means picking a night, putting it on our calendar, inviting people over and then doing it.
Hospitality is practical Christian living. When was the last time you had a non-Christian in your home for dinner? When was the last time you invited an unbelieving family over for a playdate? Discussing hospitality is not a replacement for showing hospitality.
Let me challenge you directly: how about planning to have one missional meal, each week, for the next month? At lunch, today, bring up the question with your spouse: are we showing hospitality to others? If not, how can we start doing it?
- Neighbor-love means opening our homes and hearts. (“hospitality”)
The passage then adds, “Do not neglect to show hospitality…” This is the heart of this command. The wording, here, is fascinating. Back in verse 1, the author says “love the brethren” which is where we get the city name: philadelphia. (phila = love, adelphia = brothers) But then, in verse 2, the author throws-in another Greek compound word. This time it’s not philadelphia but philaxenias (love strangers).
The opposite of philaxenias (love strangers) is what we call xenophobia (a fear of strangers) – which is an dislike of people, especially those from other countries. Xenophobia’s sister vice is called racism. Interestingly, God does not say “Just don’t hate strangers.” No! He says, “Be sure that you’re actively loving them!”
To be clear, this Bible verse is not prescribing a national policy on immigration or refugee care. He’s not talking to Congressmen but Christians. So, it is a reminder that, regardless of what lawmakers do with immigrants on a legal level, Christians are to love them on a personal level. You might say, “Well, as an American I believe politically in extreme vetting for immigrants.” Can you also say, with Hebrews 13, that, as a Christian, you personally show extreme hospitality to the immigrants living near you? It is possible to do both.
- Neighbor-love helps us to spend time with different people. (“to strangers…”)
The text finishes by saying, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.” People are strangers, not because they are strange, but because they are unknown. God’s point is, get to know the unknown men and women around you!
We all tend to make friends with people who are similar to us. Maybe we have the same hobbies, same jobs or the same alma mater. That’s easy and natural. But the passage, here, is calling us to do something difficult and supernatural: love people who are, most likely, different than us, with whom we have little in common.
Jesus made this same point. He said, “If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”
Jesus wants us to put His upside-down kingdom on display. He wants us to live it out. That kingdom-way of living includes white families barbecuing with black families and poor families enjoying game night with rich families. It has Americans enjoying tea with refugees and college students having coffee with senior adults. The upside-down kingdom of Christ looks odd to a watching world – but it looks beautiful to our heavenly Father. Let’s make Him proud.
Our prayer should be simple: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in our neighborhoods as it is in heaven.” Will you pray that prayer with me? And, then, will you be the very answer to that prayer? God’s heart is for your neighbors. Is yours?