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Hospitality and the Gospel
My friend Paul was a full time librarian, a part time professor at a local Christian college, a husband, and father. In addition to all of this, he ran book-binding business on the side from his home. He was also the preaching pastor at the church I attended. Paul was the busiest person I knew. And yet, during my last year of seminary, Paul would have me over to his house once a week to eat dinner with his family and talk about what it means to follow Jesus.
Paul welcomed me into his home, cooked for me, and genuinely inquired about my life. After dinner, Paul and his wife Rebecca would put their children to bed and then Paul and I would talk, study, and pray together. When I got engaged toward the end of my last year of Seminary, Paul and his wife welcomed my now wife into their home as well.
I don’t recall Paul ever canceling our weekly meal together. That doesn’t mean he didn’t and I certainly would have understood if he did from time to time, it’s just that I don’t recall it. In other words, Paul always made me feel like a priority. And when I got engaged, he made my wife feel like a priority.
I am now married and have children of my own. Aside from my relationship with my parents, no relationship has more deeply impacted how I think about marriage and parenting. My time with Paul may have been chaotic by our modern understanding of hospitality, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Too often we think of hospitality in external terms—cooking, cleaning, and entertaining. I don’t mean to discredit the value of such forms of hospitality, but the greatest form of hospitality is not to share your food or your home with others but to share yourself. True hospitality is costly, it requires that we invite people to see the real us. We must, like the Apostle Paul in Thessalonica, delight to share “not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thess. 2:8).
My friend would never have told you this, but the investment he made in my life was risky. Paul and Rebecca would have me over every week whether or not they had time to clean their house that day. Their hospitality required that they risk letting me see their clutter. Meeting with me also cost Paul and Rebecca their privacy. By regularly inviting me to sit around the table with them and their children, Paul and Rebecca risked letting me not only see their children misbehave but also how they would respond.
I certainly saw Paul get frustrated with his children, but more often than not I saw a godly man striving to patiently and lovingly bring up his children in the “training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). And further, the few times that Paul teetered on exasperation were as instructive as the times he exhibited patience. In those moments I witnessed Paul practice the discipline of confession and repentance.
The meals I shared with Paul were not polished and systematic. They were messy and real. No one has let me see more of their dirty laundry than Paul and Rebecca and I will never be the same because of it. They consistently pointed me to Christ through the simple but costly act of inviting me into their home and sharing a meal with me.
Hospitality is a central theme in the New Testament. In fact, “in approximately one-fifth of the sentences in Luke’s Gospel and in Acts, meals play a conspicuous role.” Luke says of Jesus, “the Son of Man came eating and drinking.” Jesus entered people’s homes for fellowship and food so often that he was accused of being a “glutton and a drunkard” (Luke 7:34). Jesus risked his own reputation to seek out those who were neither worthy of Him nor prepared to receive Him. In the context of costly hospitality, Jesus changed people’s hearts and as a result, changed the world.
I think the kind of gospel-grounded hospitality that Paul and Rebecca showed me is incredibly rare. It’s rare because, in our pride, we too often confuse hospitality with keeping up appearances. When we look at the life and ministry of Jesus, however, we see that hospitality isn’t just merely one way we serve people and point them to Christ. It is intrinsically connected to living on mission for Christ. Jesus came into the world eating and drinking and doing so cost Him His life. Before dying, Jesus charged His disciples to regularly eat together in remembrance of His death. A death that could not hold Him as He rose and is now preparing a banquet for us in eternity (Rev. 19:7-9).
The hospitality Jesus showed us by coming to dwell among us and eat with us, cost Him His life. The hospitality Paul and Rebecca showed me cost them much less, but nonetheless, their hospitality required them to regularly die to self. Their investment, however, left an indelible mark on me. It is one thing to talk about what it means to follow Jesus, it is another to see it in the lives of others. Paul and Rebecca risked a great deal by inviting me into their home, but in so doing, they gave me a picture of what it means to follow Jesus that continues to bear fruit in my life.
The greatest barrier that stands between us and showing Christlike hospitality to the people around us is ourselves. Jesus came into the world eating and drinking, it was one of the many ways He died to self and rejected a merely earthly kingdom. Looking back, I am glad Pintrest wasn’t around when I was in seminary because true hospitality is not found in pristine homes, elaborate decor, and perfect meals but in letting people see the real us as we faithfully yet imperfectly strive to follow Jesus. Eating and drinking with sinners and tax collectors was one of the primary methods Jesus used to make disciples and establish His kingdom and He calls us to do the same.