WHAT IS BIBLICAL HOSPITALITY?
Seminar by Ardis Stenbakken
The gift of hospitality is something to be desired. True Biblical hospitality is not about entertaining as some might think. It is only the truly servant-hearted person that portrays hospitality. The Bible has many examples of how to use the gift of hospitality.
The Webster’s New World Dictionary defines hospitality as “the act, practice, or quality of being hospitable; solicitous entertainment of guests.” And hospitable is “a) friendly, kind, and solicitous toward guests b) prompted by or associated with friendliness and solicitude toward guests.”
But biblical hospitality goes beyond that. Romans 12:9-13 commands:
- Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality —(NIV).
The Contemporary English Version translates the last sentence, “Take care of God's needy people and welcome strangers into your home.” This is a good translation because in the Greek the word for hospitality is kindness to strangers—even foreigners. This is supported by Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:47:
- “If you are friendly only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even the heathen do that” (TLB).
What else do we learn from this text? That love is basic to biblical hospitality. The Life Application Bible footnote to verse 13 says,
- Christian hospitality differs from social entertaining. Entertaining focuses on the host—the home must be spotless; the food must be well prepared and abundant; the host must appear relaxed and good-natured. Hospitality, by, contrast focuses on the guests. Their needs—whether for a place to stay, nourishing food, a listening ear, or acceptance—are the primary concern. Hospitality can happen in a messy home. It can happen around a dinner table where the main dish is canned soup. It can even happen while the host and the guest are doing chores together. Don’t hesitate to offer hospitality just because you are too tired, too busy, or feel you are not wealthy enough to entertain.[i]
This is a ministry that can be practiced in the home, in the church, and in Women’s Ministries, and by both women and men—and should utilize the skills of both. By practicing biblical hospitality, we don’t have to worry about fancy homes, entertainment budgets, or impressing people just for the sake of impressing them. God opens the doors for innovative and creative hospitality—that can be practiced in very simple ways to bind up wounds of hurting hearts, and bring together and establish active members in the church.
You see, real Christian hospitality is caring about other people—reaching out to those who feel no one cares about them. They feel alone. They need friendship. They need to know God does love them. So hospitality is not about fancy meals, a lovely home, or special occasions.
Perhaps one of the most well-known injunctions regarding hospitality is the one found in Hebrews 13:2:
- Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. –Hebrews 13:2, NIV.
We all remember the example of Abraham entertaining angels, I am sure.
- The Bible lays much stress upon the practice of hospitality. Not only does it enjoin hospitality as a duty, but it presents many beautiful pictures of the exercise of this grace and the blessings which it brings. Foremost among these is the experience of Abraham. . . .
- These acts of courtesy God thought of sufficient importance to record in His word; and more than a thousand years later they were referred to by an inspired apostle: "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."
- The privilege granted Abraham and Lot is not denied to us. By showing hospitality to God's children we, too, may receive His angels into our dwellings. Even in our day angels in human form enter the homes of men and are entertained by them. And Christians who live in the light of God's countenance are always accompanied by unseen angels, and these holy beings leave behind them a blessing in our homes. Adventist Home, p. 445.
Hospitality saved the lives of Lot and his daughters and could have saved the rest of his family if they had been willing.
Some hospitality is very simple, such as sharing a cup of water.
- I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward. – Mark 9:41, (NIV).
Other hospitality may be more elaborate, such as the Widow of Zarephath who gave Elijah all the food she had left—or at least she thought she was giving him her all. In fact, God supplied and she hosted Elijah for as long as the drought lasted. Or we might note the example of the Shunammite Woman who, with the support of her husband, built a room especially for the prophet Elisha. We should note too that they were both rewarded: the Widow of Zarephath with food to last through the drought and the life of her son; the Shunammite Woman also received her son back from death.
No discussion of hospitality would be complete without mentioning how Mary and Martha hosted Jesus and His disciples. Martha, we read, was stressed out by hospitality but Mary wanted to spend time with her guest. That is a lesson for us.
Of course, our best example of biblical hospitality is Jesus—and He didn’t even have a home! But He made use of what He had.
- Christ has given in His own life a lesson of hospitality. When surrounded by the hungry multitude beside the sea, He did not send them unrefreshed to their homes. He said to His disciples: "Give ye them to eat." Matthew 14:16. And by an act of creative power He supplied food sufficient to satisfy their need. Yet how simple was the food He provided! There were no luxuries. He who had all the resources of heaven at His command could have spread for the people a rich repast. But He supplied only that which would suffice for their need, that which was the daily food of the fisherfolk about the sea. —Adventist Home, p. 451.
- Our Lord is not only the host; He is also a guest. You’ll see that hospitality was very important as you read the gospels. Jesus depended upon it. After He began His ministry, He had no home, except those who opened their homes to Him. Christ was a constant guest at dinners and banquets. So much so that in Matthew 11:19 we read that, “The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man who is a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners.”[ii]
There are other important Bible texts that deal with hospitality with which we should be acquainted. The Old and New Testaments both regard hospitality as an obligation. They do not question the worthiness of the needy stranger but rather the faithfulness of the one from whom hospitality is needed. And they give us a better idea as to what we mean by biblical hospitality.
- Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. –1 Peter 4:9, 10, NIV.
- Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? –James 2:15, 16, NIV.
- In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' –Acts 20:35, NIV.
- If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? –1 John 3:17, NIV.
- Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality. –2 Corinthians 8:13, 14, NIV.
- 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. –Matthew 25:35, 36, NIV.
- “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” –Matthew 25:40, NIV.
Hospitality is a ministry in which Jesus Christ has invited us to join Him. He practiced hospitality and accepted hospitality. We too can open our homes and invite Him and others of His children to sit at our tables.
- Practicing hospitality will require effort. It will require getting out of your comfort zone. But if all of us would open our hearts and homes in the way God would have us to, our church would begin to grow in ways we have not seen before. If all Christians practiced Biblical hospitality our world would be revolutionized. May we all give ourselves to serving Christ in this vital ministry. May each room in your house become a sanctuary. May all who enter your home be able to say, as one young girl who had just come to know Christ, "Thank you for having me. God is here in this home."[iii]
[i] Life Application Bible New International Version. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, IL, 1991.
From Christianity Today: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/april-we...
You advocate a kind of hospitality that steers clear of teacups and doilies. How does radically ordinary hospitality differ from what most people think of as “Southern hospitality?”
First of all, it is not entertainment. Hospitality is about meeting the stranger and welcoming that stranger to become a neighbor—and then knowing that neighbor well enough that, if by God’s power he allows for this, that neighbor becomes part of the family of God through repentance and belief. It has absolutely nothing to do with entertainment.
Entertainment is about impressing people and keeping them at arm’s length. Hospitality is about opening up your heart and your home, just as you are, and being willing to invite Jesus into the conversation, not to stop the conversation but to deepen it.
Hospitality is fundamentally an act of missional evangelism. And I wouldn’t know what to do with a doily if you gave it to me. I would probably wipe up cat mess with a doily.
There are many hospitable people who don’t have a saving faith in Jesus. How do we ensure our hospitality explicitly reflects the gospel?
I look at a person as an image bearer of a holy God and I am not in any way spooked by whatever worldly identity that happens to be attached to that image bearer.
We struggle with understanding two things. First, a sin nature: what it means to be fundamentally distorted by original sin, distracted by actual sin, and manipulated by indwelling sin. And second, we struggle with what it means to carry with us the imprint of the God who made us. That means that by God’s command, we are called to reflect God’s image through knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. And all three things require a radical conversion and redemptive life in Christ.
In order to be the image bearers we are called to be, we must be born again. But the thing to realize is that people need more than a meal—they need a meal and the gospel of salvation. They need to know how their sin patterns and the sins of others land on them. They need to know who the real enemy is. People are not our enemy. Sin is our enemy.
How does radically ordinary hospitality look when you live in a community where people go to and from work, pull their cars into the garage, shut the door, and never speak to their neighbors? How do you engage people who seem completely uninterested and never accept your invitation?
Give open invitations, especially invitations for events that are outdoors. We will put an invitation on an app called NextDoor saying, “We’re going to have a cookout. Bring a folding chair and a friend.” And we’ve realized there’s a 10 percent rule. If you invite everyone out, about 10 percent will come. And I’d say be consistent about hosting. Be warm in responding to people. Cast wide nets. In some cases, if we’re responding to a crisis, we have our church there helping. That way, when neighbors show up, 30 people are already there. They’re grilling, talking, filling water balloons, handing out watermelon. It takes away the awkwardness of being the first to walk up.
We forget hospitality isn’t a nice add-on you do when you happen to have a spare Saturday afternoon. It’s the bridge that God is going to use to solve the biggest problems in people’s lives.
Realize your neighbors are struggling with things. I don’t care how meticulous the garage looks when the door closes. Nobody is doing great. I’m not doing great; you’re not doing great. We’re tired, we’re cranky, and we need help. And if that’s true of those of us who have the power of the Holy Spirit in us, how much more for those of us who don’t?
You emphasize that believers should use their homes in a daily way that seeks to “make strangers neighbors and neighbors family of God.” Does this mean our doors should always be open?
Daily is an almost. If you have the flu, don’t share it. But the idea is that in the church, someone’s home is always open. People have a place to gather with God’s people. And as God’s people are gathering, they have the foresight to open the doors. But if nobody is doing that, we need to ask ourselves, “Why?”
I feel like Christians have this attitude like we’re great at hospitality. But we live on a starvation diet. People need to gather. There are plenty of problems that come up in a day—especially for our single church members. They are part of the family. How did we get here? God sought us, brought us to the table, and put us in his robes of righteousness; he cared for us, nurtured us, and gave us a name. These are gestures that should be replicated in the body. It’s not okay to leave people in painful loneliness.
How did your own difficult childhood affect how you reach out to children?
When Jesus said, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me” [Matt. 19:14, KJV], it’s not because they’re cute and smell good. It’s because you must look out for them. I look at these children in my neighborhood, and even though things are hard for them, I think, “That might be my future pastor someday.” And children take things very tenderly, even the tough ones. When something happens in the neighborhood, they notice the details. And so we’ve trained our children to invite their friends over for dinner, to look out for kids who aren’t doing okay, and to stand up for the ones being bullied. And as adults, we have to be willing to ask their parents if something is going on that we could help with. And then to be ready to say “absolutely” and help.
If the gospel comes with a house key, why are Christians so hesitant to unlock their doors? What are the biggest obstacles standing in the way of our hospitality?
There are a number of obstacles. One is that we’ve made idols out of our white carpet and our boundaries. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard about Christians and their boundaries. I am not genuflecting to people’s boundaries. And part of this is cultural. I wasn’t raised with boundaries, because who would have boundaries when you’re in a state of crisis?
If you believe we live in a post-Christian world, and you believe this is a crisis, then let’s act like it. The way we deal with crisis is to understand that hospitality is a form of spiritual warfare. We call down from heaven the power of the gospel to save, and we embrace our unsaved neighbors.
Does fear play a role in believers avoiding hospitality?
It’s the fear that makes us feel like we’re not useful anymore—that the vocabulary has changed, and we don’t know how to talk to people. Or the fear that we’ll say the wrong thing. Or the fear of dining with sinners. I think the fear really is that we have nothing to offer, and so we might as well hunker down with our church community and draw up that moat and lock the door. But in that case, you will never see the power of the gospel to change the hearts, minds, and lives of the people who appear to be most outside the kingdom of God.
How would you encourage people who are terrified by the concept of practicing radically ordinary hospitality? Where should they start?
I would say go look at somebody who is already doing it and offer to help. And I love when people do that. You know, people will say, “I don’t know how to do this and that.” I spend two to three hours a day chopping vegetables. Come help.
Everyone isn’t called to every ministry. Some people are better with certain problems than others. That’s great. Just do what you do, and open your arms a little wider.