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I have been itching to get into this series for weeks! What can I say – life has overtaken blog recently. Apologies! This is part one of eight (ish), and the aim is that none of the posts will be very long. Hopefully, however, there’ll be some challenge in them, and an opportunity for debate. To this end, please do add your comments/experience so that we can make this a dialogue. Also, if you know of anyone who might appreciate this series, please do share it with them. To the best of my knowledge, hospitality is not an area which is spoken of very much in evangelical circles*, so I think it’d be good to get a conversation going! (* Some of the more liberal writings on Christian hospitality are excellent, and I’ve found them very helpful in the past. This is not a bash at liberals, just a plea for the subject to be dealt with by a range of Christian thinkers!)
So, to start at the very beginning, why do it? Why open our homes to others?
1) It’s a command found in Scripture. Permeating the New Testament are constant directives to “practise hospitality” (Romans 12:13), “show hospitality to strangers” (Hebrews 13:2), “offer hospitality to one another without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9) and so on. There are many, many examples throughout the Old and New Testaments of people showing hospitality (think Rahab, the Shunammite woman and pretty much the whole book of Acts for starters). Even if we had no other reason to do so, the fact that offering hospitality runs so blatantly through the story of the Bible would be enough to make us take it seriously. But we have plenty of reasons – like, for example:
2) It’s an expression of grace. Grace is giving without expecting to receive back. Grace is a free gift which we haven’t worked for, or don’t necessarily ‘deserve’. Of course, the ultimate expression of grace was in what Jesus accomplished through his death and resurrection, and anything we offer is a pretty dim reflection of this – but hospitality is perhaps one of the clearer ways that we can reflect God’s grace. It makes an impact – possibly more than several sermons on the subject. Hospitality says “You’re welcome in our home – and we’re not asking anything in return. We value you enough to use our stuff, eat our food, sit on our sofa, play with our kids, smash our mugs. You’re worth our effort.” In fact, the grace element of hospitality is so important that Jesus even told us to make a special effort to invite those who can’t repay us (Luke 14:12-14).
3) It allows us to become family to one another. Jesus taught and demonstrated the importance of loving one another, and looking out for the marginalized, the lonely, the outcast and those on the edge of society. Paul stressed church unity in pretty much all of his letters. And it doesn’t take a genius to realise that we live in a fragmented society today, too. Being friendly to people at church, or work, or a community group is one thing – but does that help someone who may be on their own for the rest of the week? Someone who is too shy to take the initiative to make friends? Someone who is insecure because of their background or current situation? Inviting others into our space allows us the time to really get to know each other – including getting to know how we can support one another better. The thing is, you often never really know the impact your hospitality is having on someone until much later – or perhaps you never will. But be very sure that the small (or sometimes large) inconveniences of offering hospitality will have a massively positive impact on someone who is struggling.
4) It builds trust and understanding. Frequently in Scripture we are told ‘not to gossip’ (Romans 1, 2 Corinthians 12, James 3). I’ve always found this fascinating, as I have a very stereotyped idea of gossipers – mainly women, not unlike myself, who enjoy having a natter and might occasionally/regularly slip into something not entirely true about someone else. So I’ve wondered why a fair amount of Biblical space is given to women who chat over the fence, or those of us who indulge in celebrity magazines. But really gossip is anything we say which is founded on presumption, or hearsay, or judgement – anything which isn’t fact and could bring someone else down. As we invite others into our home, the person we thought was offhand, or selfish, or often made the wrong decisions, suddenly becomes someone we empathise with, someone we understand and start to trust. And it’s reciprocal. Al and I have started inviting members of our new church family round for Sunday lunches, with an ambitious aim of eventually getting round everyone. We want to get to know others – properly, not just over a 10-minute coffee chat after a service – but we also want them to get to know us: to see how we function, to see our home, to meet our kids, and learn a bit more about us. We want to earn their trust as Al embarks on leading this congregation in the near future. And – forgive me if I’m pushing the sentiment too far – but with misunderstandings and disagreement happening in the church at the highest level, perhaps hospitality can encourage church unity from the bottom up.
There are many more reasons why hospitality is so important (why not add some below?), but these are four key Biblical justifications as to why we can’t ignore the subject.
* Which reasons (above or any others) have been key to your understanding of hospitality?