Defining Hospitality: Strangers Welcoming Strangers

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 ride.
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.
Babysitting children.

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.
Gentle encouragement.
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!

About NDidlake

Natalie Didlake is the mother of three lively little ones, Sabrina (age 5), Roarke (age 3), and Alexia (age 2). She has been married to the winsome and brilliant Aaron for 6 years. They live in Mississippi, where they still have no clue how to be "southern." Natalie's goals are to bring the gospel to bear on every ounce of womanhood, love and enjoy her family, and maybe capture some of it in writing. In between, Natalie likes to squeeze in cooking, blogging, taking pictures of her cute kids, couponing, and saving oodles of money by bargain-hunting. Natalie blogs at Guarded by the Gospel.

12 Responses to Defining Hospitality: Strangers Welcoming Strangers

  1. Misty Peterson April 19, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

    I am a fan of Modest Mom on FB

  2. Misty Peterson April 19, 2011 at 4:01 pm #

    I would love a long flowered or khaki shirt!

  3. liz April 18, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

    What a beautiful way to view the “strangers” in our lives. I never thought about having a get together or meal with those who truly need to love and fellowship. I will have to incorporate this into my life. Thank you so very much for this post.

  4. Chrysti H April 18, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this! My husband and I believe that hospitality is one of our ministries we have as a couple, and we have been talking a lot about it lately. I just learned the other day that “hospitality” in the Greek literally means “a love for strangers.”

  5. Christy @ pureMotherhood April 18, 2011 at 10:14 am #

    I think you’ll really appreciate this sermon. It speaks to hospitality for the ‘strangers’ in your own church family.

  6. Lacey Wilcox April 18, 2011 at 9:08 am #

    Loved this…I’m so quick to forget that hospitality starts with my heart–and am convicted that too often I’m worried about impressing, rather than loving and embracing, to strangers and those I know. Thank you for the reminder

  7. Stefanie Mallory April 18, 2011 at 8:51 am #

    Hey Lindsay- Thinking of Easter coming up and ways to reach out to my neighbors and get to know them better. I thought it would be neat to make them something or a basket of some sorts. BUt not sure what to put in it. Cookies? Something salty? Any ideas? My friend and I are planning on getting together this week to talk about it. Thanks! :)

    • Lacey Wilcox April 18, 2011 at 9:03 am #

      Do BOTH!! :) Then they get a little of each! Besides, whenever I have sweet, salty sounds great right after…and when I have salty…:)
      Haha what a great idea!

    • Lindsay April 18, 2011 at 8:12 pm #

      You could make some Easter cookies and share the purpose in some sort of card or note.

  8. Judy April 18, 2011 at 8:33 am #

    Thanks so much for sharing your definition of hospitality as I have always wondered if I truly have been demonstrating hospitality. Thanks to you I have discovered that I have and this gives me great comfort since I certainly am no Martha Stewart nor Rachel Ray but thought I had to be in order to display hospitality!

  9. Jana April 18, 2011 at 7:05 am #

    How timely! I just did one of my first acts of true hospitality the other day. A handicapped man was going door-to-door selling magazines on one of those windy, rainy days we just had in the East. I was home with my 7 month old and my husband was gone for the day. I never would have answered the door, let alone invited a strange man inside on my own, but I did feel prompted to do so. It was simple tea and a magazine subscription, but I have this peaceful feeling of having done what Jesus wanted me to do. It’s amazingly freeing and completely out of my comfort zone. Thanks for sharing your categories- I don’t often think of the different kinds of people who need hospitality of some sort.

  10. Stephanie April 18, 2011 at 6:42 am #

    SO well said! This is what the church should be living day to day. Thank you very much for the reminder!