What exactly is biblical hospitality?
What exactly is biblical hospitality?
Growing up in a small southern town in upstate South Carolina exposed me to the stereotypical family dinner after worship service every Sunday. My grandparents lived in a large colonial-style home where they hosted a large buffet of fried foods. Family, friends, and fellow church-goers would gather there for a meal and a great time of fellowship every week. The dinner would usually end with ice cream or if it was a warm summer day, we would cut a fresh watermelon on the porch from my grandfather’s garden.
While all this is a wonderful experience with family and friends, is this the biblical definition of hospitality that is revealed to us in Scripture? Why are we, as believers in the one true Christ, commanded to show such hospitality when we are exiles ourselves? (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7-8; Romans 12:13; Hebrews 11:13). When we have questions such as these, we must look at Scripture first. Early in the Old Testament, we see the example of Abraham welcoming strangers to rest after their long journey (Genesis 18:2-8). Further along, we also see this form of hospitality commanded in the act of tithing food (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). From the prophet Isaiah, we even see hospitality as clothing the naked (Isaiah 58:7). In the New Testament, we see the early church regularly gathering together around a meal in order to fellowship and grow together spiritually (Acts 2:42-47). This example of gathering together was set forth by Jesus himself who never owned a home in order to host guests but still found ways to share a meal with those interested in his teachings (Luke 19:5-6).
We also see in the epistles from the Apostle John the ultimate importance of hospitality in regards to not only furthering the Gospel but also the effect it can have in furthering a false gospel. In his epistles John is addressing a particular form of heresy that is now known as docetism. Docetism is the belief that Jesus didn’t have a real body but that his body was of some celestial material and therefore his sufferings were only apparent and were not real. John addresses this heresy in his first epistle and quickly rebukes those who confess the absence of Jesus’ flesh (1 John 4:2-3).
This sets the context for his second and third epistles. In his second epistle, he rebukes those who play the hospitable host to visitors who claim this heresy (2 John 1:7-11). While the second epistle rebukes those who endorse this heresy through their generous hospitality, the third epistle commends those who open their doors for those preaching the true Gospel. The third epistle is directed at someone identified as Gaius where the Apostle John extols them for showing hospitality to those preaching the true Gospel (3 John 1:5-8).
Biblical Hospitality Defined
So why does the Apostle John stress this issue of hospitality in his epistles? We see from Scripture that there is a biblical pattern of intimacy, fellowship, support, and love surrounding the concept of sharing a meal with one another. So when someone in the first century church shared a meal or took someone into their home, they weren’t just offering a helping hand but they were sharing life. It was very personal and displayed to the watching world that they affirmed the teachings of the individual that they were taking into their home.
Therefore, after looking at the examples we see in Scripture, the epistles from the Apostle John, and the implications from these examples we can formally define biblical hospitality as: The welcoming and fellowshipping with believers and non-believers out of truth and love for Jesus Christ so that they may see Christ more clearly and/or so they will join us as exiles themselves (or join us as believers).
How it plays out
The key point of this definition is the emphasis on displaying Christ to those that we welcome into our homes. This is extremely important to grasp particularly in a culture where the outward appearance of stability and success is desired more than walking side-by-side with others in order to glorify the name of Christ.
So what do we do about it? Before your anxiety of inviting others into your home or the guilt of not doing so takes over, let’s channel these emotions in the right direction (1 John 5:3). The definition that we have presented above is not specific in the way that this plays out in your life but what it must entail. Biblical hospitality is not always a well groomed home presented with flowers and candles (or it may be) but it is a character trait that should characterize every believer in Christ. That may take the shape of coffee at a local coffee shop, dinner with a couple that may be in the same age/stage as you, taking a new neighbor in the community a meal, or simply inviting others over for pizza. Whatever form it takes, make Christ the center and allow the love of Christ to overflow.
John serves as a deacon and an equipU teacher at East Cooper Baptist Church in Charleston, South Carolina. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Computer Science and the University of South Carolina. John and his wife Michelle have been married for 2 years. You can find out more information about their ministry at https://about.me/john_ravan .