When we read the Bible it’s important to always keep in mind the literary context and the overarching narrative of the entire book. If we don’t then at best we get creative interpretations; more often than not we take verses and fit them into our own way of thinking. Take for example Revelation 3:20, a verse notoriously used as a conversion text by old school evangelists. The line goes something like,
“Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart–will you let him in?”
The corny phrase is based on a poor interpretation of this text that when read properly, actually provides really useful insight for churches.
The first few chapters of Revelation are in fact very specific references to the recipients–seven churches in ancient Asia Minor. The last church addressed is one in a city named Laodicea. This particular church is being called out for being average (lukewarm). “…wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked,” are the words from Jesus to a church that settles into the status quo.
These are frightening words coming from Jesus to a church. What’s even worse? From verse 20,
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
Jesus is locked out, not from people’s hearts, but outside of this church. It’s a church gathering, and they won’t let Jesus in!
This is particularly contextual because at this time the Roman empire was in charge, and soldiers were known for entering homes unannounced. Since the first churches met in homes the fact this church refused to let in someone who knocked was an act of self-preservation over radical hospitality. That early church, and many after it, are known for one thing: not their power or structures, but by their radical love.
The way of Jesus calls for radical hospitality to be pitted against our common individualism. To give that up makes us, the church, stand for nothing.