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Hospitality as a Hallmark of Christianity

by Chris Freet

Hospitality coverIs hospitality something that has, in a sense, been co-opted in the West? Perhaps a quick Google search could shed some light on this for us. The result of this search brings up websites pertaining to restaurant and hotel management topics and issues. It would indeed seem that hospitality in the West has become an industry focused upon making a profit. When compared with the teachings of Christian scripture it would seem that there is a divide between biblical hospitality and what is passed off as hospitality within our Western culture today.
Defining Hospitality
A simple definition of hospitality is “welcoming the stranger/other.” Our cultural understanding of hospitality seems to thrive on welcoming the stranger, but for a small (or not so small) fee. The Western business model of hospitality appears to view the stranger/other as a commodity or a “consumer” rather than a blessing or an opportunity to build bridges with someone who may be different in some way. I understand that our culture is not equated with the Church, so I want to be careful not to equate the two. However, has the Church in the West been effected by this business approach to hospitality? I think if we take an honest look at ourselves we could say “yes, we have.”
God as Host
I think (and I argue in my book) that hospitality is rooted in the very nature of God himself. Within the creation account according to Genesis chapters 1 and 2, we witness what I call God’s “great invitation” to humanity. The Garden belongs to God; it is his “home” into which he invites humanity. In this great invitation, humanity finds identity, purpose and life. These elements reside at the core of the practice of hospitality. Whenever a stranger is welcomed in, a space is created in which these elements begin to work, thus changing both guest and host in profound ways. In light of this, the fall of humanity recorded in Genesis 3 can be viewed as humanity rebelling against God’s hospitality. The result of this is a closed door, a significant picture within the realm of hospitality.
Hospitality and the Church
In the pages of the New Testament we see that hospitality is mentioned numerous times (cf. Acts 28:7; Romans 12:13; 1 Timothy 3:2; 5:10; Titus 1:8; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9; 3 John 8). Within each context the focus is on the practice of hospitality within the life of the Church. Hospitality is to be a hallmark of the Christian faith. In part, it is tied to the reality and it is a reminder that we, too, are strangers in this place so the church needs to welcome the stranger/other. The church is to show hospitality to (1) other believers and (2) those outside the Church. As followers of the God who has shown hospitality to us, especially in Jesus Christ, we are to be a people that imitate God by showing hospitality to those around us.
In what ways have you, your family, or your Church family experienced or practiced hospitality?

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  1. Chris, thank you for your good post. I guess the most famous biblical quote regarding hospitality is Matthew 25:35, 40 – “I was a stranger and you took Me in … as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me.” I have come to understand that, although Jesus could have been referring to any believer (Jew or Gentile), the context of the verse seems to point prophetically to the Messianic Jews, Jesus’ “brethren,” as the ones being most persecuted in the last days, especially in Israel, and in need of refuge as a “stranger” who needs loving hospitality.
    Your statement, ” … a blessing or an opportunity to build bridges with someone who may be different in some way” is certainly true. It reminds me of a Japanese exchange student who came to have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ from the hospitality of her hosts, who were members of our church. Nothing was ever forced on her, but she was invited to join in the family devotionals. She began to observe the power of prayer and eventually asked for prayer that God would help her make good on a test! She began to attend our church. Another couple in the church gave her a Bible in Japanese. It was a revelation to her that she could make her own prayers in Japanese and God would hear her! Then the day came that Serena wanted to be baptized. Her pastor, my husband Curtis, had a red flag. He felt like God was saying that she must get her parents’ permission. She was disappointed, because her parents said no, but they would allow her to be baptized in Japan if she still wanted to do that when she returned home. Curtis contacted David Yonggi Cho (pastor of largest church in the world in Korea) who had representatives in Japan. Curtis still has the letter (and treasures it) in which Cho said he would have someone to greet Serena when she got off the bus in her hometown! Her parents kept their promise, and Serena was able to be baptized and be a part of a church in Japan! What a fantastic example of how Christian hospitality brought about the salvation of a Japanese girl.
    I agree with you, Chris, that hospitality is a key to missions. Being involved in the student exchange program is just one way to do that.

  2. Hello Nancy,
    Thank you for your comment. The story you shared is a wonderful example of hospitality in action. May the Lord provide you with more opportunities like this.

    1. Thanks, Chris. I meant to add that Serena was a Buddhist. Pastor Yonggi Cho said that the Japanese are the hardest to win to Jesus! The Walters family who hosted Serena and our church showed her such Christian love, that she couldn’t resist Jesus. She HEARD the gospel message and also experienced the POWER of the gospel. To God be the glory!

      1. I am the lady that hosted the Japanese exchange student in 1986. I find it amazing that we were just sharing this story with a group of friends last night. It was a wonderful thing to get to watch her realize that “Budda is a wooden statute,” (her quote) She devoured that Japanese New Testament in about 3 days. God was so gracious and answered many prayers for her so that she could see “proof” of who He was, before she read the Word. It was a wonderful experience to watch the transformation.

        1. Dear Cindy,
          I have great admiration for you and Bobby in the way you impacted Serena’s life! This was a highlight of our whole pastoral experience! Signs and wonders were the calling card of the Messiah. May it be so with us Christians in our ministry. We love you dearly.

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