Food, Fellowship, and Missions

Text: Luke 5:27-32

Main Point: Biblical fellowship overturns the world’s standards.

One of my favorite children’s books is Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss. We have so much to learn from Gertrude McFuzz, the Big Brag, and that plain little turtle whose name was just Mack. You see, “that plain little Mack did a plain little thing. He burped! And his burp shook the throne of the king!” Too often, we underestimate the small things of everyday life. When we think about food, fellowship, and missions I want us to think about plain little people doing plain little things that will shake this world. Listen, biblical fellowship overturns the world’s standards and when we use food and fellowship to make disciples, we can overturn the world.

Recently I read Tim Chester’s book, A Meal with Jesus, and it got me thinking about the way Luke writes his Gospel and regularly mentions meals. So, I read through the Gospel of Luke and noted every time food or drink shows up. I was amazed at how much Luke talks about food and drink. If we add fasting to the list then there is a reference to either food, drink, or fasting in every chapter in Luke; some chapters have multiple references to food, drink, and fasting. You know, it’s almost like Jesus knows food and drink are ordinary everyday things that all of humanity can always relate to.

Let’s start in Luke 5, so you know where we are heading, and we will trace out what Jesus is saying about food, fellowship, and missions. Read Luke 5:27-32

Let’s start with the big overarching truth

I. Jesus came to overturn the world’s standards

This means Jesus is not ok with the way things were or the way things are. God’s people, the Jews, need to change, and the world, the rest of us, need to change. So how do we change? We change through Jesus. Jesus changes us. This is because

  • Jesus is a greater and stronger reality (Luke 1:46-55; 6:20-26; 16:19-26)

In Luke 1, Mary understands that the coming of Jesus is the means by which the humble are exalted, the proud are scattered, mighty kings are brought down, the hungry are filled, and the rich are sent away empty. The worldly thing for us to avoid is envying the rich, despising the poor, cowering before mighty kings, and making heroes of the proud. Jesus is a greater and stronger reality. Jesus, the one who laid aside his wealth and became poor, gives his life and joy to the poor, the hungry, and the weeping. The life and joy of Jesus means possessions and power are no longer our goals. Wealth and power cannot give life.

This is a warning for the rich and a promise for the poor. There is more to life than what you have or don’t have. The more, abundant life and complete joy, are found in Jesus and not in the things we have. Jesus came to overturn the world’s categories of value and meaning.

  • We are commanded to use meals to overturn the world’s standards (Luke 14:12-14)

Listen to Luke 14:12-14, “Jesus said also to the man who had invited him, ‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Alexander Strauch says, “The practice of Christian hospitality is truly distinctive from the world’s practice of hospitality because it reaches out to unwanted needy people who cannot reciprocate” (Hospitality Commands, 24).

The tendency among us is to use meals to gain advantage. Without thinking about redemption, without the mind of Christ, we gather people who are like us and people who can help us. The guest list is made up of people and families who will move us forward or lift us up. Think for a moment about your breakfast table, your lunch table, and your dinner table; who is there that isn’t like you? Think of your parties and your barbeques; who is there that cannot repay you?

Now, updating our guest lists can be dangerous, patronizing, and wickedly self-righteous. The danger is we do a head count; there’s one poor person, one crippled person, one lame person, and one blind person. But Jesus is not setting up a quota or party style affirmative action. Jesus is challenging our self-centered near-sighted worldly approach to meals and parties and galas and banquets.  Are you doing this party because you want to belong? Are you inviting these people because you want to get ahead? Or, are you doing this party because out of the overflow of life and joy in Christ you want to offer belonging and share what you have?

The gospel that overturns death with life, sin with righteousness, and makes outsiders into family is the gospel that propels us to offer belonging and friendship with those who are cast out. Who are these today? The poor, crippled, lame, and blind of our day look like foster children, immigrants, the mentally ill, the elderly, the lonely and others like these. It’s people not in your tribe or circle.

Jesus came to overturn the world’s standards. Are we living with him, like him, and for him? Are we gathering like Jesus or is our guest list another form of scattering as we keep people out? More than a hot meal, are we offering acceptance and belonging? Know this,

II. Fellowship is more than food

Now, we’re Baptists and that means when I say “fellowship” you may hear “food” and that is partially true. Fellowship often involves food, but fellowship is more than food. What I mean is

  • Food is necessary but not necessarily fellowship (Luke 11:3; 13:26-29)

In Luke 11:3, Jesus teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Jesus understands that food is necessary for physical life, but food is not necessarily fellowship. We know this is the case because in Luke 13 Jesus casts into hell those people who ate and drank with him. Those people were near Jesus, even sharing a meal with Jesus, but they did not know him, and he did not know them; there was a meal but no fellowship.

Let’s build a definition of biblical fellowship

  • Fellowship is sharing and sharing is caring (Luke 15:2)

In Luke 15:2, the Pharisees complain that Jesus receives sinners and eats with them. To receive a sinner is to welcome the person and bring them in offering friendship and belonging. So, it is possible to share a meal with a person without caring for the person. It is possible to share a meal with a person but not hear her stories or share her joys. It is possible to serve a person without offering to help carry her burdens. The Pharisees kept the hurting at arm’s length, but Jesus embraces. The Pharisees open their wallets, but Jesus opens his home.

Fellowship is the sacrificial offering of belonging. Rosaria Butterfield says it well when she says the gospel comes with a house key. The gospel-meal must be served on a plate of acceptance and friendship. So, 

  • Intentionally use food and offer fellowship (Luke 3:11; 12:29-31; 5:30-32)

John the Baptist tells the repentant, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise” (Luke 3:11). Instead of worrying about food and drink, we are commanded to advance the kingdom. Rosaria Butterfield gives a helpful mindset when she encourages us to open our homes so that strangers become neighbors and neighbors become family. When the guests are gone, pause and ask what you gave them. Did you merely give a meal? Did you talk about yourself and what you think? Or, did you offer a listening ear, a gospel word of encouragement, a gracious word of correction, and acceptance?

Now, we’re back to Luke 5; we’re back to Levi, Jesus, and a feast. Looking at Luke 5:27 and 28, what did Jesus do and how did Levi respond? Jesus said to Levi, “follow me.” Levi left everything and went with Jesus. Then in verse 29, what do we see? They are at Levi’s house putting on a big feed. The outcasts are there at the table and the Pharisees are scandalized, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus’ answer is crucial to the proper understanding of fellowship. Looking at verses 31 and 32, what is the goal of food and fellowship? In verse 31, the goal of food and fellowship is healing. In verse 32, the goal of food and fellowship is repentance.

It doesn’t matter if you have a small eat-in kitchen or a sprawling dining room, meals can be opportunities to meet physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Jesus shows us how to intentionally use food to offer fellowship. Jesus offers a meal, around the table Jesus offers acceptance, and with acceptance comes healing and restoration through calling sinners to repentance.

Here it is good to urge the confrontational among us to slow down and get to know the other before you bring the hammer down. Offer belonging before you deliver the blow. It is also good to call the timid among us to speak up and plead with the one you know to repent. Jesus wants us to see our tables as a means for making disciples.

III. Use food and fellowship to make disciples

Here are some principles and practical advice. First, we need to understand that

  • The lack of food and the luxury of food are both a trap (Luke 12:19-30, 45; 21:34)

Proverbs 30:8 shows us the trap, “give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.”

It is the rich fool of Luke 12 who says to his soul, “you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” The good life for the fool was defined by the abundance of his possessions, storing up good stuff for himself. It is the wicked servant later in Luke 12 who says to himself, “‘My master is delayed in coming’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk.” Jesus warns us all, “watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down by dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and [the return of Jesus] come upon you suddenly like a trap” (21:34).

While the poor need to be warned about jealousy, envy, and bitterness, people with plenty of grocery money need to be warned about making life about fine dining and mixed drinks. It is a problem if you cannot enjoy a meal because the rich are there, and it is a problem if you cannot enjoy a meal unless alcohol is there. Our first principle for using food is understanding that the lack of food and the luxury of food are both a trap. Here is our second principle for food and fellowship

  • Be a servant of others, do not be a slave to serving (Luke 17:7-10; 10:40)

We Christians must not think of ourselves first and foremost as independent and free from others. It is not my house, my body, my money, my food, and my stuff. We Christians do not get to go first; we are called to serve all. Like a slave coming in from the fields, we do not expect to be served but to serve. Once we have served, we do not look for a thank you but acknowledge that our hospitality, serving a meal to others, is merely what has been commanded. Luke 17:10 is pointed, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” The picture Jesus paints of the way Christians live is every day all-day servants of others.

That call to serve is for those of us who don’t open our homes and don’t share our tables because we’re too busy or the house is too small. But what about those who do serve constantly, trust in themselves that they are righteous, and treat those who do not serve with contempt? What about the Marthas out there?

In Luke 10 we see two sisters who are hosting Jesus with their house full of strangers. Martha is slaving. She says to Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me.” Jesus’ answer helps us keep the way we serve in check. Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42). Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to him.

There are at least two dangers here. The first is that we wake early and get to work serving others but do not first sit at the Lord’s feet and listen to him. If hospitality pushes out every day read and pray, then we are getting hospitality wrong. So practically, this call to every day read and pray does not mean don’t open your home and don’t share your table. Instead, it means avoid the second danger of making hospitality the goal. Here is the danger of stressing and fretting until every part of the family, home, and meal are manicured but no one brings Jesus to the table. So, with Mary and Martha, Martha is not wrong to serve but is wrong to prioritize the details of serving over being with Jesus. If you bring Jesus to your table, no one is going home complaining about a cup going empty or dust bunnies in the corner.

Concerning hospitality, we need to fret about being with Jesus and we need to fret about bringing the presence of Jesus to the table. Consider this

  • Jesus regularly used meals to help accomplish the mission (Luke 5:27-32; 7:36; 9:10-17; 14:1; 15:2; 22:7-23; 24:30)

Again, from Luke 5, why did Jesus eat with sinners? He ate with sinners in order to draw near to them to know them, offer healing, and call sinners to repentance. Butterfield again says it well, “Jesus ate with sinners, but he did not sin with sinners.” Jesus’ goal in the meal is a relationship for restoration. In Luke 7 Jesus goes to eat in the home of Pharisee and there he brings forgiveness to a sinful woman. In Luke 9 Jesus feeds the 5000 as an invitation for all to come to him to be fed with righteousness, love, and acceptance. In Luke 14, Jesus is again eating in the home of a Pharisee and there he heals a man. A meal in Luke 15 is the context for Jesus’ parables about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. Around that table, Jesus offers a word of correction to the Pharisees who are the older brother.

The Passover meal and Lord’s Supper in Luke 22 is a clear example of Jesus using a meal to accomplish his mission. The details of the meal become teaching points about service, sacrifice, and the need for the new covenant in his blood. And don’t forget the resurrection meals with the disciples in chapter 24. Through asking questions, teaching, breaking bread, and eating broiled fish, Jesus is using meals to accomplish the mission. Seeing that Jesus is our example, this means

  • We should use meals to help accomplish the mission (Luke 14:12-14; 15:2; 19:1-10; 22:7-23)

Intentionally use food and offer fellowship to build a relationship where healing and repentance take place. Luke 14:12-14 teaches us to mind our invites; are we bringing the outcasts into our homes?  Luke 15:2, are we receiving sinners and eating with them or are we afraid for our stuff and for our children? Jesus’ interaction with Zacchaeus in Luke 19 gives us some encouragement to go after an invitation from others; that stranger may become a neighbor and then family with you around his table, not your own.

We use the Lord’s Supper each month as a reminder that we are family. The Lord’s Supper is the reset button on our hospitality. Are we eating with Jesus and are we eating with our brothers and sisters? We host 5th Sunday fellowship meals as a training ground to equip you to do the same on a smaller scale in your home. What I mean is, at the 5th Sunday meal at the end of this month, bring a lot of food (enough food to feed your family a full meal plus some) and don’t sit with your friends; use the meal to make new friends.

Here’s the point: simple biblical fellowship is meant to overturn the world. Let’s be intentional to use ordinary meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) as opportunities to bring healing and plead for repentance. Let’s be intentional to accept invitations to ordinary meals knowing we need healing, and we need our brothers and sisters to plead with us for repentance. Depending on your schedule and needs, I want every person or family to commit to offering hospitality once a month. Start with a Saturday meal that includes praying for our worship gathering the next day. Or, start with a Sunday meal that includes a discussion of a song we sang together, a reading, or the sermon. Use an evening meal for family worship together. I would love to see every home open at least once a month with the goal of offering belonging and acceptance while we all grow in repentance. May God bless our efforts and remove our excuses.

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