When I was a teacher of Public Speaking at a community college, I had students stay through the entire course, only to drop out rather than make their final speech. The assigned speech was short and was before the same class in which they had spent the entire semester. Such is the fear of public speaking. In the Christian community, this same level of dread also attaches to evangelism – and, for some – hospitality.
Christian hospitality, however, is a duty for us. It is also a very effective tool for the building of the Christian community. In Hebrews 13:1-2 we read, “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
Show hospitality to Strangers. A literal translation of the word translated hospitality (filozenia) means love of strangers. Why does the Bible tell us to love strangers? A little background on the Epistle to the Hebrews might help us understand. It was written in a time of turbulence and tribulation for Christians. (Probably late 60s). There are a lot of parallels between that time and this. The world was in turmoil. Even the church was filled with infighting. At times like these, Christian charity is often in danger of being forgotten, as people struggle to make it through. So it was important for the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews to remind them – and us about hospitality.
OK, first question: Who Do We Entertain? In Romans (12:13), the Apostle Paul tells us to “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Might seem like a contradiction God’s people vs. Strangers. Matthew Henry explains it this way: entertain “both those that are strangers to the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to our persons.” Some of God’s people are strangers to us. So, do we do background checks on people before we invite them to lunch? No, Christians are supposed to be pretty liberal about who they entertain – remember the example of Jesus who got all sorts of grief for lunching with a tax collector.
Now we know who. The question becomes “How Do We Entertain?” People come up with many (sometimes creative) reasons why thy cannot show hospitality. “The house isn’t nice (or clean)”; “I don’t have fancy dishes”; “I can’t afford to serve a real meal” are among the most common. All of those things may be true, but they do not rule out the possibility of hospitality. We do not have to wait until we can afford a good roast or steak before we invite someone in for a time of fellowship. Look at some of the simple meals mentioned in the Bible – especially that all-important one, the LORD’s Supper. The menu is NOT the point… Obedience and charity are the points.
We should entertain expectantly. Remember Hebrews 13:2? No? Here’s a reminder: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Does this mean that we should expect angels to show up every time we invite someone over for coffee? Not necessarily. We cannot rule it out, however! There are other things we can expect, too, like enjoyable company that we didn’t know before; fellowship with other brothers and sisters who think at least somewhat like us; and/or a bond with people which was not there before.
We can easily break up Christian hospitality into two kinds: entertaining those we know; and those we don’t.
Offer hospitality to one another. 1 Peter 4:9 tells us to “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” [We won’t even deal with the “without grumbling” part of that instruction.] Peter was writing to Christians. He wants us to know one another, to enjoy one another’s company. If we don’t get to know one another, how can we carry one another’s burdens? (Galatians 6:2).
Secondly, we are to entertain strangers. This, in essence, is the greatest tool we have for church growth. Inviting neighbors, or church visitors home for a simple meal, or dessert is a simple way to offer hospitality in the name of Christ, and invite them to church – or to become Christians!
Some suggestions. Most congregations have some public events – concerts, barbecues, men’s and women’s breakfasts, etc. We invite people via the internet, newspapers, mailings, and other means. Why can’t we also invite people to smaller events, like coffee on my porch or dessert. One congregation I served had something called Spaghetti Suppers. One didn’t need to serve spaghetti, but we had a roster of people who would invite any Sunday visitors to their home after the morning service. The menu was totally up to the hosts. The idea was simply that people would get invited home; that someone showed an interest in them.
Some congregations organize an occasional coffee time for small groups of newcomers.
Summer BBQs, of course, are a big hit (especially in the southern US). It can simply be hot dogs or hamburgers – or it can be more elaborate. It’s up to you!
There are, of course, rules. Here they are:
- Don’t put on the dog. Be yourself.
- Relax – it’s your turf.
- Hospitality is not a show – it’s showing love.
Remember: we’re told to practice hospitality. That means to keep doing it ‘til we get it Right!