Written by monthly contributing writer, Natalie.
What on earth is hospitality? Is it fancy dips and great decorating? Is it great cooking, or inviting people over frequently and hosting lots of events?
Who can we look to as hospitality role models, to help us define and refine our hospitality? Martha Stewart, Rachael Ray, and Southern Living Magazine? Our grandma?
Hospitality vs. Entertaining
We are often told that when we do “Martha Stewart-ish” types of things, we’re practicing hospitality. In reality, we are entertaining. These two words are often interchanged and confused, and we should be clear on which one is which.
The dictionary defines entertaining as “amusing” or “diverting”, and we all know how much great food and a beautiful setting can amuse and divert! It is completely possible to excel at entertaining, without ever practicing true hospitality. So it becomes really important to define hospitality, and to start with what God has told us in his Word.
Defining Hospitality from the Bible
Jesus makes it clear for us that hospitality is meant primarily for those who are most estranged, and least welcomed:
He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14)
Jesus was simply reiterating what God told his people in the Old Testament about how they should treat people on the fringes. I love this scripture from Leviticus:
You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:34)
God has been instructing his people for a long time to be welcoming to those in need, but we can see from Leviticus that the ultimate model of hospitality is God himself, in the welcome he extends to us through His Son.
The essence of biblical hospitality is welcoming “strangers” and meeting their varied needs, since God welcomed and provided for us in Christ, when we were estranged from him!
Who is a Stranger, and What Do They Need?
A Physical Stranger. Neighbors just moving in from across the country. International students (especially if you live in a college town). People in rest homes. A homeless person. A new mother with no nearby friends or family to help her keep house, run errands, and get an occasional break. Military wives. There are tons more possibilities. Basically, a person who lacks a community to assist with basic needs.
This person may need very practical help, such as:
A meal, or help preparing meals.
Help running errands.
Help in the process of purchasing a car, or finding living quarters.
Unpacking from a move.
An Emotional Stranger. A newly divorced young mom. A newlywed struggling alone to figure her spouse out. Adult single ladies who do not get many invitations. A college student without trustworthy parents or mentors, trying to make decisions about her future. A woman whose engagement was recently broken off. Basically, a person whose physical needs may be already met, perhaps even a wealthy person, but who is relationally estranged.
This person may need relational help, such as:
A listening ear.
Lots of time.
An open invitation to your home, when needed (within reasonable boundaries, of course!)
Stabilizing normalcy. Like being invited to play board games with you and the kids, or some other very average activity.
The sharing of helpful scriptures.
A Spiritual Stranger. A store clerk. Your brother. Your babysitter. Your mail carrier! This could be anyone who does not confess Jesus as their Lord.
It goes without saying…this person needs spiritual help!
Obviously, these categories are artificial, and each individual will probably be a unique, overlapping blend. Many of us reading would even feel we fit into one or more ourselves. This breakdown is merely a starting point for thinking deeply about people and learning to discern how we can best reach out.
God can and will give many opportunities for us to explain, in detail, his work of redemption (a.k.a. share the gospel) as we practice hospitality and look for opportunities to love people the way they need most. Hopefully we can begin to see that hospitality may include a dinner invitation and appetizers, but is by no means limited to just that! Any act of kindness that communicates a welcome to a “stranger” is an act of hospitality!