Show Hospitality to One Another

(While Keeping Two Metres Apart and Not Speaking Moistly)

As the weather has been warming up, I’ve been thinking back to last June and the “Family Farm Day” at  the Vetros. We enjoyed a meal together, were treated to guided tours of the dairy barn, played games and met other families, friends, and neighbours. A goal of the event was to spur one another on to show hospitality to others as it had been shown to us that day. We all left with the “Summer Hospitality Challenge”: to pick someone that we could show hospitality to and then make an invitation.

Well, this year things look a little different with Covid-19, and I don’t expect that most of us will do more than virtually tour a farm this spring. What does hospitality look like in a time when we’re advised not to have guests in our homes?

In order to answer that question, I’d like to start by looking into what the Bible says about hospitality and let that shape our understanding of the meaning of the word. Then we can think about why to be hospitable and how to show hospitality to others even while keeping our distance.

In the New Testament, the word translated as hospitality is the Greek word philoxenos: philos means “friendship love” and xenos means "a stranger”. The biblical usage shows hospitality to mean loving strangers and being generous to guests.1 We see it used in three clear commands:

“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”  Romans 12:13

“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” 1 Peter 4:9

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Hebrews 13:2

It’s this last verse that I’d like to focus on a little more. It is cross-referenced to the story in Genesis 18 and 19 where first Abraham, and then Lot, welcomed angels. They loved these strangers, giving generously by feeding them, refreshing them, and caring for their needs. This can serve as an example of hospitality to us.

Hebrew 13:2 also makes me think of Matthew 25:37-41 “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And 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 the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” This passage provides a reason to be hospitable: As we show hospitality to people God puts in our path, it is Jesus we are showing hospitality to!

Do you need more motivation? Are you still wondering why to be hospitable? Well, in addition to hospitality being commanded and being a way to serve Christ, think about this too: Christ gave up his comforts and rights to love people who were estranged because of their sin. Christ didn’t have a home where he hosted people, but as he lived on earth he loved strangers and gave generously to those who came to him. He ultimately gave his life, expecting nothing in return from us. We should be hospitable because it’s the posture Christ takes towards us and it’s a way to imitate Him.

Rosaria Butterfield, author of The Gospel Comes with a Housekey gives a helpful explanation to distinguish between true hospitality and a current cultural understanding of entertainment:

“Hospitality is about meeting the stranger and welcoming that stranger to become a neighbor—and then knowing that neighbor well enough that, if by God’s power he allows for this, that neighbor becomes part of the family of God through repentance and belief. It has absolutely nothing to do with entertainment.
Entertainment is about impressing people and keeping them at arm’s length. Hospitality is about opening up your heart and your home, just as you are, and being willing to invite Jesus into the conversation, not to stop the conversation but to deepen it.”2

John Piper warns us that, “The most natural thing in the world is to neglect hospitality. That’s the path of least resistance. All we have to do is yield to the natural gravity of our self-centered life, and the result will be a life so full of self that there is no room for hospitality. We will forget about it. And we will neglect it. So the Bible bluntly says, "Stop that!”3

If we want to be hospitable, we must open our hearts and lives to others, give up our selfish priorities, share the blessings God has given us, and consider strangers and neighbours more important than ourselves. And the good news is that these are all things we can be doing from a distance.

So leave margin in your calendar to make a phone call to someone who might be lonely. Share an on-line sermon, devotional, or blog post with a neighbour and then intentionally follow-up to hear what they thought about it. Take a delivery of groceries to someone you know isn’t likely to reciprocate your love. Help your kids draw pictures and write letters to a senior in your neighbourhood. Host an on-line games night for your small group, but be intentional about inviting someone new to join you. And always make it personal. Get to know the one you are serving, keep them in your heart and prayers, and let them get to know you so they can see Christ in your life.

Does being able to invite people into your home as guests for a meal make it easier to be hospitable? I think so. But we can’t use social distancing as an excuse to neglect hospitality. Let’s make those sacrifices, welcome others into our lives, and give without looking for something in return. There are many ways to love strangers and neighbours and show them generosity while we’re apart from one another.