A Meal Says More than You Think: The Importance of Hospitality
- Wednesday, May 12, 2010
In these laws, we see something of God's own heart. We might ask ourselves whether our hearts are like God's. Do we have compassion for the outsider and alien, for the new and unadjusted?
When we move to the New Testament, the importance of hospitality becomes even more prominent, and we see it in at least five specific areas.
First, the idea of Christian hospitality is inextricably linked to the doctrine of the incarnation. God himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, became a guest or stranger in the world. When God became man in Christ, he entered humanity as an alien or a stranger. He then lived his life in such a way that he was always dependent on the hospitality of others. Jesus experienced the vulnerability and rejection of a stranger.
Luke 2:7: "They wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for him in the inn."
Luke 9:58: "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."
As he and his disciples traveled through Judea and Samaria, they were dependent on the hospitality of others (Matt. 10:11ff; Luke 10:5ff). (So too with the apostles: cf. Acts 10:6, 18, 32, 48; 16:15, 34; 17:7; 18:2f, etc.)
Love for Christ
On a related note, practicing hospitality, especially toward Christians, is one way a Christian shows love to Christ himself. Consider Matthew 25.31-46, where Jesus explicitly identifies himself as "stranger" (xenos). Jesus divides the sheep from the goats, and he says to the sheep, "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger, and you welcomed me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me." But to the goats, he says the opposite. Hospitality toward fellow saints, even "the least of these my brothers," is a demonstration of love toward him. Those who welcome fellow saints and meet their needs when they are in distress have welcomed and ministered to Christ himself.
God's Grace in Salvation
Third, the idea of Christian hospitality is inextricably linked to God's grace in salvation. Consider Jesus' own practice of welcoming the lost and eating with people who ordinarily would have been excluded from fellowship. Not only that, Jesus' teaching on hospitality is distinctive in its emphasis on welcoming those who have nothing to give in return.
Luke 14:12-14: "He said also to the man who had invited him, ‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.'"
Rather than inviting those who can repay, Jesus said we should invite the poor, the needy, and those generally unable to repay us. After all, God is gracious to welcome miserable beggars to the feast in his kingdom. The prophet Isaiah describes the work of the suffering servant in chapter 53, and then he extends an invitation in chapter 55 to everyone who wishes to enjoy the fruits of the suffering servant's work: "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price" (Is. 55:1).
By practicing hospitality, especially among non-Christians, we demonstrate the very character of the God who has invited deeply-indebted sinners to the eternal feast of salvation. In that sense, we provide a living picture of the gospel. No, it is not the gospel. It is a small picture that both points toward, and draws the heart of the recipient toward, the gospel of God's un-repayable work of salvation for us in Christ. Hospitality communicates, and entices non-Christians and weaker Christians toward the gospel! And doing this should be understood as a basic of the Christian life.
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