When you hear the word “hospitality” what comes to mind? For me, I instantly imagine a cheerful host opening the door of a big house. I see her Pinterest-worthy table and notice her ability to make amazing charcuterie boards. Then I’m flooded with all the reasons why I don’t think I can show hospitality. If you can relate, I have good news for you. Biblical hospitality is not about entertaining or impressing people. Hospitality is actually a mission to welcome the stranger. In this series we’ll look at what Jesus’s hospitality looked like, how hospitality is important in a hostile world, and how we can practically show hospitality to others. In this first post we’ll explore the Who, What, Where, Why, and When of hospitality.
What is Hospitality?
I love how Joshua Jipp describes hospitality. He says it is when “…the identity of the stranger is transformed into that of a guest.” In other words, hospitality can be seen as a “welcome.” Biblical hospitality is born out of experiencing the love and welcome of Jesus. In response it then welcomes others. (We’ll explore this more in the next post.) Hospitality is important because it can lead to evangelism, discipleship, and friendship.
Who Do We Show Hospitality To?
Believers are commanded to be hospitable to both strangers (Hebrews 13:2) and saints (Romans 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9). Notice that hospitality is different from friendship. Hospitality is “the process of making space for strangers.” Friendship is “the result of hospitality to strangers.”
Listen to Jesus’s heart-revealing question: “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same” (Luke 6:32–33). Christian hospitality transcends the natural impulse of interpersonal exchange for mutual benefit. In contrast to the hospitality codes of the ancient world, Christian hospitality gives with no expectation of anything in return.
Paul models hospitality to the saints in 1 Thessalonians 2:8. He says, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” Paul models holistic hospitality. Alexander Strauch builds on this point, “Hospitality is a concrete expression of Christian love and family life. It is an important biblical virtue… Giving oneself to the care of God’s people means sharing one’s life and home with others. An open home is a sign of an open heart and a loving, sacrificial, serving spirit. A lack of hospitality is a sure sign of selfish, lifeless, loveless Christianity.” Hospitality is a gift to the church in that it seeks to transcend “ethnic, gender, racial, cultural, and socio-economic differences among Christians.”
Why Care About Hospitality?
The short answer is because God cares about it. He sees our hospitality or lack thereof. God blesses hospitality and curses the inhospitable. Think about people in the Old Testament: the Ammonites and Moabites (Deuteronomy 23:3–4), Benjamites (Judges 19:15, 18), Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19), and Churlish Nabal (1 Samuel 25:1–13; 36–42) were all brought to judgment because of their lack of hospitality.
Conversely, remember Abraham and Sarah “entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2). They were “rewarded for their pastoral hospitality with the promise that their son would be born within the year (Genesis 18:1–15).” They weren’t the only ones rewarded for showing hospitality. Remember how Abigail won herself a husband with her generous hospitality to David (1 Samuel 25:14–35, 39–42). And there was the widow of Zarephath gave the last of her food to Elijah and “was rewarded a jar of flour and jug of oil that did not fail until the famine was over” (1 Kings 17:8–16) Rahab hid the spies (Hebrews 11:31) and was spared the destruction that came upon Jericho. God sees our actions–– good or bad. Just as the inhospitable are cursed, so we see that the hospitable are blessed. I love Hebrews 6:10: “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name…”
Where and When Should We Show Hospitality?
So maybe we catch the biblical vision of hospitality and our aim is to pattern our lives after a welcoming God, but where do we start? Start anywhere you see the need. Are there people in your church you could encourage? Are there orphans you could welcome? Are there single moms you could help? Look for the needs and there is your opportunity.
When sin entered the world, relationships became fractured (e.g., Genesis 3–4). Hospitality stands as an effort to mend these fractured relationships. Practically speaking, hospitality can serve to combat racism, social prejudice, and xenophobia (the fear of strangers). These social problems cause division; hospitality is part of the solution to restore love for God and neighbor. Hospitality is about welcoming others in the same way God welcomed us. True hospitality can be shown to both strangers and saints, and it’s encouraging that we can start wherever we see the need. In the next post, we’ll look at Jesus’s amazing display of hospitality.
- Saved by Faith and Hospitality by Joshua Jipp, viii, 2-3.
- Dictionary of Biblical Imagery by Leland Ryken, 403.
- The Hospitality Commands: Building Loving Christian Community: Building Bridges to Friends and Neighbors by Alexander Strauch, 17.
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Jipp ROCKS! Great book.