I recently had the chance to collaborate with my wife on some material relating to hospitality, which I’ll be sharing here over several posts. Today begins the series with a bird’s-eye view of hospitality in the story of the Bible.
At creation, God made people with bodies that needed sheltering and stomachs that needed feeding. He then met those needs by providing a safe place for Adam and Eve to live, and food for them to eat (Gen 2:15-16). Even after He sent them out of the garden, God clothed Adam and Eve. He likewise provided for Noah and Abraham and especially Israel, giving them a safe place to rest and providing food for them to enjoy.
God told Israel in Leviticus 25:23: “…the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me.” This doesn’t mean that they were strangers together with Him , but rather that they were his guests. David understood this when he prayed, “I am a sojourner with you, a guest, like all my fathers” (Psa 39:12).
David understood that he was living in God’s world, and that God was a generous host. This is what he describes in Psalm 23:5: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” In this verse David is not picturing God as a shepherd, but rather as a generous host who gives His guest a place to be safe, care for his body, and rich food and drink.
Isaiah described the inauguration of the age to come as a great feast (Isa 25:6). When the Messiah came, God’s people would once again be at home with Him and enjoy His hospitality. (See also Matthew 8:11.)
Which means that this is what Jesus came to do: extend divine hospitality. Think of his words, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2–3).
Jesus died and rose again to bring His people into His family, His house. Revelation shows us the final goal of this when it says, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3).
God, the great Host, will dwell with His people forever on the world that He will renew for them.
Knowing this, it’s not surprising that much of Jesus’ ministry took place in settings of hospitality. Like making the wine at Cana (John 2:1-11), or sharing meals with tax collectors and “sinners” (Matt 9:10). In each of these settings, He gave a preview of the coming kingdom.
In this very brief survey, we can see a clear picture: God is hospitable. That means that when we are hospitable, we are being like Him. When Abraham rushes to provide a rich meal for his guests (Genesis 18:1-8), or when Israel was commanded to be hospitable to strangers (Lev 19:33-34), or when Boaz is generous with Ruth, these are all examples of imitating God. Each of us is a guest in His world, and just like God welcomes us and cares for us, so we are to show that same kindness to one another.
In fact, in the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46, showing hospitality to strangers is one of the marks of a real disciple.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise that we see a lot of hospitality in the early days of the Christian church. Think about the day of Pentecost, when 3,000 people became Christians and ended up staying in Jerusalem long past the feast. The Christians living in Jerusalem had to show extended hospitality to them, as is described in Acts 2:46: “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.”
Not surprisingly, there were logistical challenges in such a large-scale, long-term exercise of hospitality. Acts 6:1-6 tells how the apostles took these challenges very seriously, gathering the whole church together (all several thousand of them!) to implement a sustainable plan to ensure everyone was taken care of.
Hospitality continued to be a prominent feature of the Christian life as the gospel spread around the world. As people chose to follow Christ, many lost the supports of their family and friends, and depended on the hospitality of their new family in Christ (Mark 10:29-30). Additionally, as the gospel spread, missionaries relied on the hospitality of local Christians to give them a safe place to stay and to provide for their needs on their way (Titus 3:13–14, 1 John 3:5-8). Hospitality became a way of life, and as Christians opened their tables not just to each other but also to their pagan neighbours, many were drawn to Christ.
On top of these examples, we have the direct teaching of the apostles in regards to hospitality:
- “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Romans 12:13).
- “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2).
- “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9).
- “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be… hospitable” (Titus 1:7,8)
What should we notice from these passages? We should see that Christians are to be hospitable to everybody: to each other, to Christian workers and missionaries, and to unbelievers.
These passage also show us that hospitality is not an option. There is no mention in the New Testament about the “gift of hospitality.” Rather, hospitality is an expectation for everybody. Which makes sense, because we are to be like God, and God is hospitable.
God has shown us incredible hospitality every day—which is one of the reasons most of us pray before we eat. We’re living in His world, eating His food, and we are grateful! Even more than this, in Christ He’s transformed us from enemies into His very family, bringing us into His very house, and has promised to live with us forever.
And so when this good news of the gospel gets into our hearts, it takes away the sense that our homes belong to us. Rather than castles where we go to retreat from the world, our houses and tables are ministry centres, loaned to us by God, where we get to invite people in to taste His generous gospel love—literally.
More to come.