Several years ago, I was invited to participate in a Bible study on hospitality. To be honest I was less than thrilled because hosting was not a skill set I felt I naturally possessed. Now I know some marvellous hosts whose houses are beautiful, cooking is gourmet, and natural abilities lend them to delightful table conversation and excellent manners. I possessed none of these attributes with any consistency, so I knew a Bible study focused on how to better have people in your home would leave me feeling inadequate.
I begrudgingly decided to join mainly because I enjoyed being with the group of ladies participating. I wasn’t far into the study when I realized I had grossly misjudged the content of the study. This was no Southern Living Cookbook or HGTV home renovation episode, this was Biblical hospitality. I was encountering the Creator God expecting a lesson on table etiquette, and instead received a major transformation in my heart. God showed me that Biblical hospitality is much different than I originally thought.
First, Biblical hospitality is broader than I imagined. It is not limited to friends and family. As Matthew 25 describes, Biblical hospitality extends to the stranger and even to the outcast: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison and you visited me…..Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Biblical hospitality is characterized by showing kindness to the stranger. Christ is seen repeatedly making space in his ministry for the poor, the sick, the self-righteous, the children, the church, the critics, and the outcast. Biblical hospitality can include having people in your home, but as noted in the passage above, it can take place in many ways. Hospitality often includes caring for real, physical, and emotional needs. And can include anything from delivering a meal to someone, donating clothing to a family in need, or visiting someone who is isolated.
Second, I learned that as a Christian, Biblical hospitably should not be optional. This was surprising to me. I always thought that Christians were given specific gifts, and we all worked best when we stayed in our lane. I viewed hospitality as a gift, not a calling, and I often used my perceived lack of gifting as an excuse to not practice hospitality. I would leave that one for the extroverts. Showing biblical hospitality is not one of those things that only the best qualified are sent to do. This is something to which all Christians are called: love God, love others.
Furthermore, God showed me that the biggest obstacle to true hospitality wasn’t the status of my house but rather the condition of my heart. My selfishness and inability to sacrifice my time, money, energy, and space for others, especially those outside my circle, prevented me from practicing real Biblical hospitality. What I had originally perceived as a polished and elegant affair, turned out to be often messy and inconvenient. I wanted to show off my strengths, but God called me to let others into my weaknesses.
Prior to my bible study, I would have thought discussing hospitality during a global pandemic would be irrelevant. We are living in a time when physical connection with even friends is discouraged, much less (gasp) strangers! However, after learning what I did, I think that Biblical hospitality might be more relevant now than ever. As long as there are lonely, sick, financially stressed, and downtrodden people, we are called to be that physical display of Christ’s love. We may need to be more creative, but Biblical hospitality is no less important.
So, I encourage you to deliver a meal, send an encouraging message, show kindness and grace to the strangers you meet in the grocery store, or whatever other brilliant ideas you have. God, who died for us while we were strangers, calls us to love the stranger. He calls us to make room in our self-absorbed hearts, overcrowded schedules, and yes sometimes even our messy homes for people.