One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"
"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." (NIV)
A church should never be considered so full that it can’t accept one more believer. A person should never be so busy they can’t offer a little help to someone in need. We’re living in a world of walls, and we need to remind ourselves that our faith demands that we not put walls up, but knock them down in the name of Jesus Christ.
With Jesus’ name on our lips, it’s time to get to the source of the call to make room. We have considered what Peter and Paul had to say on this subject. We’ve seen how they call us to humble ourselves and open our doors, to offer ourselves to those who are struggling and searching for God, no matter how different we are on the surface.
They got their attitude from Jesus, who wasn’t interested in barriers. He wasn’t interested in who called themselves Samaritans or who started out rich or poor. Remember that this was a very divided world, one in which the majority of the people were peasants working the land, barely getting by in a country occupied by a rich foreign power that took heavy tax and enforced its laws brutally.
People wanted to fight, to call out those who wore the fancier cloaks or who spit on beggars with their hands out. People were angry and in no mood to make room for anyone. “I barely have enough for me, why should I make room for my brother or my sister?”
So, when Jesus was asked by a teacher of the law what the most important commandment was, it was a loaded question. Jesus could have chosen any number of more popular answers among the divisive laws in the Old Testament. He could have referenced Exodus 23:33 that forbid foreigners to settle in the land, or Deuteronomy 7:3 that forbid intermarriage with outsiders. He might have put Leviticus 19:17 first, which says forgiveness is absolute for fellow Israelites, but only for them.
Instead, he chose to get to the heart of faith, that God is everything and it is our purpose to worship him, that God is so deeply set in our hearts that we are nothing without Him, that all we can do is love Him. Then, He blew up all the ancient world walls and said we must take that divine love and love our neighbor.
Now, who is that neighbor? Not a Jew or a Gentile—remember, God makes no such distinction. No, our neighbor is everyone, anyone in search of God, anyone looking for the entrance of the church. We might live next to people of different colors and origins; our neighbor on the right may be rich, and our neighbor on the left might be poor. It doesn’t matter. We are to love them all. Equally. And we are to welcome them all—equally—to God.
Given all the commandments of the Old Testament, Jesus chose only those two. Our hearts are to be opened for love and love only, not for anger or hatred, not for prejudice or ignorance. These two truths build off one another. You cannot have one without the other. If you worship Jesus, you must love your neighbor. If you love your neighbor, it is through the love of God.
Put this way, we know we must make room. Our church doors must be open and our homes must be open. Our minds must be open against prejudice, and our hearts must be open for love of every one of our neighbors in Christ.
As Jesus said, “There is no commandment greater than these.”
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. (NIV)
We’ve been talking now for a couple weeks about making room. We’re making room at our crowded tables for one more friend, in crowded churches for one more congregant, and in crowded houses for one more guest. But making room doesn’t start at the table or the church. Making room has to start inside us.
What are you thinking about when you open your door? You’re making a commitment to answer whatever is on the other side of that threshold. Whenever you pick up your phone, whenever you turn to someone calling out, you are prepared to answer. To truly make room for others, we don’t just open the door, we don’t just change how we act. We have to change how we think.
That’s why we have to stop thinking “more highly” of ourselves and realize we are one of many. God has entrusted each of us with unique gifts. When we combine all of our different talents to accomplish a goal, we can master any task and cross the finish line with ease. Each of us is one small part of the body of Christ. Coming together to build the Kingdom of God, we are all a crucial part of the operation. We’re all special. We’re all unique in the eyes of God.
The person at your door or on the phone or handing out flyers for charity at the mall, they’re asking you for something, they’re asking you to offer them a way forward. When we realize this, when we use our “sober judgment,” we see what God is telling us. Our “measure of faith” is great enough; we have the strength to help pull these people in, to work with them to build the Kingdom of God. Our “measure of faith” has been given to us so that we can be the ones to offer and we can be ones to make room. And it isn’t enough to just act like that; we must also learn to think like that. We must learn to humble ourselves enough to think about what the person on the other side of the door needs when they knock, and how we can come together for God.
What God was doing when He made you, when He opened faith and the truth to you, was giving you the opportunity to offer yourself to others who weren’t there yet.
On the surface, most of us will accept this basic point. Yes, we are all equal in God’s eyes. Yes, no one who accepts Him is above anyone else. Yes, we are all one small part of the body—a critical part that is necessary for all other parts to function at their best. But the challenge is to think like that. Not just to acknowledge that fact, but to let our minds run on it and create a new way of envisioning the world.
On some level, we are selfish creatures. We want to take the greater share of everything for ourselves and our loved ones, we want to bar the gates and keep everything inside for our own inner circle. When we aren’t thinking, even those of us with great faith can fall into that default setting. God is telling us to watch out for that. Every individual struggling to get through that door is as entitled to your love and compassion as any other. We have to make room in our minds to accommodate that reality. Once we do that, it becomes obvious that we must open our churches, our homes, and also our hearts as we live for God, leading others to a new life in Him.
1 Peter 4:8-11
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. (NIV)
The scripture above tells us to use our gifts to serve others, to be faithful stewards of God’s grace, to speak the words God would speak, and to do all of this with the strength that God provides us. A key word in this week’s scripture is “offer.” How often do we offer anything without being prompted? Sure, sometimes we offer our time and talents when we are asked to help, but too many times we just don’t want to be inconvenienced. However, we should always remember that one of the ways we can show the love of Christ is by extending ourselves to others without hesitation or grumbling.
God has given each of us special gifts, gifts that we should use to represent Him by serving others without complaint. Now, I’m not saying that you should spend every waking moment tending to others’ needs. That would not be a healthy way to live and we must always remember to take the time we need for ourselves. But, whatever our gifts may be, we must strive to share them as God intended. In doing so, we show a true love for God and we may also help others to see that they are loved, remembered, and important in God’s eyes. This is stewardship at its most simple and pure. Others will see the example you set as you strive to live your life as a shining example of the love of God.
So, use your gifts wisely. Those of you with the gift of hospitality, draw others into the fold and welcome them in. Those of you with the gift of song, share your gift with those that need to hear an uplifting message in an inspiring way. If you have a heart for youth and the ability to connect with them, get involved with your church’s youth ministry or a local Big Brother or Sister program. Always remember that God will give you the strength you need to serve, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (NIV)
The idea of opening doors has been on my mind a lot lately. Beyond personal experience, on a larger level, this is an issue that has demanded more attention from all of us for a long time.
Every day on the news we see people all over the world struggling through all sorts of horrible circumstances. Closer to home, we see people on the street who could use an invitation to prayer, faith, and understanding. We have a responsibility to them and to God, to open our hearts and welcome them to the Word of God. With that truth in mind, I have decided to dedicate this month’s posts to the subject of making more room for others in every area of our lives, starting with the church.
We know the stories of the religion in its earliest days as it opened its doors and offered faith to those who were previously unwelcome. We know the story of Paul, and we know about the mission to the Gentiles. But with all that knowledge, perhaps we forget the truly radical meaning behind that mission: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile.”
Think about that for a minute. To those reading Paul’s words in Galatia, the one thing they knew for sure was that the world was divided into only two categories—Jews and Gentiles—and everyone belonged to one or the other. Everyone on the one side belonged in the church, and everyone on the other side was meant to stay out. That’s how the whole world was set up. It was a truth everyone lived their lives by.
But Paul says that it isn’t true anymore. Can you imagine that shock? The old divisions don’t fit now, he says. We’re not Jews or Gentiles, he says. Nor are we slaves or free. Nor are we male or female.
“You are all one in Christ Jesus.” That’s what Paul wants us to know. No one is more or less welcome at a service, no one is more or less important. In fact, we aren’t different at all. God has made us one through Jesus. So, fine, we don’t care if someone was a Jew or a Gentile in the past. But Paul’s message remains relevant today. He might say in the 21st century, “You are not an American or an immigrant,” or “you are not conservative or liberal,” or “you are not black or white, nor rich or poor.”
Paul is telling us today exactly what he told the Galatians in the past: once a person arrives at the door with faith in his or her heart, once that person crosses the threshold into the church, all labels are meaningless. The doors to Christ Jesus are open to everyone, and space is not an issue.
And that revelation has profound effects on us, as well as profound demands. We are not to judge those around us. To fight judgements, we must make room in our faith, in our prayers, and in our pews to accommodate all who seek God.
Though we all come to God from different paths, Paul tells us we are all the same. Those standing outside the church doors need community and faith just the same as us. They need compassion and welcoming just the same as us. And they need God just the same as us.
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here I am! Send me.” (ESV)
And the Lord said to Isaiah, "Go out to meet Ahaz…And say to him, 'Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint.'" (ESV)
Our country was founded on optimism. We’ve always looked to the promise of tomorrow for something better than we have today. But in these tough times, that optimism can start to wear thin.
As we know, it was the height of tax season this month, and I’m sure many of us felt the bill was a little high or the refund a little low; we checked our accounts and saw the balance wasn’t what we’d like. Many of us probably wondered why we struggle on in tough jobs just to find the money isn’t there when we need it. At such frustrating times, it is worth looking back at Scripture to see how men and women of faith approached difficulties. When we do that, we find the answer is completely unambiguous.
Consider, for instance, Isaiah, a man who lived in hard times like ours—and in many ways, far harder times. Isaiah lived during the fall of Israel and through the many struggles of Judah. In the verses referenced earlier, he advised the young king Ahaz, only just put on the throne, as armies swooped in to invade.
Imagine the turmoil and worry of those days. No one could know what tomorrow would bring. The Judeans were a small, relatively poor people in a dangerous region, with enemies in every direction—including their brothers in Israel to the north—just waiting for a sign of weakness.
It was into such a world Isaiah walked. God’s people were as confused and concerned as we are today. They were desperate and angry, much like we are now. They felt the world wasn’t what it ought to be as we do this very moment.
And only one thing made a difference for these people. When the opportunity to serve God came their way, they did not hesitate, they did not question. When Isaiah was called, he answered as all godly people do in the Bible when God calls: “Here I am!”
Such simple words; there is no ambiguity. If anything, there’s a little redundancy. But think about it like this: Isaiah isn’t announcing his physical position (which God obviously knows), he’s saying he is ready to take on anything. He’s saying, “I’m over here, God, ready to serve.”
It’s not always an easy decision to speak up. When God calls, His call brings with it both difficulty and promise. The path of God is never easy, and in times when we want easy more than anything, it can be tempting to pretend we don’t hear.
But there is always promise behind these difficulties. When Isaiah goes to advise Ahaz, God tells him to say, “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart grow faint.” He was right, of course. The armies marching against Jerusalem were turned back. The future was secured for that generation. Do you see the promise in that? If we announce, “Here I am!” God is saying, don’t worry about the future, it’s going to come together for us.
It is important to know that despite the difficulties, God only calls when the end result is opportunity. There may be risk and struggle, but the end of the road is a better life, a happier life, and a godlier life.
No one can promise that there will be great jobs for any of us tomorrow, nor that the money will flow in. But we can know our future is secure with God. In difficult times, God calls most often. He calls us to service and improvement, and He promises us the future if we rise to the occasion.
Thus, the answer is clear: when times are bad, when the checkbook won’t balance, when we can’t seem to get up for another day of work, that’s the time to open our ears to His promise, to His call. That’s the time to learn from Isaiah. Do not hesitate. “Do not fear.” Shout, “Here I am!”