Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
So, in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with 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.
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality… Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Romans 12:13, 16
Suffragettes. Civil rights demonstrators. Disability rights activists. They all possess a fundamental belief: ‘we deserve to be treated with equal dignity, according to the same standards, as everyone else.’ This form of equality is essential to justice.
These contemporary activists share this conviction with New Testament authors. Think of Paul’s metaphor of the body in 1 Corinthians 12, through which he rebukes a church divided along economic lines. Or his reprimand of Peter in Galatians 2 for treating Gentiles differently. Or James lamenting favouritism in James 2.
What can we learn from these letters? Firstly, God’s own treatment of us in Christ provides a model for us to follow in our dealings with others. Secondly, his people constantly need reminding to do that.
Of course, there are plenty of references across Scripture to the special place in God’s heart for the poor. This safeguards equality in the face of what is often the societal norm – that the vulnerable are marginalised whilst the powerful are given greater respect.
God’s vision for local churches, expressed through the epistles and still true today, is that they would be places where all are regarded equally, reflecting the radical implications of the gospel, through which we’re made one in Christ. In him, as Paul makes clear, ethnic, social, and gender barriers which prioritise one group over another are gone – God’s covenant love and mercy is extended to all.
And yet, we fall short. We read James’ warning to avoid discrimination, but still gravitate towards higher status individuals who boost our reputation and make us look good.
Instead, what if we lived out the implications of the gospel, rejected our pride, and were ‘willing to associate with people of low position’? A practice that might help us here is hospitality.
Rather than simply welcoming those who look like us, except a bit cooler, what if we combatted favouritism and reached out to the margins? Who on our frontlines might God highlight? As life opens up, which slightly awkward colleague might we invite for a drink, which new neighbour could we have for dinner, which lonely outsider could we invite in?
As we do this, we reflect our radically just Saviour, who loved us even when we were strangers. And through our acts of everyday justice, may the church in the here-and-now be a foretaste of the coming kingdom, where diverse multitudes – every nation, tribe, people, and language – have equal access to the throne of grace.
Editor, Word for the Week
How might you practice hospitality on your frontline this week? Join in the conversation in the comments below.