The Ministry of Hospitality
What comes to your mind when you think of hospitality? Do you envision a perfectly set table and three course meal? A spotless home and a night full of fun entertainment? True hospitality is so much more than these things. Louisa May Alcott said that the two most beautiful words in the English language are “come in”. That is the essence of Biblical hospitality- letting people in, not only into our homes, but into our lives.
A Way of Life
For the Old Testament Jews, hospitality entailed more than just throwing an annual Christmas party, it was a way of life. It is said that one Jewish Rabbi would always leave his front door open whenever he was about to partake in a meal so that strangers would know they were welcome to join him. All throughout Scripture we see a pattern of people who opened their homes inviting others in. In Genesis 18:1-8 we see where Abraham extended hospitality to complete strangers, one of whom was the Lord Himself: “And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on— since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.”
You get the picture here that this isn’t something Abraham stopped and put a lot of thought into; he did it spontaneously. The passage says “he ran from the tent door to meet them”. He didn’t sit at his tent door and consider whether or not he should be hospitable to these strangers, he was eager and flexible. He understood how important the ministry of hospitality is and took it very seriously. Abraham was the kind of host that I want to be: spontaneous, flexible, open tent, open home, open heart—come in and be refreshed.
It Takes a Servant’s Heart
Abraham’s focus was on his guests, not himself. This is the heart of true, biblical hospitality- my focus is on you, not on me. My focus is on your needs, not on my lack of preparation for this unexpected visit or on all the things I haven’t picked up yet. Abraham was outward focused, extending himself in a practical way to meet their needs. He is alert and sensitive to what their needs are. He is aware of the fact that it is the hottest part of the day and they have been traveling. Knowing what it is like to travel himself, he knows they would probably like to wash their feet. He is aware that they are probably thirsty and hungry. He is attentive and attuned to how he can meet their needs in a tangible way. In verse 8 we see that Abraham not only prepared food for his guests but he stood by them as they ate. This was considered polite in Old Testament culture. As your guests ate the meal you had prepared for them, you would stand by them attending to them as their servant. In essence you were saying, “Come into my home, and let me serve you.” When we exercise hospitality, this is what we are saying. We are taking on the form of a servant, just as Jesus did.
It Takes Humility
When most people think of hospitality they think of entertaining guests. In reality though, entertaining has little to do with real hospitality. Entertaining says, “I want to show off my nice home, my decorating skills, and my gourmet cooking.” True hospitality says, “This home belongs to my Master, I am simply a steward over it and will use it in order to fulfill His purposes.” Entertaining can be a source of pride and a chance to show off, whereas hospitality does not seek to impress, but to serve. Entertaining always puts things before people: “As soon as I get the living room decorated, then I will have people over.” Hospitality puts people first: “We have no furniture but we can sit on the floor to enjoy fellowship.” “The house is a bit untidy and I haven’t planned a nice meal but these people are friends and need encouragement right now. We can just order a pizza and have them over anyways.” It takes humility to do this, we must choose to consciously let go of our pride and choose hospitality instead. Our thoughts should not be on our own embarrassment at the fact that our guests are seeing our home the way it actually is about 99% of the time, but on making our guests feel comfortable.
While it is good to keep our homes clean and tidy, hospitality is not about having a perfect home, it is about ministering to others. It is kind and thoughtful to have a meal your guests will enjoy but it is the fellowship shared that matters most, not the food eaten. As you prepare for guests, seek to have the mindset: “How can I encourage and minister to these people coming for dinner tonight? How can I be a blessing to them?” Our goal whenever we have company over should be that when they arrive, they know the presence of Christ dwells in our home and when they go to leave, they leave feeling refreshed and closer to Him. Serve with this attitude, choosing humility over perfection.
It is a Sacrifice
Verse 6 of Genesis 18 reveals that showing hospitality is not always easy, there will always be effort involved: “So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. and he said, ‘Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal, knead it and make cakes.’” I don’t know about you, but when I think of trying to prepare something quickly for guests, homemade bread is not the first thing that comes to mind. For Sarah, this would have been an even more difficult task. She did not have all of our modern conveniences, she would have to both grind the flour and knead it by hand. She would then need to bake it (keep in mind this is the hottest part of the day and most of the cooking was done over an open fire). But Sarah was not the only one who went through great lengths to be hospitable, her husband “…ran to the herd, took a tender and good calf, gave it to a young man [one of the household helpers], and he hastened to prepare it.” So as Sarah is baking the bread, Abraham is going out, finding a live animal, catching it, slaughtering it and preparing it.
Though we aren’t expected to bake homemade bread and slaughter a calf in order to show hospitality in our culture, there will always be work and sacrifice involved in opening our homes. Hospitality draws out our love in a uniquely personal way. Through the ministry of hospitality, we share our most prized possessions: our family, our home, our finances, our food, our privacy and our time. Hospitality then, will always be costly. It involves sharing what belongs to us and sometimes sacrificing if we don’t have a lot. Self-sacrifice is the essence of the Christian life though. 1 John 3:16 says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Of course, the contrast to self-sacrifice is selfishness, which I believe is the single greatest enemy to hospitality. We do not want to be inconvenienced. We do not want to share our privacy or time with others. We are consumed with our personal comforts. We want to go about our own business without taking thought of other people’s needs. We do not want the responsibility that hospitality entails. We are greedy and don’t want to share our food, home, money, or family. We are too concerned about our house and belongings sustaining damage etc. In order to practice biblical hospitality, we must first purpose to give up our selfishness and embrace self-sacrifice as Jesus did.
Making it Happen
Now, I don’t want to put anybody on a guilt trip, I realize there are different seasons of life. Some of you are busy with young children and homeschooling right now. Others don’t even have a home of their own or live in reduced circumstances. Remember though that hospitality is a scriptural command and with a little creativity we can always find ways to obey it. Romans 12:13 says, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” How are you actively seeking to show hospitality?
Perhaps in your season, hospitality is less spontaneous and more planned for a day you are not homeschooling. Perhaps it looks more like hosting an outdoor event like a bonfire, or inviting someone for a picnic. Whatever season of life you are in, there are ways to show hospitality if we really look for them. Yes, even those extremely busy seasons. If you are too busy to show hospitality then you are likely just too busy. Think about it, how much time did you spend watching movies last month? Could you not have used at least a couple of those evenings to open your home and heart to minister to people through hospitality? It really comes down to priorities, we will make time for the things we care about.
The Ministry of Hospitality
Hospitality is a ministry and it is more than just having your friends and family over (though that’s great!), it includes welcoming strangers in too. Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Abraham did not know that two of the men visiting him were angels. To him, they were complete strangers. Yet Abraham showed them hospitality, welcoming them in with joy. What blessings he was rewarded with because of his faithfulness! Throughout the Bible, God’s heart for the sojourner is clearly seen and it is evident that He wants His people to have hearts for them too, here are just a couple examples:
“He executes justice for the fatherless and widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” -Deuteronomy 10:18-19
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgements, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor…” -Zechariah 7:9-10
We see this pattern in the New Testament as well. When Jesus sent His disciples out, He told them to rely on the hospitality of others: “…And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house greet it. And if the house is worthy let your peace come upon in…” -Matthew 10:11-13a Jesus was assuming when He said this that there were some people who would be hospitable by providing lodging for His followers.
In 1 Timothy we see that practicing hospitality is a qualification for those desiring leadership positions in the church: “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach.” Showing hospitality was also a requirement in order for older women to fit into the category of true widows needing care from the church: “And having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.” I don’t think these positions were only to be desired by “special” Christians. Every godly man and woman should be desiring to meet these qualifications- this is what mature Christianity looks like.
Think of those “strangers” in your own life now, those you don’t know well. Maybe it’s the new family at church or the lady who just moved in across the street. Think of the impact you could have simply by welcoming them into your home. There are lonely people within all of our neighborhoods who need to be reached with Christ’s love. There are single people who need a family’s loving care. There are widows who eat alone every day. There are unpleasant neighbors who are uncomfortable to be around, yet need the gospel. There are refugees and foreign exchange students who need temporary accommodations. Hospitality could be a means of pointing these people to the Savior!
As I said before, hospitality is a sacrifice, it is not easy and requires us to give up our selfishness and pride. Hospitality is messy. There have been times that my house has practically been destroyed when I’ve had company over. Sometimes things get broken, spills happen, and stains remain long after my guests have gone. There have been other times when things didn’t go according to plan, more friends showed up than expected, people stayed longer than planned for. God knew that these types of things would happen and that when they do, our propensity would be to grumble. I was recently convicted of my own failure in this area. I live in a small mobile home with one bathroom which doubles as our laundry room and happens to connect to my bedroom. Because of this, hosting overnight guests can make it feel as though my whole house is being taken over. For someone who is more introverted, this can be challenging, I like my own space and privacy, when these things are invaded I tend to grumble inwardly. The truth is, I can be a very selfish person. I have to admit that often I’ve been so selfish I just don’t want to open my home one more time to one more person at all. I think God knew this would be a temptation for us as humans and this is why He told us in 1 Peter 4:9 to “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
“Whaaaat?! Not only do I have to show hospitality, now I have to do it without grumbling?! Not even silently to myself or to my husband?!” That’s what it says. Hospitality is one of the many ways God can rid us of our selfishness and make us more like Him. Remember that He is our perfect example, “Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though, He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” -Philippians 2:5-8
Allow God to sanctify you in this area. Confess to Him that your selfishness often keeps you from expressing your love through hospitality. Ask Him to put an axe to the root of this sin in your life. Ask Him to replace your selfishness with love, kindness and generosity. Ask God to give you a love for the people He places in your life. Ask Him to help you put away your selfishness and enter the ministry of hospitality with joy.