The Heart of Hospitality Part One
Hospitality. Does the word cause you to jump up and down inside with excitement, or shrink back with dread? Or maybe, like a lot of women I talk to, the word makes you feel guilty.
The Oxford dictionary definition of hospitality is “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.” A definition with biblical context is given in Practicing Hospitality by Pat Ennis and Lisa Tatlock: “Hospitality is the willingness to give cheerfully of your heart, home, time, energy and talents; to extend kindness and welcome to others.”
Now, if you love nothing more than filling your home with people, then this command is exciting to you. But if you are more of a quiet person, who tends toward alone time, quiet, routine, and dependable untouched cleanliness within your four walls, you are likely feeling a bit of uneasiness in this regard. And what about that mention of guilt? Many feel guilty because they know they need to be hospitable, but they have either grown apathetic or tried showing hospitality and their efforts did not succeed, or were not enjoyable. Still others have made their lives so full they have prevented themselves from obedience.
The biblical mandate for believers in Christ is to show hospitality with their hearts, hands, and homes. This guidance is derived from many scripture passages:
Romans 12:13 says that one who shows sacrificial love toward others is characterized by, “contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.”
1 Peter 4:9 challenges us to show enthusiasm in this spiritual discipline. “Be hospitable to one another without complaint.”
1 Timothy 5:9-10 lists hospitality as a measuring rod for a woman of faithfulness and sacrificial living. “A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work.”
1 Timothy 6:17-19 clarifies the meeting of needs that practicing hospitality can offer, especially from those who have been given much to steward materially. “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.”
Titus 1:7-8 and 1 Tim 3:2 list this practice as a character qualification of biblical leadership. “For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled."
Hebrews 13:1-2 shines light on the loving heart of the gospel. “Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Proverbs 19:17 speaks to the compassionate nature shown in hospitality to strangers. “One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, And He will repay him for his good deed.”
In the loving act of hospitality, we see the nature of God reflected in human hearts and hands. In hospitality we are able to show obedience, self-sacrifice, compassion, an others focus, and the gospel message of loving others who cannot, or may not ever be in a position to “pay us back.” In hospitality we are confronted with our own pride and selfishness as we may be obeying, yet not doing what we prefer, and seeking to do it for the “glory of God,” as all things are to be done.
In his book, The Hospitality Commands, Alexander Strauch exhorts, “Through the ministry of hospitality, we share our most prized possessions. We share our family, home, finances, food, privacy, and time. Indeed, we share our very lives. So, hospitality is always costly. Through the ministry of hospitality, we provide friendship, acceptance, fellowship, refreshment, comfort, and love in one of the richest and deepest ways possible for humans to understand. Unless we open the doors of our homes to one another, the reality of the local church as a close-knit family of loving brothers and sisters is only a theory… A cold, unfriendly church contradicts the gospel message…It is a superficial, Sunday-morning kind of love that is unwilling to venture beyond the walls of the church building …Brotherly love, however, entails intimate relationship, care for one another, knowledge of one another, belonging together, and sharing life together. We cannot know or grow close to our brothers and sisters by meeting for an hour and fifteen minutes a week with a large group in a church sanctuary. The home is the ideal place in which to build relationships and closeness. In most instances, we hardly even know one another until we get in one another’s homes, eat together, and talk with one another across the table.”
In the book Practicing Hospitality, Pat Ennis and Lisa Tatlock flush out 11 characteristics of hospitality to keep our hearts focused on the right attitudes before anyone’s foot even crosses our threshold. They are, simply put:
I-nterested in Integrity
A-dopted into God’s Family
L-ed by the Spirit
I-nstrumental in Producing Righteousness
Wife and mom Laurie Twibell differentiates between entertaining and hospitality by stating, “While entertaining is having guests with everything prepared and served correctly, hospitality is having people feel comfortable in my home and happy to be there no matter what we are doing or eating.”
So, we must seek, in excellence, to prepare our homes, spare rooms, and meals for the glory of God. However, we must balance seeking excellence by not making everything so perfect, or so utterly clean, that guests do not feel comfortable. We need to mature in godliness to the point where both our hearts and our homes reflect an openness and a love that is focused more on the people than on perfectionism.
I remember as a child a local mother repeating her motto, “Treat your family like guests, and your guests like family.” What a great reminder to prioritize treating your family well and not just saving the fine china for others. It is also a handy reminder to focus on making your guests feel at home, and not on edge, because dust isn’t allowed to sit anywhere, let alone a living person. Tatlock warns, “If our children feel unloved, abandoned or ignored while we diligently extend hospitality to friends and strangers, we have opened the door for developing bitterness and animosity toward hospitality in the hearts of our children.”
In part 2 of this series, we will look at practical tips for you to incorporate hospitality into your home! We will also look at a few “should-nots” to keep us from counteracting hospitality despite our best efforts!
Some helpful resources on Hospitality:
The Hospitality Commands Alexander Strauch
Practicing Hospitality Pat Ennis and Lisa Tatlock
Crazy Busy Kevin DeYoung