When I was writing my book The Busy Mom’s Guide to Spiritual Survival, one of the most inspiring and challenging sections to work on was the chapter that addressed hospitality. In reading, thinking, praying, pondering, and practicing this discipline, I began to realize that biblical hospitality is not even close to the way we normally think of hospitality in most churches today.
I’d say that my former definition of hospitality — and the one often discussed in women’s ministry circles — is something like this: plan a special meal and put extra effort into decorations, background music, and preparation of a delectable desert. Invite friends. Then have fun.
Occasionally it may be something more like this: prepare a room nicely for a guest, put special soaps in the bathroom and fresh sheets on the bed. And the guest may even be a stranger…but of course it is a nice, safe stranger like a missionary on furlough.
Now I love a good party, but I’d suggest that the first definition of hospitality might better fit under the heading of “celebration.” Having fun with friends is awesome, and it’s great to encourage others and grow in community. But is that really all the Bible means when it talks about hospitality?
The second scenario might be a bit closer because it isn’t just about hanging out with friends. It is meeting a legitimate need. But it is also somewhat safe. And is riskless giving biblical hospitality?
As I read and studied and wrote that section of The Busy Mom’s Guide to Spiritual Survival, I began to realize that Jesus said a lot about hospitality without necessarily using that word. Perhaps Jesus’ most challenging teaching on hospitality is this:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, `I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'” (Matthew 25:34-40)
Philoxenia is the New Testament term for hospitality and it’s meaning is simple: demonstrating brother-love (phileo) to strangers (xenia). It’s something much more frightening, stretching, and challenging than we normally think of. In English, hospitality is derived from the word hospital — it’s providing healing, nourishment, spiritual salve to those who are desperately sick, lonely, or in pain.
Can hospitality involve showing love to our friends? Sure.
Is opening one’s home to a missionary an act of hospitality? Sure.
But when we limit our understanding of this discipline to these nice, fun, pat-ourselves-on-the-back type of actions, we’ve failed to grasp the true challenge the Gospels present to us. Hospitality is evangelism in action; it is living out the good news through deeds of love, kindness, and outrageous generosity. It is seeing Christ in the stranger, whether it be a stranger on a street corner or the anonymous next-door neighbor.
As I continue to think and pray about this topic, I’m challenged all the more by its complexity. How do I as a mom deal with my need to keep my family safe from the “dangers” inherent in the radical forms of hospitality Christ described: visiting prisoners, caring for sick strangers, feeding the hungry?
How do we demonstrate for our kids the dangerous love Christ calls us to embrace and embody?
I don’t have the answers for this, but the Holy Spirit keeps steering me toward these questions.
How do you normally think of hospitality? In what ways have you been inspired by others to practice hospitality?