Biblical Hospitality as Evangelism: A Definition of Biblical Hospitality 

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One of our church members was in tears remembering the story of her father. Her father was all alone one Christmas on a military base. He decided to go to a church and the most horrid thing happened. No one invited him to their home afterwards to come celebrate with them. No one even talked to him. For this reason, he became a man who endeavored to always show hospitality and his daughter exemplifies this significantly in her life as well because of him.


We recently went through this subject of Biblical Hospitality as Evangelism in our adult Sunday school. Why did we decide to go through biblical hospitality as evangelism? First, this has been a mark of our church and a significant impact to me personally. It has been a reason many have described the church as family. If this church is going to reach the lost, we want to focus on who we already are and what we have already consistently practiced to each other in order to involve those estranged from God into the same family and tables in our homes. Second, biblical hospitality is an essential expression of the gospel. This is something we will see more extensively a bit later on. Third, I believe this is a significant way to reach a post-Christian world. People are growing increasingly skeptical of big corporations and megachurches. This is local and personal. It transcends age (and I would add it is sometimes better when older people invite younger). It is also somewhat Covid friendly. According to your personal comfortability, you can either invite a group over, individuals or show hospitality over a phone call. In a culture where Christians feel increasingly threatened, the instinctive approach is to become defensive and isolated. Biblical hospitality is rather an offensive approach that is confident in the gospel. Dustin Willis and Brandon Clements in their book The Simplest Way to Change the Word: Biblical Hospitality as a Way of Life say, “If we want to move in a positive way in this increasingly post-Christian culture, we need something more winsome than anger, more powerful than despair, and more hopeful than escapism. We need love and grace and truth - and we need open homes with tables full of food” (Willis & Clements, 61).


Non-Christians often do not like the very concept of Christianity and have shallow critiques of it, but if they were to actually meet a real-life Christian around a table with warmth, joy and peace, it really changes things. It means they have to challenge their shallow skepticism. A post-Christian culture is a culture that has departed from Christianity yet has kept some of its values. We can re-ground the values in the truth of the Bible and show where they came from in the first place. Why is love such an esteemed concept? Well, because of Christianity but it has been secularized. We need to reground these truths and redefine them again by the Scriptures. Most people still love family, meals together, personal interaction and community. Why? Because of Christianity and our past with holding these things as valuable and important. We can re-ground these values in the truth of the gospel again for people through biblical hospitality.

 

Let us begin with defining hospitality. When you think of the term hospitality, what comes to mind? What type of location comes to mind? A home, hotel or restaurant? What type of activity comes to mind? Serving food? Providing housing? What type of persons do you see? Strangers? Friends? Family Members? We all have assumptions about how we view hospitality. Many things such as culture or family practices have formed our view. A couple of books have helped me with the definition of hospitality. One of them is The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield. She has an amazing testimony of being deeply rooted in the LGBT community and being a huge voice that was teaching this ideology as a professor and yet the Lord saved her through a Christian family displaying continual hospitality to her. She broadly defines hospitality as “love of the stranger” (Butterfield, 35). More specifically she says, “Radically ordinary hospitality is this: using your Christian home in a daily way that seeks to make strangers neighbors, and neighbors family of God” (Butterfield, 31). It is to “take the hand of a stranger and put it in the hand of the Savior” (Butterfield, 34). Doug Van Meter gives a definition for hospitality in the Baptist journal 9Marks saying, “Showing hospitality calls for an open home, an open schedule, an open ear, and even an open wallet. Here’s my working definition of hospitality: a Christ-driven, selfless willingness to sacrifice our goods for the good of others” (Van Meter, online: https://www.9marks.org/article/be-hospitable-2/). Notice how these definitions, yes, call for an open home, but they are not limited to that. These Christians have recognized hospitality as a principle that can be extended to having “an open ear.” I think that is biblical. The Bible does not give a precise definition per se but it does give pictures of hospitality.

 

So where do we see hospitality shown in the Bible? Many people may bring up Abraham’s example towards the angels as the first act of hospitality, but there is another example farther back. It is the act of creation itself. Creation is the first expression of hospitality. In Genesis 1:28-30, God continues to repeat “I have given you.” The Lord gives the earth and all that is in it to humanity as a home, provides nourishing food and provides a place to belong. Willis and Clements point out this recurring theme in the Bible that God making a home for us is a “beautiful [bookend] to Scripture” (Willis & Clements, 40, parenthesis added). We see hospitality in the beginning of Genesis and Revelation ends with the promise of eternal hospitality. This means that all other hospitality after creation, is a reflection of the hospitable God. Hospitality is grounded in God’s nature.


The second act of hospitality is when Abraham welcomed the angels in the beginning of Genesis 18. In this story, Abraham provides a meal for the angels. One characteristic of hospitality that we observe is that it took effort and time to prepare a calf (Genesis 18:7). We also see that Abraham worked with his wife Sarah as a team in preparing the meal (Genesis 18:6). Some have also suggested that Abraham was showing hospitality to the pre-incarnate Christ. They point to Genesis 19:24 which says that the Lord rained down fire from the Lord out of heaven meaning there were “two” Lords at work there as in Psalm 110:1, one on earth as the angel and one in heaven. They also point out that two angels went into Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:1 where there were previously three. This other angel is the Lord who stayed with Abraham. How amazing would it have been to show hospitality to the pre-incarnate Christ! What would have happened if Abraham did not show hospitality to these angels? There would have been no confirmation of the promise of a child and Lot may not have been saved or at least Abraham would not have been a participant in acting as a mediator (Genesis 18:9-15; Genesis 18:22-33). We therefore see that usually the host is the one who is blessed by showing hospitality. This is seen with the angels blessing Lot for his hospitality, with Elijah blessing the widow who opened her home in time of famine and with the lady who made a place for Elisha to stay as she was consequently blessed with a son (Genesis 19:2; 1 Kings 17; 2 Kings 4:8-37). There is also an expression of inhospitality in this story in Genesis as the men of Sodom and Gomorrah wanted to defile the guests, the angels (Genesis 19:5). They wanted to exploit the stranger for their own pleasure. There are many more stories in the Old Testament that give an example of hospitality and inhospitality.

 

There are also deep connections with hospitality and the promise of the Messiah in the Old Testament. One could point out the story of Joseph and his act of showing hospitality to his brothers who he acted towards as strangers at first as a picture of Christ providing life, nourishment, and abundant forgiveness amidst spiritual famine (Genesis 45:3-13). The picture of God providing for the Israelites in the wilderness is a picture of Christ as He provides for those who are ungrateful and unaware of God’s kindness. The Israelites were given manna, quail, shelter and their clothes never wore out for the whole time they wandered in the wilderness (Exodus 16). Similarly, it was while we were sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Hospitality is an act of God’s love that mirrors salvation by expressing love to those who are ungrateful for a time. More specifically, it is a loving act that is shown even before the recipients are aware of the transforming love it contains.


Then you have the story of Rahab in Joshua 2. This is a picture and promise of the Messiah. Rahab lets in the servants of the Lord by faith. She hears their message and knew of their God but now acts in belief in Him. The scarlet thread as a picture of the blood of Christ is the symbol to pass over her house and keep her safe when the rest of the city is destroyed. Rahab showed hospitality in letting the servants of the Lord come in her house just as someone receives the Word of God and believes in their heart. Rahab along with Ruth are included in the Messianic line of Christ either because they showed hospitality by faith or were shown hospitality (Matthew 1:5). The story of Boaz and Ruth is the picture of the hospitality of a redeemer. If Boaz did not show hospitality to Ruth who, by faith, said “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God,” then she would not be honored by being in the Messianic line (Ruth 1:16). Boaz was the picture of Christ as a hospitable Redeemer. Ruth was generously brought in to the Messianic line through hospitality.

 

This last section will observe hospitality in the New Testament. Just as some suggested the pre-incarnate Christ was shown hospitality by Abraham, it was same when the Son of God took on flesh. Jesus was dependent on the hospitality of others throughout His ministry. This may be a reminder that when you show hospitality to others, you show it to Christ (Matt 25:34-40). Jesus was dependent on hospitality because that was part of the way He did ministry. It may be seen as reverse hospitality. Zacchaeus welcomed Christ and there Christ went to minister to sinners (Luke 19:1-10). People grumbled against him for eating with sinners, but it was around the table that Jesus was working to bring them to His table in heaven one day. In Luke 7:33-34 it says how the son of Man came eating and drinking. If you think about where Jesus did most of his ministry, he was often in homes and around tables. In John 2 Jesus’ first miracle was because he was concerned for the guests of a wedding. It was not merely for the physical concern for the guests, but he turns water into wine to give a picture of the new kingdom that He is inaugurating with the new wine. Later in John, Jesus feeds five thousand and here he becomes both the host and the meal (John 6:1-14).


There are many other stories and principles about hospitality in the gospels between the familiar stories of Mary and Martha as well as the Good Samaritan. Even the whole end of salvation is centered around hospitality. The wedding feast is the final consummation of joy, life, salvation and eternal celebration in the presence of God. The language of evangelism in the gospels is to invite others to this wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14). In the rest of the New Testament, hospitality is evident such as in the book of Acts as the early church met in each other’s homes (Acts 2:42-47). Hospitality is commanded to be shown as the mark of a genuine Christian and is to be done without grumbling (Romans 12:13; 1 Peter 4:7-9). One of the marks of an elder is hospitality (Titus 1:8). The mark of a sincere Christian widow is hospitality (1 Timothy 5:3-10). Inhospitality is also condemned when the rich in the Corinthian church ate the bread and became drunk on the communion wine as they disregarded the poor (1 Cor 11:21). Lastly, all hospitality was to be grounded in welcoming one another as Christ has welcomed you (Romans 15:7). It is grounded in the love of Christ revealed in the gospel. How richly is this concept of hospitality woven throughout the whole Bible!

 

We see the significance of hospitality in the Bible and how it all pointed to Christ, how it pointed to the nature of God who is hospitable, and is to be practiced in light of how Christ welcomed us. But I want you to question whether you see hospitality as a command or as just a good practice? It is not a mere good thing to practice, but is rather an expression of the very Divine nature of God and our participation in Him. It is an expression of having a mature understanding of the gospel.


So, the first challenge to take with you is to see hospitality as a command grounded in the nature and work of God. The second thing to consider is the end of hospitality. Why do we show hospitality, other than that it reflects the image of God? The end is that as we gather people around our tables, we would seek the end that they would one day be gathered around God’s table, the wedding feast in heaven. Biblical hospitality is deeply connected to evangelism and discipleship to the end of gathering around the Lord’s table on earth (the church, communion, etc.) but then ultimately in heaven. This will be explored more in the next article Biblical Hospitality as Evangelism: The Connection to Evangelism and Practical Issues. In this next article, I will open up the connection to evangelism and discuss the more practical aspects of hospitality. Let us each day show hospitality in obedience to the gospel as Christ has welcomed us and so reflect the image of our hospitable God.



 

Written by Alex Schubert, pastoral intern at Immanuel Bible Church