Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Hospitality. It's a Command.

For certain, hospitality was a hallmark of the early Christian church.  Did you know, however, that it's also a command for every Christian?
Romans 12:Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.'

It would appear that there are many things we must do in order for our love to be without hypocrisy.  Practicing hospitality is one of those things.  Of course, it makes sense that "love" without action is merely hypocrisy.  As James, the brother of our Lord, pointed out:
James 2:16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?
Well wishes without assistance is nothing more than empty words.

We're not merely to be hosptible, though.  Peter says we must do so out of love and without complaint:
1 Peter 4: 8Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. 10 As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 

If you're like me, that one doesn't come so easy.  My own sore attitude when the arrival of guests was imminent reminds me of the story of the child asked to say the blessing after the guests arrived.  The youngster said she didn't know what to pray.  Mom replied, "just say what you have heard me pray."  Her prayer? "Dear God, why did I invite all of these people over today?"

After years of practice, I can now say that I don't feel that pressure as much anymore.

While there are many Scriptures that command us to practice hospitality, perhaps there is none more curious that this one:
Hebrews 13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 

While I don't know exactly what to make of that verse, I appreciate the implication.

The problem with "hospitality," to my mind, is knowing what it looks like.  In fact, that was one of the major hurdles I needed to overcome in order to embrace the command.

Hospitality - What it's Not

A while back The Cowboy tried to discuss hospitality with a preacher.  Surely a preacher would agree with Scripture on the importance of hospitality.  Well, I guess he did, but here's how he defined it:
"All 'hospitality' means is that one is 'approachable'."

Seriously.  That's what he said.

Here, however, is how the dictionary defines hospitality - no doubt more along the lines of what Jesus and the apostles had in mind:

This, this, I could do.  One of my biggest barriers to practicing hospitality had been confusing it with entertaining.  See, my home can be friendly, but it cannot be fancy.  My home can be warm, but it cannot be elegant.  I can be generous, but my home is not immaculate.  Our obsession with television has not done us any favors in this regard.  If we were in the homes of real people, instead of pseudo homes on sanitized sets populated with actors, then maybe we'd lower our standards.  Real people don't live like that.  Real people do piles of laundry at a time.  They have kids that make messes.  They make messes.  They have hobbies and projects outside of dusting and vacuuming.  If we realized that, we'd be far more likely to invite people to our homes.

Hospitality - What it Is

So, one year, The Cowboy and I decided to embrace the command to be hospitable.  It was certainly harder, at first.  We constantly felt like our home had to be cleaner, our children better behaved, and our place nicer than it was.  With experience, we got over that.  We began to realize that our hospitality-starved friends wanted to see us; not our place. 

We also began to see our blessings through the eyes of others.  Where we saw junk that needed to be sorted and organized or hauled off, they only saw God's beautiful nature all around our place.  Where we saw chipped paint, they saw the blessing of multiple children.  Where we were aware of our chipped plates, they saw God's bounty in food and fellowship.  Eventually, we were able to drop our preoccupation with how imperfect our home is and embrace how perfect God's plan for relationship among His people is.

We began to realize that the point of hospitality is not to impress others with our home or our cooking, but to impress them with the love of God.

We certainly don't practice hospitality perfectly these days.  We still get crabby on occasion while we prepare for company.  We still get a little self-conscious about the things that need to be done around our place.  Fortunately, though, we've had enough things go wrong to actually appreciate what's important.   When the roast doesn't get cooked, or you didn't cook quite enough food, or the guest's foot goes through the kitchen floor (yes - yes, it did), you get to see that your friends really are there to see you - not your house.  They want to share your company in the Lord more than they want to share your food.  And then hospitality becomes easier.

A Hospitality Curveball

As I had wrapped up this post, I decided to do a little word study.  What I discovered knocked my socks off.  The Greek term that is often translated into the English term “hospitality” is the word φιλόξενος.  It's actually a compound word.  One of the words that makes up φιλόξενος is philos which many of us recognize as "beloved" or "loving."  The other word in the compound word translated "hospitality" is xenos which means "stranger" or "foreigner."  Literally, the Greek word for "hospitality" means "loving strangers."

Said in my best Jimmy Stewart impersonation from "It's a Wonderful Life," this is an interesting situation!  Scripture is clear (see passages above), that our brethren in the Lord are appropriate recipients of much of our hospitality - but so, too, are strangers.  Hospitality - to all people, including strangers - is not a suggestion, it's not a nice idea, it's a command.

Coming Up

In coming posts I want to offer some suggestions on things that have worked for us.  (And maybe some warnings on things that didn't!)  I will post some of my favorite go-to recipes for company, and I'll address different situations that call for hospitality.  I hope, however, that you will embrace your call to be hospitable.  This world can be a cold, lonely place for each of us.  Communing with God's people makes that so much better.  And, as nice as it feels for God's people when we come together to enjoy our life in the Kingdom, it is even nicer for those who haven't made it there yet to get a tantalizing taste of Heaven on earth in our fellowship with one another.

If you are interested in sharing your experiences (as a guest poster or just contributing some thoughts to a post) with hospitality or your tips on what works for you, please let me know.  I'd love to share them here!



  1. When I am getting ready for guests I often ask myself, "Am I cleaning this floor (or whatever) in preparation because I want to make them comfortable or because I want to impress them?" If it's the latter, I stop. I've found that when I seek their comfort rather than the bolstering up of my own reputation, I'm far more successful and much more able to enjoy the visit myself.

  2. I needed to read this! Thanks Shawnele! Can't wait for your follow up posts, as hospitality is something we have been convicted of lately and praying to do more of!


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