If you are like me, you come home from work tired, hungry, and ready to watch some TV before you pass out and do it all again the next day. Of course, having small children makes this more difficult and more fun at the same time. One thing that would make anyone’s evening routine harder would be to have people come over for dinner. But because God is more interested in the building up of His church than He is in our comfort, He wants us to do just that. God is so good to push us out of selfishness and into service!
One of the ways He calls us to serve is through hospitality. This word literally means “to love strangers”. While we’re told to show hospitality to strangers in Hebrews 13:2 (while also being on the lookout for angels!), we’re also told to show hospitality to other church members. For example, Paul says in Romans 12:13, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Paul is saying that one of the ways we meet the “needs of the saints” is by “showing hospitality”. We give to the church when we show kindness to other church members outside the church building.
We give to the church when we show kindness to other church members outside the church building
Peter makes this more explicit. He says, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9). “One another” refers to other Christians in the church. Peter is saying that church members should be practising hospitality for other church members, and with a good attitude at that!
In the verse before this one, Peter tells us what the root of hospitality ministry is. He says, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (v.8). One of the ways we “love one another earnestly” is by “showing hospitality to one another without grumbling” (v.9).
I love the way Alexander Strauch puts it. He says, “Hardly anything is more characteristic of Christian love than hospitality. Through the ministry of hospitality, we share the things we value most: family, home, financial resources, food, privacy, and time. In other words, we share our lives.” He continues, “An open home is a sign of an open heart and a loving, sacrificial, serving spirit. A lack of hospitality is a sure sign of a selfish, lifeless, loveless Christianity.”
Does your Christianity include hospitality? How are you finding ways to share the things you value most with your brothers and sisters in Christ?
God values hospitality so much that He even makes it a qualification for those who want to be pastors in the church. Paul tells Timothy, “An overseer must be… hospitable” (1 Timothy 3:2; cf. Titus 1:7-8). Notice that the man, not his wife, is responsible to practise hospitality. An implication of this qualification is that men are responsible to ensure that their homes are places where kindness is shown to strangers and church members on a regular basis.
But men are not the only ones God wants to be practising hospitality. In 1 Timothy 5, Paul gives Timothy a list of qualifications that a widow must meet in order to receive support from the church. She should have “a reputation for good works” and should have “shown hospitality… devoting herself to every good work” (vv.9-10). Paul says that one way Timothy will know if an older woman has a good reputation or not is by her hospitality ministry, or lack thereof.
Hospitality ministry in the early church was a litmus test of the authenticity of someone’s faith, whether an older widow or a man aspiring to be a pastor. Why was this so? Because someone who regularly gives up their comfort to serve others reveals that the gospel has truly changed their heart. In Christ, God left the comfort and glory of heaven to serve “strangers”, indeed enemies, who were nothing like Him. God gave up His best to meet us where we are. He sacrificed much in order to welcome us to His table. The gospel of Jesus compels us to do the same for those around us, especially those in the church.
Someone who regularly gives up their comfort to serve others reveals that the gospel has truly changed their heart
Sharing meals with people in your home is one way to do this. But there are myriad ways to spend quality time with other people in order to do them spiritual good. We can invite people over to bake or do laundry or buy groceries or go fishing or work in the yard or exercise or read books or just simply talk about life. Dinner is great. But hospitality does not require a nice meal or a clean house. The only thing hospitality requires is love.
If someone invites you over and you are not free at that time, instead of saying, “Sorry, I can’t make it at that time,” say instead, “I can’t make it at that time, but I am available at this other time.” Find ways to make room for other church members and neighbours in your life and fight against the temptation to give excuses for why you cannot make it happen.
Out of love, Jesus dropped what He was doing in heaven in order to be with us. He gave up more than a quiet evening on the couch. He gave up His life so that we could enter into His joy. He gave up His comfort in order to comfort us. May we likewise give up whatever we must to love and encourage and serve one another through the ministry of hospitality. What clearer way to demonstrate the gospel that has saved us?
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