When our culture talks about having people over, they often use the language of entertainment: “I like entertaining,” or “Here are some tips on entertaining.” Christian hospitality, however, is not entertaining. It is not the addition of some religion to entertaining. Hospitality has totally different motives, means, and ends, largely because it is not about us. Biblical hospitality is about honoring God by obeying His command to “contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Rom. 12:13). It is about loving other Christians. When hospitality does become about the giver, it ceases to be Christian.
One of the distinctives of Christian hospitality is the guests. We extend invitations to strangers as well as friends, seeking not only to deepen fellowship, but also to draw people into the light of Christian community (Heb. 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9). We extend invitations to people who are unable to reciprocate, either because of their living situation, hard financial position, family issue, or physical condition (Luke 14:13). Hospitality is part of giving, expecting nothing in return from the people who receive the sacrifice of our service.
Unlike entertaining, Christian hospitality is not a special occasion. It is a lifestyle. Practice is a frequent thing; so is biblical hospitality, despite the inconvenience that comes with cooking, cleaning, and praying for guests, adding to the busyness of family life. Christian hospitality is part of Christian living: something we must seek to show (Rom. 12:13) because its common sacrifice is contrary to fallen nature as well as Western culture. Here are four reminders to help guide our understanding of biblical hospitality.
Christian hospitality is an expression of love
Unlike entertaining, hospitality does not seek to impress or network or create obligation. Instead, it seeks to serve. As hosts are increasingly sanctified, their hospitality will increasingly be an expression of love for particular guests. Biblical hospitality seeks to show love in ways that each guest will recognize and feel. It speaks to guests in their own language, just as God does to us. This means taking each guest’s situation into consideration, if we are at all aware of it. Are they grieving? Are they celebrating something? Are they suffering from morning sickness? Do they have a teen that needs thoughtful conversation? Will a group potluck be the best thing for this family, or do they need a quiet dinner? Would a widower feel overwhelmed by small children, or would they be a welcome diversion? These are some ways that we need to think about loving each guest by meeting their known needs where we can.
If all of these things characterize Christian hospitality, what is its fruit? What is Christian hospitality able to do?
Christian hospitality fosters selflessness
Because it is other-focused and requires sacrifice, biblical hospitality will be a tool that God uses to root out self-centeredness in us. For example, in the middle of one major move, my husband and I found ourselves suddenly homeless, living in a hotel room with two small children trying to navigate a new job and state. When a couple from the church found out, they invited us to live in their home until ours was available. After arriving, we learned that she had had surgery for cancer two days before we came. That level of sacrificial love did not happen out of nowhere: it was years of giving home and self to others that continued and bore fruit, even in the middle of great hardship. God not only uses hospitality to sanctify, but also to show the beauty of sanctification.
Christian hospitality provides refuge
Our world is very broken, and increasingly so. An open home shaped by Scripture is a safe place in an unsafe wilderness. In hospitality, Christian homes are places where people are physically safe from abuse and danger. They are places where it is emotionally safe to not only rejoice, but also to grieve all sorts of brokenness that come from a fallen world and griefs that come from fallen people. Christian homes must be places that are spiritually safe to confess weakness and sin, finding real help in the context of biblical love.
Christian hospitality deepens fellowship
It creates time separate from the rush of daily life to come apart for a couple of hours and talk — to know and be known. This is especially true if guests feel comfortable enough to open up and everyone can talk about how they are really doing and how the Lord is working in their lives. So often, this grows love for each other. It would be strange if we could listen to an older father grieving an apostate child and not feel love for both of them. It is almost inevitable to hear the single woman explaining her breakup with an ungodly man and feel grateful for her faithfulness to Jesus. God designed these bonds to form as we open our homes and hearts to each other.
Christian hospitality honors the Lord. Practicing hospitality is part of being faithful. But like much of life, we cannot control the outcome of our hospitality. We may open our homes with the best of intentions, motives, and preparations, only to end up with strained relationships and messy kitchens. Our job is obedience, trusting the Lord to use it in the best way, even when we can’t see it. That is why practicing biblical hospitality is part of walking by faith, not by sight. And perhaps it is this aspect that makes it not only distinct in this world, but also very useful in Christ’s kingdom.
Rebecca VanDoodewaard is a freelance editor and author. She has written many books, including Reformation Women: Sixteenth-Century Figures Who Shaped Christianity’s Rebirth and the Banner Board Books series for children.