And this morning we are in week three and we’re going to be discussing hospitality. It’s one of my favorite topics in the Bible. It’s gospel potent. And do you know what I mean by that? It smells like the Good News. It’s smells like the Good News. When most of us think about hospitality though, we think about hosting parties or get-togethers with people that we already know. A lot of times it’s our relatives, it’s our friends, it’s our coworkers. We at least have some amount of familiarity with those that we host in our homes. But check this out: Would it surprise you to learn that when the Bible talks about hospitality, it almost always talks about hospitality with strangers. People you don’t know. In fact, the word “hospitality” in Greek is actually made up of two different words. The first word that makes up the word “hospitality” in Greek is the word phileo. And that means to love. And that’s a brotherly type of love and affection for someone. The second half of the word of “hospitality” in Greek is from the word xenos. And xenos means a stranger. So the actual word, when you put those two ideas together, the idea that is conveyed is having a love for a stranger or to love a stranger. That’s what hospitality means.
So I want to jump right into this this morning and just get going. The first blank underneath that it says, God’s people have a stranger status. God’s people have a stranger status. That may sound kind of weird but I’ll explain it. There is a very real sense in which God’s people are strangers in this world. They’re described that way throughout the Scriptures, and I want to show you a little bit about that. So very early on, the Israelites, God rescues them out of Egypt. He brings them to the mountain. He gives them the Law. And in that Law, I want to read something to you this morning. Listen to these words. God’s saying this to the Israelites: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you.” And listen to this: “you shall love him as yourself,” not the first time we’ve heard that, right? And then here’s the key part: “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” Very interesting.
There’s another passage I want to share with you is from Exodus 23 verse nine God says, “You shall not oppress a Sojourner. You know the heart of a Sojourner for you are sojourners in the land of Egypt.” God is essentially telling Israel, “Hey, you know what It feels like to be a stranger in this world! Don’t forget, do not forget, you know what it feels like to be in need.” And the reality is it was God who showed hospitality to the Israelites when they needed it most. So don’t miss this. It’s Israel’s status as a stranger that serves as their basis for showing hospitality to the other strangers in their midst. Does that make sense? And here’s the interesting thing: The church actually has a stranger status as well.
When you come to the new Testament, there’s similar language about the church in Ephesians chapter two I want to share a couple of passages. Paul is describing how in Jesus he has made one people of God, Jews and Gentiles become one people of God, God’s people. And listen to what he says to the Gentiles. Here in chapter two he says, “Remember that you Gentiles were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the Commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world, but now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” And we’re going to skip down to verse 19 he says, “so then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” The same God who showed hospitality to Israel and Egypt is now showing hospitality to the Gentiles in the new Testament.
And here’s the crazy part. God doesn’t just welcome the Gentiles into his household. He actually makes them members of it. That is radical hospitality. Paul goes on in another book to remind the church that this world is not their home. He says, you know what? Your citizenship ultimately is not an earthly citizenship. And Philippians chapter three verse 20 he says this, “But our citizenship,” talking about the churches citizenship, “is in heaven and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” The apostle Peter says something similar. First Peter one 17 he says, “And if you call on him as father, who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.” Just like Israel the church has a stranger status and that means you have a stranger status. We have a stranger status, but that should serve us to remind us and to form a basis for showing hospitality to those around us.
Those who have experienced the hospitality of Christ can’t help but show it to others. Think about your neighborhood. Who in your neighborhood would be considered a stranger in your midst? Who in your neighborhood maybe is vulnerable, in need, or overlooked? Maybe they’re even forgotten. Moving into a new apartment, neighborhood, or home: Isn’t it just really weird the first couple hours and especially the first day? It doesn’t feel right, especially when you back that big old truck up and everybody’s looking at you and you don’t know anybody in the neighborhood. My wife and I always joke about this, if we’re sleeping there the first night, you get like the worst night of sleep ever. It’s just not good. Everything is awkward. Nothing feels at home. You’re a stranger in a new place. But have you ever experienced somebody coming to your door, knocking on your door, maybe they have some food for you. They introduce themselves. They welcome you to the neighborhood. That small act of hospitality has the power to totally transform the situation.
So what’s the big deal with this? God’s people have stranger status. Israel does, the Church does, but who cares? Here’s why. Understanding our stranger status in this world helps us to see why the new Testament makes such a big deal about hospitality. It’s literally everywhere. A lot of times it flies under the radar, but trust me, it is there. Such a big deal in fact that it was actually a qualification for overseers.
The Church has overseers and that word basically means someone who keeps an eye, not on an individual sheep, but on the entire flock. He’s like a superintendent. He’s a where we get to our term “Elder” from. And Paul says, “In the church of God, these overseers have some qualifications. You can’t just say, ‘Oh, I’m an overseer and you’ve got to deal with that.’” He says, “You’ve got to be a certain way. You’ve got to do certain things,” and he lays some of those things out. In first Timothy three two he says, “Therefore, and overseer must be above reproach. The husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach.” We tend to forget about that one. That one just flies right under the radar. Paul says, “You want to help guide the church? You want to help lead the church?” You want to be an elder that is fantastic, but you’ve got to be known as someone who opens your door and welcomes the stranger in your midst.
Hospitality was also a qualification for enrollment. And what I mean by that is at that time there was an enrollment for widows onto a “care list” of the church. So if a widow is truly a widow, the church would say, “let’s bring you on and we’re going to materially care for you.” Paul says, Hey, there’s some qualifications for those ladies as well. One of them is she has to be over 60 years of age. She can’t have any living relatives left. And she’s got to be known for displaying good works in her past. And he gives some specifics about what those good works might look like. Listen to this, he says, “having a reputation for good works if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints and has cared for the afflicted and has devoted herself to every good work.” Hospitality is a big deal! Such a big deal that the Scriptures say you need to have it to be enrolled onto the widow’s “care list,” that you need to have it to be an overseer of the church of God
Hospitality was actually seen as participation in the gospel ministry. That sounds kind of funny, doesn’t it? Hospitality was not just virtuous in the first century. There was actually some strategy behind it. It was how people traveled. You know, these apostles and the evangelists would go from town to town and they relied and depended upon people opening their homes to let them stay there. Hospitality was a way that people traveled in the first century.
There is a letter in the new Testament and it’s so short, it almost feels weird calling it a letter. It’s almost like a new Testament postcard or like a Telegraph or something. It’s 3rd John. I mean there’s only like a couple of verses. But it is a “postcard” if you will, of hospitality. John is writing to a man named Gaius and he’s commending him for showing hospitality. Hospitality is not explicitly mentioned, but it’s actually there. It’s all over the text. Listen to this, “Beloved, It is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are who testified to your love before the church, you will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God, for they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore, we ought to support people like these that we may be fellow workers for the truth. So John had just said that Gaius’s welcoming, support, and his sending of these brothers made him and the church that he was apart of “fellow workers for the gospel.” That word literally means “a companion in gospel ministry.”
If you read on a little bit later, John talks about like the “dark side” of hospitality. For the one who doesn’t show hospitality, he’s got some seriously strong words for him. Gaius is kind of the “poster child” of hospitality in this church and this other guy named Diotrephes is like the red headed stepchild. It’s not good. Listen what he says. “I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I’ll bring up what he’s doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. Then not content with that, get this. He refuses to welcome the brothers and stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.”
Gaius’s actions were in line with the gospel. He says that is participation and companionship and gospel ministry. Diotrephes, on the other hand, he says that is anti-gospel. Not welcoming someone into your home, let alone a brother in Christ is anti-gospel. He says you’re actually putting up barriers to the spread of the gospel. Hospitality was a big deal.
And lastly, Jesus says hospitality is a big deal because when we offer it to the least of these, he says it’s like welcoming Jesus himself. In Matthew 25 Jesus tells his disciples a parable about a final judgment and he says that when he returns, he’s going to separate the righteous from the unrighteous. Listen to what he says to the righteous. He says, “Come you who are blessed by my father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For when I was hungry, you gave me food. When I was thirsty, you gave me drink. Here we go. When I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to me. Then the righteous will answer him saying, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or thirsty and give you something to drink? I mean, when did we see you a stranger and welcome you or naked and clothe you and when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you and listen to what the King answers them? He says, truly, I say to you as you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you did it unto me.”
Next, he addresses the unrighteous, and says their neglect of the “least of these” was a neglect unto him. I don’t know about you, but that is a surprising, very surprising, passage to me. The King so closely identifies with the least of these that he says, I’m going to make a judgment call based on how you treat them. Hospitality was a huge deal. It was a qualification for overseers, a qualification for enrollment. It was seen as participation in gospel ministry, and if you performed hospitality to the least of these, it was like performing hospitality to Jesus Christ himself, a big deal.
Recovering Biblical Hospitality
The hardest part though about embracing something like biblical hospitality is that in many ways, we have to unlearn some things. Culture has primarily defined hospitality in terms of entertainment. So much so that when we hear that word hospitality, things pop into our mind. There’s a lady that pops into my mind. Her name is Martha Stewart. Martha Stewart Living. Better Homes and Gardens. My mom got those magazines when I was growing up. How about this one? Pinterest. The utopian world of Pinterest where everything is perfect. It’s primped and polished table arrangements.That’s what hospitality is. It’s beautifully coordinated colors and themes. That’s what hospitality is, right? And when I see those things, I’m like, I would love to be at that party. But the reality is hospitality does not look anything like that. Think about this for a second. When you see those images, what does that actually communicate? What does that communicate as far as hospitality is concerned? It says you need to have a really big and a really expensive house and you’ve got to plan and prepare and put all kinds of money into this thing called hospitality because without it, you can’t entertain anybody. Period. Hospitality, biblical hospitality doesn’t look like smell like or even feel like that stuff at all.
Consider this. The houses in the first century were a whole lot smaller than what we have today. Remember in the first century, they didn’t meet in something like this, a giant dedicated building for hosting the church. They met in homes. And their homes were all a lot smaller than what we have today. To give you some perspective, 2013 the average home being built at a square footage of somewhere around 2,400 to 2,600 square feet. In 1950: 983 square feet. It’s under a thousand. So if you do a little bit of math in your head and just kind of work your way backwards in the years, it kind of gives you an idea of how small some of these houses might’ve been. This is what blows my mind. There’s space constraints were compounded when you consider the size of their churches. Most scholars believe the New Testament churches were anywhere from 20 to 40 people. Can you imagine cramming 20 to 40 people into a tiny little laundry room size space? I can’t imagine 24 people in my house, let alone if it was cut in half, but that’s what was going on. The early church’s hospitality far surpassed their size constraints. It far surpassed their square footage.
A few years ago there was a study done on how the average, I love these terms, average American family uses the average sized single family American house. Basically ,this study followed 32 families and tracked their movement through their house. They wanted to find out where did they spend most of their time in the average American house. They zeroed in on one family and they traced the parent’s steps and the children’s steps over a two day period during the waking hours of the day. And at each 10-minute interval they drop a pin on the blueprint. That’s where your child was. That’s where you were at each 10-minute interval throughout the day. They quantified their movements and said basically 40% of this house is actually being utilized on a consistent basis. They said the other 60% is largely untouched and largely unused. This is what I found interesting: The areas that are highly unused are the dining room, the living room, and the porch. Those are the three areas that they didn’t really utilize. So if this picture actually represents what an average family looks like in their home, how they use their home, I think we have more than enough room. But here’s the question: Why is it so hard for us to open our homes to those around us? Why is it so hard at times to leverage one of our largest assets in life for the glory of God?
Paradigm Shifts in Hospitality
And I think it kind of boils down in part, at least to how we think about hospitality. We’ve been taught to think in terms of entertainment: How much square footage do I have? How many chairs do I have? My home isn’t clean enough, right? What will they do? How? How am I going to entertain my guests when they’re here? How long do they plan to stay? Hospitality on the other hand, isn’t concerned about those things. Hospitality says, I’m going to create a space of welcome, a space to love the stranger. So here’s the fundamental difference: Entertainment takes room, hospitality makes room. You actually have to have physical space to entertain your guests if that’s what you want to do. But for hospitality to occur, you just have to make room.
Entertainment says, “I don’t have the time.”
Hospitality says, “I’m interruptible.”
Entertainment says, “I don’t have the means to help. I’m sorry.”
Hospitality says, “I can help how I can.”
Entertainment says, “I haven’t finished my to do list, sorry.”
Hospitality says, “My home is open as-is.”
Entertainment says, “I’m not ‘company-ready’ yet.”
Hospitality says, “I’m welcome-ready.”
Entertainment says, “My dining room table isn’t big enough.”
Hospitality says, “I’m just going to fix you a plate and then we’re going to scoot over.”
Entertainment, doesn’t have the room. Hospitality says, “I’ll make the room.”
A few years ago, there was an Anglican priest and Knoxville, Tennessee, his name was Jack King. And he preached this message on hospitality and it just spread like wildfire. And articles in response started popping up on the internet. And he had a very simple idea. He said to embrace “scruffy hospitality.”And by it he meant imperfect, unpolished, mismatched, a lot of times and dusted, sometimes cluttered. That doesn’t really sound like “Pinterest perfect” does it? But I’ll tell you what, it does sound like. It sounds like real life. He says, you know, it’s okay to let people into our homes when things aren’t just right. In fact, we should actually embrace it because when we do that is a realwelcome. They experienced the real you. They experience real hospitality.
Here’s what he said, “Scruffy hospitality means you’re not waiting for everything in your house to be an order before you host and serve your friends in your home. Scruffy hospitality means you hunger more for good conversation and serving a simple meal of what you have, not of what you don’t have. Scruffy hospitality means you’re more interested in quality conversation than the impression your home or lawn makes. If we only share meals with friends when we’re excellent, we aren’t truly sharing life together.”
One author said she was going to put him to the test. She said, you know, I’ve been hearing about this scruffy hospitality thing and I’m just going to see if it works. She said, I’m basically going to do a couple of experiments and find out if Jack is loony or if he’s actually onto something. She said, the first thing she let go of was the upstairs. She said, I’m not going to clean it before my guests come, and she said she actually was more relaxed. She said, the second thing she didn’t do was dusting. She said, I’m not going to dust before my guests get here. She said no one said a word and they actually came back the next week. Then she said, I accidentally left a pile of boxes in my dining room in the corner, and she said, you know what was the craziest thing? The food tasted just as good. The last thing she said, you know those this time I just couldn’t finish preparing the meal before my guests arrived. So I had them help me and she said, we just had a blast. Scruffy hospitality changes our mindset. It moves us from entertainment to welcome. Entertainment. Takes room, Hospitality makes room.
Hospitality in the Nieghborhood
So how does this translate to our neighborhoods? How does this translate to loving our neighbors? The first thing is: we can show hospitality to our neighbors even if we don’t have the perfect home. Invite your neighbors over for dinner. Have a fire in your backyard. Welcome somebody new to the neighborhood. Whatever you have been planning to do just remember this: Hospitality is not the same thing as a home inspection. Your home doesn’t have to be perfect, just host as you are and watch what happens. Jack King says this, “We tell our guests all the time come as you are. Perhaps we should be telling ourselves, host as you are.” Invite people in and watch how God works in and among everyone’s lives.
Number two: we can show hospitality to our neighbors even if we don’t the biggest home. Think about this. You could potentially receive more hospitality from a homeless guy who lives in a cardboard box than from a business guy who lives in a mansion. Hospitality is not concerned with the size of your house so much as it’s concerned with the size and the space that you create for others. The reality is, , our homes are some of our largest assets on this earth and as a Christ follower, we should be in a position where we say, “God, it’s yours. I’m going to leverage this for the kingdom of God. I’m not going to hoard this for myself and keep it from my own pleasure. My home is open.”
Those who have experienced the hospitality of Christ will open their door, will open their table, and will ultimately open their lives to the strangers in their midst. So let’s do that this week. Let’s be hospitable to the strangers that may be in our midst. They may actually be closer than we think, and they may actually be right next door.
I’d love to get your feedback! Let’s dialogue on some of the questions below.
- Do you see yourself as a recipient of God’s hospitality? Why or why not?
- What are some of your biggest reservations when it comes to offering hospitality to others?
- Does the idea of “scruffy hospitality” make the practice seem more “doable?” Why or why not?