The Gospel of Hospitality
In our various spheres of life we ought to know why we are here. I have lived out the Book of Ecclesiastes long enough to realize that the pursuits of life “under the sun” – the acquisition of material wealth, physical pleasures, and intellectual accomplishments – are nothing but “vanity, vanity.”
My pilgrimage has led me to place a higher premium on heaven’s priorities than on ephemeral, earthly attainments. Malcolm Muggeridge spoke truthfully when he said:
I may, I suppose, regard myself or pass for being a relatively successful man. People occasionally stare at me in the streets – that’s fame. I can fairly easily earn enough to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the Internal Revenue – that’s success. Furnished with money and a little fame even the elderly, if they care to, may partake of trendy diversions – that’s pleasure. It might happen once in a while that something I said or wrote was sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time – that’s fulfillment. Yet I say to you – and I beg you to believe me – multiply these tiny triumphs by a million, add them all together, and they are nothing – less than nothing, a positive impediment – measured against one draught of that living water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who are what they are.
Whatever should remain of my earthly existence, I have decided to invest it in heavenly realities. In The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg notes three elements that are needed for a healthy society: family, work, and a “third place.” For me, that third place involves (though it is not limited to) the path of hospitality. Romans 12:13 says believers are to “contribute to the needs of the saints” and “pursue hospitality.” Paul’s language implies a habit or pattern of life, not an occasional activity. It also emphasizes the effort and cost of showing hospitality – we are to “pursue” it. The idea is that costly hospitality is something to be practiced at all times, not just during holidays or when it is convenient. Our homes should exist not just to meet our own needs; they should be constantly ready for hospitality – an eagerness to welcome people who don’t ordinarily live there. Peter says we are to “practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another” (1 Pet. 4:9), while Job puts it this way: “I have [willingly, graciously] opened my doors to the wayfarer” (Job 31:32).
Perhaps we could call this The Gospel of Hospitality – “Gospel” in that it is based on the cross of Christ. This Gospel of Hospitality invites people to come with their hopes and failures and questions to a place where they will be unconditionally accepted and, over time, brought to an understanding of their failings and God’s forgiveness. It is a place of refuge for the weary traveler. It welcomes the stranger, the neighbor, the pilgrim. Our only motivation is the fact that, being ourselves recipients of God’s hospitality that made us members of His household, we now have the joy of becoming conduits of His hospitality to others.
It is natural for us, in our busy schedules, to neglect hospitality. That’s why Hebrews 13:1-2 says we should “let brotherly love continue,” being careful not to neglect “to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” God is pleased when we open our homes and hearts to others in this way.
My wife and I have pursued several hospitality strategies, such as:
Like Francis and Edith Schaeffer, my wife and I have discovered the simple act of receiving guests to be an increasingly important part of our life together. We even designed the physical architecture of our new home to enable hospitality. Our concept of “retreat” has no programs or scheduled activities. We simply desire to provide an atmosphere that will simulate spiritual growth. We delight in welcoming people into our home, and I have no doubt that we have “entertained angels unawares.”
There are far too many inhospitable homes in our communities. Stand in many a pulpit today and call for a return to biblical hospitality and people will resent it because it may require a change of priorities. Elders and deacons are required to show hospitality, but there is no double standard with God. What is good for elders and deacons is good for all Christians.
In a day when stopping for hitchhikers is risky and befriending foreigners unheard of, God says: “Don’t forget to entertain strangers.” And these “strangers” are often closer than we think – children with special needs, abused women, grieving widows or widowers, foreign workers, international students, pregnant teenagers, elderly neighbors. Jesus doesn’t expect us to do everything. But even if we can’t end homelessness we can take in one stranger. Even if we can’t heal the sick we can visit them. Even if we can’t empty the prisons we can visit a prisoner.
May I encourage you to make room in your life for The Gospel of Hospitality? Hospitality is not easy. It goes against the grain of our contemporary values. It involves hard work, planning, and efficiency. And it can be inconvenient. But it will not occur in our lives until we make it a deliberate priority. Like any other quality, we must develop a generous spirit.
Are we salting the neighborhood, or is the neighborhood stealing our savor so that we are good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under the feet of men?
January 11, 2005
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com. He is the author of Why I Stopped Listening to Rush and numerous other books.