Hospitality – the discipline of opening up your life, home, and resources to those around you – is a lost art. I should actually say, it is a Biblical command that has been at best neglected and at worst disobeyed.
Hospitality is an important concept throughout Scripture, especially within the Ancient Near Eastern sociological context. Explicit commands regarding hospitality are found within the New Testament. Two passages are of special importance:
“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Hebrew 13:1-2 (ESV) [The bit about angels is probably a reference to the hospitality Lot showed to the angels in Genesis 19, even willing to sacrifice his family to protect them].
“The end of all things is at hand; therefore…keep loving one another…show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another…” 1 Peter 4:7-10 (ESV).
Hospitality was clearly a part of the early Church’s identity. In the book of Acts, followers of Christ broke bread from “house to house” and had “all things in common.” I think there are two specific benefits that the church has as a result of demonstrating hospitality.
1. Hospitality fosters biblical community.
One of the primary purposes of the church is fellowship. Many churches have a time of pseudo-fellowship on Sunday morning, usually after the first song and consisting of a 1-2 minute period where you are supposed to shake hands with people around you. Sadly, this is as much “fellowship” as most people who attend our churches ever experience. Hospitality, on the other hand, affords believers the opportunity to sit down over dinner with other believers and get to know them at a deeper level. There’s something special about having someone in your home and sitting down for dinner together. Suddenly, walls come down and people become real with one another. This is where true life transformation, encouragement, prayer, etc. can take place. When you have the opportunity to really get to know someone and walk with them as they walk with Christ, you are experiencing biblical community.
2. Hospitality provides a platform for evangelism.
Hospitality is a way to be intentional about sharing the gospel with your neighbors. Rather than doing “shotgun evangelism” where you expect them to trust Christ because you stuck your foot in their front door and shot gospel bullets at them in the form of the Romans Road, inviting someone into your home, demonstrating love and friendship, and explaining the gospel over the course of the friendship in a natural way, is a very effective way to fulfill the Great Commission. People put their guard down when you demonstrate real love and friendship. They stop feeling like they are notches on your spiritual gun belt, and they often become curious about your faith in Christ. For my wife and I, hospitality has been a natural way to introduce our neighbors to friends in our Sunday School class, bring them to church with us, and have multiple, meaningful conversations about the gospel.
I think that if we could recover the lost practice of hospitality, our churches would be healthier because of the increased depth of relationships, and they would accomplish the mission more effectively because it would give church members a natural outlet for intentionally sharing the gospel with their neighbors. I find it very interesting that as the Apostle Paul describes to Timothy the qualifications of a pastor in 1 Tim. 3, he lists “hospitable” before “able to teach.” That which should be exemplified in the pastor should be practiced by each church member.
Ultimately, practicing hospitality, in the words of Henri Nouwen, “is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.” Try it out! Have someone to dinner this weekend, demonstrate the love of Christ, get to know them and be a real friend, and be intentional in talking about Jesus.