When was the last time you experienced a gracious welcome? Having recently moved to Boston from South Florida, my family and I have found ourselves on the receiving end of hospitality.
Our first week here we decided that we needed to get out of our house. We were tired of unpacking boxes, and wanted to explore the city. As we walked out the door, we all pulled our hoods on to keep the snow from falling onto our faces and began walking towards the T stop. Just then our neighbor pulled up in his car and offered to drive us there. So all six of us piled into his car and off we went to the Ashmont Hill T stop.
That simple act made us feel welcomed in a new city and neighborhood. But the truth is that this was a one time event. In fact I haven't even seen that neighbor since it happened.
Is that enough? Is a random act of kindness equal to the Christians view of hospitality? I imagine that most of us instinctively know that the answer is no.
Perhaps a better illustration for me to use is not a random act of kindness, as great as it was, but rather the long list of smaller acts that could easily go unmentioned: being given office space to use, invitations to a meal, my kids being invited to a playdate, a place to be on Easter when we are so far from family, and I am only scratching the surface. These are the small acts of hospitality that we have received again and again from our church family in CTK-Dorchester.
This exposes one of our biggest challenges. We have come to see hospitality through a different set of expectations. In an age of Pinterest and Food Network, it has become normal for us to think about hospitality as an opportunity to pull out all the stops. A hospitality industry has emerged which has created a new set of norms. The result is that hospitality is no longer defined by the small, yet consistent, acts of welcome. Instead it is defined by the extravagant things we do. If hospitality equals tablescapes and lavish meals it becomes oppressive. It becomes an opportunity to impress others with what we have. And even worse it can become an idol. Perhaps worst of all it ceases to be a blessing - because it is no longer about the other person, it is about me.
Building a Biblical Understanding
What is hospitality? The answer Scripture gives is pretty straightforward. Hospitality is about welcoming people into your life. It is the practice of welcoming others into our homes and lives so that they can experience the love of God in our words, deeds, and welcome. When we dig into what Scripture says about hospitality and explore the example of hospitality that it provides; then we see how integral it is to our faith. In fact hospitality is not just about an occasional gesture; it is a way of life. It is a habit, or practice, that should characterize our lives. We see that it is a gift the Lord provides to his church, a requirement to be an officer of the church (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8), and an expectation placed on all of us (Rom. 12:13; 1 Pet. 4:9; Heb 13:2).
Hospitality is something that we offer friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Whether they are Christians or not. In fact scripture only shows that Christiansdenied welcome and hospitality to two categories of people (both claimed to be Christians): (1.) those who persisted in immoral lifestyles (1 Cor. 5.9-11) and (2.) those who were false teachers (2 John 9-11).
The earliest example of hospitality is found in the life of Abraham. Abraham is the recipient of hospitality when he is in Egypt (Gen 12:10-20) and with Abimelech (Gen 20). He is also the recipient of hospitality when the Hittites allow him to bury Sarah (Gen. 23). But more than just being the recipient of hospitality he also offers hospitality. The most powerful example is found in Gen 18 when Abraham welcomes the Lord himself into his tent. (This story is used by the author of Hebrews as a reason for us to show hospitality to others.). There are other examples we can look at: Boaz and Ruth (Ruth), David and Mephibosheth (2 Sam. 9), or Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17).
Beyond examples, however, the Lord commands the people of Israel to be hospitable because they had been recipient of his gracious welcome. Deuteronomy 26:5-19 and Leviticus 19:33-34 are two examples of the Lord rooting the command for hospitality in his act of redeeming them from Egypt. As John Piper has stated: “For the people of God in the Old Testament the duty of hospitality came right from the center of who God was. I am the Lord your God who made a home for you and brought you there with all my might and all my soul. Therefore, you shall love the stranger as yourself. You shall be holy as I am holy.”
So when we come to the Gospels it should not surprise us to see how the Lord Jesus lives out the gracious welcome of God. He is accosted because he eats with sinners and tax collectors (Mt 9.9-13, Mk. 2.15-17, Lk 5.27-32). He feeds large crowds of people (Mk 6:30-44; 8:1-10). He sends out the disciples to minister in his name and makes them dependent on the hospitality they receive (Mt 10.5-42; Mk 6.7-13; Lk 9.2-6, 10.1-17).
Finally, throughout the book of Acts we see examples of hospitality: Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10.24-48); Paul is welcomed by believers after his conversion (Acts 9:19-22), and Lydia welcoming Paul (Acts 16:11-15) just to name a few.
So we see that the commands to show hospitality are rooted in God’s character, his acts of salvation, and the example of Jesus and his saints in both the Old and New Testaments. Sometimes they are acts of great importance. Other times they are a shared meal. Always they are acts of gracious welcome.
What are the obstacles standing in the way of your sharing a gracious welcome? In my experience there are usually three.
First there is the obstacle of knowledge, “I didn't know I needed to do it.” Hopefully this article will at least be the start of removing this obstacle for you. If this is the obstacle you are facing right now I hope you’ll commit to learning more of what Scripture teaches.
Secondly there is the obstacle of motivation, “I don't want to do it.” Ask the Lord to change your heart.
Finally, there is the obstacles of skills, “I don't know how to do it.” Here is a short list of ideas to help you:
• Invite someone to come along with you. If you are already planning on going somewhere (a park, the beach, a museum) think about who you can invite to join you.
• Collect and file simple, inexpensive recipes for desserts and meals. Hospitality is not about fancy meals but about making other feel welcomed.
• Partner with others. Is there someone you already know well that could join you in showing hospitality? Some of the fear of the unknown goes away when we work together.
There really is no substitute. To be hospitable people we have to practice hospitality. Hospitality takes work. But hospitality is also a blessing.
For additional reading, visit http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/strategic-hospitality
Omar, Kate and their kids have loved being a part CTK and living in Boston. Omar works in the CTK Church Planting Center as the Leadership Development Director. Before moving to Boston he pastored in South Florida. To learn more about Omar, visit http://www.ortizinboston.com/.