The Oxford Dictionary defines hospitality as ‘the friendly, generous reception and treatment of guests or strangers, the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm and generous way.’
The Bible is full of stories of people offering hospitality in the context of everyday life and mission, and it looks different each time. Mary, Martha and Lazarus hosted Jesus and his disciples as they travelled and trained others (Luke 10:38-42). The widow and her son offered the prophet Elijah food and accommodation for a time (1 Kings 17:8-15). Dorcas offered hospitality as she helped women, particularly widows (Acts 9:36).
From the Bible we are taught that hospitality requires sincerity and kindness, and is not to be done out of duty. Instead we are to show hospitality to everyone, without partiality regarding gender, race, culture or social standing.
‘And above all things have fervent love for one another for love will cover a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God’ (1 Peter 4:8-10). And: ’When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practise hospitality’ (Romans 12:13).
These verses indicate that hospitality is to be shown to both those who are God’s people and others who are still on the journey to him. It is a spiritual gift given by the Holy Spirit and, by God’s grace, to be used to serve others.
Practical examples include inviting people to our homes, serving them, providing for their needs. We can offer a comfortable environment for visitors, be aware of their cultural practices, and provide food and beverages that are suitable, and accommodation too if needed. Giving small cards and gifts can also be part of the service.
All this should be done willingly and with the Lord’s enabling. Giving time, meaningful conversation and engagement in the context of building and maintaining relationships is the goal when practising hospitality. Having right attitudes, empathy, and zeal to go the extra mile are important. Helping those in need, without reservation, is what the Lord requires of us.
Hospitality has far-reaching results and benefits. Some guests come to a personal relationship with Christ as friendship develops, others are encouraged and spurred on in their lives, and more are given the time and attention that they desperately need as Christ’s love is shown. Always the host benefits. He or she may grow in love and compassion as they gain an insight into the lives of their guest, mature in Christ as they are challenged to serve others selflessly, and find satisfaction when they sense that they have been a good and faithful servant. Both guests and hosts develop new and lasting friendships as they interact with each other.
Francis Schaeffer wrote, “Pray that the Lord will send you the people of his choice. But don’t pray that way unless, no matter who these people are,… you are willing to take them into your home, have them at your table, introduce them to your family and let them sleep between your sheets.” (Francis A. Schaeffer, The Church At the End of the 20th Century)
We can ask the Lord to guide us to those who need our hospitality.
When we offer hospitality in the context of our everyday lives and mission we are loving and serving the Lord and others.
Denise Jenner is a member of WEC Australia’s Mobilisation and Member Care Teams.