7Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
That line between a self-conscious Judean and a thoroughly Hellenized individual of Judean ancestry, between a more or less observant member of the Judean community seeking to be faithful to the God of Israel, and a Judean who had adopted Greek ways and gods – between those who were circumcised (despite the scorn of the then modern world) and those who were not – was the deepest line dividing self-conscious Judeans from everyone else. It is like the line between Black and White when there were still fountains and restrooms labeled ‘whites only.’ It is the line between Arab and Jew today, or between American and Muslim in the days after 9/11. It is the line between rich and poor, ‘good people’ and ‘those people’, ‘us’ and ‘them’.
The erasing of this line is the linchpin of Christian faith. If Jesus is the Christ, the anointed of God, the Messiah who inaugurates the kingdom of God, in whom all creation is brought to its fulfillment; if Jesus is the Christ to whom, the scriptures say, “all nations shall come”; if he is the savior of the world and not just Judea, then the mission of his fledgling community is not to make people into better Judeans, but to gather all people to Christ – which, of course, happens not by obedience to the Judean law, but by trusting the redeeming, gathering work of God in Christ.
So erasing that dividing line between ‘Jew’ and ‘Gentile’ is everything. Then “welcoming one another” is not mere politeness or an effective mission strategy, it is the gospel itself. Welcoming one another proclaims the glory of God – the greatness and majesty and honor of God who comes to reign over the whole world, not some little part of it. It glorifies God by showing forth that he is the savior of all, not the patron deity of a few. Welcoming one another gives proper glory and honor to God who has come in Christ to bring the grace of life of the age to come. Not welcoming one another denies that Jesus is the Christ.
Paul’s exhortation here is not a simple injunction to be polite to one another. This is a command essential to being sons and daughters of the kingdom.
So every time the church comes across as cold, aloof, unwelcoming, it denies Christ. It makes Christianity into just another one of the world’s many religions. It makes God one among many. It betrays the claim the Christ is Lord. It betrays the claim that there is only one God.
That dirty look my grandmother gave to some stranger who dared sit in “her pew” was funny to her grandchildren, who had to get her to church 15 minutes early to ensure she got her pew. But it was not funny. It denied Christ.
7Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written…
From there Paul goes on to quote passage after passage from the scripture as evidence that God has come in Christ to gather all nations, all peoples.
Nothing less than the promise to Abraham is at stake here, the promise that through Abraham God would bless all nations. This is the whole faith. On this the church stands or falls.
So we who bear the name of Christ can be self-righteous prigs if we want to. But if we are, we are not Christians.
On the other hand, we can remember always that Christ has welcomed us – and let that wondrous grace be the shaping power of our life.