The Surprising Truth About Hospitality

When my husband mentioned he was inviting someone over for a last-minute hangout, I may have panicked a little.

Okay, a lot.

I was unprepared with no treats in hand. My house was still decorated for spring. Dishes cluttered the counter like the anxiety in my heart. What if our company didn’t have a good time? What if conversation stalled?

As I ran through my list of excuses, I realized how much I had withdrawn from social view. Over the years, I stopped opening my home because I felt like my efforts failed in comparison to friends. I chalked it up to being introverted. It’s the pandemic’s fault, I mused, while mentally rehearsing all the legitimate reasons for keeping my distance.

In hindsight, my reaction overreaction to my husband’s desire exposed my inner-soul hang ups with hospitality.

Which begs the question – what is hospitality, anyway?  

  • Is it well decorated and planned parties?
  • Does it center around food?
  • Is it an open-door policy where anyone can stop over at any time?
  • Does it mean opening my home to strangers?
  • Does it depend on whether people have a good time?

To answer these questions, I went directly to the source and was surprised to find that I’d mistakenly confused hospitality with entertaining, poor boundaries, and the way to soothe loneliness.

But the mind-blowing truth is that biblical hospitality is none of these.

In ancient times, hospitality was a highly valued practice. Visit Israel or the Middle East and you’ll still find it as a pillar of society today. Lean in close and you’ll find hospitality emerging from the pages of Scripture:

Abraham invited weary travelers to rest in his tent and served them the best food he had on hand (Gen 18:1-15). Job never closed his door to a stranger (Job 31:32). Lot would have rather risked his life and the honor of his daughters than be unhospitable (Gen 19:5-8). Rahab was rewarded for protecting Hebrew spies (Josh 2). The abuse of hospitality single-handedly sparked a civil war (Judges 19-21). Even though there was no room in the guest chamber, the host offered Mary and Joseph the lower room of his home where animals were brought each night (Luke 2:6-7). Jesus relied on the hospitality of many as he traveled during his three years of ministry (Luke 10:38). When Jesus sent his disciples out for ministry, he instructed them to rely on the hospitality of the villagers (Mark 6:8-11). Jesus was denied common acts of hospitality when visiting a Pharisee in his home (Luke 7:36-50). The homes of first-century Christians became a hub for ministry and housing missionaries like Paul (1 Cor 16:7). Even Roman Emperor Julian remarked that while pagan priests neglected their own poor, the Christians in Galatia cared for them.

But perhaps the most defining example of hospitality is found in Luke 10:25-37. A Bible scholar wanted to know what he must do to receive eternal life. It’s here that Jesus affirms the Great Commandment: to first love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus then defines what this looks like by telling the story of the Good Samaritan.

The Good Samaritan wasn’t praised for his piety (like the Bible scholar wanted), but for his hospitality. And herein lies the point.

Biblical hospitality is the physical expression of the second part of the Great Commandment: to love your neighbor as yourself. It means showing lovingkindness to others by cheerfully using the resources God gave you to help meet their temporary need.

Jesus shows that loving your neighbor as yourself is more than good wishes or warm feelings. It’s showing hospitality – not just with relatives, friends, and people we like – but also with strangers, foreigners, widows, orphans, the poor, the outcast, non-believers, and even our enemy (Deut 14:28-29; Luke 6:27-31, 14:12-14; Rom 12:13, 20; James 2:14-17).

If there was any doubt of its importance, Jesus also uses hospitality language to describe the tell-tale sign of true believers versus those who claim to know Him in name only:

“…for I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matt 25:31-46).

The practice of biblical hospitality was central to the early Church and evidence of their love and faith. Though hospitality can take on various forms, here are 4 key components to keep in mind:

1) It begins with awareness.

Jesus doesn’t expect us to read minds or meet general, unspoken needs. God has a way of bringing people along our path who need something He has given to us. When you become aware of someone’s need, that’s when you have the opportunity to choose or refuse to show hospitality.

2) It includes sharing your resources.

Most biblical examples include the sharing of resources. Whether it’s food, shelter, clothing, protection, or an invitation, God intends for us to care for one another. No believer should suffer unnecessarily while other believers live in plenty (Acts 2:44-47). God gives each of us an allotment of resources, not just for our own enjoyment and security, but so that we’ll be able to bless others when the time arises.

3) The need is always temporary.

The Bible does not encourage people to take advantage of others. Hospitality does not mean allowing others to violate your boundaries or help themselves to your resources anytime they want. In Jewish culture, guests were always instructed to show respect, gratitude, and not impose their will upon the host. The need was often temporary and met for a season.

4) Attitude matters.

Sharing your resources begrudgingly or under compulsion is not true to the spirit of hospitality (1 Pet 4:9). God “loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7), one who’s eager to partner with Jesus in loving others. Bitterness, coveting, comparison, cliques, and “othering” are hostile to hospitality. Withholding your resources and kindness from those you don’t like, those of lower social standing, those who “aren’t your people” or don’t belong to “your tribe” is gravely insulting to God. He took the initiative to love us while we were still sinners – His enemies – and expects His people to do the same (Rom 5:8).

What does hospitality look like in our modern age? At a time when care has become institutionalized?

Perhaps one of the best modern-day examples of hospitality was when Europeans hid Jewish families at the risk of their own life during World War II. Earlier this year, we saw a more recent example when Polish families opened their doors and cupboards to Ukrainian refugees who fled for their lives. In both situations, people provided and protected those who were vulnerable, afflicted, and in need.

Today, hospitality can look like:

  • bringing a meal
  • shoveling your elderly neighbor’s driveway
  • paying for someone’s groceries, heat, or gas
  • inviting outsiders to join your holiday celebration
  • welcoming newcomers at church and inviting them to lunch
  • hosting a Bible study in your home
  • hosting a foreign exchange student
  • fostering and adopting children
  • getting to know and providing for the homeless
  • caring for those in the chronic illness community
  • inviting the loner to be a part of your friend group
  • protecting the vulnerable and marginalized

Right now, times are tough. Inflation is rising and many families are struggling. This next year could prove difficult. But for the church, it provides us with ample opportunities to show love to our neighbors – including those from a different political party.

I’ve realized I don’t need a big house, elaborate party, or open door policy to be hospitable. I just need to keep my eyes open and readily respond to the Spirit of Jesus when he makes me aware of an affliction or need.

As the holidays approach, consider how you and your family can show biblical hospitality to those around you. May we joyfully offer what we have and show God’s love whenever opportunities arise.

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*this article first appeared on AAC Women

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