The Heart of Hospitality
Hospitality might sound unexciting, intimidating or even confusing for some. But when the Bible speaks of hospitality, it is a commendation as well as a command. Hospitality can be defined as “the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.” I’d say it means to give loving welcome to those outside your normal circle of friends. It’s opening your life and your house to those who believe differently than you do.
Why is the Bible so serious about hospitality? If think it is because God has been hospitable to us. Even when we were living as his enemies, God came and saved us. He opened the door and invited us into his presence. We demonstrate that we truly appreciate the divine hospitality we have received as we extend our own hospitality to those around us.
In the New Testament, the Greek word translated “hospitality” literally means “love of strangers.” Yoa (2004) explains that eating and sharing of a meal not only has the potential to “satisfy one’s nutritional requirements” (Yoa 2004:53) but that it also plays a vital role in social and religious circles. The author highlights that there is a much deeper level to just sharing a meal in a group, that it can highlight and help overcome many differences in society made up of different people.
Early in the Old Testament, we see the example of Abraham welcoming strangers to rest after their long journey (Genesis 18:2-8). Also, we see this form of hospitality commanded in the act of tithing food (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). From the prophet Isaiah, we even see hospitality as clothing the naked (Isaiah 58:7).
Luke, the author of Acts demonstrated how the early Jewish Christian community overcame social and ethnic boundaries through table fellowship (Acts 2:42-47). In the context of Acts, the Roman Empire ruled the world and there was much oppression and persecution of the early Christians (Mtshiselwa 2015:2). The Jewish community were also opposed to the Gentiles as they considered them to be “godless, idolatrous and unclean” (Yoa 2004:54). Despite this oppression and persecution, once the outpouring of the Holy Spirt happened at Pentecost and the address by Peter (Acts 2) the church grew numerically as the believers, “devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship of breaking of bread and the prayer” (Acts 2:42, ESV). As the early church regularly gathered together around a meal to fellowship, they grew together spiritually. It was beautiful picture of “oneness” (Yao 2004:56) as it included people from all walks of life: sinners, tax collectors and the marginalized.
Why is hospitality so hard? Most of us can recall a time when we tried to extend friendship and were met with rejection. If you’re like me, Satan can use that rejection as a roadblock to prevent you from obeying God on future occasions. If we are to cultivate a heart of biblical hospitality, we must refuse to rely on our achievements or to dwell on our failures. And we must lay aside past rejections and grudges. Instead, we must be courageous and trust God for the results.
Every week at NLC we have Homegroups where we get a chance to practice hospitality. We also have frequent Potluck Fellowships. These gatherings are a blessing to all who attend. But I am not talking just about the shawarmas, pizzas or other food items we get to share and enjoy with each other. Romans 12:13b says we are to practice hospitality—literally, to “pursue the love of strangers” (Heb. 13:2)—not simply to hang out with our best friends and have food. At our Homegroups and Potluck Fellowships we get opportunities to invite and meet new visitors and to develop stronger and intentional bonds with our fellow congregants.
Hospitality is so much more than just food, its welcoming and fellowshipping with believers and non-believers out of truth and love for Jesus Christ so that they may see Christ more clearly. Hospitality is both an attitude of the heart and also a practice of the hand. It seeks to turn strangers into friends through acts of welcome and generosity. When we befriend others, we invite them to consider the gospel by loving them. And we can do this just as much with our colleagues at work as we can around a dinner table or Potluck fellowship.
Let us pray together this year that we will be more hospitable, using all the opportunities the Lord gives us to turn strangers into friends for God’s glory and our joy.