I realized later that this was a close-knit group of long timers in that particular area of ministry. They all knew each other and seemed to be content with just talking to each other.
I also remember feeling very UNwelcome.
People were UNwelcome in the Roman church. People from a Jewish background that put their faith in Jesus as the Messiah were sitting next to Gentiles who had heard the good news that the one true God had accepted them. That was the teaching. But the reality was that sometimes it did not work out that way at church.
So as Paul nears the end of his letter he writes the words that can do the greatest good in building a church:
Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Romans 15:7 ESV).Paul provides three keys to the art of welcoming.
First, recognize that we are to welcome ONE ANOTHER. "Welcome" means to "receive to oneself," as in taking someone in as a friend or companion or to eat with them. The word is also an imperative. In other words it is a command, not a suggestion. We don't have the option of excluding those who Christ has welcomed.
Next, learn how to welcome. Paul says to welcome "as Christ has welcomed you." How did he welcome you? The answer is as close to you as a reading of the story of the Prodigal Son. In it a father welcomes his wayward son. Notice that he doesn't wait for him to get all the way home. He RUNS OUT TO GREET him. And when he meets him, he embraces him.
When we welcome others as Christ welcomes we convey as the Father did that we delight in them. We smile and we speak words that affirm them. We listen intently to their lives.
Finally, we welcome with the goal that God is glorified. Here's why: people will learn more from what they SEE in us than from what we SAY to them. For instance, if a motel chain promises you a warm and inviting place to spend the night and you find instead a run down, roach infested room, which speaks more loudly: what they said or what you saw?
The same is true for the church. When we welcome as Christ welcomes, people far from God see something of Christ in us. They see our words and lives in alignment. God is glorified by that.
Why not make today the day you start being a stronger "WELCOMER"? See who needs to be welcomed and you take the first step towards them. After all, that's what Jesus did with you.