The redeeming death of Jesus saves individuals, but it does more than just this. It creates communities, miraculously forming redeemed people into churches who live as family with one another.
In Romans 15:7, the apostle Paul identifies the ground and goal of true community: “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
Every church I know wants to be a welcoming church. But the way we think of “welcoming” is often superficial, limited to a warm greeting with a smile, a handshake, and a welcome packet on Sunday morning. Paul’s understanding of “welcome” is both deeper and higher than that — rooted deep in the soil of the gospel itself and reaching high to accomplish something of immeasurable value.
Root of Christian Community
“Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Paul wrote these words to the church in Rome, which was experiencing considerable tension between Jewish and Gentile Christians, who disagreed about eating certain foods and observing certain days. Into this conflict, Paul declared the gospel truth that “Christ has welcomed you.”
“Your church glorifies God by welcoming one another as Christ has already welcomed you.”
Christ’s welcome isn’t just a friendly handshake and a pleasant smile. It is salvation (Romans 10:13), reconciliation (Romans 5:10), reception into the family of God (Romans 8:16). And it is costly: it took Christ’s death in our place and resurrection from the dead so that we could be welcomed by him. Nevertheless, it was a price that the Son gladly pain in order to receive us (John 10:18).
Christ’s welcome of us is the basis and model for our ongoing welcome of one another: “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you.” Because Jesus died in our place to welcome us into God’s family, our welcome of one another means we live together as family.
Dynamics of Christian Community
How does a healthy family interact with one another? That question guides our life together in Christian community. We love one another through disagreements, like a healthy family does. We’re willing to reconcile and worship and work together. We don’t avoid or despise family members who have quirky personalities, or annoying qualities — or those who are simply different from us in the way they dress or talk or look.
Instead, we accept one another because we’re part of the same family. We participate together in community and serve one another in the jobs that need doing, because that’s what a healthy family does. We find ways, both big and small, through words and actions, to say, “You are family to me, so I will sacrifice to serve you.” We welcome one another by serving in nursery, sitting by a hospital bed, providing transportation, praying faithfully, working through conflict, and in a thousand other ways.
“The kind of welcome we are called to is not the task of a ‘greeters ministry’ but the entire church.”
The kind of welcome Paul calls for is not the task of a “greeters ministry” or “welcome team” alone, but of the entire church. It’s not an event, but an ongoing way of life. Loving our church family requires time and sacrifice and humility, just as Christ’s welcome of us into his family required his death on the cross.
Goal of Christian Community
The result of a Christian community actually living this way is breathtaking. Paul says that we should welcome one another as Christ welcomed us “for the glory of God.” It is possible for a community of redeemed sinners to display God’s worth to the world. There can be no higher goal for any church. Paul’s teaching is great news for small, ordinary churches. It means you don’t need gorgeous buildings, or state-of-the-art ministries, or famous pastors, or phenomenal music, or programs for all ages in order to bring glory to God. Your church glorifies God by being family to one another, by welcoming one another as Christ has already welcomed you.
This Easter week, let’s remember one of the great gifts that comes to us from the cross: true community that tells the glory of God.