Research suggests that people make a judgment about us within four seconds of meeting us. Within thirty seconds they have analysed and finalised the judgment. So much for “these things take time”!
However accurate the above statement is, it does remind us of how important people’s first impressions are of us as Christians, especially in the context of our church gatherings. I wonder how many have made up their minds about the Christian faith because of the welcome they received when they attended a church service?
Paul was concerned not only about how we make that initial welcome, but how a culture of welcome and acceptance is developed within the life of a church.
In Romans 15.7 he says: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”
The NRSV translates: “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
Paul was writing to the church at Rome. Clearly there were some tensions between the gentile and Jewish believers. Paul was calling the church to extend a level of welcome and acceptance that transcended the boundaries of culture and the contours of theological understanding.
What did this kind of welcome / acceptance look like? What could it look like for us?
Firstly, it was a modelled on Christ Himself.
True openness towards each other is based on the welcome that God extended to us in Christ.
That very thought is worthy of hours of reflection and meditation. The question “What would a church look like that zealously sought to implement a vision of welcome and acceptance based on Christ’s self-giving on the cross?” might yield answers that would help any church become irresistibly attractive to outsiders.
In the context of Romans 15, the application of this principle is simply that Christ did not please himself, and therefore we should please others and not ourselves. Simple, though not always easy (vv.1-3).
Secondly, the manner in which we do this is that of support for those who are weak.
In Romans 15.1, Paul says: We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.
No doubt you can apply this broadly. However, this might be a little tongue in cheek. Some of those in the church at Rome considered others to be weak because they saw things differently. Paul was saying that they had to “bear with” their “weaker” brothers and sisters.
Paul uses very strong language here. “Ought to” does not mean “it would be a good idea if”. The original word translated “ought to” was used of owing a debt. It is used this way in Matthew 18 in the parable of the unmerciful servant.
We have an obligation to welcome and accept those who are weak by bearing with their failings, whether real or perceived.
Finally, the motive of acceptance and welcome is not simply to tolerate people and therefore keep the peace. It’s more than that. It’s to build people up:
Each of us should please our neighbours for their good, to build them up (Romans 15.2).
If it was only the growth or health of the church that was at stake, that would be serious enough. But it’s much more than that. It’s God’s glory: Accept one another just as Christ accepted you in order to bring praise to God.
A true concern for God’s glory should produce a culture of welcome.
I’ll leave the last word to the Message :
So reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory. Jesus did it; now you do it! (Romans 15.7 MSG)