A Biblical Theology of Hospitality
This article is a succinct biblical theology of hospitality, which includes applications and practical tips for how to offer and receive hospitality.
Originally posted at Ambassadors of Reconciliation
My favourite book on hospitality is “The Gospel Comes with a Housekey: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World,” by Rosario Butterfield. One of her most memorable quotes is the following:
Those who live out radically ordinary hospitality see their homes not as theirs at all but as God’s gift to use for the furtherance of his kingdom. They open doors; they seek out the underprivileged. They know that the gospel comes with a house key. They take biblical theology seriously, as well as Christian creeds and confessions and traditions.
Her own testimony bears witness to the power of hospitality. She was a radical lesbian activist university professor. She published an article in her city’s newspaper decrying the misogyny and intolerance of evangelicals, and she received a letter from a local pastor, inviting her to a meal in his home. At that time, she was working on a book exposing evangelicals and their bigoted stance against the LGBTQ+ community, so she considered meeting with a leader of the movement a source of free research material.
From Radical to Redeemed
What she discovered instead was an unexpected friendship with Ken and Floy Smith. And through their hospitality and love, she was awakened to a friendship she never anticipated with her Creator and Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christians didn’t have a good reputation in the LGBT community for being hospitable. This community, she explains, is one characterized by hospitality, in which a home is open each night for fellowship, help, care, and connection.
By contrast, Christians seem to be on a starvation diet of community. If we as Christians want to step into the lives of our neighbors in meaningful ways, we need to make a commitment to hospitality. And this may take more organic forms than what we traditionally use. We need to be prepared to be more vulnerable as both host and guest.
Hospitality as a Theme of Biblical Theology
God Designs the First Humans’ Home
The biblical theme of hospitality runs from Genesis to Revelation. And our ultimate model of hospitality is God himself! We first see his hospitality in action in Genesis 1 and 2, in the Garden of Eden, when he prepares a beautiful home for our first parents and welcomes them into his divine presence. That garden temple represents God’s dwelling place on earth, and it is more stunningly beautiful than anything the best interior decorator could have designed.
God Promises a Home to a Childless Abraham
We can follow the thread of this theme of biblical theology if we skip forward a couple of chapters to Genesis 12 and 15, where we come to the Abrahamic Covenant. In it, God promises the childless patriarch to make him a great nation, to bless all the nations through him, and to give him a land of his own. Much like in the garden, God is starting over, creating a nation set apart for himself, in a location he will prepare for them.
God Delivers the Hebrews and Calls them to Hospitality
In Exodus, we find that the small clan of the sons of Jacob have multiplied in a foreign land, in many ways as a fulfillment of God’s promise to their patriarch Abraham. But Pharoah views them as a threat and enslaves them. When the LORD delivers the Hebrews from their bondage in Egypt, he meets them in the wilderness and gives them his holy Law. One of the first instructions following the issuing of the 10 Commandments is this:
You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Ex 22:21)
And later, in the amplification of this ide in Leviticus, the Lord gives the following command:
You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. (Le 19:34)
God wants the Israelites' own story of oppression to fuel their love for and reception of the sojourners among them. For the new covenant believer, this implies that our churches and our homes should be places of refuge and care for the strangers, for those on the margins of society.
God Comes Down in Glory to Dwell Among his People
Most of the second half of the book of Exodus is God’s layout plan for the home he wants the people of Israel to build for him so that he can make his dwelling among them and welcome them into his presence. This is because he is holy, and he wants his people to demonstrate their fear and love for him in how they prepare him a place for them to meet, to share fellowship. What’s remarkable is that all the essential components of a cozy home are there: a table, a lamp, bread, incense, and even engrossing reading material in the tablets of the law! Once again, we see God’s hospitality in action!
The Prophetic Call to Hospitality
There’s so much we could say about the theme of hospitality in the Old Testament. I think of Ruth and Naomi, and the covenant kindness Boaz shows to these dear women on the margins of society. Or I think of the word of the Lord spoken to Isaiah 58:7 concerning the true fast the Lord desires. These are only two examples among many, many.
God’s Son Pitches his Tent Among Us
Turning to the New Testament, and specifically to the incarnation, we see in John 1:14 that the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. The Greek term for “to dwell” literally means to pitch his tent among us. As the LORD did in the tabernacle in the OT, so Christ does in the new. Only this time, not on cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, but rather in flesh and blood! And even though throughout his itinerant earthly ministry, Christ meets with people in their homes, breaks bread with them, and he brings the very glory of God into their midst. He thus both gives and receives hospitality. What a wonderful thought to consider!
The New Heavens and the New Earth: God’s Final, Unending Act of Hospitality
If we fast forward to our Lord’s death, resurrection, and ascension, we must ask the question, “What is Jesus doing now?” He governs the universe as Sovereign Lord and King. He is interceding for us (Ro 8:34). And he is also preparing a place for us! (Jn 14:3). The imagery is that of a bridegroom who is getting his home ready to welcome his bride.
We see the fulfillment of this promise in Revelation 21-22, as John sees the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven, the glorious home that Christ has prepared for his Bride, the Church. We will live with and see God in the flesh face to face forever! It’s difficult to imagine what that will look like, as the Bible tells us more about what will not be there than about what will be there – no temple, no sea, no night, no sun, no moon, no sin, no evildoers, no tears, no mourning, no pain, no death. But what is clear is that Christ will welcome us into our eternal home in the new heavens and the new earth - God’s final, unending act of hospitality. I can hardly wait!
The New Testament’s Hospitality Imperatives
1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:8 tell us that God requires elders to be hospitable. Romans 12:13 and 1 Peter 4:9 command all believers to offer hospitality. Hebrews 13:2 adds that in so doing, some have entertained angels unaware!
Tips for Offering Hospitality
- Don’t wait to have a spotlessly clean home to invite people over. For some of us, some seasons are so busy that the only time we thoroughly clean the bathrooms is when guests are coming over! So, maybe inviting others often for a meal may be just the push some of us need to make sure we clean our house regularly!
- Don’t apologize for the mess when you do have people over. When we do that, we draw attention to ourselves rather than focusing on our guests.
- Don’t wait until you have the budget to serve amazing meals. Offer what you can with the means God has given you. What matters most is human warmth (Pr 15:17).
- Don’t limit yourself to those you are most comfortable with – namely friends, family, believers. Jesus taught his disciples in Luke 14:12-14 to invite not merely their friends and relatives, but the poor, crippled, lame, and blind. And while this applies in a literal sense, it also applies to the spiritually poor and blind. To those who don’t share our ideology or worldview. To the “sinners and tax collectors” of our day and age. Again, quoting Butterfiled:
Radically ordinary hospitality characterizes those who don’t fuss over different worldviews represented at the dinner table. The truly hospitable aren’t embarrassed to keep friendships with people who are different.
- Do find out what allergies, intolerances, aversions, and other dietary restrictions your guests may have. Not because they’re picky, but because their lives could depend on it.
Jesus on Receiving Hospitality
Now, we often think of hospitality exclusively in terms of inviting others into our homes. But I believe the Bible has something to teach us about how to receive hospitality. When Jesus sent his disciples out to preach, he told them to stay in one place, rather than move from one house to another (Lu 10:5-9).
I always found these words confusing until I heard Nick, my pastor, preach from this passage. He explained its meaning by giving the following illustration: Imagine you were a missionary on deputation, and I invited you over to my home. After a couple of nights, you heard that my friend Valerie is a far better cook, a better housekeeper, and a better storyteller. So you decided you would prefer to upgrade your stay and ask to be transferred to her home instead. That’s basically what Jesus is warning his disciples against here. The lesson is contentment. Be thankful for what you have rather than comparing.
Tips for Receiving Hospitality
This past summer, while on missionary deputation with my family, I spent seven weeks receiving hospitality. We borrowed cars, we borrowed homes, and we stayed with friends in their homes. Here are a few lessons I learned about how to receive hospitality.
Bring a hostess gift
It doesn’t have to be extravagant, just a small token of appreciation.
Include your children in the experience
Tell them as much as you know about your hosts before you arrive so that they can know what to expect. Perhaps they can help you choose the gift for those hosting you. This can help your kids realize that they are not spectators of the giving and receiving of this Christian practice, but active participants.
Offer to help
Can you make the salad while she finishes emptying the dishwasher? Can you set the table? When we stay for a few days with someone, I even ask if I can prepare a meal or two, which is often appreciated.
Leave things the way you found them
At the end of an evening with friends, ask your kids to help their friends pick up the toys they played with before they leave. If you’re an overnight guests, your host might appreciate it if you strip the beds, take your bedding and towels to the laundry room, and empty out the trash in the room and bathroom you used.
There’s so much more we could say about hospitality. It’s such a vast subject, and we’ve only scratched the surface. The bottom line is that “We love because he first loved us.” (1 Jn 4:19). Does the idea of hospitality intimidate you? It can be daunting if you’ve developed some bad habits since March 2020 and have cocooned yourself in your home. But with the help of God, we can make progress, we can open our homes and our hearts to those around us. I leave you with this final encouragement from Butterfield:
Radically ordinary and daily hospitality is the basic building block for vital Christian living. Start anywhere. But do start.
Together with her husband Dan, Angie served the Lord in Senegal for 10 years in leadership training with Crossworld. Based in Montreal with their 2 daughters since August 2017, they continue to serve as missionaries in leadership training in the FEB/AEBEQ. Angie holds an MDiv from Moody Theological Seminary.