The way we use the word “hospitality” in English brings to mind party planning, celebratory events, or at the very least, cooking and cleaning in order to get ready for guests. But that the Bible’s understanding of the practice of hospitality among Christians is best understood as a way of life. In fact, it not only provides a remarkable window for understanding the beauty of the gospel, but is also a profound way of communicating and embodying the gospel to friends who do not share the same worldviews or beliefs.
The word “hospitality” literally means, “Showing kindness to or entertaining strangers.” Beginning in the Old Testament, God has called his people to show kindness to strangers in their midst: “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:18,19). The writer to the Hebrews implores, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (13:2). Throughout the Scriptures God uses the metaphors of hospitality to communicate what it means to know him. To experience his love is to have our souls satisfied with the richest of fare (Psalm 63) and he invites those of us who are thirsty to come to water and those without money to come and eat (Isaiah 55).
At the heart of the good news is the glorious truth that though we had become radically estranged from God, through Jesus’ costly death and resurrection, we have been welcomed back into the Father’s presence. This is the news that we are to announce to the world, and how better than accompanied by lives that exude hospitality? And by demonstrating intentional hospitality to our friends that don’t consider themselves Christians is to demonstrate the love and welcome of God. “Welcome, embrace and accept one another, just as God in Christ has welcomed, embraced and accepted you” (Romans 15:7). Ours is an extravagantly hospitable God and we are to be his imitators.
While the practice of hospitality often will involve friends and family, it is most powerful when offered to the stranger and those who are different from us. Christine Pohl, who wrote Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (Eerdmans, 1999), tells us “Strangers are people without a place, disconnected from life-giving relationships and networks.” The followers of Jesus identify both those who are poor and those whose beliefs differ from the Christian faith as persons with whom we ought to be intentional regarding the practice of hospitality.
Essentially, hospitality is opening up not only our homes but, more importantly, our very selves to others so that they feel welcomed, loved, cared for, nurtured and valued. Hospitality can also occur in places like a coffee shop or a park. During this year of Public Faith at Redeemer we especially want to encourage people to engage intentionally in hospitality with friends who don’t share our faith commitments. Done well (see below for some things to keep in mind when engaging in the practice), hospitality is part of gospel living in which we can verbally proclaim the good news even as we embody it.
Important things to keep in mind in practicing hospitality:
1. Embrace of others is more important than the place where hospitality occurs.
2. Your space need not be perfect to invite others over. Beauty is found more in the welcome itself than in the space.
3. Lines between guest and host are frequently wonderfully blurred as we invite others to participate in life with us. If we are to truly honor others, we have to give to others and also let them give to us.
4. It is essential that we bring our authentic and flawed selves into our hospitable relationships. Pretending to be something we are not does not give life to others.
5. Engaging in meaningful conversation and cultivating active listening skills in which we take a genuine interest in others are essential.
6. Gathering people who are sometimes very different from one another into meaningful connection with one another is a great gift we can offer.
7. Hospitality is often best practiced as a community. We ought to enlist others to help us rather than trying to do it all on our own.