INTRODUCTION: THE COMMAND
Hospitality has been seen throughout the Christian Age as one of the fundamental Spiritual Disciplines to be practiced by all who are followers of Jesus.
The command is clear and unequivocal:
Paul says: “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.” (Rom 12:13)
Peter says: “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9)
John says: “We ought therefore to show hospitality” (3 John 1:8)
The meaning of the word “hospitality” is this:
“the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.”
But, we need to put flesh on, and breathe life into, these cold and bare statements. And to therefore make the command of hospitality into a passion that burns within us.
HOSPITALITY AND RELATIONSHIPS
A wiser man than me told me that an effective church is one that on a Sunday focuses on the “3 W’s” – of Welcome, Worship and Word – and that people join the church on the basis of their experience in each of these 3 areas:
- Worship: they want to be in a church where they are brought into the presence of God and are able to be in an intimate relationship with God through the singing and the moving of the Spirit
- Word: they want to be in a church where they feel they are really learning about God through the preaching of the Scriptures – again a relationship of getting to know more about God
- Welcome: they want to be in a church where they, themselves, feel loved and accepted and cared for by the people of God – this is the relationship of feeling that they are a part of God’s family – that this church can be their spiritual home
Hospitality is at the core of this third “W”. We are creatures built on relationships – with God and with each other. What is the sign of a true disciple according to Jesus if not that of showing the love of God to one another (‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another’ John 13:34) and to those outside our church family (‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and, “Love your neighbour as yourself”’ Luke 10:27)?
Our hospitality to those in and who visit this church is going to be central in whether they stay and become part of our church family. It is rightly said that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. Practice hospitality.
This is why our church vision is based on the 3 pillars of “discipleship, caring and evangelism” – we believe that we should help people to become true followers of Jesus; we believe that we should encourage disciples to obey His command to spread the Good News; but we believe that we are called to love each other and care for each other – and one way we do this is through hospitality. So, practice hospitality.
PROOFS OF THE POWER OF HOSPITALITY
The story was told in a church newsletter about a man who visited 18 different churches on successive Sundays. He was trying to find out what the churches were really like. He said, “I sat near the front. After the service, I walked slowly to the rear, then returned to the front and back to the foyer using another aisle. I smiled, dressed neatly. I asked one person to direct me to a specific place: a fellowship hall, pastor’s study, etc. I remained for coffee if it was served.” He writes, “I used a scale to rate the reception I received. I awarded points on the following basis: 10 points for a smile from a worshipper 10 for a greeting from someone sitting nearby 100 for an exchange of names 200 for an invitation to have coffee 200 for an invitation to return 1000 for an introduction to another worshipper 2000 for an invitation to meet the pastor. On this scale, 11 of the 18 churches earned fewer than 100 points. Five actually received less than 20. The conclusion: The faith teaching may be Biblical, the singing inspirational, the sermon uplifting, but when a visitor finds nobody who cares whether he’s here, he is not likely to come back.
This has been proved to me time and time again. Dear friends of mine attend a church in Salisbury where by their own admission the worship is poor, the preaching is weak, but the church is growing and growing and growing. And why? Because the people just love each other, spending time with each other, becoming real family – real friends – with each other. It seems that hospitality does cover a “multitude of sins”!
And again, my own experience is proof of the power of hospitality in building up the Kingdom of God. For 6 months I attended a large church specifically because it had a huge and dynamic Sunday School which I wanted my daughter to attend. This church was multi-cultural, had spectacular worship times, profound teaching…..but I hated being there. Every week they had a slot in their service, similar to that in a CofE church, where they spent 5 minutes greeting each other. In this packed auditorium the one on my left would smile and shake my hand and the one on the right would say “hi” and then they would move off and find their friends and for 5 minutes I would be left alone feeling like “Billy-no-mates” – and I was not the only one. The lack of hospitality meant I did not feel welcome, which meant that I did not feel part of the church family, which meant that I wanted to leave it – which I did.
ACC AND HOSPITALITY
Now here’s the good news….I thank God for Ashford Community Church which, I can say without any hesitation, is a welcoming church which practices hospitality constantly. You are so loving, so caring, so kind in greeting people – friends, relatives and visitors. From a warm smile on the door, to a hot coffee at the servery, to heart-warming chats around the table you practice hospitality. From a “5 star” kitchen and the gifting of making meals to delight the church to invitations to come round for coffee and dinner and games and watching “Songs of Praise” together you practice hospitality.
So, what more is there to say to you than “well done”! Well, only to say to you that there is more to the spiritual discipline of hospitality than even this! There is a challenge to us to go even deeper.
THE DEEPER MEANING OF HOSPITALITY
When Jeremiah Steepek was invited to become the new pastor of a 10000 member church in the states he introduced himself in a way that went viral on the internet:
A homeless man walks into church: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGt8Lnhgrz8
A different version of the same thing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7JbM0qooRg
His point – speaking the words of Jesus from Matthew 25 (“I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat”) he wanted to challenge this mega-church that prided itself on its love for one another as to whether they really understood the concept of hospitality.
You see in the New Testament, the Greek word translated “hospitality” literally means “love of strangers.” The Greek word philozenia is actually a combination of two words—philos, meaning “affection” and zenos, meaning “stranger.” So, true Biblical hospitality begins in how we treat the stranger, the poor, the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the sick, the prisoner. It is good to love each other, to invite each other to dinner. But, the true calling of the spiritual discipline of hospitality is to sit next to the homeless man, shake hands with the AIDS sufferer, visit the sick in hospital, talk to the convicted in prison, give a bed to the homeless one, clothe the one in rags. Then, by our love, they shall know Him who loves us.
THE OLD TESTAMENT AND HOSPITALITY
In the story of Abraham and the three angelic visitors (Gen. 18) we have a picture of genuine hospitality in the ancient world: a respected father (Abraham) sits at the tent door in the shade, not only to enjoy the refreshing air, but so that if he saw any weary travellers, he might invite them to rest and refresh themselves during the heat of the day. It was not the custom, nor was it necessary, for strangers to knock at the door, or to speak first, but to stand till they were invited. The same custom still continues in the east. (Gen 18:1, 15:1; 17:1-3,22 26:2 48:3; Ex 4:1; 2Ch 1:7; Ac 7:2;13:18 14:13.)
He runs to greet his unexpected guests, then he hurries off to instruct Sarah to prepare bread for a meal, then he runs again to choose an animal for the feast, and serves them (lit. “he stands before them”) in service.
Abraham practices hospitality – he was not to know that these visitors were “angels in disguise” who were coming to give him a blessing. They were strangers and his whole being as a follower of God was to show them hospitality.
JESUS AND HOSPITALITY
In the NT Jesus redefines the principle of hospitality, when he says to his host (Lk.14:12-14). “When you give a dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
This is an awesome challenge to those who wish to be His disciples and practice hospitality – for He takes this discipline to a whole new level here.
HOSPITALITY – THE CONCLUSION AND CHALLENGE
Practicing Christian hospitality isn’t about glamorous table settings or platters of picture-perfect food; it’s about practicing servanthood. More importantly, it’s about loving others through Christ and making people feel special
None of us deny that it’s easier to share hospitality with family and friends than with the stranger on the street. But the New Testament teaches us that Christianity is the religion of open hands, open hearts and open doors. When we open our hearts as well as our homes, we’re practicing Christian hospitality.
Let the challenge for us be this:
- To continue to show hospitality through our welcome to all at our church so that through us the love of God might be shown
- To pursue hospitality to a higher level of truly showing brotherly love (phileo) to the “stranger” – even though this will cost us a lot. But, it is worth it and “you will be blessed”.