After services each week, my church has a time for small group discussions on the sermon text. We are challenged by our pastor to 1) take note of the obvious regarding the morning’s Scripture passage and 2) look to our own habits. We can sometimes overlook the simple statement. Take this Scripture from a recent Sunday, for instance.
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, not the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV)
Christians may fall into the mentality that when the church gathers it is to be a “safe place” of like people away from the unbiblical practices of our culture. While we hope to see lives changed by the power of the Gospel, we may not know how to respond when someone ‘of the world’ walks into our church on Sunday morning. The Corinthian church is an example of how a local church should respond: truly and wholly welcoming to all people. The impact was changed lives, and those changed were now welcoming others.
“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
From reading Paul’s wording, “And such were some of you,” we can discern two important notes:
1) Paul knew the history of the people in attendance at the church of Corinth.
He specifically says that some were that way, which means that something changed. Some of us were that way, too. Each of us were guilty of sin and unworthy to stand before God until we were cleansed by Christ’s blood.
2) People of grave sins were coming to church!
The Corinthian church must have been doing something right. In welcoming people of all walks of life, everyone felt safe not only to walk in but also to return.
In our discussion that Sunday, we were asked, “What will it take for us to be the kind of church where [anyone] finds welcome?” We need to have a new/renewed attitude that is motivated by the love of Christ. Jesus knew every detail about every person He encountered, and He loved them from the start. If He, knowing the dirty details, chose to start relationships with love, why do we think we can be different?
“On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. … For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” Matthew 9:12 (NIV). The church is meant to be a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints (Somerville, 2021).
Our welcome to others reflects our relationship with Christ. He welcomed us when we were guilty, and we were changed. As His redeemed representatives, we now should be the loving welcome of the guilty.
The ongoing welcome. We need to remember something about newcomers into the church: they are coming! For some, the life change response is instantaneous. And we rejoice! For others, it takes a lot longer. Once you have welcomed someone but they do not respond right away, does your welcome change over time?
Remember the story of the paralytic healed by Jesus after his friends lowered him through the roof of the house? The initial way to Jesus was blocked by those wanting to listen to His words, so the friends did whatever it took to make sure their friend had an encounter with Jesus. We can find encouragement from the persistence of the paralytic’s friends: we know they are sick, but we do what we can to get them in front of Jesus no matter how long it takes.
As we continue to welcome someone, there’s another element to keep in mind: Christ starts with love, but that doesn’t mean that He overlooked sinful behaviors. He welcomed people into a relationship with Him but still addressed their sinful nature. When we encounter people, we should follow Christ’s example of loving first and out of that love pointing to the truth of the Gospel. There is a tendency to think that we need to address sin right away, but Jesus demonstrated that when we get to the point of pointing out others sins (which is not upon first meeting) it must be done in love.
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15, ESV).
Biblical counselor Susan Heck stated the importance of speaking the truth in love to one another. “Saving a soul from death, helping him to turn from the error of his way, is a worthy reason for doing this” (Heck, 2020).
How you welcome others into your church not only impacts the other person’s view of you, but of the church as a whole. If we have a true desire to see lives changed by the power of the Gospel through the church, we should remember that we were also once guilty of sin and have been redeemed by the love of God.
When someone new walks into your church next Sunday, what will your reaction be? Will your response say ‘You are welcome here’ or ‘You are welcome while we determine if you fit in?’
Heck, S. (2020, November 19). How to Speak the Truth in Love. Retrieved from Association of Certified Biblical Counselors: https://biblicalcounseling.com/resource-library/articles/how-to-speak-the-truth-in-love/
Somerville, J. (2021, January 1). Nua: A Fresh Perspective on Faith. Retrieved from Nua Film Series: https://nuafilmseries.org/nua-film-series-registration-form
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