WELCOMING OTHERS AT CHURCH

With God’s help and the leading of his Spirit, we can follow after Jesus and warmly welcome others as they become part of our faith families. That’s what Paul calls the believers in Philippi to as he describes Jesus’s downward journey in Philippians 2:5–11:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Paul instructs us to have the mind of Jesus and empty ourselves out. We follow Jesus by forsaking our status, becoming servants, and fully humbling ourselves.

Forsake Your Status

Jesus is God. Before the incarnation, as one Person of the Trinity, God the Son’s status was as King over all, worthy of all majesty and adoration (Phil. 2:6). But we see also that he did not grasp (ESV) or cling to (NLT) his status. He didn’t exploit his position (CSB) or take advantage of his own nature (NIV).

We who belong to Christ also enjoy a privileged status. We are co-heirs with him (Rom. 8:17) and have all the benefits of being God’s adopted sons and daughters. And it can be easy to take advantage of our status as “insiders” without realizing it. Unless we are intentional about being otherwise, we easily get comfortable inside our own faith families and just stay put. I’ve heard this called a holy huddle—the saints gathered in an impenetrable circle with their backs to the outside world. This happens when we subconsciously look only to our own needs and don’t have eyes to see those standing on the outside.

Kenton and Jaimie are a well-loved young couple at our church. Everyone wants to be in their small group because they are so good at building friendships and nurturing intimacy. But on Sunday mornings you will not find them cozied up inside a clique of friends. Even with their three young children tangled around their feet, they always make a beeline for newcomers. They make a concerted effort to introduce themselves to every visitor, and they always extend an invitation to their home. Week in and week out, Kenton and Jaimie forsake their status, leaving the comfort of their longheld and deep friendships, to ensure that every stranger receives a warm welcome.

Become a Servant

Second, in Jesus’ immeasurably compassionate rescue mission, “he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Phil. 2:7). Though he is more powerful than anything or anyone else in all of creation, our God “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Jesus emptied himself (Phil. 2:7 CSB, ESV); he gave up his divine privileges (NLT); he made himself nothing (NIV)—that we might be welcomed into his family. And he calls his followers to do the same.
Let’s be real: serving is hard. I think all of us would prefer to walk through the doors into church on Sunday and be handed a warm cup of coffee and sit down in a cushy chair to consume the worship service like a paying customer—much like going to the movies at one of those theaters with reclining chairs and bottomless soda and popcorn. The comparison is laughable—the church is not the movies! But do we who are members of the faith family approach our times together ready to empty ourselves out? Do we view our church gatherings as a place to receive or as a place to give?

Before my husband and I headed for the mission field, we were loved and discipled well by the staff and members of the church that married us and sent us out. I’ll never forget one Sunday morning close to our departure. As was our usual custom when taking communion, the congregation arose and lined up to receive the bread and wine at the front of the sanctuary. Mark and I were in line, a few people behind the head pastor’s wife. I watched her get out of line, take a few steps to the left, and bend down on one knee to scrape gum off the floor. Rather than ignore the mess or assume a janitor would tend to it later, she humbled herself and served the whole church family by instantly taking on this dirty job. That example inspired me as I left to share Christ overseas—and it continues to remind me now that I am not too good to empty myself out. As I follow Jesus, I am not above serving in any capacity—whatever it takes to create an atmosphere of welcome.

Humble Yourself unto Death

I know, things just got real. I realize the heading above this paragraph is startling and unsettling. Unto death? Well, yes. Jesus really did say, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). As we progress through Philippians 2, we see that Jesus not only refused to take advantage of his status as God, and not only became a servant in human likeness, but he also “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (v 8).

Our Savior stopped at nothing to welcome us in. Jesus’ welcome is one of moving toward the outsider.

He laid himself down. He cast aside his status and poured himself out. He gave everything—his very life, which ended in a violent death—to welcome us into the family. He does not stand far off, aloof, and cold. He does not require us to clean ourselves up before coming to him. He seeks us. He left heaven and came to us. Oh, what a merciful Savior! Oh, what an unfathomably good King!

Paul tells us to “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). I don’t know what this might look like in your own life and faith family, but I do know that Jesus asks us to follow him. We may not be required to follow him to an early grave, but we are certainly called to put to death all the pride and selfishness that lurks in our hearts. Yet he is worthy of our following. Brothers and sisters, let us have the mind of Christ. By his spirit, he lives inside us, and he will help us. Let us empty ourselves, serve others, and obey our Lord as we go to great lengths to welcome the stranger into our Christian families.  


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