“As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.
That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.”
(also recorded by Matthew and Luke: Mt 8:14-17 & Lk 4:38-41)
It is interesting that today of all days we are doing church in our home and having a fellowship meal afterwards.
What I sense God is saying to us today about this passage is not about the healing Jesus performs on Peter’s mother-in-law. The points which have struck me revolve around this:
They bought Jesus home
What role, what place do our homes play in our faith? We can’t underestimate the importance of the home in the formation of faith, nor its importance in the expression of our faith.
The home: Inculcation.
Start this point by recognising a criticism levelled at Christians in the west. I was listening to a podcast as I was walking the dog this morning, the host was answering this criticism. The criticism is this: “People in the west are only Christian because they were brought up in a Christian home. If they’d grown up in India, or the Middle East they’d be Hindu or Moslem”. This implies that this is a reason to dismiss it as somehow wrong.
This may well be true (although I’d argue it isn’t universally so—a significant percentage of brothers and sisters in Christ are believers despite and not because of their home environment). Does it actually make any valid point about the truth of our faith?
- Does that mean that the accuser is only an atheist because he/she was brought up in an atheistic or secular humanistic home? Surely the important thing is whether our faith is true, not how we came to it. In other words, does the source of our belief somehow ratify or disprove it?
- We have all sorts of beliefs which were introduced to us as children. Even IF there are good medical/scientific reasons for them (such as the importance of cleaning out a cut, washing hands after using the toilet). Or social reasons, such as what is appropriate public behaviour or what clothes are appropriate. Are these to be disregarded as well because we learned them in the home as we were growing?
This is a logical fallacy known as the ‘genetic fallacy’. The origin of something in no way makes it true or false.
We don’t have to be embarrassed about passing on our faith to our children. Proverbs 22:6 tells us to “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it”.
One NT character teaches us is that the primary place to teach and train children in the ways of God is the home and not the church. It is family and not fellowship who have the responsibility for the faith of the next generation. This person is a young Pastor Paul writes to (twice) : Timothy
Acts 16:1 tells us that Timothy was a native of Lystra (in modern Turkey), that his father was Greek, and his mother was a Jewish believer in Christ. 2 Timothy 1:5 names Timothy’s mother and grandmother as Lois and Eunice, and tells us they were both believers: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also”. 2 Timothy 3:15 shows us the kind of home he grew up in: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” So, Timothy knew the faith ‘from infancy’ – in the home. It doesn’t appear he was raised as a Jew. Or at least we know he wasn’t circumcised, which is why Paul circumcised him. Given the date of writing of Paul’s letters toTimothy (1 Timothy AD62-64, 2 Timothy AD66-67), and the fact Timothy was taught the Holy Scriptures from infancy it is likely that his mother and grandmother were among the very first converts and that they brought him up in the faith. In the home. The Bible is silent on the role his father played, or didn’t play.
The Old Testament also speaks to the importance of the home in the faith of our children, it isn’t just a solitary verse in Proverbs! The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” (Genesis 18:17-19).
In the Pentateuch, there are lots of references to teaching children and telling them about what God has done, here are just two:
- “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children— how on the day that you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, the LORD said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’ (Deuteronomy 4:9-10).
- And when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, he said to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 32:45-46).
Likewise the Psalms speak to this, so for example we have Psalm 78 which says:
He established a testimony in Jacob
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments; (Psalm 78:5-7).
Isaiah records some of the words of King Hezekiah and they say, the father makes known to the children your faithfulness. (Isaiah 38:19).
We cannot understate the importance of the home and the family in bringing up children in the Lord. We cannot blame the church if our children are not believers until we have first looked a lot closer to home. The PRIMARY place for passing faith on to the next generation is the home and not the church, so as Christians, both in church and individually and in our own homes, the most effective thing we can do for the gospel is support and resource parents and families as they seek to bring up children.
The home: Hospitality
The second point I want to make about the home is about hospitality. Jesus went back to Peter and Andrew’s home after synagogue. After Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-Law, we read she served them, and I believe the description implies some kind of meal and hospitality was laid on. We sometimes have fellowship meals after church on a Sunday, but that is not common.
A significant indicator of a Godly home is the presence of Christian hospitality. No one should ever feel unwelcome in your home.
Romans 12:9-13 says: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
1 Peter 4:8-10 says: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
Hospitality is viewed in Scripture as an integral part of what it means to live as a believer, and I believe that like encouragement, it is an absolutely vital and possibly one of the most undervalued gift in the church today.
The Old Testament teaches us that we should be hospitable. For example, Leviticus 19:33-34 tells us that, “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt”. In Genesis we read of Abraham’s humble and generous display of hospitality to three strangers. Abraham was wealthy and could have called on one of his many servants to tend to the three unannounced visitors. Yet the hospitable and righteous Abraham generously gave them the best he had. And, as it turned out, he had entertained the Lord and two angels (Genesis 18:1-8). I wonder if the writer to the Hebrews had this in mind when he reminds us not to forget to “entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).
In the New Testament The literal meaning of the Greek word for hospitality (philo-xenos) is ‘love of strangers.’ Biblical hospitality is not simply about inviting people you know and like into your home, it includes doing the same with strangers: new and unfamiliar people at church for example.
In the time that the Bible was written, it was much more common to invite a stranger into your home than it is today, places to stay were scarce, and travel for the common man was undertaken on foot, so even relatively short journeys required overnight accommodation and places to eat.
During His public ministry, Jesus and His disciples depended entirely on the hospitality of others as they ministered from town to town (Matthew 10:9-10). In fact, as followers of Christ, our treatment of people shows our faith as genuine. Proverbs 14:31 says we honour God when we are kind to the needy, and Jesus says: “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12-14).
It is not surprising then that the early Christians both gave and received hospitality (Acts 2:44-45; 28:7). Hospitality was indeed a highly regarded virtue in ancient times, and is listed amongst the qualities which Paul says we should look for in Christian Leaders (Titus 1:8; 1 Timothy 3:2). Using our homes to show love, acceptance and welcome is the essence of Christian hospitality.
In these days we often don’t think much about entertaining strangers, in fact it is not part of our culture. It has been said that an Englishman’s home is his castle and many people don’t like other people coming into their homes. But the impact our homes can have is significant, and hospitality is an important part of Christian ministry, it marks us as different from people around us who by and large prefer to shut the world out when they walk through their front door. Matthew 25:40 says: ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ So, by serving others we serve Christ.
And as a final point here, food can play a role in hospitality, but hospitality doesn’t require it. It is as possible to be hospitable with a glass of water as it is with a 6 course meal.
The home: Community
In the CofE part of the communion service goes something like this (I’m saying this from memory, not from the prayer book):
The minister says, ‘the peace of the Lord be with you’
The congregation responds with, ‘and also with you’
The minister then says, ‘let us give one another the sign of peace’
There then follows something many people hate. For some it feels like an age, but in reality it’s only a few minutes. It is a time of awkward walking around the church and greeting the other people there. It all feels very false and disingenuous, some people feel manipulated or coerced into being nice to those around them. Many people hate it, they don’t like being made to be nice to people, what they want is to come in, keep their head down, say the prayers, sing the songs and then go home. For some, church life and home life don’t mix.
This is not the case for people in 1st century Palestine.
Simons’ home was much more than the home of husband, wife and children, The house Jesus went to is described as ‘the home of Simon and Andrew’. The narrative develops and Simon’s mother-in-law, is introduced to us. We have at least Simon, his wife (presumably), his mother-in-law and his brother all living together in the same house. That is assuming Peter and his wife had no children, Andrew was single and that Peter’s father-in-law was dead. If these people lived there as well, it would have been a very large household, but even if not, this does seem to be an extended family living together.
Simon had a mother-in-law. Simon was married. We also know this from Paul’s writings where he says that Simon (now called Peter) takes his wife on him when he travels for ministry. We have a sense nowadays that the disciples were all teenagers. Jesus was 30 when he entered ministry and I think that, for the most part, the disciples were around His age. Peter may well have been older. He was certainly married. His mother-in-law lived with him and his wife.
Nowadays, our culture is very (VERY) individualistic. Rarely, if ever, do we have extended families living together like this in the UK. We even talk about ‘nuclear families’ to indicate that it is only husband, wife and children in the home. But even that is changing, no longer is there an anticipation or even expectation that the father will live in the home with mother and children, even if the relationship is not sour. The ‘setting up home together’ understanding of marriage and family is not what it was. My niece is getting married in a couple of weeks and her relationship with her fiancé is very different to mine with Wendy.
When we got married we understood that our lives would change, that we would cease living two separate lives and become a unit. The Bible says a man will leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife and they will become one flesh. This does speak to the physical union of a husband and wife, but it speaks to more than that. Wendy and I are individuals, but we are first and foremost a unit. How each of us acts and lives impacts on the other. Deeply. We go on holiday together, we eat together, we sleep together. We are one, we act as one and we live as one. I set aside my own aspirations and dreams in favour of my marriage and my wife. Wendy does the same for me.
Both my niece and her fiancé are adamant (and agree with one another) that whilst they are getting married, neither of them has any intention of changing their lives in favour of the other. If she wants to go off on her own for a week with her friends, that’s what she’ll do. She sees it as her ‘right’ to live her life the way she wants to. She doesn’t feel the slightest obligation or responsibility to give her fiancé a second thought. She isn’t going to change for him, and he can like it or lump it, (that attitude is reciprocated by him). We work together. The Bible is clear that I am not my own, my body belongs to my wife, and hers belongs to me:
The thing is this.
The primary and the first place people learn how to live in community is in their homes. It starts when we are born and as we grow, especially when the family is intact and there are siblings, we learn about how our desires and wishes knock up against those of other people. When we get married and set up home together we are creating another community which (under normal circumstances) children are introduced and learn themselves how to live with other people.
It should be in the home that we learn to live with other people’s quirks and foibles.
The home should be where we learn how to accommodate the wishes and characteristics of people who are different to us. And sometimes we don’t even like.
In the home we learn to live in community. This is because the Gospel is a relational thing. It is not about doing stuff – even good stuff
The New Testament never once describes believers spending all their time on their own and occasionally joining with others when they felt like it, it describes believers living and sharing together in community and occasionally withdrawing to be with God, or being ‘sent out’ in ones and twos. Hebrews 10:25 which is so often wheeled out as a club with which to guilt people to come to church (“do not give up the habit …”), is just one verse in the whole counsel of Scripture which talks about fellowship with God and fellowship with one another. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single scripture which says don’t be part of the people of God, have nothing to do with them, don’t meet with them and don’t gather with them to worship God. The only Scriptural reason I have found for separation is to distance oneself from sin, sinful people or the world.
Acts 2:42ff describes fellowship so well. It describes believers being “devoted” to one another, it describes them being taught by the apostles, it describes them worshipping together, it describes them going to the temple to meet together, it also describes them using their homes, describing them loving and caring for one another, sharing meals together – and it describes them doing it DAILY …
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Many churches do hold mid-week meetings in homes. Some even call them home groups, but the general use of the home, opening it up on a more frequent and ad-hoc basis to others in our fellowship is not a common thing.
The local anglican church here in the village has a church centre with kitchens and separate rooms, so nearly all their church meetings are held there. Many other churches have a building which is adaptable and the same happens. This is a relatively recent phenomenon, look in many traditional churches and you will find that either they have no facilities other than the main sanctuary, or their hall / meeting rooms are recent additions. Often this means that people’s homes are rarely, if ever, used as a venue for church hospitality, and it is really noticeable when someone does open up their home regularly to others. Churches like us who have no building facilities tend to use people’s homes much more readily. And I think that is a good thing.
I would challenge anyone who is serious about following Jesus to really take on board this tremendous resource right at their fingertips. You don’t have to go out onto the street and shout at strangers walking past. Invite people into your home, show them hospitality, share a meal with them and you will find sharing the gospel so much more natural and easy to do.