There’s a scene in The Office where Dwight Schrute brings bagels for everyone. As he hands them out, he says “Don’t mention it. You owe me one.”
His goal is to redeem these IOU’s to fire his worst enemy, Jim. Until he meets his match: Andy Bernard. Andy answers every favor Dwight does for him with another favor until the two are in an endless battle to outdo one another.
Though The Office is far from real life, Christians often treat their relationships much like Andy and Dwight. You buy me coffee, I make a mental note to get you back next time. I come watch your kids, you feed me dinner. You give me a compliment, I give one right back. “Do not test my politeness,” says Andy.
People who don’t know Jesus are able to say, “thank you” and buy the next dinner. Politeness is not all that difficult. Christians, though, are called to pursue hospitality from an understanding of unity.
Unlike Dwight and Andy, Christians don’t strive to outdo one another in love to save face. We don’t set ourselves apart as “The Polite One.” The love of Jesus goes beyond courtesy.
Politeness in the church is not a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with showing love by doing favors. But it shouldn’t stop there. Christians are called to be hospitable to the saints. Hospitality is when we share each other’s needs. Hospitality costs us more than a favor. It costs us our lives.
We must take initiative to go beyond favors and further into hospitality. You don’t need to host a meal or have a comfortable home to accomplish this. Open keen eyes to find ways you can, without your own interest in mind, pursue hospitality.
For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12:3-5)
Romans 12 (and all of Romans, really), emphasizes the unity that is found in Christ. Jews and Gentiles are no longer set up against one another, but are bound by the Spirit they share. There are no more distinctions in the body of Christ because grace is given to all. We are to think less of ourselves because we are one in Christ. Paul goes on to say:
Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. (Romans 12:9-13)
All the exhortations in Romans 12:9-13 are understood through the lens of unity in Romans 12:3-5. Because we are one body, we “outdo one another in showing honor” and “pursue hospitality.”
We belong to one another. Everyone in your church has needs, and everyone in your church is called to meet needs. We don’t meet these needs, however, out of an obligation to be polite. We meet these needs because we are unified, which compels us to love one another in a sacrificial manner.
The world can do favors. The church is called to “Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters.”
If we truly are unified in Christ, and if we are called to belong, love, and be hospitable to one another, then we should strive to know each other intimately so that we can serve one another sacrificially.
As we think less of ourselves and more of our brothers and sisters, we grow in awareness of the needs in our body. Through the power of the Spirit, we are compelled to meet those needs because we are unified.
My prayer, however, is that we might not be content to meet obvious needs alone. Rather, we should take initiative and be creative in the way we show hospitality to the body of Christ.
Don’t just babysit for your friend who is a stay-at-home mom while she goes a doctor’s appointment; show up earlier so she can get coffee and run errands without the kids.
Don’t just help your friend move across the city; help them get settled and feel at home.
Don’t just invite a single person over for dinner with your family; welcome them into the hard parts of your life and make them feel like they belong.
As those bought and bound by Jesus Christ, we ought to live with and love one another in a way that communicates the marvelous unity found in the gospel. Go beyond the surface of human kindness and pursue—with all the might given to you by God himself—hospitality together as the family of God. This love that we show through our hospitality will then overflow to the world as a testament of the gospel at work in His people (John 13:35).