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This article continues an on-going, verse-by-verse series on the exhortations in Romans 12.
13Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Paul began Romans 12 with a couple of exhortations to strengthen our relationship to God. Paul exhorted us to offer ourselves "as living sacrifices" to God and to stop "conforming to this world". He followed this with some exhortations concerning our relationship with other Christians as we serve. Paul exhorted us not to think of ourselves "more highly than we ought" and he reminded us that "in Christ we who are many form one body". He also pointed out that "we have different gifts", and so we should use these different gifts, each of us serving the Lord "according to the grace given us." Paul then gave us some exhortations concerning how we should serve, primarily with "sincere" love. In verse 13, Paul begins a series of general exhortations concerning our relationship to others: to other Christians and to people in general. These exhortations specify ways in which the Christian is to express the "sincere love" mentioned in verse 9.
Specifically, in this verse, we are told to "share with God's people who are in need." Note first that saints at times will be in need--physical, spiritual, emotional, financial, etc. Being a Christian does not make one immune from times of need. And so, since we, as Paul said earlier, "form one body", we who have are to "share with God's people" who have not. Their needs are your needs. Would one part of a body ignore the need of another part of the same body? Such a thing would be absurd. Your willingness to "share with God's people" is a test of whether you really belong to the body of Christ.
In his epistle, James uses an example concerning sharing with God's people who are in need as a test of one's faith: "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, `Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead" (James 2:15-17).
When we think of sharing with those in need, we normally think in terms of sharing financial resources. However, the needs of the saints take many forms and are not limited just to financial needs. Many times those who serve have a need for encouragement; many times they have a need to vent their frustration; many times they have a need for spiritual advice; etc. And so, even if you do not have the ability to support financially other members of the body of Christ, you can give an encouraging word or lend an ear or offer Biblical counsel or many other things. Many times, a word of encouragement can be much more valuable to those who serve than a fat check.
In this verse, Paul also exhorts us to: "Practice hospitality." To give the gift of hospitality--offering a home, comfort, peace to God's servants--is a noble work. The servant of God's need for hospitality was expressed very early on by Christ Himself. When someone came to Jesus, offering to be Christ's disciple, Jesus told him: "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head" (Matt. 8:20). Jesus was intimating that a follower of Christ will often not have a home or place to lay his head. Thus, His followers often have the need for hospitality.
Jesus pronounced special blessings on those who "practice hospitality". He said: "Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward" (Matt. 10:41-42). Also, in a parable He said:
"Then the King will say to those on his right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
The King will reply, `I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" (Matt. 25:34-40)
Would you turn your own brother away? We often call each other "Brother!" and "Sister!" and so, the hospitality that you offer is a test of these words.
Now, the word that Paul uses, "Practice", denotes a "vigorous effort".[Footnote #2] It is not a passive hospitality, but an active hospitality that vigorously sees to the needs and comfort of guests. Also, one's sincerity in offering hospitality should be expressed through the joy in which it is extended. As Peter says, "Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling" (I Peter 4:9). A guest often feels uncomfortable in receiving hospitality because he is not sure if he is really welcome. The joy in which hospitality is offered is an invaluable gift to the recipient, giving them peace and causing them to glorify God for such a blessing.
The value of such hospitality for the servant of God goes beyond the financial aspects of saving money on food and lodging. A greater benefit comes from being able to stay in a Christian environment, in fellowship with Christian brothers. Your hospitality can keep the servant of God from the temptations that would present themselves if he was forced to stay with non-Christians or alone in a hotel. All in all, this benefit is greater than the financial benefits that your hospitality provides. Your hospitality may be the deciding factor in a spiritual battle!
And so, Father, help us to heed this exhortation of Paul's by sharing with Your people and offering hospitality when the opportunity to do so presents itself. Moreover, give us the proper attitude as we share so that the recipient would not feel as if they owe us something, but would rather glorify You. We ask these things in Jesus' name, Amen.
(In the next issue, we will continue our study in Romans 12)
2. Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, pg. 448.
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