Recently a number of posts on hospitality have shown up in my blog feed. Discussions about scruffy hospitality or discovering that hospitality is about friendship not impressing people and learning that it really isn’t about entertaining.
Yet there’s something about all of them, commendable though they are, that makes me a little sad. I think it’s a sad reflection over the state of the church where we have embraced a starved, skinny and under-nourished form of hospitality instead of the more robust Biblical version.
As Leanna Shepard argues in this post about gospel-driven hospitality
If you look up the word hospitality, what you’ll not find is a definition that reads, “Graciously hosting a weekly small group,” or “Welcoming your best friend and her family into your home for a home-cooked meal and game of Monopoly.”
Rather, true hospitality means loving the stranger; treating a new acquaintance like an old friend; sharing the best of your time and possessions with the underprivileged.
Hospitality is a requirement of elders (Titus 1:8), it was a requirement for widows to receive church help (1 Tim 5:10), it was expected to be done with a willing heart (1 Peter 4:9), and expected by the church as a whole (Rom 12:13). Yet I think not nearly enough elders are challenged by the question of whether they are genuinely hospitable or not.
Yet the one way the Biblical version of hospitality is flat-out different to much of what passes for it today is this: it was given to strangers (Heb 13:2). Not your new friends, not the people you’ve been meaning to catch up with for a while now, not your old buddies who are passing through your city for a visit – that’s being friendly, helpful, kind and that’s, you know, not bad. Don’t feel bad for doing it, just don’t mistake it for the genuine thing.
So here’s an easy test for you to do a health check on your hospitality. When was the last time you had someone you would have said was a stranger, to stay in your home?
Has there been any risk, at all, of you entertaining angels?
Yet there are plenty of good reasons to avoid practising Biblical hospitality, and the first one is the cost. As Leanna rightly says,
At the heart of hospitality is the heart of the gospel—sacrifice, love, humility. And it’s hard. Jesus bids us to come and die, and there’s nothing easy about that!
There is a price to be paid when your home is opened in this way. It is tiring, it does not mean your home will resemble an episode of Friends or a picture in an IKEA catalogue. It is noisy, it is constant and it can go on much longer than you might want it to.
Here’s a question that you may or may not have considered before. When the Apostle Paul was on his missionary journeys and stayed in towns, where do you think he lived? A hotel or a guest-house? Airbnb? Or in someone’s house for days, weeks and even months at a time?
Much has been made of the fact that the Bible has a whole book dedicated to sex, not nearly as much has been made about the fact that it also has an entire letter devoted to hospitality.
3 John has 14 verses, the first eight commend Gaius for his hospitality, the next two condemn Diotrephes for being inhospitable. Verses 11 & 12 tell us to copy the good and the last two that John will tell Gaius more when John comes to stay!
Paul when writing to Philemon finishes by asking him to get the guest room ready. I know of plenty of people with guest rooms but no guests. Rooms reserved for the occasional visit of a family member but empty for months at a time to people who might need somewhere to live.
So here’s my definition of what hospitality is and what it isn’t:
It isn’t hospitality if it just means evening meals. It is hospitality if it includes breakfast, lunch & midnight snacks.
It isn’t having another family over for a meal. It is extending the size of your family
It isn’t opening your home for a small group. It is opening your home to those in need of a home.
It isn’t hospitality if it’s planned for your convenience. It is hospitality if it’s offered for their need.
Photo by defaulterror