Note: This article is being published in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In light of this, hospitality temporarily may look different, and we encourage everyone to follow safe social-distancing guidelines. We hope and pray that the Church will creatively continue to demonstrate hospitality while helping keep others protected.
From nailing 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg chapel to being speared by Auca Indians, the walls of the church are lined with bold acts of faith that have shaped the course of history. These tales told from generation to generation have strengthened many weak hearts to take courage and act. But for every heroic action that made it into the history books, there are probably dozens of examples of an equally impactful but less-noticed Christian service: hospitality. As we look back through the scope of church history, and even around the world today, one cannot underestimate the kingdom advancement that has come from open homes, shared meals, generous meeting of needs, and conversations about God’s Word exchanged over a cup of tea.
One reason why hospitality has been so powerful in advancing the mission of the church over the centuries is because hospitality is distinctly Christian. Of course, that does not mean that Christians are the only hospitable people in the world. Spend a few days in a village in India and you will discover that a Hindu family can offer a welcome that puts our “southern hospitality” to shame. But simply because people of other religions are hospitable doesn’t change the origin of hospitality. The reason hospitality exists in this world is because it is an indelible mark of the character of God.
Perhaps the concept of God being hospitable strikes you as strange. But think back to the garden of Eden, where the Lord created a safe and beautiful place for Adam and Eve to dwell, and gave them everything good to eat. Or remember Jesus’ words to his disciples in John 14:2, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” And at the consummation of all things, as prophesied in Revelation 19, God will welcome his children to the marriage supper of the Lamb, and grant them clothes of fine linen, bright and pure.
The Bible shows us a God who is holy, just, faithful and true—and who opens his arms in a wide invitation to all who call on him through faith in Christ. If hospitality is the generous welcoming of others and seeking to supply their needs, then hospitality is right at the center of the Gospel. The stranger has been welcomed. The naked have been clothed. The hungry have been filled. This is our God.
In the Footsteps of Lydia
We find a vivid illustration of God-imitating hospitality in the book of Acts. As Paul is on his second missionary journey, he is directed by the Spirit to the major city of Philippi, and there he met a group of women who had gathered together on the banks of the river. One of those women became the first recorded convert of Philippi, Lydia, a seller of purple goods who was a worshiper of God. As she heard the good news that Paul was sharing, the text explains that, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” And after she was baptized, what was the first thing she did? She invited the apostles to come to her house and stay.
Granted, hospitality would have had its own unique features in the historical context in which this story takes place. But it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that one of the evidences of a heart transformed by the Gospel is a desire to generously share one’s home, possessions, and time with others. Here was a woman who was quite wealthy and recognized quickly that her resources would be a blessing to Paul and the other apostles. The Lord used her generosity to create a gathering place for the burgeoning church of that city, to whom Paul would later write: “And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only” (Philippians 4:15). Perhaps it was Lydia’s hospitality that was used by God to shape a culture of generosity within the church.
So what does this mean? I hope that at the very least, it informs the way you view that dinner invitation you extended to a family this weekend. Your desire to be hospitable is more than just sharing a space with someone else. As you invite others into your home and life, you are mirroring the character of God and pushing back the darkness through the light of Christ. As you share what you have with those around you, you are imaging God to those around you.
But secondly, I hope we all can look at Lydia’s example and ask ourselves: what are new ways that I could be using my home and resources to serve the church and advance the Kingdom? It is going to look different for each of us in our own contexts, but we should all pray for eyes to see the Spirit’s leading in how to open our homes and lives to the lost and hurting around us. Perhaps it’s providing opportunities for fellowship for those among the church who may feel less connected. Perhaps it’s hosting a Christmas party for your non-believing neighbors and using the opportunity to build relationships and share the Gospel. Perhaps it’s housing missionaries for a time while they are staying in your city, and looking for ways to meet their needs generously. Perhaps it’s sacrificing your own time and resources to serve a specific need in your community. Whatever it may look like, we can ask the Spirit to use our efforts of hospitality to advance his kingdom in a variety of ways.
So, as we continue the work of making disciples and planting churches and training leaders, remember the impact that that come from a life of generously welcoming those around you to share in your space and time. We serve a king who is is preparing mansions for us to dwell in forever. So let us open the earthly homes we have now that more may enter into the Kingdom on that day.