Can I let you in on an embarrassing secret? When I hear someone at the door, my instinct is to breathe a frustrated sigh as numerous thoughts race through my head. I don’t feel like inviting anyone in. I have so many things to do! Oh, no, my house is a mess. I don’t even recognize this person. What could he possibly want? Maybe I’ll just pretend I’m not home. Relief sweeps over me when I open the door and see the person holding a package. Only a delivery guy! I smile broadly, thank him, and sign the receipt. Later on, Andrew suggests that we invite our neighbors over. Incredulous, I resist. I enjoy their company, but we just had them over. He raises an eyebrow and reminds me that that was actually six months ago; it’s probably about time to invite them for dinner again.
Even in regard to the people I love most, I struggle to proactively pursue hospitality. When people drop by unannounced, the vibes I give probably make them feel like an intrusion rather than a welcome interruption. My home feels like my domain. I want to control when and where I pursue others. I want people over only when my house looks nice, and I don’t want the burden of cleaning when it’s a mess.
Clearly, when it comes to lessons in hospitality, I am the example of what not to be. Given that it’s such a weakness of mine, I spent years undermining the spiritual significance of hospitality. It was nothing more than a box to check off, and I met my “quota” by hosting a church small group twice a month. But as I studied Scripture, God convicted me. Not only was I called to grow in this practice for the mere purpose of obedience (Heb. 13:2; 1 Pet. 4:9), but I began to realize how much hospitality and mercy go hand in hand.
If our mercy is meant to reflect the God we love, we must strive to emulate the ways in which he’s shown us mercy. And God is hospitable! His hospitality dates back to Genesis 1. He created a beautiful and bountiful world for us to live in—a home that abundantly provided for every need.
When Adam and Eve disobeyed and sin entered the earth, this home was broken, leading to God’s second great act of hospitality. In mercy, Jesus humbled himself by coming to share a home with us; the Creator of heaven and earth stepped down from his throne to dwell among lowly men. Because he lived among us in perfect righteousness, his death secured our access to enjoy an eternal home with him. Those who were strangers and enemies now have an open invitation to dwell in his kingdom. He is preparing a feast, a city, a new heavens and a new earth—a new home—where he will welcome us for eternity. Why? Because he is a mercifully hospitable God. When we open our lives in hospitality, reaching out in ways that comfort the lonely, provide for the afflicted, and turn strangers into friends, we’re imaging Christ. When we don’t just serve people from a distance but go a step further to invite them into our lives, we’re imitating our hospitable God who in humility came to us and in grace will bring us back with him.
To love our neighbors as Jesus loves us, we must actually get to know them.
Imitating the hospitality of God means more than throwing dinner parties for our friends and family. Although biblical hospitality includes fellowship among believers, it’s also meant to be evangelistic and service oriented in nature. It should welcome strangers and reach into our communities. All of us have unbelieving neighbors, and opening our homes paves the way for interactions that go deeper than driveway small talk. In a world that’s increasingly individualistic, the act of inviting others to dine at our tables, make messes of our houses, and relax on our couches offers the comfort of community and creates an environment to show mercy. Our neighbors struggle in ways we don’t know.
Even if everything appears fine on the outside, there may be ways they’re suffering because of sickness, loneliness, loss, addiction, or abuse. But we’ll never know the struggles they face if we fail to welcome them into our lives. And if we don’t know, how can we show them mercy? To love our neighbors as Jesus loves us, we must actually get to know them.
We must also hospitably welcome those whom society overlooks or deems unlovely. Jesus says in Luke, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you” (Luke 14:12–14). When we reach out to those whom others disregard, we’re reflecting the heart of God. He seeks the outcast. The forgotten. The shoved aside. The socially awkward. The dismissed. The disparaged. The despised. He shows no partiality and isn’t impressed by status, appearance, or charisma. Rather, he sees and cares for the lonely and left out. Will we do the same?
Use Your Strengths
If you’re anything like me, you probably find it intimidating to reach out to people you barely know. We worry that it’ll be uncomfortable—and it might be! But Scripture instructs us to show hospitality to strangers (Heb. 13:2) and soberly warns that neglecting to do so is the equivalent of being unwelcoming to Christ (Matt. 25:44–45). Knowing this means I can’t hide behind my long-held excuse that “hospitality isn’t my gifting”; rather, it pushes me to desperately depend on Christ as I seek to grow in a very unnatural grace. And he has helped me. Even though I still wrestle with weaknesses and sin, he is faithfully transform ing me. By his grace, I have grown in hospitality. Now, instead of dreading the knock on the door, I’ve begun to look forward to it. Just yesterday a neighborhood kid knocked and asked if he could use our new basketball hoop, and I told him we’re happy to let him use it whenever he wants. It’s just a little thing, but hopefully, over time, this kid will know that our house is a place where he’s welcome.
While God calls and enables all believers to practice hospitality, it’s helpful to remember that the particulars don’t need to look the same—he’s gifted us in different ways. My mother-in-law shows hospitality by inviting and feeding people by the dozens. If you have nowhere to go for the holiday, you will get an invitation to her home. My sister shows hospitality by hosting neighborhood playdates, spontaneously babysitting for friends, and inviting neighbors in for coffee. Lee will cook you a stellar meal, Robin will invite you to use her pool, and Hannah will let you stay late into the night (I, on the other hand, couldn’t resist buying a welcome mat that says: “Be our guest! Please leave by 9”). Whether your strength lies in a high capacity to welcome many, show spontaneous service, share home-cooked meals, or you’re like me and consider it a huge win when you remember to offer your guest a glass of water, we can all strive to bless others with a welcoming home.
On a larger scale, there are unique long-term opportunities to show hospitality. Some of you will open your homes to exchange students or aging parents. Some of you will welcome children in foster care or adults recovering from addiction. I know a family of seven who welcomed a family of five to live with them for a year in their modest Cape Cod–style home after they’d become homeless. Whether we welcome the sad or the sick, the solitary or the stranger, there are all sorts of ways to use our homes as places of comfort and ministry to others.
This article is adapted from Go and Do Likewise: A Call to Follow Jesus in a Life of Mercy and Mission by Amy DiMarcangelo.
Rosaria Butterfield invites us into her home to show us how God can use “radical, ordinary hospitality” to bring the gospel to our lost friends and neighbors.
Hospitality is not a gift unto itself, but a means through which other spiritual gifts are displayed: mercy, serving, giving, and evangelizing.
Those who live out radically ordinary hospitality see their homes not as theirs at all but as God’s gift to use for the furtherance of his kingdom.
Following Jesus is costly. But, Jesus is a giver, not a taker. He calls us to die so that we can live.