Christianity Today published an article on August 19, 2019 by Jeff Christopherson entitled, “The Power of Biblical Hospitality.” It is a thought-provoking article about the concept of Christian hospitality, something that I often fail to demonstrate.
According to the article, Christian hospitality first requires that we focus on the needs of other people — not ourselves. The article reminded me that I should not be worried about what my guests think of me or where I live when I invite guests into my home, but rather I should be entirely focused on my guests’ needs. It does not require opulence or excess. It does not require a great home or an address that reflects a “perfect” or “successful” life. To be fair, it doesn’t really require a home at all. Christian hospitality is action-oriented, not place-oriented. And to be honest, physical manifestations of perfection or success in home environments are usually illusions or “partial-truths” anyway. Christian hospitality only requires that we love others as much as we love ourselves (or at least try) and serve Christ by sharing what we have with others.
Second, to the extent possible, Christian hospitality should be as stress-free as possible. It should allow for human connection. Ideally, it allows us to enjoy the presence of others and provides a sense that someone cares. It allows us to interact with people who may never enter a church or be exposed to Christianity elsewhere. Even when we don’t talk about Christ, we can demonstrate His love by our actions. For example, in words of the author (paraphrased), when hosting a dinner the evening’s highlight should not be a well-presented table, but the precious lives God has created who are seated around that table. Similarly, the primary emphasis should not be on a well-prepared meal, but on the people invited to share it.
When we are not worried about impressing others, we have the energy necessary to focus our attention on our guests, which brings us to a third characteristic of Christian hospitality: Listening. According to the author, the willingness to put other people first is demonstrated by listening — not monopolizing a conversation — and by making our guests the center of positive attention. We should refrain from talking about ourselves if to do so silences our guests. Nor should hosts ever “tell even a better story” than a story that a guest has shared. Christian hospitality requires that we pay attention to what our guests say — and do not say — as well as their insecurities and sensitivities. It requires that we respond in a respectful and meaningful manner to our guests at all times. It requires a commitment not only to listen, but to try hard to understand — and react to guests in a non-judgmental manner, consistent with Christ’s teachings.
A final concept of Christian hospitality according to the article involves the challenging issue as to whom our hospitality will be offered. Christ’s teachings specify inclusion, not exclusion. Christians are not instructed to focus merely on the easiest people to love and serve, but also on those people who may not be like us or who may not be easily lovable. It includes those ostracized or “minimalized” by society. This is the concept of Christian hospitality that I find the most challenging in my personal life because I become overwhelmed by the needs of others less fortunate than I – and because I am shy, easily hurt, and uncomfortable with many people.
Yet Jesus teaches that the concept of Christian hospitality includes those people who make us feel uncomfortable and from whom we can expect nothing: “Then (Jesus) turned to his host. ‘When you put on a dinner,’ he said, ‘don’t invite friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors! For they will return the invitation. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the godly, God will reward you for inviting those who can’t repay you.” (Luke 14:12-14)
Christian hospitality also calls us to focus not only on believers, but also on non-believers as well. Not only on friends and family, but also on strangers. Not only on allies, but also on enemies. The author writes, “…a simple glimpse at the life of our Savior demonstrates that this was one of his primary means of ministry. All without a home of his own. Welcoming others. Eating with them. Listening to their story. Ministering to their pain. Holding out the invitation of the kingdom.” It requires that we step outside our comfort zones — and love people beyond the expectations and boundaries set by society and culture.
In other words, Christian hospitality requires we extend our hospitality to all people, as if that person were Christ Himself. When we fail to do that, which has been so often the case in my life, it is the same as refusing hospitality to our Lord: Jesus said, “And I, the King, will tell them… For I was hungry and you wouldn’t feed me; thirsty and you would give me anything to drink; a stranger, and you refused me hospitality; naked, and you wouldn’t clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you wouldn’t visit me.’ Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ ‘And I will answer, ‘When you refused to help the least of these my brothers, you were refusing to help me.”(Matthew 25:40-45)
So how do we extend Christian hospitality as Jesus intended? “Most important of all, continue to show love for each other, for love makes up for many of your faults. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay for the night. God has given each of you some special abilities; be sure to use them to help each other, passing on to others God’s many kinds of blessings.” (1 Peter 4:10)
In the end, Christian hospitality reflects our love for God and each other. A lack of Christian hospitality reflects the absence of love — it reflects when we are doing something wrong in the eyes of our Lord. We have only to look into the eyes of those who suffer to know our Lord’s plea. It’s a plea for love.
In the absence of love, Christian hospitality cannot exist.
And hospitality without love ain’t no hospitality at all.
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