What does the word “hospitality” mean? For many, the first thing that goes through their minds is the hospitality industry. According to Wikipedia this would include:
“a broad category of fields within the service industry that includes lodging, event planning, theme parks, transportation, cruise line, and additional fields within the tourism industry.”
But is this really what hospitality is all about?
In Dr. Donald Sunukjian’s book, “Invitation To Philippians” he discusses why Paul can say, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6) In his sermon on Philippians 1:1 – 8, he identifies three specific things that Paul remembers, allowing him to speak with such confidence. One of these three items is found in verse five which reads, “because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”
And what partnership is it that was there from the first day? Sunukjian draws us back to the events of Acts 16:11 – 15.
” From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.
On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.”
Here we see that Lydia, from the very beginning opened her home to Paul and his companions, for the purpose of the furtherance of the gospel. Based on this, Sunukjian proposes that hospitality is not simply an industry, but is an evidence of God working in the life of a Christian.
This led me to think, what is real hospitality? What does it look like? Is it reasonable for all of us to be able to open our homes to others in the manner Lydia did? Can we show hospitality without having people in our homes? Is hospitality unique to Christian’s? And if not, what distinguishes it from hospitality shown by other?
So what is hospitality anyway? Of course it is more than just a business, but is it simply opening your home? If I tell people that they can use my house, but spend the time complaining of their presence I am surely not showing hospitality. Hospitality involves more than simply opening your home. It involves graciously welcoming guest. It involves a heart of service toward others. True hospitality is not done to receive something in return, but comes from the heart.
What If My Home Is Small
This is what we are called to as believers. We are called to share our lives with one another. But let’s be honest, not everyone is blessed with a home that they can open up to others. I will readily admit that it is a challenge for me, not because I am not willing, but because my home is under 1,000 square feet with five people, three of which are teenagers. This does not make it impossible, but certainly a challenge. So what if my home is small, can I show hospitality without opening my home to others?
First you need to ask yourself, “Why do I not want people in my home?” Is it because I like my privacy and want to keep people out? If this is the case then we need to examine our hearts more closely, for this is what we are called to do. In Matthew 25:35 we read, “I was a stranger and you invited me in.” These are the words that Jesus uses to describe those who know Him. If our objection is simply because we do not want to deal with strangers, then we are failing to live up to God’ call on our lives. However, if it is a logistical reason, such as there is simply not enough room, then I believe you can still show hospitality without having people into your home. That having been said, who knows what we are missing by not doing so, for as the writer of Hebrews writes in 13:2, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”
How Can We Show Hospitality
So what do we do in the event it is not reasonable to open our homes. I believe Jesus Himself answers this in Matthew 25:35 – 36 when He says, “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.’
Each of these is an act of hospitality. They involve going out of our way to meet the needs of others. Perhaps you donate food to help feed the hungry, you give clothes to those in need. Perhaps you travel to visit shut-ins or prisoners. Yes, hospitality does not always requiring opening your door to others. What hospitality does involve is a Philippians 2:3 attitude, “in humility value others above yourselves.”
So if this is hospitality, is there validity to Sunukjian’s proposal that “one way you can be confident that people are committed to the work of the Lord – their homes are available?” The problem is that there are many people who are not Christian’s who show great hospitality as well. People who are always willing to have others over, people who are willing to provide a meal, yet they are not Christians. So if hospitality is not uniquely Christian, what is it that distinguishes Christian Hospitality?
We need to look at the reason behind the acts of hospitality. What is it that drives people to desire to open their homes and care for others? For some, it can be a deep-seated to need to be accepted. “If I can be the person who provides for others, maybe they will like me.” For others, it can be a need to be in control. “If I am the one opening my home, then I can control the situation.” And for still others, it can be a genuine desire to serve others. “I simply find joy in serving others.”
Christian Hospitality is certainly not based in a desire to be accepted or be in control. And while each of us may know those who could fall into these categories, such reasons are, in fact, self-serving and fly in opposition to the Philippians 2:3 attitude. It is the genuine desire to serve others that begins to draw us closer to Christian Hospitality. To fully reach there we must look at the source of that desire. When our hospitality is based on our Christian Faith, the source of our desire is not simply the joy of serving others, but a desire to see God glorified in our actions. This is what distinguishes Christian Hospitality.
Is hospitality an evidence of God working in the heart of a believer? The answer is yes. And while there are many non-Christians who show hospitality, Christian’s who do so out of desire to see God glorified, demonstrate His working in them.
How can we show hospitality? If you are able, open your home for prayer time, a small group, a Bible study or simply a get together. If this is not possible, look for other opportunities. When someone has a baby, provide meals for them (as they are going to be quite busy for a while). If someone needs a ride to the hospital and you have a car, take the time to provide it. If you know someone who is a shut-in, take the time to visit and spend time with them. This list is not all encompassing, but to help you start thinking.
There are many ways to show hospitality that go beyond opening your home. Examine your heart, and ensure that your first desire is to Glorify God. Next, take the time to think outside the box. Then set things in motion.