Hospitality In Our Homes

Jesus, in the Word of God, commands us to love our neighbor and one another. He said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:39). In another place, he also said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34-35). But how exactly do we love our neighbor and one another? One very concrete way, among many others, is to give and receive hospitality.

Showing hospitality means to share our homes, our family, our time, our money, and our daily bread with one another in the church and with our neighbors outside the church. In short, it means bringing people into our private lives and making ourselves available to be brought into the private lives of others, in a sacrificial and personal way. One Bible teacher expressed what hospitality gives in this way, “Through the ministry of hospitality, we provide friendship, acceptance, fellowship, refreshment, comfort, and love in one of the richest and deepest ways possible for humans to understand.”[1]

We may not realize it, but the Scriptures have a lot to say about Christians exercising hospitality. It is even commanded in the Bible. For example: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Rom. 12:13); “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers…” (Heb. 13:1-2); “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Pet. 4:8-9).[2] These commands, in their contexts, are connected to showing love. That is why we can say that showing hospitality is one tangible way for us to display genuine Christian love.

Exercising hospitality promotes and strengthens the bonds of love within God’s household of faith. Even if you are single or don’t have room in your small home, you can still participate in and exercise hospitality. You can accept invitations to receive it and offer to bring something with you to share. You can also take a meal to someone in need. That is meaningful hospitality!

There is nothing quite like sharing a meal together while opening up our lives to one another. This becomes the perfect opportunity to learn new things about our brothers and sisters in Christ that we might not otherwise have a chance to discover during chats in passing on the Lord’s Day at church. We may find similar points of interest that lead to more time spent together in other contexts. We may learn about personal needs for prayer, family difficulties, work struggles, etc. We might also discover exciting, new endeavors, or fascinating hopes and plans. Exercising hospitality in our homes gives us unique venues within which to actively enrich our fellowship with one another. Our fellowship and unity with each other will also be strengthened at church on the Lord’s Day as a result.

Exercising hospitality also provides a good context within which to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with unbelievers around us. Invite your neighbors into your homes and lives. As you get to know them, and they you, the Lord may very well open a natural door to share the Faith with them and invite them to church over time. One good way to facilitate bearing witness to Christ through exercising hospitality is to have family devotions around the table after the meal; reading Scripture, praying for your neighbors’ needs right in front of them, and singing a Psalm or hymn. Don’t be shy!

Our God has been incredibly hospitable to us in his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. He shows us hospitality by forgiving all our sins through Jesus Christ’s satisfaction made on the cross in our place to save us from eternal condemnation, which we received by faith alone and not by any of our works. He has also shown us hospitality by freely giving us all the obedience and righteousness of Christ that he performed in our place. This too we have received by faith alone. In this way, through his Son, God has so graciously welcomed us into his household, the Church!

But the riches of his warm hospitality do not end there. He also provides us with the spiritual food we need to strengthen our faith. He regularly invites us to receive from the storehouse of his bounty with the preaching of the Gospel from his Word. Then he also repeatedly invites us to his very own Table within his household, where he spreads out a feast before us to refresh our souls through communion with his Son (our Elder Brother!). As if this wasn’t enough hospitality, our generous God has also granted us a seat at the everlasting Marriage Supper of the Lamb in the coming ages where we will forever experience the riches of his hospitable kindness to us in Christ Jesus (Rev. 19:7, 9; Eph 2:7). With grateful hearts to the Lord for his overflowing liberality, may all of us at Christ Reformed Church earnestly seek to love one another and the world by heartily reflecting his lavish hospitality in each other’s homes.

 

[1] Alexander Strauch, The Hospitality Commands (Littleton, CO.: Lewis and Roth Publishers, 1993), 17.

[2] Here are a few other Scripture verses highlighting the command to exercise hospitality: Being hospitable ought to be a characteristic of ministers and elders in the congregation: “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach” (1 Tim 3:2); Widows should be evaluated by the hospitality they showed: “Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work” (1 Tim 5:9-10 ); And hospitality is commended as a faithful thing to do: “Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth” (3 John 5-8).

 

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The God of All Comfort

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

As pilgrims traveling through this sad world to our heavenly home, we regularly face suffering in one way or another. We face suffering in: our bodies; our souls; financial reversals; in various family relationships and friendships; our work; persecution from the world; confusing life circumstances; depression; death… just to name a few. The reality of the Christian life is that it is full of trials and hardships. Jesus promised us that this will be the case, “In this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). As a result, we find ourselves often needing comfort and encouragement as we make our way through this age to the age to come.

Thankfully, God has given us great comfort in our tribulations through his Son. He doesn’t leave us to our own devices to comfort others and ourselves. Right after Jesus tells us that we will have tribulation, he goes on to say in that same sentence, “But take heart; I have overcome the world.” God gave us his Son to conquer our sin, and to overcome the world along with all its misery and brokenness. Jesus Christ, as the consolation of Israel (Lk 2:25-26), is our true and everlasting comfort. He is the one who has purchased our entrance into heaven, our eternal home, where all our suffering will one day cease forever (Rev. 21:4). Therefore, we can take heart; we can receive comfort and point others to that same comfort. This is the reason why 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 calls our God “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.”

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 also teaches us that one of the purposes of God in all our afflictions is so that we would, in turn, be able to comfort others in their pain. In fact, it says that we’ll be able to comfort those who are in any affliction. This is a curious thing to say, isn’t it? Not only will we be able to comfort those who are experiencing the same hardships we’ve gone through, but this verse also says we’ll be able to comfort someone suffering from any affliction that we ourselves haven’t experienced. How is this possible? It is possible because the comfort for them and for us is the same, and comes from the same source, Jesus Christ.

The comfort of every affliction of every Christian is ultimately found in Jesus Christ alone. All of our afflictions are occasions through which God lifts all our eyes to Christ, the one who is deeply acquainted with our sorrows and grief in this life (Is 53:3). The Gospel is the comfort above all comforts and applies to any and all experiences of suffering. As a result, we’re “able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” because we’re sharing Christ with one another!

Our Heidelberg Catechism (Q&A 55) says, “What do you understand by “the communion of saints”? First, that believers one and all, as members of this community, share in Christ and in all his treasures and gifts.” We all share together in Christ and all his gifts. His gifts to us include the comfort we’ve received from him in our times of distress and suffering. Therefore, let us share our comfort with one another. Let us share Jesus with each other.

The answer to Question 55 of the Catechism goes on to encourage that very thing, “…each member should consider it a duty to use these gifts readily and cheerfully for the service and enrichment of the other members.” John Calvin also shared the same exhortation in his comments on 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. He wrote that these riches, “…Are not to be kept by us to ourselves, but every one must communicate to others what he has received.”[1]

So, be bold with your gifts! Be eager to enrich one another with the sweet gifts of how Christ and the Good News in Him have brought you comfort in the midst of your struggles. As you do this with one another, we’ll together experience the deep bonds of the communion of the saints. This is a way in which our Lord is often pleased to use to strengthen us in the midst of our afflictions and bring glory to his Name.

In all our suffering and sorrows may the words of Psalm 34:1-3 be on our lips and in our hearts as we comfort one another with the Gospel, “I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. I will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together” (Ps 34:1-3, NIV).

“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word” (2 Thess 2:16-17).

[1] Calvin, John (2011-11-15). Calvin’s Complete Bible Commentaries (With Active Table of Contents in Biblical Order) (Kindle Locations 458000-458001). Kindle Edition.

The URCNA and the Work of Church Unity through NAPARC

Reformed denominations, churches, and Christians sometimes get accused of being divisive by many of our evangelical friends. However, as it turns out, I believe, our Federation (the United Reformed Churches in North America) far outdoes most evangelical churches in striving for church unity with other denominations and churches. I know that is a bold claim! The proof is in the pudding, as they say. But did you know that the URCNA is hard at work striving toward unity with other churches in North America and around the world?

Our Federation has two standing (year-round) Synodical committees devoted entirely to ecumenical relations with other denominations. One is called the Committee for Ecumenical Contact with Churches Abroad (CECCA), which engages with denominations and churches outside of North America. The other is called the Committee for Ecumenical Relations and Church Unity (CERCU), which engages with denominations within North America.

The URCNA takes our Lord’s High Priestly Prayer in John 17 serious when he prays, “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” We pray for this, and in God’s grace our Federation of Churches continually works toward this goal.

A few months back, I attended the annual meeting of “NAPARC” in Pompton Plains, New Jersey. I went as an observer and also to take part in the United Reformed Church’s bilateral, interdenominational, ecumenical talks with other like-minded Presbyterian and Reformed denominations in North America.(1)  Since then, I’ve been asked many questions about NAPARC. This article is a brief explanation about what NAPARC’s basis, purpose, function, and authority is as described by its website and constitution.(2)

NAPARC is an acronym that stands for North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council.(3) This Council consists of thirteen member churches, of which the United Reformed Churches in North America is one. Here is the full NAPARC member list in alphabetical order:

  • The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC)
  • The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC)
  • The Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC)
  • The Reformed Church of Quebec (ERQ)
  • The Free Reformed Churches of North America (FRCNA)
  • The Heritage Reformed Congregations (HRC)
  • The Korean American Presbyterian Church (KAPC)
  • The Korean Presbyterian Church in America (Kosin) (KPCA)
  • The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC)
  • The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)
  • The Presbyterian Reformed Church (PresRC)
  • The Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS)
  • The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA)
  • The United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA)

According to its constitution, the basis for this group of churches’ fellowship with one another is the Bible, the Three Forms of Unity, and the Westminster Standards:

Confessing Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Sovereign Lord over all of life, we affirm the basis of the fellowship of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches to be full commitment to the Bible in its entirety as the Word of God written, without error in all its parts and to its teaching as set forth in the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms.(4)

One of the primary purposes of NAPARC, which is also clearly stated in its constitution, is to work toward unity with the other member churches:

We regard this basis of fellowship as warrant for the establishment of a formal relationship of the nature of a council, that is, a fellowship that enables the Member Churches to advise, counsel, and cooperate in various matters with one another, and to hold out before each other the desirability and need for organic union of churches that are of like faith and practice.(5)

The ways that this Council ecumenically functions, as laid out in its constitution, is as follows:

  1. Facilitate discussion, consultation, and the sharing of insights among Member Churches on those issues and problems which divide them as well as on those which they face in common.
  2. Encourage the Member Churches to pursue closer ecclesiastical relations, as appropriate, among the regional and major assemblies.
  3. Promote the appointment of committees to study matters of common interest and concern and, when appropriate, make recommendations to the Council with respect to them.
  4. Exercise mutual concern in the perpetuation, retention, and propagation of the Reformed faith.
  5. Promote local, regional, and general assembly/synodical-wide cooperation wherever possible and feasible in such areas as missions, relief efforts, training of men for the ministry, Christian schools, activities for young people, and church education and publications.
  6. Operate a website to facilitate the exchange of information and to foster increased cooperation and fellowship among the Member Churches.(6)

NAPARC is not a church or denomination in and of itself. Therefore, its authority is only advisory as it functions to facilitate cooperation with, and unity among, the member churches:

It is understood that the Council is not a synodical, classical, or presbyterial assembly, and therefore all actions and decisions of the Council…are advisory in character and may in no way curtail, restrict, or intrude into the exercise of the jurisdiction or authority given to the governing assemblies of the Member Churches by Jesus Christ, the King and Head of the Church.(7)

The URCNA’s membership in NAPARC (along with the work of the URCNA’s two standing Synodical committees) is tangible evidence that we are heartily endeavoring to work toward unity with other denominations. So, the next time anyone lays the claim against our Federation that we are divisive, you can point to this diligent, constant work.

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Footnotes:

(1) I am Classis Southwest’s representative on the URCNA’s standing Synodical Committee for Ecumenical Relations and Church Unity (CERCU). If you do know what any of that means, feel free to ask me!

(2) Lord-willing, I will teach an Adult Sunday School class in the near future about NAPARC and explain in more detail our Federation’s formal participation in its ecumenical activities.

(3) NAPARC’s website is www.naparc.org.

(4) NAPARC Constitution.

(5) ibid.

(6) ibid.

(7) ibid.