Hospitality in the Christian Tradition
For many, the Christian hope consists in getting saved in order to go to heaven when we die. However, this is simply not what the Bible teaches.
The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation tells us about a God who created us in order to be with us because He loves us. The Christian hope has never been about geography (where we will go when we die) but relationship (how can we be with God in the present and for all of eternity). Maybe that’s why the God of the Bible so often shows up in people’s homes (Genesis 18).
Hospitality is a theme that is woven throughout the Bible. From the Garden of Eden to the heavenly Jerusalem that descends from heaven to earth, God is preparing us for a life with Him. In fact, the preposition with is one of the most important in the Christian faith.
When we think about what it means to share in the life of the Trinity, we realize that Christian discipleship is more than just about getting to heaven or being good, respectable Christians. Our salvation means that we participate in the divine life by sharing that divine life with others through witness to the resurrected Jesus. We strive to embody the life and ministry of Jesus, opening up our hearts and minds to others, loving others just as Christ has loved us.
In other words, we share the God-life with others through hospitality, hospitality that reflects the life of the Trinity.
What is Christian hospitality?
Christian hospitality is not Southern hospitality. It is not entertaining other people. It is not inviting those who have previously invited us into their homes. Luke 14:12-14 states:
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Biblical scholar and poet, Eugene Peterson translates this Gospel text in a poignant way that brings to life the admonition of Jesus:
Then he turned to the host. “The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You’ll be—and experience—a blessing. They won’t be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned—oh, how it will be returned!—at the resurrection of God’s people.”
The following passage is from The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield:
Radical ordinary hospitality is this: using your Christian home in a daily way that seeks to make strangers neighbors, and neighbors family of God. It brings glory to God, serves others, and lives out the gospel in word and deed. . . . The purpose of radically ordinary hospitality is to build, focus, deepen, and strengthen the family of God, pointing others to the Bible-believing local church, and being earthly and spiritual good to everyone we know.
When our Christian homes are open, we make transparent to a watching world what Christ is doing with our bodies, our families, and our world. When we daily gather with family of God in organic and open and communal ways and invite those who do not yet know Christ to enter, we accompany one another in suffering. We bear one another’s burdens. We show a watching world what servant prayer sounds like — talking to God, knowing that we are, through the merits of Christ, on good terms with him, and that our daily needs are his concern. When our Christian homes are open, our unsaved neighbors watch us struggle with our own sins. . . .
For Christians to maintain an authentic Christian witness to a world that mistrusts us (at the very least), we must be transparently hospitable. The Christian life is a cross-bearing life, and the Word of God calls and equips God’s people to holy living. All our neighbors must know that we live different from the world, and they will know as we live visibly within the means of grace . . . and we must be unmistakably hospitable.
Radically ordinary hospitality may resemble the social-gospel practices of liberal churches and non-Christian mercy communities, for radically ordinary hospitality engages in some of the same practices: we gather people in close, we feed and clothe the poor, we accept people where they are, we care for the needs of the body, and we seek to restore the dignity of each human being. But here is the big difference: radically ordinary hospitality practiced by biblical Christians views struggling people as image bearers of a holy God, needing faith in Christ alone, belief in Jesus and the rescuer of his people, repentance of sin, and covenant family within the church.
For more about Christian hospitality, check out these resources:
Bibliography on Christian Hospitality
Beck, Richard. Stranger God: Meeting Jesus in Disguise. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017.
Butterfield, Rosaria. The Gospel Comes with a House Key. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018.
Ellsberg, Robert. Dorothy Day: Selected Writings. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2005.
Heuertz, Christopher L. and Christine D. Pohl. Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2010.
Jipp, Joshua W. Saved by Faith and Hospitality. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017.
Nouwen, Henri J.M. Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life. New York: Doubleday, 2005.
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Malherbe, Abraham J. Social Aspects of Early Christianity. 2nded. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003.
Manning Brennan. The Ragamuffin Gospel. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2005.
Moxnes, Halvor. Putting Jesus in His Place: A Radical Vision of Household and Kingdom. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003.
Oden, Amy G. And You Welcomed Me: A Sourcebook on Hospitality in Early Christianity. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001.
Pohl, Christine D. Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999.
Rhee, Helen. Loving the Poor, Saving the Rich: Wealth, Poverty, and Early Christian Formation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012.
Vanier, Jean. Becoming Human. New York: Paulist Press, 1998.
_____. Befriending the Stranger. New York: Paulist Press, 2005.
_____. Community and Growth. New York: Paulist Press, 1989.