Gospel Hospitality

Hospitality is a forgotten art. It also has a lost biblical history. We can recover the art of hospitality by understanding what it is and discerning how the gospel changes our notions of hospitality. In general, hospitality is about treating strangers as equals by creating space for them to be protected, provided for, and taken care of, followed by assisting and guiding them to their next destination. Let’s see how this holds up to scripture.

The Origin of Hospitality

There is a lot of history to consider in understanding the act or art of hospitality, but it all goes back to the beginning. In Genesis 1-2, we discern God’s first hospitable act. Consider what God did when he created the world and the garden of Eden for humanity to live in it. He gave Adam and Eve all they needed to enjoy life restfully while doing the work He created them for. He gave them space to exist, to enjoy creation, and to enjoy each other and fellowship with Him. They were given both the space and the capability to create, to work, and to exercise authority, with all the resources necessary they needed.

Israel: God’s Hospitable People

Consider God’s commands to His people regarding hospitality to strangers (Lev 19:9-10, 33-34; Deut 10:18-19). Through Abraham and Sarah, God created a new nation – a People blessed to be a blessing to all nations. He gave them all the resources and capabilities to exercise hospitality to strangers, orphans, and widows. Similar to the Garden experience, Israel offered His people a place of refuge where others could rest and receive all they needed, enabling them to do what God had created them to do. However, now this rest came in the midst of a broken, sinful world.

On the flip side, think of the number of occasions where Israel found itself as the strangers among a host people. In some cases they found a hospitable reception (Egypt with Joseph in charge; the spies and Rahab). In other cases they found themselves treated like enemies or slaves (Slavery in Egypt; Babylonian Captivity). God had called them to be hospitable, yet they often failed to do so. After, receiving hospitality this must have become clearer to them.

God allows us to experience grace as recipients so that we might be distributors of grace to others.

God allows us to experience grace as recipients so that we might be distributors of grace to others. Hospitality toward Israel was a clear example of God’s gracious gift, once again, and should have motivated generous hospitality. Unfortunately, Israel failed to enter God’s rest because of their unbelief and disobedience (Heb 4). So, they not only failed to rest in the work of God, but also failed to offer that rest to other nations. In all their hospitable failures, they needed one who would fully rest in God in order to become an enduring place of refuge for others.

Rethinking Hospitality with Jesus

Jesus entered into a culture shaped by a variety of world views (The Imperial Cult, Jewish Monotheism, and Hellenistic Philosophy to name a few). In this culture, the concept of hospitality was rooted in several different traditions. First, the idea of taking in a hostile stranger or enemy and treating him as you would yourself. Second, the Greek practice of hospitality in which a stranger passing outside a Greek house would be invited inside the house by the family. The host washed the stranger’s feet and offered him/her food and wine. Only after the stranger was feeling comfortable, could the host ask his or her name. This practice stemmed from the thought that the gods mingled among men, and if you played a poor host to a deity, you would incur the wrath of a god.

A third shaping force in the concept of hospitality in Jesus’ day was the Hebrew understanding (as briefly considered in the passages above and demonstrated also in the story of Lot and the angels– Genesis 19). Jesus comes into this cultural context and calls the weary to himself, feeds the hungry, mends the broken, eats with sinners and tax collectors, washes his disciples’ feet…and ultimately gives his life to cleanse us from sin, deal with our unbelief and provide a way and place for us to rest. Jesus lives, loves, obeys, works, dies, and rises again so that we might find a place of rest, renewal and recreation. He offers us rest in order to send us on our way to be about God’s purposes – rescued to offer rest. Jesus saved us to be His Hospitable People!

3 Ways the Church Can be Hospitable

In light of the gospel, we might define hospitality as the creation of a space that allows people to BE themselves, to BECOME renewed, and to DO the works God has saved them for. When we properly exercise hospitality, we welcome people to be themselves in the warmth of the light of Christ, to become renewed by being changed by the work of Christ, and to do works we have been created for in Christ.

TO BE RESTED

In a broken world, marred and diseased by the effects of sin, people need the space to rest. This is why Jesus called people who were weary and heavy-laden to come to him. He would give them rest for their weary souls. Jesus calls us to rest in His work on our behalf so we can be a people at rest who provide sanctuaries of rest for others.

Before the Fall, Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed. God had created a place and made space for them to be themselves without covering or facades. If we are in Christ, we are clothed with His righteousness. We don’t need to cover up or hide. One of the ways we create space for people to experience and come to understand the gospel is by creating space for people to reveal their true self and see that they are loved regardless of the “wrinkles and scars” of sin. How do we create space for people to be their true self?

TO BECOME RENEWED

The gospel isn’t only about loving and forgiving sinners. It is also about restoring broken and marred people into healed and whole people who grow up to become imitators of Jesus Christ – restored image bearers of God. Jesus created space for people to be and to become (Think of Mary, Peter, Thomas, the woman at the well, the blind man, the paralyzed). Gospel hospitality implies creating space for people to be known, to be real, to be loved, and ultimately to be led with the Holy Spirit’s help to healing and wholeness through the work and person of Jesus Christ. How do we create space for people to be led toward healing and wholeness?

TO DO WORKS

The gospel moves from who God is and what Christ has done on our behalf into the works He created us to do (See Ephesians 2:8-10).

This is the result of Jesus’ gospel hospitality. He got on the same level with his enemy – becoming human. He became our servant – to the point of death. He spent all that He had in order to clean us up – by becoming our sin and giving us His righteousness (2 Cor 5:21). Then He sent us His Spirit to empower us to do good works for His sake so others could be welcomed in to the family. When we engage in gospel hospitality, we are regularly asking ourselves this question:

How do we create space for the stranger to be rested, restored, healed, and prepared in Jesus Christ for the work God has called them to?

Will you join God’s rich history of providing rest in order to extend rest? Remember, everything he has called you to do he has already done for you in Christ Jesus. You have everything you need to offer gospel hospitality to the strangers, friends, and even enemies around you.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeff Vanderstelt

Jeff Vanderstelt

I'm honored that I get to dedicate my life to teaching and equipping the Church. I draw much joy from training and encouraging ministers of the gospel - YOU! I serve the local church as the Director of Missional Communities and a teaching pastor at Doxa Church in Bellevue, Washington. I'm also on the leadership team of Saturate the Sound, a Puget Sound church collective dedicated to seeing our region saturated with the good news of Jesus. When I'm not coaching our missional communities or prepping trainings and sermons, I oversee the vision of Saturate and the Soma Family of Churches; two organizations dedicated to the planting and strengthening of churches that multiply disciple-making communities. On occasion, I also get to do a little writing. Jayne, my beautiful wife of twenty-four years, and I have three children; Haylee, Caleb, and Maggie.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
 
— Russ Wright
 
comment_post_ID); ?> "While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
 
— Ken
 

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