Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
How do you live when you know and feel that the mercy of God, obtained by the death of his Son, is the source of your life past, present, and future? That’s the question Romans 12 answers. Notice verse 1 again: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers,by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice . . .” I appeal to you therefore. “Therefore”—on the basis of everything I have shown you in chapters 1-11 about God’s wrath and mercy, about Christ’s deity and death and resurrection and reign and intercession for you, about the Holy Spirit poured out with love into your hearts, about justification by faith alone and how we are counted righteous because of one man’s obedience, about the sovereign power of God that governs the universe and works all things together for your good and will never let anything separate you from the love of Christ—therefore, because of these mercies, give your body to God and live like this.
Romans 12 is a description of how we live when we know and feel the truth that we deserve nothing but misery forever, but instead, because of Christ, we have the promise that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to glory that will be revealed to us (Romans 8:18). Romans 12 is the way you live when you have been broken because of your sin—when you have said with the apostle Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)—and then, after being broken, you have discovered that in Christ God is for you and not against you, and that neither tribulation, nor distress, nor persecution, nor famine, nor nakedness, nor danger, nor sword can separate you from the love of Christ and from everlasting joy. Romans 12 is how you live when you know this Christ-bought, broken-hearted joy.
The Issue of How to Handle Our Money and Possessions
One of the great issues of life facing Christians in every age, and especially in times and places of great prosperity (like 21st century America) is how to think about and feel about and handle our money and our possessions. For Jesus this was simply huge. He spoke about it over and over again. He gave promises and warnings and commandments. He rebuked people bent on bigger and bigger barns for the sake of their ease. He told stories and parables. By hoarding possessions, he said, you can perish, and by giving them you can lay up treasures in heaven. How we handle our money and possessions is the barometer of how we trust God and treasure Christ. Where you treasure is, there will your heart be also.
So it’s not surprising to find Paul coming back to this great issue in verse 13: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” I say “coming back” in verse 8b because he already said that, “[Let] the one who contributes [do so] in generosity . . . and the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” Now he says it again and gets more specific: Not only should you use your money and possessions to give to the needs of others, but you should bring people happily into your home or your apartment. “Contribute to the needs of the saints”—that’s giving things away for the sake of others in need. And “seek to show hospitality”—that’s not merely giving money and things away, that’s drawing others in, not just for meals now and then, but to stay with you if they need a place for a season. In times of official persecution it was a dangerous and subversive practice. For some today it still is. It was and is a radical way to live. That was the meaning it had in the early church.
This is the way people live who know and feel that moment by moment the sheer, undeserved, lavish mercy of God sustains them and brings them home to glory. I appeal to you by the mercies of God—by the lavish “contribution” of God to your need, by the inexhaustible “hospitality” of God to bring you into his house not as a guest but as an adopted child—I appeal to you by these mercies of God, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”
So let’s think about this together. Let’s meditate on this biblically with the prayer that God will do a deep work in our heart to make us the happiest, most generous, most hospitable givers in the world. First, we ask, Is it really that crucial in the Bible? Is this near the center of life in Christ, or marginal? Second, what stands in the way for us to do better at giving and at hospitality? Third, how to you break free in to the liberty and joy of lavish generosity and hospitality—whether poor or rich? Fourth, what will the rewards be if this freedom happens?
How Crucial Are Giving and Hospitality?
Is it really that crucial? Is it near the center of life in Christ—giving to the needs of the saints and welcoming people into your home as v. 13 says?
Here is bare sampling of what is there in the New Testament. First about giving. Jesus said in Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rustdestroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” How? “Sell your possessions and give to the needy” (Luke 12:33).
Then the early church caught and applied what they had heard and experienced by assuming that all their possessions were not really theirs but God’s and were to be used joyfully to meet each other’s needs. So we read in Acts 4:34, “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” That’s how Romans 12:13 happened at the beginning.
Then Paul taught this to all the churches. To Titus he wrote, “Let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful” (Titus 3:14). And to the Corinthians, “Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). And to the Ephesians, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28). In other words, the whole orientation of the Christian is not to “work to have” but to “work to have to give.” As Randy Alcorn says so well, “God prospers me not to raise my standard of living, but to raise my standard of giving” [The Treasure Principle (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah, 2001], 71).
And then Paul taught them in the process to be disciplined and methodical in this generosity, not just spontaneous or impulsive. So when he was collecting gifts for the poor he wrote to the Corinthians, “Now concerningthe collection for the saints. . . . On the first day of every week [each Sunday, not Saturday], each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). For Paul, discipline and regularity went hand in hand with joy. God loves a cheerful giver. God loves to see that joy overflow with disciplined regularity.
Now what about hospitality?
When Jesus sent his twelve apostles out to minister in his name he said, “Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, nor two tunicsnor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart” (Matthew 10:9-11). In other words, hospitality to God’s messengers was built into the mission from the start. Then to underline the glory of this hospitality Jesus said, “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me” (Matthew 10:40). Hospitality for Christ’s sake welcomes God.
So it’s not surprising then that Jesus would make hospitality one of the things that Christ counts at the judgment day as evidence of our love for Christ. Matthew 25:34-35, “Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” That is, you opened your home to me. You showed radical, Christ-honoring hospitality.
Later the writer to the Hebrews says something similar but not quite as amazing about hospitality, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2). And Peter makes hospitality part of what is crucial in these last days. “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:7-9). No grumbling. Love to do this. The Lord loves a cheerful hostess.
And when Paul writes the qualifications for eldership in the church, this included in both lists (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8), “An overseer [elder] must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable. Elders should have well-worn houses with people coming and going.
In answer to the first question: yes, giving lavishly and loving guests is near the heart of what it means to walk as a Christian. I appeal to you by the mercies of God, give generously and open your homes to the saints.
What Prevents Giving and Hospitality?
What stands in the way for us to do better at giving and at hospitality?
Here I have in mind giving to the church and other kinds of giving that helps meets the needs of the saints. The ministry and mission of the church is at the center of Christian giving. But there are hundreds of other good outlets for your generosity. And, of course, there are real live people to give to in your path.
Four reasons we don’t give as we ought:
- Obliviousness. For whatever reason, you may have never even thought about giving away your money regularly. It never occurred to you that this is part of worship (verse 1). The height of virtue for you is, “Thou shalt not steal.” Good start. But now God is calling you to hear the New Testament command. Not just: Don’t take what’s not yours, but give what is yours. “Contribute to the needs of the saints.” “Let him who contributes do so generously.” Don’t be oblivious anymore.
- Carelessness. Perhaps we are not oblivious. We know this is what people who love Christ do. But we just never seem to get around to planning how much and when and where to give. Things just slide. God has appointed this message to bring you to a critical new place in your walk with him this week. Don’t be careless. Be thoughtful. Be intentional.
- Greed—the desire to keep more than we need. The spirit of greed groans when it gives. It thinks of all the things we could buy if we didn’t give. The biblical alternative to this is not disciplined groaning. The alternative is a new heart and the joy of being free from the bondage of greed. It’s the glad experience that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Don’t live in the bondage of greed. Be free.
- Fear that we won’t have what we need. Fear is the flip side of greed. Greed focuses on what we don’t have but would like to have. Fear focuses on the consequences of not having what we need to have. The answer to greed is the pleasure of Christ’s presence. The answer to fear is the certainty of Christ’s promise. Don’t live in fear. Be satisfied with Christ, and trust his promises.
What about hospitality? What stands in the way of being as hospitable as we should be?
Here there a whole cluster of fears. Fear that people will just take too much time if they come over, or if they stay here for a season. Fear that they will think you don’t keep house very well. They might open that closet door or look in the kid’s bedroom. Fear that they will mess up your house—your nice carpet and nice furniture and nice linens. Fear that they will be hard to talk to and conversations will be awkward. And so on. You can see the bondage of fear so many Christians seem to live in. Romans 12:13 is offering us a new way to live—a way of freedom: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”
How Do We Break Free in Order to Give Lavishly and to Open Our Homes?
So, in the third place, how do we break free from this bondage into the liberty and joy of lavish generosity and open homes?
The fundamental biblical answer is that Jesus Christ died and rose again to make absolutely certain that for all who trust him, the all-powerful, all-owning God would be lavishly generous and lovingly hospitable to us every day forever. This what verse 1 is referring to: “I appeal to you therefore by the mercies of God . . . Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” The mercies of God were bought by the blood of Jesus, and they are new every morning with fresh generosity and fresh hospitality. This is how we become generous and hospitable. We enjoy and expect God’s lavish help in all our giving and all our hospitality.
Romans 8:32 is the key verse: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Paul applies this for us in Philippians 4:19, “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” And again in 2 Corinthians 9:8, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” Because God promises to be your all-sufficient treasure, you can be generous and hospitable to others.
We have seen the mercy and faithfulness of God in this church year after. I trembled last year with a 21% increase in budget. And we came to the very last week of the year with a huge gap between expenses and giving. And God met our need. Not all that we might have dreamed, but all that we needed. God tests us again and again. Just when we think we are on top of it, an unexpected bill arrives. And just when we think we are sinking, an unexpected check arrives. Do you think it will ever be any different for those who give lavishly and open their homes? The point of God’s providence is the point of his promises: trust me, and go beyond in ministry and in giving what you think you can.
What Are the Rewards or Giving Lavishly and Opening Our Homes?
Finally, our fourth question: what are the rewards if we trust God’s promises, give lavishly, and open our homes to each other and the needy?
- The suffering of the saints will be relieved or at least diminished. That is what verse 12 means when it says, “Contribute to the needs of the saints.” We lift a burden. We relieve stress. We give hope. And that’s a reward!
- The glory of God is displayed. Matthew 5:16 “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Lavish giving and open homes display the glory and the goodness and the worth of God in your life. The reason God gives us money and homes is so that by the way we use them people can see they are not our God. But God is our God. And our treasure.
- More thanksgiving to God is unleashed. 2 Corinthians 9:12, “The ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.” God has given us money and homes not just so that we are thankful, but by our generosity and hospitality to make many people thankful to God.
- Our love for God and his love in us is confirmed. 1 John 3:17, “If anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?” In other words, when we give generously and open our homes, the love of God is confirmed in our lives. We are real. We are not phony Christians.
- Finally, we lay up treasure in heaven. Luke 12:33-34. “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail. . . . For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Lavish giving and open homes are close to the center of life in Christ. The reasons we don’t open our checkbooks and homes as often as we should are rooted in the bondage of fear and greed. The remedy is the pleasure of Christ’s presence and the certainty of Christ’s promise. My God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Our reward is the display of God’s glory, the good of others, and the joy of treasuring Christ together forever. Therefore I exhort you, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”
A Prayer for Freedom
O Lord, we long for life to be
As free from fear and greed
As birds with wings to fly are free,
And lilies have no need.
Our spirits surge to break the chains
Of love to earthly things,
To strip our souls of worldly reins,
And ride on eagles’ wings.
O Father, make us free to give,
And teach by heaven’s beam
That in a spring no life can give
Until it makes a stream.
For freedom Christ has set us free,
O, do not be ensnared,
But treasure Christ and you will see
The glory he prepared.