Christian Hospitality

Close up of a welcome mat in front of an inviting house

by John Ellis

Note: this article was originally written for and published in my church’s newsletter.

One of the most beautiful passages in the Bible is found at the beginning of John 13. Prior to relating the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, the Apostle John tells the readers that “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”[1]

Faced with his own imminent death, which was the ultimate act of love, Jesus’ thoughts and concerns were for his disciples. Jesus loved them. And throughout his life, Jesus demonstrated that love by caring for their spiritual and physical needs. To be clear, Philip Ryken explains that, “when John says that Jesus loved his own to the very end, he was talking about the love that he showed in the full work of his salvation. Yet there is also a more immediate context for John’s statement.”[2]

Following directly on the narrative heels of John 13:1 is the oft told anecdote of the washing of the disciple’s feet by King Jesus. This is one example in a long line of examples throughout the life of King Jesus in which he demonstrated selfless love. Our salvation in Christ should compel us to love others in ways that reflect that love – with the goal of pointing people to our King. Washing the feet of his disciples was a tangible act of hospitality on the part of King Jesus, and hospitality is one of the ways that the Church can fulfill King Jesus’ declaration that, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”[3]

Jesus’ acts of hospitality can appear to run counter to our society’s often pragmatic working out of a narrow, modern-day definition of hospitality. And, to be frank, it appears that way because King Jesus acted selflessly in contrast to modern categories of hospitality which highlight the concerns of the host/hostess. There is, at the least, an element of showmanship coursing through many dinner parties. Guests are often selected based on their compatibility with the hosts. And with the goal of impressing, homes have to be in close to pristine condition before inviting in guests. Hospitality, at times, is more about serving ourselves than others.

In contrast, King Jesus set aside his own needs and claims, assumed the posture of a servant, and demonstrated that true hospitality is born out of a spirit of humility. It’s no wonder that among a list of attributes that characterize those in Christ, the Apostle Paul admonished Believers to “put on then, as God’s chosen one, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience [emphasis added].”[4]

Following through on the command in I Peter to “show hospitality to one another”[5] is going to take more than simply inviting people over to dinner. Biblical hospitality, while including that, is much more robust. To that end, there are, I believe, some specific and practical ways in which Arlington Baptist Church can continue to grow in grace and demonstrate the love of King Jesus through hospitality.

Prayer

The starting point for hospitality in the life of our church is prayer. For one thing, if we’re not submitting ourselves in prayer before our Creator God, how can we ever hope to submit ourselves to the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ? For another, a posture of humility is something that has to be provided by the Holy Spirit. Sin still reigns in us, and the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit is necessary in order to emulate, on any level, the humility of King Jesus in order to express Biblical hospitality.

Praying for each other recognizes that ultimately the needs of others can only be finally and completely resolved by God. But it also helps us love each other better. Praying for our church family encourages us to focus on others and not ourselves. And, practically, praying for our church family requires us getting to know each other.

Greeting

Praying through the church directory often confronts us with how little we know about our church family. Fortunately, the remedy is not only apparent, it’s also relatively easy. Greet each other. And make a point to greet people that you don’t know very well.

Prior to or after the service, consider spending some or even most of your time seeking out those brothers and sisters in Christ whom you know very little about. Ask them how you can pray for them; doing so will begin to give you a window into their needs and concerns, which, in turn, will enable you to better serve them through hospitality.

Inviting People In

Arlington Baptist Church has provided opportunities for the membership to get to know each other. One of those ways is the fellowship time after the service. Taking advantage of that is a great first step, but really getting to know and, hence, serve each other will most often require further efforts. This is where it’s easy to fall into the trap of our society’s definition of hospitality and assume that having someone over for dinner is enough. True hospitality that’s driven by a Holy Spirit fueled desire to serve others will invite people into your life and look for ways in which to insert yourself into their life, not simply having them over to your house to eat your favorite casserole. How that looks is going to depend on the needs of the person you’re seeking to serve.

Meeting Needs

Having a fellow church member over for dinner is a great place to start, but, when doing so, view that dinner as the jumping off point. During that initial dinner ask questions and listen. Find ways to foster a relationship that reflects the reality that you are literally part of the same family – God’s family. While doing so, think in terms of what specific needs you can meet. Does he or she need something as simple as a ride to the airport? Do they need a friend to enter into their hobbies with them? Do they need someone to meet with them on a regular basis to meditate on God’s word and pray together? Our hospitality should be focused on what other’s need, not on showing off what great hosts we can be.

Conclusion

There are people sitting near you in the pews who are hurting. There are some who are discouraged and feel alone. Every member of Arlington Baptist Church has covenanted to “rejoice at each other’s happiness and endeavor with tenderness and sympathy to bear each other’s burdens.” How are you doing that if you’re not involved in the lives of those with whom God has ordained that you worship Him?

The washing of the disciples’ feet was more than a pragmatic act of hygiene. It was a visible demonstration of King Jesus’ love for those whom the Father had given him. That love is what took him to the cross to suffer the punishment for our sins. And it’s that love that will bring him back to fully and finally claim his inheritance. The selfless hospitality that we demonstrate towards our church family is a visible sign to the world that we are Jesus’ inheritance.


 

[1] John 13:1, ESV.

[2] Phil Ryken, Loving the Way Jesus Loves (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 97.

[3] John 13:35, ESV.

[4] Colossians 3:12, ESV.

[5] I Peter 1:9, ESV.

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