More than 20 years ago, a shy, humble, elderly man transformed the fellowship at our 6.00pm church service. How did he do it? He brought a packet of biscuits and butter menthols to church. Up until that point, people didn’t stay around for ‘supper’. But little did this elderly man foresee the impact his simple act of hospitality would make.
I will never forget the way Vic quietly shuffled around the building each week, wearing his familiar brown coat and carrying a plastic bag full of goodies. With the very little that he had, he showed great generosity and love to those around him.
After a while, the culture of fellowship changed. People began to stick around for longer and others joined with Vic, bringing their own supper to share. Fellowship blossomed, as friendships strengthened over cups of tea and a humble packet of biscuits.
One of the great temptations we have with hospitality is our need to impress people. With celebrity chefs and lifestyle gurus raising the bar very high, we can easily become consumed with expert tips on how to dazzle our guests. Which is quite difficult these days, given the ubiquity of self-professed ‘foodies’ and hipster coffee snobs. Is it any wonder why we find hospitality so burdensome?
Yet Scripture has a different approach to hospitality than what we might read in Vogue living magazine or watch on Better homes and gardens. Hospitality isn’t about house, food or furniture. Nor is it a special gift given to the gourmet cooks or extroverts amongst us. Hospitality is a posture of the heart. It is showing kindness in welcoming strangers or guests.
It involves opening our hearts, hands and homes to whoever God places across our paths. God calls all Christians to practise hospitality (1 Peter 4:9; Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2). Why? Because God has extended hospitality to us.
In the Old Testament, God brought the Israelites out of Egypt — strangers that they were — and made a home for them (Leviticus 19:33-34). In the New Testament, we see the ultimate act of hospitality when Christ died for sinners, to make everyone who believes a member of God’s household (Romans 15:7; Ephesians 2:5).
Therefore as image bearers of Christ, we are to reflect the glory of God’s grace by offering hospitality to others. In other words, ‘Be holy, because I am holy’ (1 Peter 1:16).
If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re better at grumbling about hospitality than we are at practising it. But if we are truly convinced of hospitality’s vital part of our love for God’s people and our witness to the world, then we will not merely practise it, but pursue it.
Of course, we are all in different seasons of our lives and this affects how hospitable we can be. It also means that hospitality will look different for different people.
For the mother with young children, hospitality may simply involve play dates, baby sitting other peoples’ kids or bringing a meal over to someone in need. For the busy working man or woman, taking someone out for lunch, bringing morning tea to work, or inviting others out for weekend breakfast, are different ways of practising hospitality.
For the elderly living in a retirement village, hospitality may be something as simple as chatting to other residents or sharing a cup of tea.
Whichever way we go about it, the goal is not to put the spotlight on us, but rather, to magnify Christ’s name. Who knows how God will use your simple act of hospitality to bless others and ultimately bring him glory?
Madeline Turner worships at Ashfield Presbyterian Church, Australia. This article first appeared in Australian Presbyterian, Winter 2016, and is used here by kind permission (http://ap.org.au).