3 John 9-12 – On Hospitality and Against Being Inhospitable

Trinity by Russian artist Alek Rapoport (1933-1997)

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So, when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.

Dear friends, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true. (NIV)

I believe in an egalitarian world. That is, humanity is meant to live, ideally, in equity with one another. Humility, meekness, and gentleness are to be the inner dispositions of a person’s life. These virtues work themselves out in being concerned for the common good of all, laboring toward just and righteous ways of living for everyone and sharing our lives as well as our resources with each other. In short, viewing one another as equals inevitably leads to gracious hospitality.

However, in a world of power disparities and privileged inequities are attitudes of seeking attention, a perceived need to always win and be first, and tight-fisted control of authority and money. The common good of all persons is scaled back to be the concern for the common good of some. There is a failure to regard the weak, poor, and vulnerable as legitimate members of the community.

The Apostle John wrote his short succinct letter in a concern that the church may be following a leader who was taking them down a bad path – a road leading to injustice where power and privilege remain with a few, and perhaps even one. John’s plainspoken exhortation was to judge rightly between what is good and bad, and then imitate the good while forsaking the bad.

Hospitality is the true litmus test between the good and the bad. An openness to the stranger, the immigrant, the migrant, the alien, the foreigner, the newcomer, and the outsider characterizes authentic fellowship. Being closed to such persons and having a xenophobic bent to others who are different is the mark of unwelcoming and inhospitable people. Hospitality serves others, whereas being inhospitable cajoles others to serve our needs.

Even Jesus, the Lord of all, did not come to this earth for people to serve him. He came to serve others and to give his life to save many people (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; John 13:1-17). We are to imitate the loving service and radical hospitality of the Lord Jesus. He is our example. We are to imitate Christ.

We are to have both orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right practice). Both go together like a hand in a glove. Good actions are to be the result of good and proper beliefs. The following are some thoughts about this nexus between belief and practice:

  • Hospitality (which literally means “love of the stranger”) is a way of life fundamental to orthodox Christianity, based in the person and work of Jesus.
  • God is hospitable and loves the outsider, welcoming them into the dance of the Trinity, and provides for them. Our human hospitality is to reflect this divine welcome.
  • Hospitality means extending to another a kindness typically reserved for family or friends.
  • The teaching of the New Testament emphasizes the practice of hospitality, i.e. Luke 14:12-14; Matthew 25:31-46.
  • The consistent witness of the Church in history is to lift and uphold Christian hospitality. For example, the Reformer John Calvin said, “Whatever person you meet who needs your aid, you have no reason to refuse to help them.” This was no mere theoretical advice for Calvin, whose ministry center of Geneva, Switzerland swelled with French Huguenot refugees fleeing persecution. Calvin, always the theologian, grounded his understanding of hospitality in the divine: “We should not regard what a person is and what they deserve but we should go higher – that it is God who has placed us in the world for such a purpose that we be united and joined together. God has impressed the divine image in us and has given us a common nature, which should incite us to provide one for the other.”
  • Hospitality is a practice which integrates both respect and care. St. John Chrysostom warned his congregation to show “excessive joy” when offering hospitality to avoid shaming the recipient of care.
  • Biblical hospitality does not need to know all the details of someone’s life before extending care. If Christ forgave and healed those who injured him, how could we neglect even a starving murderer? 
  • True hospitality involves a face-to-face relationship of encouragement and respect – not just a distant giving of alms. Hospitable persons pay attention to others and share life with them.
  • The great twin concerns of hospitality are universalizing the neighbor and personalizing the stranger. One reason why many of the rich have little sympathy for the poor is because they seldom visit them. Hospitality depends on us recognizing our commonalities with strangers rather than our differences.
  • This is how we evaluate our hospitality: Did we see Christ in them? Did they see Christ in me?

Hospitable God:

Give us eyes to see the deepest needs of people.

Give us hearts full of love for our neighbors as well as for the strangers we meet.

Help us understand what it means to love others as we love ourselves.

Teach us to care in a way that strengthens those who are sick.

Fill us with generosity so we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give drink to the thirsty.

Let us be a healing balm to those who are weak and lonely and weary by offering our kindness to them.

May we remember to listen, smile, and offer a helping hand each time the opportunity presents itself. And may we conspire to create opportunities to do so.

Give us hearts of courage to risk loving our enemy.

Inspire us to go out of our way to include outsiders.

Help us to be welcoming and include all whom you send our way.

Let us be God’s hospitality in the world.

Amen.

1 John 3:11-16 – Live in the Realm of Love

Love One Another

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (NIV)

It would be good for us to get a few words defined and explained before we look at the message of the Apostle John. “Death” and “life” are full of meaning in Holy Scripture. Whereas we tend to use death and life as referring chiefly to the body, they are primarily relational terms in the Bible. So, then, death is a separation from God and others; and, life is connection with God and others. In addition, death and life are biblically understood as forces or realms of being within or without. When someone moves from death to life, they are leaving the realm of separation with its loneliness, lostness, lethargy, and lack of meaningful and helpful interaction with God and others to a place of connection in which there is love.

There is no love in the realm of death. Love is not a solitary affair – it requires another. Death is awful in the sense that it places one outside of love. Like death and life, love is also a relational term and a force or power which exists. In fact, love is such a huge realm of being and such a large domain that it almost defies definition. We are mostly left to describe love because all attempts to nail down love with a precise definition will never do it justice. Therefore, the Apostle Paul, in his great ode to love, did not even try to define it, but merely attempted to characterize love:

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love isn’t jealous. It doesn’t sing its own praises. It isn’t arrogant. It isn’t rude. It doesn’t think about itself. It isn’t irritable. It doesn’t keep track of wrongs. It isn’t happy when injustice is done, but it is happy with the truth. Love never stops being patient, never stops believing, never stops hoping, never gives up. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, GW)

Consistent with the force and relational nature of death, life, and love, hate is not primarily a feeling toward another but exists as a stance toward another within the domain of darkness and death. To hate is to deliberately and volitionally separate from another person and/or from God. It is to consider someone as the “other” who is not like me, and so, I will neither associate nor interact with “those” people.

Love, however, thrives in the vast multi-dimensional realm of life. Love seeks connection with another and desires to act through discovering needs and meeting them. Although emotions of love are very real, those feelings are the result of calculated actions and words which benefit humanity and the common good of all persons.

With all the understanding of hate and death, love and life, now plug that into the Apostle John’s message. We need to make clear decisions to pursue life and love others. And Jesus is our model for this. Christ is the ultimate Connector, bringing vibrant life, even eternal life, through loving actions. Jesus intentionally entered the dark realm of death and absorbed all the hate of the world for you and me. In a great and loving reversal, Jesus Christ’s death – his separation from God and others – brought connection with God and others.

MLK quote 3

Likewise, followers of Jesus will learn to take on the world’s hatred, not fearing death’s ability to disconnect, and love others as they themselves have been loved by Christ. Christians are known by the way they act toward those in the realm of death who use the tool of hatred to stay there.

On the flip side of love, the biblical character Cain is Exhibit A of modeling the way of hatred and death. He separated himself from his brother, Abel, in every way possible – relationally, emotionally, mentally, and finally, physically through outright killing of the body.

The message from John is this: Do not be like Cain. Be like Jesus. Love others, and not hate them. Live for others, die to self.

Murder is also a relational term in Scripture. It is, of course, a tool forged from the flames of hell to be used by the hand of hatred to bring death’s realm of separation. Jesus clearly understood murder in this manner:

You know that our ancestors were told, “Do not murder” and “A murderer must be brought to trial.” But I promise you that if you are angry with someone, you will have to stand trial. If you call someone a fool, you will be taken to court. And if you say that someone is worthless, you will be in danger of the fires of hell. (Matthew 5:21-22, CEB)

Christians are people who put love where love is not – which means they brave death’s door to pull others from the flames. As the little New Testament book of Jude says:

But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love. And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives. (Jude 20-23, NLT)

May your soul be blessed with love’s kiss.

May the grace and kindness of love bring you life and continue to be life-giving for you.

May the hardness of hatred be far from you.

May death’s destructive power dwindle to nothing in the face of Christ’s love working in and through you to the glory of God.

Revelation 14:12-20 – Enduring to the End

Judgment Day by William de Kooning 1946
Judgment Day by William de Kooning, 1946

Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus.

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.”

Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like the Son of Man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand! Another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to the one who sat on the cloud, “Use your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” So, the one who sat on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.

Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. Then another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over fire, and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” So, the angel swung his sickle over the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth, and he threw it into the great wine press of the wrath of God. And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse’s bridle, for about two hundred miles. (NRSV)

The Scripture meditations I offer each day are based in the daily readings of the Revised Common Lectionary. The readings are designed to move us through the whole of the Bible in a three year cycle; and, they are arranged so that Thursday, Friday, and Saturday readings anticipate the Sunday scriptures, and the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday readings reflect on Sunday’s texts. Today’s New Testament lesson is such a reflection on Sunday’s Gospel reading of Christ’s Parable of the Weeds (Parable of the Wheat and Tares).

Jesus made it clear in the parable that it is not our job to weed out evil. This will be done by the angels at the end of the age. Well, here we are in Revelation with a grim look into the future as to how it all shakes-out. And, as you can readily see, it is not a pretty picture. Those among us who are visual learners and picture the words in their minds, their stomachs might just be turning about now.

The entire book of Revelation was originally meant to encourage believers in Jesus to persevere, endure, and keep going in their commitment to Christ. As they were undergoing difficulty and even persecution for their faith, this apocalyptic vision of the Apostle John was to instill hope that it will not always be this way. There is a time coming soon in which the problem of evil will be taken care of, once for all.  Until that final day of judgment comes, we are to hold fast to our faith and continue to keep the commandments of Christ.

Judgment Day by Aaron Douglas 1939
Judgment Day by Aaron Douglas, 1939

The wrath of God has always been an issue with various people throughout the ages. In contemporary theology, it is common to have groups of folks polarized between either making God out to be constantly angry and looking to zap people, or dismissing God’s wraith altogether as some outdated and antiquated idea. Neither of these approaches will do.

God’s anger and wrath exists, yet it is never divorced from God’s love. Rather than viewing wrath and love as two sides of the same coin, I believe a healthier and more biblical understanding is to discern God’s wrath as an expression of God’s love. I will explain….

When God bends to observe us in the world and sees injustice, war, poverty, oppression, trauma, and abuse from narcissistic people who exalt themselves above others and use them for selfish purposes, I am here to say to that God is not okay with this! Whenever God looks at the world and sees governments, institutions, corporations, and even churches which maintain structures that keep others from becoming all that God intends for them to become, Divine compassion is stirred along with a determination to bring about justice and righteousness.

Only God has the combination of willingness, power, and ability to handle the evil of this world in a way which is both just and loving. I fully realize there are many times when we wonder if God is really watching, or not, and are curious if he is aloof and uncaring to our plight. There is a day when the dramatic will happen, but that day is not today. For now, God is patiently and carefully working his love into the fabric of this world in a way that will not destroy the innocent and compromise the integrity of the righteous.

So, until the time is ripe for God to act in a more decisive manner by equipping angels with scythes and bringing in the final harvest, we experience pain and hurt. We sometimes are misjudged and misunderstood by others. We often get shafted by systems which are supposed to be helping us. We can, however, be assured that God is working behind the scenes, planting seeds of love and grace, and tending to the growth till the time is right to gather the abundant crop. Acting too soon and going off half-cocked without enough information is what we humans tend to do. Not so with God.

So, the fact of the matter is that justice and injustice will co-exist side-by-side for a while. Righteousness and evil will be found together everywhere we go, including our own hearts – holding both our altruistic motives and our evil inclinations.

Sisters and brothers, let us endure, persevere, and be patient. God is good and will not forget your deeds done in faith, your actions inspired by hope, and your work animated by love.

Lord Christ, you came into the world as one of us, and suffered as we do. As I go through the trials of life, help me to realize that you are with me at all times and in all things; that I have no secrets from you; and that your loving grace enfolds me for eternity. In the security of your embrace I pray. Amen.

1 John 4:1-6 – Don’t Believe Everything You Hear

Christ by Carl Abrahams
Christ by Carl Abrahams, 1911-2005

My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world.

Here’s how you test for the genuine Spirit of God. Everyone who confesses openly his faith in Jesus Christ—the Son of God, who came as an actual flesh-and-blood person—comes from God and belongs to God. And everyone who refuses to confess faith in Jesus has nothing in common with God. This is the spirit of antichrist that you heard was coming. Well, here it is, sooner than we thought!

My dear children, you come from God and belong to God. You have already won a big victory over those false teachers, for the Spirit in you is far stronger than anything in the world. These people belong to the Christ-denying world. They talk the world’s language and the world eats it up. But we come from God and belong to God. Anyone who knows God understands us and listens. The person who has nothing to do with God will, of course, not listen to us. This is another test for telling the Spirit of Truth from the spirit of deception. (MSG)

The Apostle John gave some spiritually sage advice to a group of his disciples. They were being influenced by people who claimed Christian faith yet were not the real deal. Lots of people make claims, but the real muster of a Christian is in embracing an embodied spirituality that truly meets the holistic needs of others.

For John, there was no room for the Platonic Greek dualism of body and spirit. Jesus was a real man with a very real body. To deny this was to deny the faith. Ethereal musings about the insignificance of the body were flatly rejected by John. The apostle was concerned that the supreme Christian ethic of love be practiced through attention to both body and soul.  This means words are not enough; actual demonstrations of love are needed to communicate Christ to others.

I will be the first guy to insist on some deep theological reflection on the great spiritual, cultural, and social issues of our day. Yet, if our theology does not lead to tangible acts of love based on that reflection, then we have not yet been called God’s friend. Correct doctrine will always lead to loving actions of faith.

We are to glorify God with both speech and service, and never just one without the other.

The early church councils condemned the denigration of Christ’s full humanity for good reason. Not only did Jesus have a real flesh and body experience while on this earth, Christ did actual flesh and body healing and actual physical miracles. In other words, Jesus Christ met both the spiritual needs of forgiveness and reconciliation, and the needs of the body. What is more, Jesus had no ranking system, as if the spiritual needs were the real commitments whereas tangible needs were just a means to the end of meeting intangible obligations.

The Gospel is both body and soul and are equally together significant.

To exalt one above the other is, frankly, heresy. So, let’s put this in more practical terms: Love is more than an expression of good feelings and goodwill toward others; love has skin on, using both physical actions and words formed from our vocal chords to bring goodness to others.

Jesus never separated or parsed out a distinction between spiritual and physical needs. No, that would be us who have done that. To be more specific, it is the spiritual charlatan and the huckster preacher who speak out of one side of their mouths about spiritual salvation with no bodily human help or uplift. Those who are against Jesus, the spirit of the antichrist, talk a good line but when push comes to shove, they have no intention of paying attention to both body and soul.

If we go to our gut and listen to it, we know we can trust it. That feeling we cannot quite shake when we are around someone has real meaning. The spirit within us is greater than the spirit of the world.

Just because we may not be able to respond very well to another, or give clear voice to what is inside us, does not necessarily mean that the other person is okay or right.

A proper Christian response to others incorporates head, heart, and gut. The interaction and alignment of all our faculties is needed. If we draw upon our entire selves, both body and soul, we will overcome the spirit of the antichrist through loving words and actions toward those who need it most. The Antichrist wants us to get caught up in putting all our focus fighting theological battles and debating philosophical ideas – while our neighbor next door is dying of cancer; our co-worker is experiencing covert racism; and, our friend is stuck in poverty.

Since Jesus is fully human, that fact alone ought to impel us toward meeting the needs of the body – without wondering if it is the spiritual thing to do, or not. You already know this to be true. So, don’t let some esoteric preacher or teacher tell you otherwise.

God Almighty, the creator and preserver of all humanity, I humbly ask: Please make your ways known to everyone and your saving health to all nations. I also pray for the Church everywhere: That it may be guided and governed by your good spirit; that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. I lift to your fatherly goodness all those who are afflicted or distressed, in mind, body, or spirit. Comfort them and meet their every need, giving them patience under their sufferings, and a good outcome of all their afflictions. This I ask for the sake Jesus Christ your Son, my Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit reign forever. Amen.