August 30, 2007
Contemporary Westerners have a difficult time understanding the deep significance of the table fellowship described in the Bible. Indeed, Western people have a hard time understanding much of anything from ancient Palestine connected with food. We have food in abundance; those in the ancient East did not. Our food is very easy to come by. It was quite the opposite in the ancient East. Our meals are often rushed. In Jesus’ day people reclined around the table and took their time. Because of this, the way we think about sharing meals with people will be quite different from that described in the Bible.
Hospitality is a significant theme in God’s Word. Romans 12:13 says, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” In Hebrews 13:2 we are exhorted, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for some have entertained angels unawares.” The apostle Peter tells us to “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (I Peter 4:9). In I Tim 3:2 and Titus 1:8 Paul mentions hospitality as one of the requirements of an overseer.
The New Testament word for hospitality literally means, “love of strangers.” Considering that definition, the Gospel implications of hospitality begin to surface immediately. God loved us while we were His enemies. He sought us out when we were not willing to seek Him. God drew us to Himself when we were alienated from Him. He did all this at tremendous personal cost.
The New Testament helps us see our homes as places where we nurture others from our own resources of safety and supply. As Tim Keller observes, “hospitality is essentially treating others as family.” In the same article Keller writes that hospitality, “incorporates newcomers into household, common, daily activities such as eating a meal, sharing a cup of coffee, or painting a room. It treats peers as brothers, sisters and cousins. It treats older people as fathers, mothers, aunts, and uncles. It treats children as sons, daughters, nieces, and nephews.”
For the Christian, hospitality has deep theological moorings. When we have someone in our home we should consider how our welcome and treatment of them can give them a taste of the goodness of God’s coming kingdom. The kingdom of God will be a place of radical generosity, security, acceptance, and abundant supply. It will be unhurried and entirely satisfying. The way Jesus behaved at meals and social gatherings reflected these qualities of the kingdom. Jesus so regularly fellowshipped over meals, even with ‘sinners’ that he was accused of being “a glutton and a drunkard” (Luke 7:34). If the Gospel is to be advanced effectively and Christian community nurtured then Jesus’ habit of lingering regularly with others in homes must be recaptured by Christians today. “Indeed, recovering hospitality as a Christian tradition more generally is widely needed in our fast-paced, self-centered lifestyle” (Blomberg, 171).
In his helpful book Contagious Holiness Craig Blomberg carefully examines the texts of Scripture that depict Jesus sharing meals with “sinners.” He writes:
“Perhaps it is not too much of a stretch to suggest that, when Jesus asked His disciples to ‘duplicate’ his miracle of feeding the multitudes, He envisioned a later day when they would do so by non-miraculous means. The majority of our world’s inhabitants have no difficulty looking forward to the prospects of a future age when material as well as spiritual sustenance will know no bounds. Even we who remain satiated most of the time can usually reflect on special meals that whetted our appetites for the biblical vision of an eschatological banquet in which all God’s people will enjoy one another and all of God’s good material provisions for ever, with none of the selfishness, injustice, or alienation that so often mar even the best of our celebrations in this age” (p. 170).
Gospel-driven hospitality requires an “up-closeness” with different kinds of people. It bridges gaps rather than reinforcing them. And this is probably one of the most significant hurdles relating to hospitality for Christians today. We are simply not comfortable with people who are different from us. Blomberg quotes Christine Pohl who observes that “churches have generally done better with offering food programs and providing clothing closets than with welcoming into worship people significantly different from their congregations. Because we are unaware of the significance of our friendship and fellowship, our best resources often remain inaccessible to strangers” (p. 172).
It seems clear that for hospitality in our homes to happen more regularly there will need to be changes in the way that most of us live. It is not easy to exercise hospitality. It usually requires some planning. It requires resources of time, money, and emotions. Also, it is usually the wife of the household that is burdened with the responsibility of making all the arrangements. While there are some households where this arrangement works well, there are probably many others where it is unrealistic. Hospitality needs to be a team effort. Husbands must help their wives shoulder the burden and make sure that they are involved in the scheduling of home gatherings. To ignore this will introduce conflict into the home and destroy the atmosphere of comfort and joy that Gospel-driven hospitality requires. For the unmarried adult, their singleness is an advantage at this point. Their freedom to plan and be flexible is a blessing to their ministry of hospitality.
Busyness is an enemy of hospitality and Americans are busy. We fill our schedules with an abundance of activities. We work 50, 60, and even 70 hours each week. Our kids are involved in sports and various other activities. What is more, those who are actively involved in church will often find themselves committed to a demanding schedule. It seems that quiet evenings at home are rare. When this is the case, the last thing we want to do is have guests. Who has time to actually forge a relationship with a lost neighbor?
Michael Prior has written that there is a “desperate need for Christians to excise innumerable church meetings, in order to free their diaries for proper meeting with unbelievers.” Jesus ministered to people of various backgrounds and social standing. He shunned neither rich nor poor, insider nor outsider. This model of ministry “challenges us to cross the culture-gap between the Christian sub-culture of cozy meetings and holy talk and the pagan culture of our local community. The task of identification with and incarnation into our contemporary paganism, of all kinds, is one of the biggest tasks confronting the church” (Blomberg, 173).
The hope for Metro East is that we will increasingly view our corporate facilities and individual homes as arenas for ministry to those who find themselves on the outside. How can we think creatively about the ways we use our church building? How welcome would someone feel who does not look like a typical Wichita suburbanite? Are there ways we can expand our facilities to include a storefront in a location that is more accessible for those not used to attending church? Could such a location be used to serve coffee and host teaching times and discussions that would appeal to those who do not know Jesus?
How can our homes become places of refreshment and friendship for our brothers and sisters in Christ? What about those within our congregation who are lonely? When was the last time we forged a friendship with someone in our church? Has our circle of friendships expanded in the last 12 months? Let us also consider how our homes can be tools for the advancing of the Gospel. Are we approaching our neighbors with a fresh commitment to be their friend? We must not treat them as a project. For Jesus’ sake, they need a friend whose life is driven by the Gospel.
Alexander Strauch’s excellent book “The Hospitality Commands” is a great resource. It is a study of what the Bible teaches about hospitality. It will give you a fresh vision of how to use your home to advance the gospel. I commend it to your reading.