Hospitality. This was an important quality that characterized the New Testament church, one that the biblical writers saw the vital importance of:
- “Be hospitable to one another without complaining” (1 Peter 4:9).
- “Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality” (Romans 12:13).
- “Don’t neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).
I struggle with this because I have an overdeveloped sense of privacy. I like my personal space, my personal thoughts, and my personal time. The very nature of hospitality is sharing what we consider to be “personal” with each other in a sacrificial way. True enough, there are some who gravitate more naturally towards this kind of sharing with others; they are bent towards a more “public” approach to life than others.
I live with someone like this. My sweet wife, on a near weekly basis, is welcoming someone into our home, making something delicious to eat, or giving of her time to sit with someone and listen. But if you take the words of Scripture seriously, hospitality is more than a character trait that is easier for some than others to practice; it’s a command. Hospitality is to be pursued and not neglected without complaining.
And here is where the temptation comes in for me, and perhaps for all introverted type folks out there – we tend to think of hospitality as a single action that is pursued occasionally, as if we are some kind of a quota system. I, and maybe you also, think that if we do something hospitable every once in a while that we have checked off the box for the month and are free to go back to our private life until we feel some measure of guilt again.
But for the Christian, hospitality is not just an act to be performed; it is a posture to be assumed.
To understand why that is, we need to first understand what hospitality really is. While there are certain acts, like making the casserole or opening your home, that are indicative of hospitality, the characteristic itself has a deeper meaning and implication than these actions. The word hospitality comes from the combination of two words: “love” and “stranger.” Literally, then, hospitality is the love of strangers.
This is a powerful description of what the gospel is. When we were strangers and aliens, God took us in. When we were without a home and family, God brought us into His. When we were without hope in the world, God adopted us as His children.
In the ultimate act of hospitality, God provided a way to welcome us through the death of Jesus Christ. God is ultimately hospitable, and therefore hospitality is a characteristic built into the spiritual DNA of all those who have experienced this divine hospitality.
Hospitality, then, is that characteristic that compels us to put aside our own interests, to lay down our own desires, and to welcome the needs of others ahead of our own, just as Jesus did with His life and death.
And just as we are told to do likewise:
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, sharing the same feelings, focusing on one goal. Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others (Philippians 2:1-4).
Jesus, during His life, epitomized hospitality though He had no home. Though He did not have physical resources. Though He didn’t have an oven or a cookie sheet or a casserole dish. Jesus practiced the core of hospitality, which is sacrificing something of your own to welcome others in. This is why hospitality is not merely a set of actions; it’s a posture of living.
Be hospitable, Christian – but don’t confine hospitality too narrowly. Assume the posture of sacrifice to welcome others into your life, and in so doing, follow the example of Jesus.
Michael Kelley is the Director of Discipleship at LifeWay, and author of Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life