Note: I wrote this before the COVID-19 pandemic, but we still need to find ways to practice hospitality in creative ways despite the troubles. Social distancing cannot mean social disconnection.
My recent post about Dr. John Skilton, a life-long bachelor, reminded me how he preached and practiced the value of hospitality in evangelism. Some people who are not initially persuaded of Jesus’ gospel of grace, may be softened by the grace of the gospel shown forth in the lives of Christ’s followers. Before people see King Jesus by faith in the Scriptures, they may need to see the Risen Christ alive and working in and through us who are His believers.
The New Testament Greek word for hospitality literally means “love for the stranger,” but its meaning is broader. Alexander Strauch says: Hospitality is the practice of God’s welcome by reaching across differences to participate in God’s actions, bringing His grace and peace to our broken world. Hospitality is vital both in outreach to the unsaved and unchurched and in ministering compassion and kindness to brothers and sisters who are already in Jesus’ family.
Some Key Bible Passages
Deuteronomy 10:17-19 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality….He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner (outsider, newcomer, stranger, alien, non-citizen) residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.
Luke 14:12-14 Jesus said, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not [only] invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But 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.
Romans 12:10-13 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, 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.
Some Thoughts on Hospitality
Christ is the hospitable God who loves strangers and needy sinners. He opens the way for us to come into close fellowship with Him through Jesus’ blood and righteousness. As our highest motivation, we want to show hospitality to both believers and unbelievers to accurately reflect, resemble, and represent our God. Because the Lord has sacrificed for us and adopted us, we must do likewise. Jesus says in Hosea: “I taught Ephraim (Israel) to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.”1 When Christians show hospitality to others we imitate the Lord who saved us mercifully and mightily. What a privilege!
Because our Heavenly Father repeatedly forgives us, listens to us, understands us, loves us, accepts us, and cares for us, we must copy Him in our dealings with other people. Believers are new creatures in Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit. And we are to serve God with all the time, talents, and treasures He entrusts to our stewardship. Hospitality is one important way to do that.
Karen Mains in Open Heart, Open Home makes helpful distinctions between entertaining and hospitality. Entertaining tries to impress others with our home, decorating, and cooking. Hospitality seeks to serve others, acknowledging that our home is a gift from Jesus, so we use it for Him. Entertaining puts things before people, trying to get everything just right before inviting others over. Hospitality puts people first, even when the house is unfinished or messy, sharing what we have with old or new friends. Entertaining seeks admiration from our guests. Hospitality says: What is mine is yours, even if I don’t have much.
In the Luke 14 passage above, the Lord says: Pay special attention to the neediest folks. We are to love people who are hurting mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually because of their own sins, or the sins of others, or events beyond their control. Christ does not condemn them, so neither should we.2 This includes caring for single, divorced, and widowed folks; lonely and insecure people; folks who express prayer needs. By God’s grace working in us and through us, we can lighten the loads of others who bear heavy concerns and cares on their shoulders. We can befriend people who are far from home, who are missing family, friends, and familiar surroundings. We can make them part of our family for a time, even for just one meal.
Making friends for ourselves is good, but we ought to aim higher. We want our unbelieving friends to become friends of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. And we want unloved, untaught, unsaved, un-churched, and under-churched people who fall through the cracks to be added to caring and faithful church families. Un-churched people may at first be more comfortable in our living room than in our worship service. So we need to be prayerfully patient. It takes time to get to know people and develop trusting, loving relationships in order to present the gospel. Critics of the Christian message may challenge our logic, but they can’t challenge the reality of genuine Christian love when it’s coupled with God’s truth. Rosaria Butterfield in The Gospel Comes with a House Key says, “All around you people hunger for the covenant of God to include them.”
Christ calls us to behave like children of our Heavenly Father. God causes His sun to rise on both evil and good people, and sends His rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.3 The Psalms say, “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. He is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made….The Lord watches over the foreigner (outsider).”4 Let’s be careful not to make our affections narrower than Christ’s.
We need God’s grace to overcome our private-ness, selfishness, and superficiality. The Romans passage above speaks of affectionate, deep, generous, and joyous relationships among Christian brothers and sisters as normal and expected. Let us ask the Lord to give us large hearts for others, like His heart is toward us. God showers grace, mercy, and peace upon us. So let us pour out the same upon Jesus’ followers. Let’s invite other members home from church who we don’t know too well. Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds…encouraging one another all the more as we see the day of Christ’s return approaching.5
May God make us all like Philemon who refreshed the hearts of others in New Testament times.6
To be continued. You can read Hospitality Ministry Part 2.
Notes (various translations): 1 Hosea 11:3-4. 2 John 8:1-11. 3 Matt 5:45. 4 Psalm 145:8-9; 146:9. 5 Hebrews 10:24. 6 Philemon 7.