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What is Biblical Hospitality?

I should title this article as “Do as I say, not as a I do”, because biblical hospitality is an area that I need to demonstrate some growth in. Every Christian is called to practice hospitality, but not everyone practices it the same way. Hospitality is so important that the Apostle Paul listed it as a requirement of the office of an elder in a local church:
“Therefore, an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach.” 1 Timothy 3:2
I’ve recently read two books that have challenged me in the area of hospitality –Take Heart: Christian Courage in the Area of Unbelief by Matt Chandler and The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield. Let me share what I have learned about biblical hospitality from these two books.
Pastor and author Matt Chandler tells us that when we talk about what it means to be courageous and faithful in the age of unbelief, we have to talk about the Great Commission, which is our mission. He believes it’s more true than ever to say that evangelism is going to look like hospitality. He states that hospitality means to give loving welcome to those outside our normal circle of friends. It is opening our life and our house to those who believe differently than we do.
Why would the Bible be so serious about hospitality? Chandler tell us that it’s because God has been hospitable to us, saving us as sinners and inviting us to eat at his table in his eternal home. He tells us that we demonstrate that we truly appreciate the divine hospitality we have received as we extend our own hospitality to those around us.
He offers four helpful suggestions regarding hospitality:
1. Welcome everyone we meet. He means literally to greet everyone you see. That may be easy for Chandler, an extrovert, but it will be harder for introverts like me.
2. Engage people. He tells us to care about and take an interest in those we run across.
3. Make dinner a priority. Here he’s not talking about dinner with friends, but going back to his definition of hospitality, he’s talking about give loving welcome to those outside your normal circle of friends.
4. Love the outsider. In every setting, work, neighborhood, etc., there are people who for whatever reason are kind of outliers. Chandler tells us that we tend to run away from differences and from being around people who think differently and look differently than we do. Chandler tells us that Jesus would have moved toward those people, and because God extends radical hospitality to us, we should as well.
Chandler tells us that missional hospitality is costly. It costs our time, our money and comfort. It requires trust in God instead of ourselves and demands courage. He tells us that the extent of our courage will be shown by who sits around our table.
Rosaria Butterfield is a pastor’s wife and has an incredible story that she tells in her first book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. In her new book she writes about “radical, ordinary hospitality”. She defines this as using your Christian home in a daily way that seeks to make strangers into neighbors, and neighbors into the family of God. It brings glory to God, serves others, and lives out the gospel in word and deed. Its purpose is to build, focus, deepen, and strengthen the family of God, pointing others to the Bible-believing local church, and being earthly and spiritually good to everyone we know. She tells us that daily hospitality, gathering church and neighbors, is a daily grace.
But, Rosaria states, daily hospitality can be expensive and even inconvenient. It compels us to care more for our church family and neighbors than our personal status in this world.
Radical ordinary hospitality creates an intimacy among people that allows for genuine differences to be discussed. It cares for the things that our neighbors care about. It means esteeming others more highly than ourselves.
And like Chandler, Butterfield addresses the issue of our personality type in her discussion of hospitality. She writes that knowing your personality and sensitivities does not excuse us from ministry. It just means that we will need to prepare for it differently.
I learned a great deal about hospitality and was challenged in this area by these two books.
What would you add to this discussion of biblical hospitality?


Biblical Hospitality

If you do a Google search for a definition of hospitality you will find that it means “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers”. I often think of hospitality as having people over to one’s home for a meal; there really is something about sharing a meal with someone. I remember a family that attended our church years ago. He was one of our elders. They had a number of children and not a lot of money. Yet they always opened their home to others for meals.  It was definitely not considered entertaining – you had to clear off a spot to sit down on their couch, and then they’d fire up the rice cooker.  You felt warm and welcome ~ they had the gift of hospitality.  This is certainly an area that I can grow in. Oh, I have my excuses – “our home is too small to host”, or “I’m an introvert”, or even “I don’t like potlucks”.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the subject of hospitality recently. Below are a few helpful resources that I’ve benefited from:

  • Openness Unhindered by Rosaria Butterfield. I’ve learned a lot about biblical hospitality from Rosaria Butterfield’s two books and hearing her speak. In her book Openness Unhindered she had a helpful discussion on hospitality and neighboring. I particularly took interest in her discussion about the art of neighboring, where she and her husband placed picnic tables and chairs in their front yard to encourage hospitality. Thursday nights at their home is a prayer open house and a neighborhood prayer walk. Another helpful resource from Rosaria is this interview with Tony Reinke in which they explore the role hospitality played in her conversion, and why she’s now challenging Christians to rethink the missional potential of our living rooms and dining rooms.  She says fellowship is having your church friends in, but hospitality is meeting the stranger at the gate and inviting the stranger in.  We have to be intentional about inviting our neighbors into our lives to become friends.
  • Tim Keller’s Message on Hospitality. In this excellent message from Tim Keller, he states that hospitality is what we do with our bodies and gifts. Keller goes on to say that hospitality is an attitude of the heart and practice.
  • Tim Challies’ Series on the Character of the Christian. In this article, Tim Challies writes that “Hospitality is a tangible, outward display of godly character.” He offers some helpful questions to evaluate ourselves on hospitality.

What does the Bible say about hospitality? It’s not a suggestion, it’s a command!  Here are five wonderful verses:

Romans 12:13: Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.Hospitality Graphic

1 Peter 4:9: Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.

Hebrews 13:2: do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

Isaiah 58:7: Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Luke 14:13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind…

And two verses for Pastors/Elders:

1 Timothy 3:2: Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach

Titus 1:8: hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined

What do you think hospitality is and how can it be demonstrated in your life?

  • Don’t be content with just having your friends over!
  • Don’t be afraid to expose your kids to difficult people, discussions and experiences.
  • Be creative! Use your car for hospitality – to give rides, loan it out, etc.
  • Send us more ideas by hitting the comment button.

Let’s encourage each other to open our hearts and our homes by practicing servanthood and making others feel special and welcome.  May our homes become sanctuaries for others by us stewarding the blessings God has given us.