A Meal Says More than You Think: The Importance of Hospitality
- Wednesday, May 12, 2010
A couple years ago, I was asked to do a three minute devotion on hospitality. That sounded like a good project. I knew that hospitality is mentioned several times in the New Testament, and it was a subject to which I had never given much thought. Yet I was grateful that other folks at church on the "hospitality committee" stir the lemonade and put out the cookies every Sunday. Perhaps I could put some theology behind the lemonade and cookies.
The English dictionary defines hospitality as "the friendly treatment of guests or strangers; an act or show of welcome." That's not too far from how the New Testament Greek word (philo-xenia) breaks down—love of strangers. Lemonade and cookies invite strangers to stay. A snack communicates to newcomers, "You are welcome here!" Great, this was going to be an easy devotion.
BEGINNING WITH A WORD SEARCH
Still, I wanted to know if the Bible says anything further about hospitality. The easiest way to begin was to pullout the concordance and look up New Testament occurrences for the word "hospitality" or "hospitable." Doing this, I only found seven uses of the word in our English Bibles. But what I found sent me beyond a word search; indeed, it sent me well beyond lemonade and cookies.
I began with Romans 12:13: "Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality." This command is fairly straightforward. Christians are commanded to show hospitality to one another. Commentators like to point out that staying in inns in the ancient Near East was not always desirable. So traveling Christians like Paul were dependent on the hospitality of churches.
What struck me even more, however, was the argument of Romans 12 leading up to this command. In verses 1 and 2, Paul commands Christians to present our bodies as living sacrifices. The following verses that explain how this is actually done. Verses 3 to 8 describe how Christians live distinctly from the world within the context of the church community. Every Christian must use his or her individual gifts to serve the body. Verse 9 onward provides a list of attributes that should mark what makes every individual Christian life distinct: genuine love, brotherly affection, fervency in spirit, patience, prayerful, and, eventually, showing hospitality. Apparently, hospitality is a basic of the Christian faith. It is part of how we present our bodies as spiritual sacrifices.
I then turned to 1 Timothy 3:1 (or Titus 1:8), where Paul instructs Timothy on what must characterize elders, or pastors, in the church. Verse 2 says an elder must be hospitable. Next, he says an elder must be able to teach. That's interesting. Teaching comes after hospitality. What does that say about the importance of hospitality? It says it's pretty important. If you are an elder in a church, or you aspire to be an elder, do you also aspire to being hospitable? Your hospitality should be exemplary for the entire congregation.
By flipping a couple of pages to 1 Timothy 5:3, I could see that hospitality is not only required of elders, it is required of the older women in a church who are called to set an example for younger women.
Finally, I turned to 1 Peter 4:7, where Peter utters these startling words, "The end of all things is near." It's a statement that begs the question, "If the end is coming, what are we to do?" Peter's answer is straight forward: "Above all, love each other deeply." Then he says to do this in two ways: First, everyone should "show hospitality to one another without grumbling." Second, everyone should "use whatever gift he has received to serve others." We do these things, moreover, "so that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ" (esv).
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