Tuesday, May 26, 2020
Understanding Hospitality in a Western Context: Hospitality in Scripture
One of my favorite movies is the 2012 version of Les Miserables with Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, and Amanda Seyfried. It is a compelling story of love, grace, forgiveness, and renewal.
A turning point in the story takes place when ex-prisoner Jean Valjean receives hospitality from the Bishop of Digne.
While staying at the church, the former thief reverts to his old ways and steals the silver candle holders. When he is caught and brought back to face the penance for his crime, the Bishop forgives him and arranges for his freedom.
The hospitality and grace that Valjean experiences from the Bishop bring about a reformation in his life.
Valjean then continues to demonstrate those same virtues toward others.
The story is based on the novel by Victor Hugo, first published in 1862 (Hugo and Denny 1982). The book is considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th Century and it has been immortalized through musicals, theater and multiple big-screen productions.
Hospitality is a powerful practice with the potential to bring restoration and revitalization to souls in need. It is a virtue, espoused in scripture, through God’s earliest interactions with the patriarchs right through the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles.
Often misunderstood in our modern western context, hospitality rediscovered allows hosts and guests to experience a taste of God’s love and grace through their interactions with each other.
This is the first in a series of five blogs on Understanding Hospitality in a Western Context.
In our western context, we often understand hospitality to be the pleasant welcome of people and the entertaining of our friends and family, but when we look at hospitality in the Bible, we see that it was much more than that.
Hospitality in the Bible
The Bible is full of hospitality; from the provision of clothing for Adam and Eve in Genesis to the final Marriage Supper of the Lamb in Revelation, one can not study scripture without encountering themes, stories, and teaching on hospitality.
English translates the Greek word philoxenia as hospitality. The literal translation of philoxenia is “loving strangers.” The biblical understanding of hospitality is the demonstration of love for strangers, as we see in the Luke 10 story of the Good Samaritan.
Hospitality is found all through the pages of scripture.
“Hospitality is central to the meaning of the gospel… and a practice by which we can welcome Jesus” -Christine Pohl
“The astounding range and depth of the evidence tells us that hospitality as a practice and as a virtue held a central place in the early Christian life. Indeed, there is hardly a place we can look where we will not see traces of it” -Amy Oden
When Christians practice the command to love one another, they are reflecting the hospitality of God.
Hospitality in the Old Testament
The Old Testament is a story of God’s hospitality toward the people he has chosen to make a nation.
When God delivers the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, he reminds them that they are pilgrims and strangers in a land that belongs to Him. They are told of His hospitality and commanded to show the same hospitality toward others (Leviticus 19:33-34, Numbers 9:14).
By the end of the Old Testament, hospitality toward a stranger is expanded to include widows, orphans, the poor and even the physically handicapped.
In the closing book of the Old Testament, we receive a warning that those who fail to care for the widows and fatherless, and those who deprive the sojourners, will be judged severely by God (Malachi 3:1-5).
Hospitality in the New Testament
This sets the stage well for the ultimate act of hospitality in the New Testament. God sends his son to dwell among men as a sojourner, to offer reconciliation and adoption as sons into the family of God.
A story that started with God creating a perfect garden for Adam and Eve will culminate in that same God creating a new home for his family with him in a new holy city.
The New Testament is ripe with hospitality. It has been said that “Hospitality is central to the meaning of the gospel” (Pohl 1999: 8). Jipp sees hospitality as more than just a spiritual discipline but as “the heart of the Christian faith” (Jipp 2017: 7). Sutherland defines hospitality in this way:
In the light of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and return, Christian hospitality is the intentional, responsible, and caring act of welcoming or visiting, in either public or private places, those who are strangers, enemies, or distressed, without regard for reciprocation (Sutherland 2006: xiii).
Willis and Clements write:
Any time we practice hospitality, we put human flesh on this gospel story. The apostle Paul made this idea clear when he wrote, “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7) (Willis & Clements 2017: 41-42).
It is difficult to find a page in the New Testament, where we do not see hospitality. Commands to love one another permeate the gospels and we learn that being a good neighbor to those living among and around us is what it means to be the people of God.
Hospitality instructions reach their climax in Matthew 25:31-46 when we see the Son of Man sitting in judgment over the world.
Jesus gathers the nations and separates them like a shepherd would separate sheep and goats.
On one side are those who have fed the hungry and thirsty, welcomed strangers, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and imprisoned. They are blessed and will inherit the kingdom.
Separated from the blessed will be those who did not show hospitality to the hungry, strangers, naked, sick or imprisoned, and they are sent away to eternal punishment.
Judgment in this passage is based on whether the people have shown hospitality or not. There is no mention of confession of sin, acknowledgment of Christ, or any other formulas of faith or obedience. It is a pure judgment based on one’s hospitality toward “one of the least of these my brothers” (Mt. 25:40).
It is evident in these passages, and many others, that hospitality is a central theme in scripture. When we extend love to strangers, we are living out the mission of God in our context.
Hospitality is modeled by God, personified in Christ, and expected of his followers.
Our first lesson on hospitality may be summarized by the story of the Good Samaritan: Love your neighbor, even if he or she is a stranger.
Jipp, Joshua W. Saved by Faith and Hospitality. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017.
Oden, Amy. And You Welcomed Me: A Sourcebook on Hospitality in Early Christianity. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.
Pohl, Christine D. Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.
Sutherland, Arthur. I Was a Stranger: A Christian Theology of Hospitality. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006.
Willis, Dustin, and Brandon Clements. The Simplest Way to Change the World: Biblical Hospitality as a Way of Life. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2017.
Craig Kraft is the Executive Director of Outreach Canada. Craig and his wife Heather have four adult sons. They were involved in pastoral ministry in western Canada for fifteen years before becoming missionaries with OC. Craig served with OC in southern Africa and now leads the ministry in Canada. After returning from Africa, Craig assisted with the formation of the OC Global Alliance, a partnership of over one thousand missionaries working around the world. Craig is a graduate of Northwest Baptist Seminary at ACTS and he is completing his Doctor of Intercultural Studies degree at the Asia Graduate School of Theology. His study has focused on diaspora missiology in Canada. His dissertation explores the potential for revitalizing Canadian churches through the practice of biblical hospitality with refugees and immigrants.