Receiving One Another: How the Act of Welcome Changes the World

The one who welcomes you welcomes Me, and the one who welcomes Me welcomes Him who sent Me. (Matthew 10:40)

This statement comes at the very end of Matthew 10 and its long discussion of the costs and communion of following Jesus. It’s a promise of Jesus’s presence and identity with us, and it gives us a path to uniting with one another in love and mutual support.

The power of this statement, and the behaviour it encourages, can’t be overestimated. Of everything Jesus taught, this may be the most revolutionary.

Beyond Welcome

The encouragement to “welcome” one another immediately points to the practice of hospitality. These days (at least in North America), hospitality likely sounds somewhat peripheral — like an afterthought to all the “real” parts of discipleship, like prayer and Bible study and evangelism.

But this is wrong. In fact, when it comes to how we practice our faith, few things are more important.

Hospitality means welcoming each other, not just giving one another a nod from a distance. It means opening our doors, our pantries, and our arms to other people when they arrive in our lives.

Sometimes they arrive needy, and sharing what we have is an act of meeting a physical need. Sometimes they don’t, and sharing what we have is simply an act of mutual enjoyment of God’s gifts. But either way, hospitality is a central part of Christian faith and practice.

What Jesus is describing here, however, goes beyond hospitality.

The word rendered “welcome” here, the Greek dechomai, can also be translated “receive.” In Scripture, it is also used to describe Jesus taking a child into his arms, an embrace, or the act of listening carefully to what someone is saying.

To receive someone else, in other words, is more than just greeting them at the church doors and handing them a welcome packet, and it’s certainly not about “entertaining” people for an evening.

To receive another is to bring them in. It is to usher them into our lives and in a sense, into ourselves. It is to bring someone into your life so you can share what you have and who you are with them.

That’s what Jesus called his followers to do for one another. Paul later took this statement of Jesus and rephrased it as a command:

Therefore accept [receive] one another, just as the Messiah also accepted [received] you, to the glory of God.

Jesus’s disciples took this concept seriously. And in a very short time, it was this practice more than any other that would transform their lives and the whole nature and trajectory of the church.

What It Means to Receive

Before we get there, here’s a brief list, from Thayer’s Lexicon, of the ways dechomai is used in Scripture and other Greek writings. Note especially how personal it is:

To receive, grant access to; not to refuse contact or friendship; to receive into one’s family in order to bring up and educate;

to receive favorably, give ear to, embrace, make one’s own, approve, not to reject

To take upon oneself, sustain, bear, endure;

To learn.

The Explosive Trajectory of Community

For a moment, think about how this played out in early church history.

First, the disciples had to receive Jesus and one another, prioritizing their Lord over their own natural families, national identity, and religious groups. They entered into a deep “communion” with each other — a lifestyle of sharing and unity.

After Jesus ascended into heaven, the young church received the Holy Spirit, and then they found themselves tasked with “receiving” three thousand new converts in one day. In that moment they formed a brand-new community of people on the earth, centered around the lordship and invisible presence of Jesus in their midst.

Many of those converts were visitors to the city from other Roman provinces who had just gathered for the Passover feast, but now it was important for them to stay and learn from the apostles.

So the believers in Jerusalem received the new believers in the most practical ways possible: they sold all their goods, flung open the doors of their homes, moved in together, and started worshiping and learning together while supporting one another economically and literally sharing their bread.

Acts 2:42 and Acts 20:7 tell us that the early Christians “broke bread together.” Some church historians understand this as describing the early eucharist, or the act of “taking communion.” It may well mean that, or it may just describe them eating regular meals together (although they certainly did “take communion” as well).

Either way, this simple phrase is a profound picture of what was happening among these firstborn Christians as they practiced receiving one another. They were in each other’s homes, eating together, expressing their faith together, and sharing what they had.

These gatherings transcended economic and cultural divides. When we take communion, in some sense we receive the body and blood of Jesus. At the same time, we receive one another into ourselves. Jesus said, “This is my body, given for you” (Luke 22:19). Paul later wrote, “Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27).

This is life-changing stuff. The early church was learning not to relate to one another primarily on a human level, but to relate to one another in and through Jesus Christ.

Beyond Ethnicity

Nor did the trajectory of communion and community end there. Early on, the predominantly Jewish church found itself facing the jarring need to step outside ethnic and cultural bounds and “receive” the Gentile believers — something they clearly needed to do because the Holy Spirit had already chosen to indwell those believers!

The enormous impact of this can be seen fairly clearly in Peter’s rooftop vision in Acts 10, where the “eating of unclean animals” is a stand-in for “eating with Gentiles as though they are equal to you in God’s sight.”

To the early Jewish Christians, receiving the Gentiles felt almost sinful. It was definitely controversial. Yet in the end the need to “receive one another” won out.

No other Christian practice, and no other command of Jesus, hits at the fabric of society like this does. Nothing picks away at the warp and woof of classism, racism, prejudice, and oppression like taking the command to “love one another” — so easily abstracted — and understanding it as “receive one another” instead.

Beyond Power Structures

Throughout the early church, on and on it went. The need to “receive one another” challenged social mores, oppressive structures, and ethnic divides.

In one of my favorite examples, the apostle Paul challenged a Christian slave owner named Philemon to take back his runaway slave, Onesimus.

He didn’t come right out and say “and then set him free.” Instead, he said this:

I am sending him back to you as a part of myself … For perhaps this is why he was separated from you for a brief time, so that you might get him back permanently, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave—as a dearly loved brother. He is especially so to me, but even more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. So if you consider me a partner, accept [dechomai, “receive”] him as you would me. (Philemon 12, 15–17)

Throughout the Western world, the institution of slavery — which was once completely ubiquitous, an accepted and unchallenged part of society — toppled. It did so in large part because of Christianity, because slavery and other unjust institutions cannot stand against the command to receive Jesus by receiving one another.

We have not always walked out this command well, or consistently. But every time we do, it changes things, and it changes things in dramatic and irreversible ways.

Beyond Hospitality: Where Receiving Goes

To be hospitable is to welcome another and share with him or her. Jesus’s command to receive one another starts there, but then it climbs. There is a trajectory to this.

Hospitality — an open door, an open heart — becomes receiving. Receiving becomes sharing, and within sharing more profound things sometimes happen.

Sometimes sharing becomes community, adoption, covenanting.

Sometimes an open door becomes forever.

Not one of us is called to be everything to everybody. That’s impossible — we have limits. But we’re all called to give of ourselves in some way and to receive one another in some way. We don’t all live the whole story, but we all live a piece of it.

It’s worth asking what your piece is — whom God is calling you to receive, and how.


This is Part 156 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.


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3 responses to “Receiving One Another: How the Act of Welcome Changes the World”

  1. […] Part 156: Receiving One Another: How the Act of Welcome Changes the World (Matthew 10:40) […]

  2. Stan Avatar

    Rachel, you did an excellent job on this critical subject of hospitality and how played out in the culture and history of its time. It certainly helps to give it the interpretation it deserves in order make the application. Timely. SB

    1. Rachel Avatar

      Thanks, Stan! Hope you and yours are well!

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