“Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” (Romans 12:13 NIV)
A discipleship group I’m part of has committed to reading through Romans 12:1-12 every day for a week. As I meditated on that section, I included verse 13 because it was part of a paragraph that included the other verses. I’m thankful that I did include it.
Mixed in with instructions pertaining to sacrificial service, life in the body of Christ, and love and honour for others, Paul exhorted the believers to share with the Lord’s people who are in need and to practice hospitality. It’s not worth debating whether the commands should be understood together or separately; the broader context of the instructions indicates community involvement, and these instructions should be understood the same way. Sharing and hospitality are basic Christian values and virtues.
This verse caught my attention today because of the scrambling many churches have done recently to address the public health crisis stemming from the COVID-19 virus. Under normal circumstances, we’d think about these verses in terms of the physical, tangible help we provide for others. But what does obedience to these instructions look like when people are being encouraged to quarantine themselves and avoid groups of any size?
I believe there are many ways we can share with the Lord’s people and practice hospitality. First, hospitality is something given, not something received. We often associate hospitality as house-based; the way we entertain people in our homes. But hospitality is about the generous and giving way we approach life. We can practice hospitality by not hoarding food and supplies and leaving some for others; by calling those we know are vulnerable or at risk to check in on them; by using technologies such as Zoom or Google Hangouts to provide online meeting areas for folks to check in with each other and pray for one another.
Second, we can find a number of ways to share with each other. I have read stories of churches becoming distribution centres where people can access their food pantries by phone call and the church will set needed items out curbside. In this way, the church shares resources while practicing good social distancing procedures. Others are taking responsibility for grocery shopping for elderly or vulnerable people to reduce their risk and are leaving groceries on their front porches. Still others are making known what they have extra of that they are willing to share.
Sharing with those in need in this crisis takes courage and some degree of innovation, but we can do it. We may not share our homes with others during this time, but we can share what we can. It’s no coincidence that these instructions are given in a paragraph that includes, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10). Selfless, sacrificial service on behalf of others is worship that is holy and pleasing to God.