WALKING IN LOVE
…Distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality
We have been studying what it means to walk in love from the book of Romans. Last time, we looked at being kindly affectionate to one another and considering our fellow believers as our own blood relatives.
Today, we are going to learn about two other practical aspects of brotherly love –‘distributing to the needs of the saints’ and‘given to hospitality’.
Before we actually see what these two aspects should look like in our lives, let us first understand the meaning of these words.
Distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality
The context in which the word ‘distribute’ is used means to ‘help people in need’. But it means much more than simply giving some kind of aid or help. A better translation of this word would mean entering intofellowship with those that are in need. That means identifying with the needy, seeing their needs and wants as our own. It implies a feeling of being partakers or sharers with the needy.
We can get a cue to understanding this better by looking at the benediction that Paul often ended his letters with. ‘May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of the father and the fellowship or the communion of the Holy Spirit….’The most fitting word to describe distributing is the word ‘communion or fellowship’. It means to say that we need to have fellowship with the saints that are in need. We must identify with them, feel for them, become one with them and help to meet their need.
Sadly, though the word fellowship is used very loosely especially in Christian circles. We refer to our churches and meetings as fellowships and leave it at that. But the real meaning indicates deep identification with another person so much so that we are willing to share their burdens and help them.
We live in a very self-centered world that does not care for anybody. Many of us probably have had experiences where we have had many people clamoring to associate with us when all was going well in our lives. And when we faced difficulties and hardships, we might have been all alone with nobody bothering to even acknowledge us. But God’s love is completely countercultural. It reaches out to our brothers and sisters that are in need,feel their pain as if it is our own and help them. That’s the kind of love that Jesus wants us to demonstrate. We are meant to be the light of the world that shines in the darkness and the salt of the earth that adds flavor.
The word ‘needs’ here refer to the basic necessities of life and not our desires. It is talking about the destitute people who don’t have food to eat, clothes to wear or just the basic things that one requires to live in this world.
Unfortunately today some people assume that saints are certain set of people who have been dead for a number of years and canonized. But the New Testament refers to saints in a completely different way. It says that every believer that has been washed by the blood of Jesus has been justified as a saint.That is the first part of our sanctification. We then continue to be sanctified throughout our life by the work of the Word and the Holy Spirit. And then when Jesus returns and when we enter into eternity with Him, we will be completely sanctified.
So in a nutshell, every believer is a saint. Of course, the early churches that Paul writes to weren’t the holiest and noblest people. In fact, they were a very troubled bunch struggling with numerous sins that Paul had to address. So if they weren’t perfect people, how can we consider them to be saints? Well, they (or for that matter we) aren’t saints because they had reached a certain level of perfection. They are considered as saints because the blood of Jesus has cleansed them. It might make us uncomfortable to think that the believer sitting next to us (that we know has many flaws) is a saint. Well, that’s what Jesus says. He or she or even we may not be perfect just yet, but one day we will all be made perfect in Heaven. And it is such people’s needs that we are asked to identify and help with.
The word ‘hospitality’ here refers to loving strangers. Hebrews 13:2says, ‘Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels’. History records many instances where people have entertained strangers who were actually angels of God. So the author of Hebrews encourages us also to be kind to strangers and shower love on them.
5. GIVEN TO HOSPITALITY
The word ‘given to’ implies that hospitality is something that we must ‘pursue vigorously and wholeheartedly’.
Let’s look at some Bible passages that depict this meaning.
a. Philippians 3:6says, ‘concerning zeal, persecuting the church’. Now we might wonder what the connection is between persecuting the church and being given to hospitality. The connection is the kind of zeal that is involved. Now there are different kinds of persecutors. Some could be just pesky irritating characters who don’t mean to hurt us but just want to disturb us. I experienced this once while doing street ministry, when some troublemakers would fling small stones at us. Their intention was not to hurt us but to just annoy us. Then there are other kinds of persecutors who are very serious about it. Paul was one such organized persecutor who acquired official permissions to meticulously go from town to town shutting down churches and beating up Christians. He was very passionate about it. He had given his whole heart and soul to persecute the church. That’s the same kind of intensity that Paul refers to in Romans 12:13 when he encourages us to be ‘given to hospitality’. He asks us to be ‘actively passionate’ about loving strangers.
b. Philippians 3:12, 14says, ‘Not that I have already attained, or am already perfectedbut I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold on me. I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus’.He says that he had been called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ right from his conception. And towards this goal, he was now pressing on with all his heart, mind and soul. Even though it could be discouraging at times, he was going to keep running until he crossed the ‘Finish Line’. That means it is not a one-off thing. He will keep working hard towards it continuously. That’s how we must love strangers. We must make it our life’s wholehearted pursuit.
c. 2 Timothy 1:16,17. ‘The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain;but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me’. Paul says that Onesiphorus loved him so much that he sought him out when he was arrested and brought to Rome. In those days, there was no technology to locate a person – no GPS, no phones, no and mobiles. But Onesiphorus took the time and effort to find out where Paul was being detained, ministered to him and helped him in his time of need. He didn’t just say that he would pray for Paul. He actually went to the trouble of seeking him out and comforting him. That’s the kind of hospitality that Paul is telling us about in Romans 12:13. He says that instead of waiting for opportunities to come our way, we must diligently and fervently seek out our brothers and help them in their need. After all, that’s what Jesus did for us. He did not sit in Heaven and declare that we must reach out to Him if we needed help. Instead He left His throne, came down as man and demonstrated His eternal love for us by dying for our sins.
OTHER SIMILAR BIBLICAL EXHORTATIONS
Now that we have understood the meaning of these two statements, let us look at some specific Bible passages that talk about distributing to the needs of the saints and fervently loving the stranger.
- Romans 15:26,27 says, ‘For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things’.In the days of the early church, Jewish Christians were being persecuted worldwide. Many had to flee their homes, businesses and relocate to other places. But the people in Macedonia and Achaia decided to make a financial contribution for these poor, suffering fellow believers. They were able to do it because they acknowledged that these Jewish believers were the ones who had shared the wonderful Good News to them. They considered themselves indebted to their Jewish counterparts. It therefore seemed only fair to them to share some material benefit with these poor,dislocated refugees.
- Galatians 6:6,10 says, ‘Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith’.Paul says that there is a teacher and a pupil. Therefore it is only right for the one who has been taught to share in all good things with the one who teaches. Hence, let us share with our fellow believers every good thing as and when need arises and we have the opportunity.
- Hebrews 13:16 says, ‘But do not forget to do good and to sharefor with such sacrifices God is well pleased’. The King James Version uses the word ‘communicate’ instead of share. So we are also told to be ferventlyhospitable, distributing to the needs of the saints by sharing with them.
The truth is that this significant aspect of brotherly love is impossible to be lived out unless when we know its origin.
The Bible says that we have all lived selfishly for our own needs and pleasures. But then one day we experienced God’s agape love that saved us from our sins. We then became a new creation with a new outlook. That’s why Paul exhorts us in Romans 12:1-2 saying, ‘I beseech you brethren by the mercies of God, that you present yourselves as living sacrifices holy and acceptable unto God which is your reasonable service. Be not conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind so you may prove what is the good, acceptable and perfect will of God’. As part of God’s family set free from the clutches of sin, we now live differently.
This new life therefore affects many areas of Christian living.
1. ONE BODY MANY MEMBERS
Romans 12:4,5 says, ‘For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another’.Paul refers to this picture of a body with many members to describe the body of Christ. He was explaining to the believers that just as a body has different functional parts that together constitute the body, the body of Christ also has different members called to function in different ways and yet are meant to be synchronized.
Again in 1 Corinthians 12:26, he reiterates the same point. He says, ‘And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it’. He says that the Church is not meant to be a place of competition among the members with respect to their gifts. He says that when one member suffers the rest also suffers. It’s like when the little toe is hurt, it affects the whole body. In fact, it can even cause us to be rendered handicapped for a while and be out of business. So Paul is teaching them that in such a situation, it is their responsibility to minister to the toe and look after it or else it would affect the whole body. Similarly, instead of ignoring or criticizing one member of the Church, we must gather around them, comfort them and help them in their difficulty. If they are doing well, instead of enviously mocking them, we need to rejoice with them.
2. CHOSEN GENERATION
1 Peter 2:9 says, ‘But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy’. Peter says that because of our status as believers, we are now a special group of people. We are a chosen generation, royal priesthood and a holy nation. We belong to one family where God is our father and we are all his children. We see this family concept clearly in Acts 12 where Peter was imprisoned. The angel of God miraculously frees him from jail. He went to the believers’ house and found them all fervently praying for him. Why would they do that? Because they were all members of the same body.
HOW DOES IT ALL TIE UP TOGETHER?
Having looked at all of the above, let’s now see how this fits in together in our lives.
2 Corinthians 8:2-4 says, ‘that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints’. This passage talks about some poor and suffering saints to whom the Macedonian churches sent financial aid through Paul. These churches themselves were not doing all that well financially. They were also under threat of being persecuted. But in the midst of their need, they showered deep generosity. They did it because they wanted to ‘fellowship’ with the suffering saints by ministering to them. The love of God urged them to do it. Paul wasn’t the one asking them to send some money; in fact they themselves were insistent on it!
Imagine the impact such an attitude will have on a family, society or church. When we care so much that we want to help others around us, then our lives will naturally thrive. Sadly, we see that everybody lives for themselves these days. We put our needs and wants before anybody else’s. We don’t care about the condition of people around us. That’s the result of the fallen nature in us. But how wonderful would life be when the agape love of Jesus transforms us and causes us to prefer one another and love one another more than we love ourselves?