When my husband mentioned he was inviting someone over for a last-minute hangout, I may have panicked a little.
Okay, a lot.
As I quickly conjured up a running list of excuses, my deeper insecurities surfaced. 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 our conversation stalled?
It was then I realized how much I had withdrawn from social view. I stopped opening my home because I felt like my efforts failed in comparison to friends. I blamed it on Pinterest which fueled my perfectionism and furthered my insecurities. 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 announcement exposed my inner-soul hang ups with hospitality. At least, hospitality, the way society defines it.
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 anybody 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 completely shocked by what I found.
I’d mistakenly confused hospitality with hosting, 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. It’s also all over 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). 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.
Perhaps the most defining example of hospitality is found in Luke 10:25-27. 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 crazy thing is that the Good Samaritan wasn't praised for his piety (like the Bible scholar wanted), but for his hospitality. He showed kindness and goodwill toward someone who was miserable and afflicted while providing for his needs.
And that’s the point.
Biblical hospitality is the physical embodiment of the second part of the great commandment: to love your neighbor as yourself. It's more than good wishes or warm feelings towards someone.
Jesus shows that our neighbor doesn't only refer to relatives, friends, and people we like. It also includes strangers, refugees, foreigners, widows, orphans, the poor, the outcast, non-believers, and even your 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 later reveals that the tell-tale sign of true believers versus those in name only will be their hospitality:
"…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).
Hospitality is a vital aspect of our faith and loving our neighbor. It means showing lovingkindness to others by cheerfully using the resources God gave you to help meet their temporary need.
But what does that look like in our modern age where care has become institutionalized? Where hotels, hospitals, and food pantries do much of the work?
Today, hospitality can look like hosting a foreign exchange student, fostering children, participating in a meal train, inviting outsiders to your holiday celebration, welcoming newcomers at church and inviting them to lunch, getting to know and providing for the homeless, caring for those in the chronic illness community, inviting the loner to be part of your friend group, or speaking up for the vulnerable and marginalized.
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. A more recent example is 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.
Right now, times are tough. Inflation is rising and many families are struggling. This next year could prove difficult for many but for the church, it provides us with ample opportunity to show love to our neighbors.
Here are 4 elements to keep in mind as you grow in hospitality:
1) It begins with your awareness of a specific need.
Jesus doesn't expect us to read minds or meet a generic, unspoken need. 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 choose or refuse to show hospitality.
2) It includes sharing your resources.
Most biblical examples include the sharing of resources. God gives each of us resources, not just for our own enjoyment and security, but so that we’ll have the ability to meet a need when the opportunity arises. 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.
3) The need is always temporary.
The Bible does not encourage people to be leeches and live off the hard work of others. In Jewish culture, guests were instructed to show gratitude and not overburden their host. Hospitality does not mean allowing other people to take advantage of you. It’s responding to the need of the moment.
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. Enmity, bitterness, 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).
Hospitality is so much more than inviting a friend over or throwing a party. It’s treating strangers like family. 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 kindness to those in need when opportunities arise.