It's time for our periodic check-up, a birds-eye view of the territory we have covered so far. We've tried to catch a four-fold vision of God's unchanging purpose to exalt the name of Jesus Christ among the nations; of the nations as largely lost and poor; of our own personal responsibility in accomplishing God's purpose for the nations; and finally, of God's unchanging promise to Christ when He said, "I have glorified your name and I will glorify it again." Then we've been attempting to work out our obedience to this vision in one of two broad categories, either by serving Him cross-culturally, or, what is applicable to the bulk of us, living here counter to the culture that is around us.
So far, we have examined two specific aspects of countercultural living: "intercession" and "giving." Most exhortations to obey the missionary mandate usually stop at that point. We go (serve cross-culturally), or pray and give. That's about all we usually hear at missions conferences: Go, give and pray. But there is a lot more.
In the next two chapters I want to focus on a third aspect of living counterculturally-the ministry of "refreshing and encouraging" those who are serving cross-culturally.
In Acts 16:40, Paul and Silas came out of prison and went into the house of Lydia, where they met with the brothers, encouraged them and then left. Lydia, if you remember, was the first convert in Philippi. She had insisted that Paul and Silas make her home their headquarters while they carried out their mission. By the time Paul and Silas had gone in and out of the Phillipian jail, Lydia's house has become the center for a fledgling church in Philippi.
In Romans 1:11, 12, Paul begins his magnificent letter by saying, "I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong, so that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith." Paul not only wanted to go to the Romans to encourage them but he wanted to receive encouragement from them for his work, as well.
Then in Romans 15:30-31, he says, "Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed." He anticipates going to Rome after a long, hard battle in Jerusalem, maybe being persecuted from unbelievers, but then being refreshed by the church in Rome.
Then in I Corinthians 16:15 he writes, "You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints. For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition." Stephanas, like Lydia, was the first convert in his province, in Achaia. He and his whole household had apparently given themselves to this ministry of refreshing the saints and particularly the Apostle Paul whenever they had an opportunity. Paul commends him for that ministry.
Then in 2 Corinthians 7:13 we read, "By all this, we are encouraged. In addition to our own encouragement we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was because his spirit had been refreshed by all of you. And his affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were obedient, receiving him with fear and with trembling." This time Paul rejoices, not because they refreshed him, but because they refreshed one of his helpers when he went to minister to them.
Moving on to 2 Timothy 1:16, "May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome he searched hard for me until he found me." I wonder why Onesiphorus had to search hard for the Apostle Paul? Later on, in this same letter to Timothy, Paul says that at his first trial no one stood by him; all had deserted him. Maybe no one in the church in Rome was even concerned about Paul. But this one man searched him out. No wonder Paul's heart was refreshed at Onesiphorus 's treatment of him. Then, finally, in his letter to Philemon, Paul says in verse 7, "Your love has given me great joy and encouragement because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints. I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience I write to you knowing that you will do even more than I ask. And one thing more, prepare a guest room for me because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.
In all of these verses, I have focused on the words "encouragement" and "refreshing." But there's another very significant point. In most of these cases, the ministry of refreshing and encouragement seems to have taken place in the homes of believers, whether Philemon, the Corinthians, or Lydia. As these unnamed believers opened their hearts to the Apostle Paul and their homes to minister to obvious practical needs, a tremendous relationship was forged between them-a relationship Paul seemed to go to great lengths to preserve.
Reflect on these words he writes to the Corinthian church-the same church he had to rebuke severely on another occasion for being lax in their treatment of a severe moral problem in the church: "We have spoken freely to you Corinthians and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you but you are withholding your affection from me. As a fair exchange I say to you, open wide your hearts to me, make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one. I do not say this to condemn you. As I have said before, you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die for you. I have great confidence in you, I take pride in you, I am greatly encouraged in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds" (2 Cor. 6:11). What a testimony to the depth of relationship forged between Paul and the churches which had earlier opened their hearts and homes to him!
Notice the tremendous effort the Apostle Paul makes throughout his ministry to preserve continual contact between himself and the churches that had refreshed him in the past. For example, in Ephesians 6:2 1, he writes, "Tychicus, a dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord will tell you everything that is happening here so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose and that you may know how we are doing and that he may encourage your hearts." Then in Phillipians 2:19 he writes, "I also may be cheered when I receive news about you." In Colossians 4:7, "Tychicus will tell you all the news about me, he is a dear brother, a faithful minister. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. They will tell you everything that is happening here."
Why was Paul so eager to make sure that all of the churches knew what was happening to him in his missionary projects? Why did he want to know what was happening to them? The answer is given in 1 Thessalonians 3:1, "For this reason, when I could stand it no longer [he wanted to know how they were doing and hadn't heard from them for a while], I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless. But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought us good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us again just as we also long to see you. Therefore, brothers in all our distress and persecution we are encouraged because of you and your faith."
Do you catch the importance of what Paul is saying? Here is Paul, persecuted, distressed and pressed in on all sides. What cheers him up? That the Thessalonians still have pleasant memories of him and long to see him again; that they were being obedient to the very gospel that he was so busily preaching among the nations at great personal cost. That encouraged Paul's heart more than words could express.
Put all of this together and we get a clear picture of the ministry of "refreshing" and "encouraging." At least for Paul, the premier missionary, two critical ingredients kept him going--the "hospitality" of the churches, when they were together, and "sustained contact" with the churches when they were apart. These are the two-fold ingredients of "refreshing and encouraging." When the missionary was with the sending church, there was hospitality. When they were apart there was sustained contact and information exchange.
Consider hospitality. Most people confuse "hospitality" with "entertainment." Entertainment is rooted in pride because it's almost always accompanied by a focus on self and a desire to impress our guests by our cooking, the decor of our home and by whatever other skills we may have. Inevitably, the focus on entertainment shifts from people to things. Everything has got to be perfect; and because this is impossible in reality, entertainment is usually accompanied with anxiety and irritability.
Biblical hospitality couldn't be further removed from entertainment. It actually comes from a root word that is a compound of two words meaning "love" and "stranger." So literally, hospitality in the Bible means "loving the stranger," and particularly the Christian brother or sister who is a stranger. Paul, Peter and the writer of the book of Hebrews intimately link together the ministry of hospitality, or loving the stranger, with loving the brother.
You might ask, "If that's what the word means, why did they bother translating it "hospitality" -a word that has all kinds of other connotations. Why didn't they just say "love the stranger"? Think for a minute: How does one love a stranger? If we are honest, we have to admit that we cannot immediately and instantaneously have warm feelings and empathy for someone we don't know at all. God didn't make us that way. But the Lord Jesus Christ made very clear to the disciples that when we minister to obvious physical needs of our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, we are actually loving them.
In the early church, there was one particular category of Christians who were both strangers and who needed practical help. The Apostle John, writing to the elder Gaius says, "Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. It was for the sake of the name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought, therefore, to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth" (3 John 5).
We know by now what he's talking about. In the early church, there were no mission societies to take care of all of the processes involved in sending out missionaries. There were no guest homes waiting for them in the field so they could slowly go through the period of acclimatization. The traveling evangelists and missionaries of that day had only one source of food and shelter as they kept moving along-the homes of Christians. Naturally, in most cases, they didn't know the Christians. It was these strangers that Christians were commanded to love, through hospitality.
Hospitality, then, is the use of our homes, whether modest or luxurious, in order to minister to some obvious practical needs of those who are involved in the spreading of the gospel.
This is not an option for just a few people who go in for a deluxe version of Christianity. The New Testament not only abounds with all kinds of examples of loving the stranger through hospitality, it's also full of specific commandments to show hospitality.
The Lord Jesus Christ Himself, in Matthew 10:11, said, "Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. As you enter the home give it your greeting. If the home is desiring let your peace rest on it. If it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth. It will be more bearable for Sodom and Gommorah on the day of judgment than for that town." Later on in that same chapter, he said, "He who receives you receives me; and he who receives me, receives the one who sent me." Jesus placed tremendous importance on this ministry of loving the stranger who was involved in the work of the Great Commission.
Peter says, "Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling (1 Pet. 4:8). In Timothy and Titus, where qualifications of elders in a congregation are outlined, Paul stresses hospitality as a key requirement for leaders in the early church. And, in this passage from John, the author ties hospitality to "walking in the truth." Actually he calls it "working together for the truth." This link we have been establishing here, then, is very clearly emphasized in the Scriptures as a command for all believers.
You might say, "That's a gift for just some people, isn't it? After all, we even have a workshop on hospitality in our church for those who have that gift." Yes, the Bible teaches that some people are especially gifted in this ability. I Peter 4:9, which tells us to offer hospitality to one another, is set in the context of gifts. But other Scriptures seem to imply that while hospitality may be a gift for some people, it is still a duty for all Christians. Romans 12:13 says, "Share with God's people who are in need; practice hospitality." The word "practice" literally means "pursue it" or run after it. So while some may have a real knack and flair for hospitality (we can't all be like them), every one of us, to a greater or lesser extent, needs to be involved in this ministry of refreshing or encouraging. We need to open our homes to love the stranger involved in the work of propagating the gospel.
But there is a second objection. If our definition of hospitality is right, then in one sense it doesn't apply today. There are dozens of mission societies which look after recruiting missionaries, training them, raising their support in one form or another and making sure that their health needs are taken care of. My own denomination is in the forefront of this kind of caring for missionaries. So you might say that, in such cases, hospitality is of no relevance. That is only superficially true. Remember that the purpose of hospitality is to refresh and encourage; that need is just as desperate today as it has ever been. Our homes will continue to be a key factor in carrying on this ministry of "refreshing and encouraging" and "sustaining contact" with the missionaries when they are apart from us.
Perhaps one of the reasons we find it so difficult to write regularly to missionaries is because, when they are here on furlough, we have never bothered to take the time to have them into our homes, to get a little bit closer to them, to let bonds be forged as between Paul and his churches, to open our hearts to them and have them open their hearts to us. Maybe some of us don't even take the time to come and hear them when they speak at missions conferences. I wonder what kind of message we are telegraphing to them, when they are home, about our interest in their work.
In 1986 I went to Indonesia to speak at a field conference of our Alliance Missionaries. I returned with an even greater conviction about the importance of this ministry of encouragement. Remember how encouraged Paul was by news from the Thessalonians that they also were committed to Paul's mission? One morning session I was preaching from Psalms 2 and 110 on why we can be optimists when it comes to missions. God had promised to exalt Jesus Christ, to extend His scepter from Zion, to supply willing, holy, fresh and obedient troops to battle for Jesus' cause. I talked honestly about the struggles we as a congregation were having because of our commitment to training and sending out labourers. I shared some of the difficulties our first wave of missionaries had encountered, and how we were mystified by this, yet didn't want to give up our vision.
A woman came up to me after that sermon and said, "That was the most encouraging sermon I've heard from you." That took me back a little, because all I shared was failures! I'll never forget what she said: "No! What encouraged me was that there is a church back home in North America that takes missions just as seriously as we do out on the field; when they encounter apparent failures, they feel the pain and hurt just the way we do."
It wasn't the presence or the absence of success that encouraged her, but the oneness in mission that she sensed from our church.
That also gives us an insight into the kind of letters we should write to our missionaries. One missionary told me of a letter from his church which said something to this effect: "I made a commitment at a missions conference to write three letters; yours is the first, I've two more to go." Those kinds of letters belong in the waste basket, because they do not refresh nor encourage.
What kind of letters refresh? Look to the Thessalonians. They wrote about their own faith. You and I need to open our hearts to missionaries in our letters and tell them of our own spiritual pilgrimage, how we are increasingly becoming committed to Global Vision. Then, we need to find out about their projects and what obstacles they face so we can begin to tear down those strongholds. We should pray for potential disciples, for fullness and fulfillment in their lives. Then maintain that contact with them, so that we grow with them in their projects. That will refresh and encourage.
Where do we acquire the interest necessary to maintain this kind of correspondence? When the missionaries are home, open your home to them. That interest will be reawakened over a cup of coffee late at night when the missionary unburdens his heart to you.
A recent letter from Miriam Charter, a missionary closely associated with our congregation, really underscored that for me. Anticipating a visit with us, she said:
I'm thrilled particularly about being with the Rexdale family as you are indeed like a second home church to me. It has always been for me an amazing and wonderful development that from a simple three month internship in your church I now have a church that supports me. I have felt a support and involvement from Rexdale that I have felt from no other church except First Alliance, my home church. I am doubly blessed.
During that trip to Indonesia I learned something else about refreshing and encouraging. I was always aware that one of the biggest challenges missionaries face on the field is having to send their young children away to school. What I had not grasped was the "equal burden" some of them carry for their older children they've had to leave behind in North America.
One morning when I joined the missionaries for prayer, a woman broke down as she wept and pleaded with God to raise up some family back home in North America that would take their university-age daughter under their wing and shepherd her during those difficult college days. Apparently, not too many of us are willing to respond.
Eugene Kelly, an Alliance missionary to South America, when visiting our congregation a few years ago, illustrated this reluctance. He told me about a fellow missionary whose son had to stay behind in the United States to carry on his college education. At one point, his son needed a place to stay for a while. He called his dad on the mission field and got five names of people in North America who might help. Later on the son called back to say that all five had refused. Kelly said, "I was standing next to this man when he got that telephone call. He just broke down and wept." Tell me, who says that the day of encouragement and refreshment is over? Our homes are just as desperately needed today as ever for hospitality.
But I'm afraid we won't respond when the opportunity comes if we don't make an advance commitment to respond right now, and link it to this broader vision of being countercultural servants here. It's very much a part of what we talked about in chapter 9 that stewardship is not only "giving" but "using" what God has given to us.
You might ask, "What place, then, is there for 'hospitality' as we normally conceive it? The hospitality you speak of is far removed from 'entertainment,' but it also seems far removed from the normal hospitality many people think we should practice-having Christian brothers and sisters (who are not missionaries), into our homes." It's a good question. "Normal hospitality" does relate to Global Vision in a very important way.
In Acts, the early church not only used its homes for the purpose of encouraging, refreshing and helping missionaries. They also opened their homes for fellowship with other believers. As those early Christians loved and ministered to one another in small groups, it became a living example to the non-Christians around them of a new kind of love. This attracted them to the message of the church; and when they heard the gospel preached in that loving environment (for the apostles preached in homes as well as the temple), they responded. Thus, God kept adding daily to the Church.
We have the same need today. Churches grow primarily, although not exclusively, by providing opportunities for people to get to know one another better and build intimate, deep relationships for which people are starved (at least in our society). But it's a "catch 22" situation. When a small church starts caring and sharing, and begins to grow because of that, the very growth can kill the opportunities for sharing and caring. It becomes progressively harder when the church is bigger. Even in a church like mine, which has a reputation for being friendly, warm and relatively non-threatening so that Christians feel free to bring their non-Christian friends, it seems we forget about the newcomers after an initial period of friendliness.
I will never forget a comment made by a new couple, one of whom was "saved" in our church, to one of our elders and his wife. They said, "It is almost impossible to crack the social circles in Rexdale Alliance Church." That's why we so desperately need to practice hospitality to the "strangers" that are right here. It's a key ingredient to growth, and you can't leave it to the pastors to do it all. Pastors are not paid to do your work. They are paid to teach, to train and to model so all of us together can do the work.
The more we practice this kind of hospitality, the more our churches will begin to grow. If we are going to have a sustained impact at the widest ends of the gap, we must continue to consolidate our base at home. If God is going to answer our prayers and send many more people out to serve cross-culturally, it's going to take many more people who are going to intercede, give, refresh and encourage. Growth at home is essential for sustained growth overseas.
In the next chapter we will consider the practical side of hospitality. How do we surmount the "nitty gritty" obstacles we encounter when we try to become refreshers and encouragers?