5 Strategies for Practicing Biblical Hospitality
Sometimes lessons that need to be learned must be experienced before they take root. When Chad and I were newlyweds, we relocated to a different city for work purposes. In no time we found our place in a local church that offered a weekly class with other newly married couples. In the midst of making new friends, serving, and learning more about the Bible, we also experienced what it looked like to practice Biblical hospitality. Essentially, it was a phenomenon caught rather than taught. Although we were only there for two or three years, the fruit from that era has lingered for decades.
A Real Live Example of Biblical Hospitality
Chuck and Kathy were old enough to be our parents. They were empty nesters who were spending their lives pouring into twenty-somethings. They did not teach that class filled with newlyweds, but they were the heart and soul of establishing a welcoming environment for anyone who showed up. From our first appearance on the premises, these two helped us feel as if we already belonged. In fact, I believe they invited us to their home for pizza within the first two weeks. This act, we learned was nothing special. It was simply the way they lived life. You were never an inconvenience, your need was never too great, and their doors were always unlocked.
At the time I couldn’t put my finger on why they were so different or what caused them to stick out in my head as examples of how to meaningfully engage with others. I just recognized the impact these ordinary lay leaders were having on those who happened in their sphere of influence. Today, I know we were simply experiencing a living example of Biblical hospitality.
What is Biblical Hospitality?
Hospitality can be defined as “the act or service of welcoming, receiving, hosting, or entertaining guests.” We often think of hosting a dinner or gathering, making sure everyone enjoys themselves and has everything they need. But Biblical hospitality is more than working a room and providing awesome hors d’oeuvres.
Hospitality in the Old Testament
The concept of hospitality is introduced in the Old Testament. We find Abraham welcoming three men on a journey, spending the day with them, and providing a place to rest and food to eat (Genesis 18:2-5). As the men (or angels) move into Sodom and Gomorra, Lot meets them in the public square inviting them to his home for the same (Genesis 19:1-3). it was issued as an explicit command.
By the time Moses liberates the Israelites from Egypt and God directed them into the wilderness, hospitality is more than optional. It’s made part of the law.
“When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt” Leviticus 19:33-34.
Hospitality in the New Testament
In the New Testament, we find the word, hospitality, used four different times. In Greek, the word literally means ‘love of strangers.” It first shows up in Paul’s letter to the Romans where he encourages believers to “contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality,” (Romans 12:13). Biblical hospitality at its essence, is sharing who we are and what we have, not with those close to us, but also with those outside our circle. In fact, Paul calls the reader to look for opportunities to do so.
Such hospitable behavior is viewed by the early church leadership as virtuous—something to excel in and practice for a lifetime. To Timothy, Paul mentions hospitality as one of the requirements of widows who would receive assistance from the church (1 Timothy 5:10).
The Hard Work of Biblical Hospitality
But that kind of giving and serving is not easy. It’s not cheap, either, nor does it necessarily come naturally. The writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 13:2) taps into this reality when he encourages believers to be hospitable because of the possibilities at stake. You just never know. By practicing hospitality, you may encounter an angel, harkening back to the experience of Abraham (Genesis 18). In other words, any expense or effort is worth it.
Peter also understands the demanding nature of biblical hospitality as he encourages those believers to whom he writes.
Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 1 Peter 4:9
Why might grumbling come with the responsibility of biblical hospitality? Because it’s not on our agenda. It often is needed at times when we have other things to do, other financial responsibilities, and we frankly just want to do something else. For many, expending themselves in hospitality is like asking your teenage son to take out the trash or clean the litter box. We just don’t want to do it.
Those who have gone before us, showing the importance, commending the actions, and calling us to persevere understand that the heart of the matter is that showing hospitality to others is really an extension of the Gospel.
Hospitality as The Gospel
Why all the fuss about something we deem as a skill some possess and some do not?
Because these early New Testament writers recognized that the Good News is best shared by word and deed, in relationship. At the core, real transformation is seen and heard in the everyday stuff of regular life. It’s how you interact with the person next door. Inviting them into your life—for something as simple as coffee can communicate more than small talk. We demonstratge the Good News when you and I handle difficult situations with joy instead of despair or extend a helping hand and expect nothing in return. It might even occur when you show up with a meal or gift card. Relationship and a sense of community is the starting point.
“Hospitality is the ground zero of the Christian life.” Rosaria Butterfield
Living a Life that Pursues Hospitality
Indeed, the Christian life calls us to live beyond ourselves. Maybe you don’t see yourself as the hospitable type. Paper plates and take-out pizza more your flare? No problem. Nowhere in the Bible does it specify how we demonstrate hospitality, just that we do it.
In a post-Covid world, most of us need to be reminded of how the simple act of showing hospitality can change a life. Not that we drag people into our circle to try to convert them, but to demonstrate what it looks like to be a believing mom, wife, or sister who is willing to share what she has as if she had known them for ages.
You and I also need encouragement. If you lack the How-To for Biblical hospitality, I have given you five strategies you can use, no matter your background or experience. You don’t need to be a Pinterest Queen or an excellent cook. Just take the next step. It might just be right across the street.
5 Strategies for Practicing Biblical Hospitality
Begin with “hello.” Remember the famous line from the movie, “You had me at ‘hello’”? (Jerry McGuire) That’s what we are aiming toward in extending hospitality to others. The examples I shared from my newlywed days have withstood decades of various moves and constant church-going. What I learned those years ago turned out to be spot on. Extending hospitality begins before offering any invitation. It starts with contact. Introduce yourself and take note of the person’s name.
If you struggle with names, come up with a system for remembering. I have people often repeat their name before we end the conversation (because I often have already moved on), and then I jot it down in my Notes section on my phone, along with some fact about them, such as profession, number of kids, or where they are from. You and I should work on being attentive. Doing so communicates more of Jesus in you than you might be aware. Currently, many in our midst feel as if they are unseen and unknown. Taking a moment to focus all of our attention on the person before us will fuel more than the conversation. It may be the very thing the person needs.
Start small. If you have little experience with carrying conversations with people you don’t know well – or the whole idea freaks you out, don’t go there yet. And when you do go forward, go with a plan. Come up with three or four general questions that require more than a yes/no response. Make your inquiry generic so that you can remember your go-to questions and use them whenever necessary. It will calm your nerves and give you the direction you need.
One thing I observed in my time with Chuck and Kathy was how much time they spent asking questions, allowing the person to talk about what was near and dear to them. The conversation focused on the other person. Biblical hospitality begins long before a person steps into your home, but with your first contact.
Develop a friendship instead of attempting to save their souls. Do you have a suspicion the person doesn’t know Jesus as Lord and Savior? No problem. Be open and available to build a friendship with them. But it’s not our job to make them accept the Gospel. That role belongs to the Holy Spirit. Our responsibility is to show up, to speak the truth, and to extend compassion and love to them.
Add hospitality to your schedule. Although our desire should be to become hospitable people, we may find we don’t have room for it. Showing hospitality to others who might not be like us likely won’t come naturally. We need to pray, asking God to reveal what can go so that there is bandwidth for living out the Gospel where we are. It won’t just happen. You and I need to pivot toward being intentional about showering hospitality to others, making choices, even sacrificing what we want for what they need, and serving for the sake of Christ.
Just do it. Forget having the ideal conversation starters. Don’t worry about the aesthetics. Forget vacuuming. Feed them frozen pizza if you must. Your meeting together doesn’t need to be Pinterest-worthy. Just do it because hospitality is a kingdom-focused work God uses us to complete. Do it, because showing hospitality changes you and me.
When we practice hospitality, we experience the refreshing joy of becoming conduits of God’s hospitality rather than being self-decaying cul-de-sacs. The joy of receiving God’s hospitality decays and dies if it doesn’t flourish in our own hospitality to others. Saturate
This week, what is one thing you can do to show Biblical hospitality within your sphere of influence? I plan on inviting a few neighbors over for coffee. I’m putting it on the calendar. What about you?
I can’t wait to hear about it.
For His glory,
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