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Practicing Biblical Hospitality

November 1, 2006

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Whether enjoying personal devotions, a Bible study, or a worship service, what mental images emerge when you are presented with the passages that encourage the practicing of hospitality?  For many, the images are based on the glossy photos in women's magazines—an immaculate home, a gourmet menu, and an exquisite table setting. While some of these images could be applied to biblical hospitality, what they actually portray is entertaining. When hospitality is described in the Scriptures, there is an absence of instructions relating to the home décor, menu, or table setting and an abundance of directives about the character, home, and guest list of the hostess. 

John 14:15 and 21-24 clearly state the primary evidence that individuals are Christians and that they love their heavenly Father is their choice to obey his commands. Though we live in a world that promotes "have things your own way," I learned that to please my heavenly Father I need to respond to all of his instructions with an obedient spirit, not just pick those that appeal to me—and that includes my response to what his Word teaches about hospitality. 

Romans 12:13b says I am to practice hospitality. According to Hebrews, I am even to "pursue the love of strangers" (Heb 13:2)—not simply offer hospitality to my friends. If I want to demonstrate obedience to my heavenly Father, I will choose to practice hospitality.

First Peter 4:9 builds on the instruction to practice hospitality and reminds me that my attitude is of utmost importance—I am to practice hospitality without complaining! This verse challenges me to search my heart to discern whether I am approaching this opportunity to minister with a "hearty attitude" (see Col 3:23).

I am reminded in Heb 13:2 that my willingness to extend hospitality may have far-reaching implications. If I study the lives of Abraham and Sarah (Gen 18:1-3), Lot (Gen 19:1-2), Gideon (Judg 6:11-24), and Manoah (Judg 13:6-20), I learn that all entertained strangers who were actually special messengers from God. While my motive should never be to give so that I will receive, Luke 6:38 clearly states that the measuring cup I use to dispense my gifts and talents will be the same one used to provide my needs. What is the size of your hospitality-measuring cup?

Third John 7-8 challenges me to extend hospitality to those involved in ministry for our Lord. It is exciting to know that as I share my home and resources with our Lord's servants I become an active part of their ministry.

Biblical Hospitality and Your Character

The desire to encourage twenty-first century society to embrace some form of ethical values is evident in the establishment of numerous secular organizations, including the Josephson Institute, whose sole purpose is to remind the culture that "character does count."1  Their literature suggests that a person of character

  • Is a good person, someone to look up to and admire.
  • Knows the difference between right and wrong and always tries to do what is right.
  • Sets a good example for everyone.
  • Makes the world a better place.
  • Lives according to the "Six Pillars of Character": trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.2

As a member of twenty-first century society, I can certainly affirm their definition of a person of character. However, as I ponder the definition, I find myself searching for a standard by which to measure my application of it. Because I am a Christian first and a member of society second, I am blessed to have the Word of God as a standard that challenges me to cultivate a lifestyle that conforms me to the only person who exhibited character in its purest form—Jesus Christ. Daily it is my prayer that I can say to those whose lives I touch, "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ" (1 Cor 11:1). 

Since we are blending hospitality and character, let us take a survey of the Scriptures and create a word collage of what a person of character, who desires to practice biblical hospitality, might look like. Our collage could be labeled 

A Person Of Christian Character Who Practices Biblical Hospitality Is . . .


Humility is the opposite of self-sufficiency and is a necessary prerequisite if I am going to be of service to my heavenly Father. I can exercise humility by choosing to step out of my "comfort zone" and invite individuals into my home with whom I may not be totally at ease or those who may have unrealistic expectations about the event (1 Pet 5:5b).


The primary evidence that individuals are Christians is their choice to obey all of their Father's commands. I demonstrate obedience by obeying all of my Father's commands that focus on hospitality (1 Sam 15:22b). 


"Genuine," as well as an "absence of deceit or hypocrisy," describes sincere actions. I will "stay on my knees" (pray) until I can extend sincere invitations (2 Cor 1:12).


Prayer—that is, communicating with my heavenly Father, shows my desire for his direction about and dependence on him for the event. I resolve to pray about all aspects of the events that I plan (1 Thess 5:17).

I—Interested in Integrity

Integrity is choosing to do what is right when given a choice between right and wrong, even when it is unpopular. I will choose to adhere to my heavenly Father's standards, regardless of what the mainstream of society is doing (Ps 25:21).


A trustworthy home provides an ambience of trust and confidence. I will study Elizabeth's life (Luke 1:39-56) as a model for my life (Prov 31:11).

A—Adopted into God's Family

Adoption is making a conscious choice legally to integrate an individual into another's home and nurturing him/her as if he/she were their biological child. I will choose, through the strength of the Holy Spirit, to behave in a way that reflects my royal heritage, so that my guests will observe a bit of "heaven on earth" in my home (Rom 8:15).

L—Led by the Spirit

Being led by the Spirit literally means keeping in step with the Holy Spirit.  I will purpose to allow the Spirit to lead me so I will not carry out the desire of my flesh (Rom 8:14; Gal 5:16).

I—Instrumental in Producing Righteousness

Instrumental in producing righteousness suggests bringing "every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor 10:5) and refusing to fret or worry about anything (Phil 4:6-8). I must control what I think about and purpose to be spiritually renewed by humbly presenting my concerns to my loving heavenly Father—even when the hospitality event appears to be beyond my capabilities (Rom 6:13). 


Being thankful is an act of the will that generates the giving of thanks to God—regardless of the circumstances. I choose to learn to be content regardless of my circumstances (Phil 2:11b; Col 3:15).


Possessing a willingness to yield to my heavenly Father's specific instructions to his children in relation to practicing hospitality. I demonstrate my love to him by choosing to embrace his instructions with my whole heart—and that is when my joy is complete (Rom 6:19; 1 John 1:4; 2 John 12). 

The words of Russell Cronkhite, former executive chef of Blair House, the guesthouse of the president of the United States, offer a fitting conclusion to this section:

Hospitality is a wonderful gift. We don't need a grand palace, or a dream home—few of us have those. To make others feel truly welcome, we only need an open heart and the greater beauty of love expressed.3

Only as I allow my heavenly Father to refine my character will I possess the heart of a Christian hostess that allows genuine love to be expressed in my home. As you read the words below, would you say that you are a Christian woman who has the heart of a hostess?

The Heart of the Christian Hostess4

If I am a Christian woman who teaches other women about their scriptural responsibility to practice hospitality but lack the motivation to apply the teachings to my life, I am arrogant (1 Cor 8:1).

And though I know about the women of the Bible who practiced hospitality but fail to emulate their model, I am nothing (1 Cor 10:11).

If I pursue Christian ministry and stay up all night preparing a theologically correct Bible study but fail to open my home to others, I am neglecting the New Testament commands to pursue hospitality (Rom 12:13a).

A Christian hostess is gracious (Prov 11:16) even when others are not. She believes that the biblical instructions to pursue hospitality are as relevant today as the day they were written and seeks to integrate into her daily life the teaching of home being "a prepared place" for her family, friends, and strangers (John 14:2b).

A Christian hostess gleans insight from God's Word that motivates her to develop an open heart to entertaining a variety of kinds of guests (Rom 2:11), a tongue that speaks wisdom and kindness to them (Prov 31:26), and a submissive spirit that provides hospitality without grumbling (1 Pet 4:9).

She takes seriously the mandate of Titus 2:3-5 and intentionally acquires instruction in time management, family finance, nutrition, food preparation, and the art of hospitality so that God's Word is not discredited.

As for professional contacts, they will diminish in importance; as for speaking opportunities, they will be presented and the content forgotten; as for strategic social events, they will occur and the memories will fade; but the woman who develops the heart of a hostess will be blessed because she chose to fulfill the New Testament commands to practice hospitality (3 John 1:8; 1 Tim 3:1, 2; and Titus 1:7, 8).

So, both the Christian woman and the Christian woman who has the heart of a hostess abide in the Christian community; however, the Christian woman who has the heart of a hostess cultivates a lifestyle that reflects her values and a character that aligns her with the Word of God.

Biblical Hospitality and Your Home

What is a home? To the architect, it is an amalgamation of design features. To the contractor, it is the assembly of an assortment of building materials, while to the interior designer, it is a backdrop for the aesthetic application of color, texture, fabrics, and accessories. A home from a biblical perspective, however, is to be both a place of refuge and a center for evangelism. 

The Home as a Place of Refuge

Refuge, by definition, means a "shelter or protection from danger, trouble, etc.; anything to which one has recourse for aid, relief or escape."5 Scripture is filled with illustrations of refuges provided by God; these describe qualities that are to be characteristic of the Christian home—first to those who reside there and then to those who are welcomed as a gesture of biblical hospitality. According to Scripture, the Christian home is to be a place of

Our homes become places of refuge for others as we choose to use our hospitality skills to minister to them.

The Home as a Center for Evangelism

The church of the twenty-first century has cultivated highly sophisticated procedures and tools for evangelism—training sessions, videos, seminars, manuals, and methodology books are available. However, as you study Scripture you find that the home, not the church, served as the center for evangelism in the early expansion of Christianity. Michael Green writes, "One of the most important methods of spreading the gospel in antiquity was the use of homes."7 He then affirms the home of Aquila and Priscilla by stating, "Homes like this must have been exceedingly effective in the evangelistic outreach of the church."8

An excursion through New Testament Scriptures gives us insight into the importance of evangelism for the believer. Our Lord's final instruction to His disciples was to make disciples, not merely converts, of all nations (Matt 28:19). Paul writes that our Lord gave spiritual gifts, including the gift of evangelist, to those He called into service (Eph 4:11). Repeating the term in 2 Tim 4:5, Paul directs Timothy "to do the work of an evangelist." John MacArthur provides insight on this passage by defining evangelist for us:

Used only two other times in the New Testament (Acts 21:8; Eph 4:1), this word always refers to a specific office of ministry for the purpose of preaching the gospel to non-Christians.  Based on Eph. 4:11, it is very basic to assume that all churches would have both pastor-teachers and evangelists.  But the related verb "to preach the gospel" and the related noun "gospel" are used throughout the New Testament not only in relation to evangelists, but also to the call for every Christian, especially preachers and teachers, to proclaim the gospel.  Paul did not call Timothy to the office of an evangelist, but to "do the work" of one.9

As with the concept of our homes becoming places of refuge for others, they become centers for evangelism when they are dedicated to our Lord.  However, converting them to places of refuge and centers for evangelism requires time and effort; to coordinate or "dovetail" the two, consider using the Spiritual Entertainment Timetable (see table below) as you prepare for your guests.

Spiritual Entertainment Timetable

As I physically

Spiritually I will

Prepare my guest list.

Thank my heavenly Father that I am included on the guest list for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:7).

Create my menu.

Bring to mind God's providential care of me (Ps 104:27; 136:25; 145:15-16).

Prepare my time schedule.

Evaluate my use of time in relation to the brevity of life (Ps 90:12).

Grocery shop.

Recall that I was purchased with a price (I Cor 6:19-20).

Decide on my table linens.

Recall that God gave Moses specific instructions for the table appointments for the tabernacle including the color of the table linens (Num 4:7-10).

Select my table appointments (china, silver, glassware,etc.).

Focus on being a vessel of honor (2 Tim 2:21).

Make certain that all of my table appointments are spotless.

Examine my heart to ensure that it is clean (Ps 24:4; 51:10).

Sacrifice my time and energy to clean my home and prepare the meal.

Remind myself of Christ's sacrifice for me (Luke 24:44-47).

Serve my guests.

Reflect on Christ's example of servanthood (John 13:1-20).

Intentionally direct the conversation in wholesome avenues.

Model the speech of the Wise Woman (Prov 31:26).

Tidy my home after the event.

Think about the process of cleansing from sin (I John 1:7,9).

Biblical Hospitality and Your Guests

Several years ago I read "The Boxcar Wall," a devotional that put the principle of James 2:14-16 in perspective for me:

I ate breakfast the other day with a man who 60 years ago sold newspapers and shined shoes on the streets of downtown Boise, Idaho. He told me about his life in those days and how much things have changed.

‘What's changed the most?' I asked him. ‘People,' he said. ‘They don't care anymore.'

As a case in point, he told me about his mother, who often fed hungry men who came to her house. Every day she prepared food for her family and then made several more meals because she knew homeless travelers would start to show up around mealtime. She had deep compassion for those who were in need. Once she asked a man how he happened to find his way to her door. ‘Your address is written on all the boxcar walls,' he said.10

As you concentrate on applying James 2:14-16 to your life, you will want to consider the guests to whom you could minister—singles, widows, the grieving, individuals experiencing food insecurity (low-incomes, poverty level, and the homeless), as well as the elderly; to apply this passage effectively you must first understand the characteristics of biblical compassion. 

Biblical Compassion—What Is It?

Hospitality is not about you and me—as a matter of fact, when our ego gets involved we are definitely missing the primary reason for hospitality. John Ruskin writes, "When a man is all wrapped up in himself he makes a pretty small package."11 I have an idea that the same description applies to women. Let's craft an equation that helps us understand the relationship between hospitality and compassion using the definition of each word:

The Friendly Reception and Treatment of Guests or Strangers12
A Feeling of Deep Sympathy and Sorrow for Someone Struck by Misfortune, Accompanied by a Desire to Alleviate the Suffering13
Compassionate Hospitality

This "Compassionate Hospitality Equation" moves us from an "I" to an "others" focus. As believers, we know that one of the attributes of our heavenly Father's character is compassion—as his children, our compassion should include a sense of empathy for the distress of others (Rom 9:15), coupled with the desire to minimize the distress (Matt 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 18:27; 20:34; Mark 1:41; 6:34; 8:2; 9:22; Luke 7:13; 10:33; 15:20), as well as a heart that demonstrates kindness and mercy to others (Matt 18:33; Mark 5:19; Jude 22). Graciousness, longsuffering, an abundance of goodness and truth, delayed anger, and great mercy (Exod 34:6-7; Ps 86:15; 145:8), are additional qualities of our heavenly Father's character that should typify our behavior. Through his strength, if you make his compassion yours, your "Compassionate Hospitality Equation" will move away from being ego centered, be directed toward the needs of others rather than your own, and most importantly, reflect his character.

While you may think of hospitality and compassion as inviting someone to your home for meals or lodging, a journey through Scripture introduces you to individuals who chose to extend compassionate hospitality in a variety of ways:

  • Pharoah's daughter chose to extend long-term hospitality to baby Moses (Exod 2:6-10).
  • Shobi brought beds, basins, vessels, and sheep to David and his people while they were in exile (2 Sam 17:27-29).
  • Elijah restored the life of the widow's son—a relationship that was cultivated because she chose, out of her need, to share with him (1 Kgs 17:18-24).
  • Nehemiah wept, mourned, prayed, and fasted for Jerusalem and its citizens (Nehemiah 1:1-11).
  • Job's friends traveled from their homes to mourn with and comfort him in his pain (Job 2:11-13).
  • Job wept for those in trouble and grieved for the poor (Job 30:25).
  • David displayed sympathy to those who falsely accused him (Ps 35:13-14).
  • The Jews came to comfort Mary and Martha at Lazarus' death (John 11:19).
  • Paul communicated the gospel message to all classes of people—Jew and Gentile alike (1 Cor 9:22).
  • The Lord Jesus:

Putting your scriptural journey in practical terms, if you are going to exhibit compassionate hospitality, you will consider

  • Nurturing the abandoned
  • Providing material needs
  • Weeping, mourning, praying, and, when appropriate, fasting for others
  • Sharing your faith with the spiritually bankrupt
  • Encouraging the weak and oppressed
  • Assisting with the needs of the infirmed

Hospitality as a Way of Displaying Compassion

Your opportunities to use hospitality as a way of displaying compassion are literally limitless, but to get you started let us target several categories of people—singles, widows, the grieving, individuals experiencing food insecurity (low income, poverty level, or the homeless), and the elderly.


The October 20, 2003, cover story of Business Week, reports,

The U.S. Census Bureau's newest numbers show that married-couple households—the dominant cohort since the country's founding—have slipped from nearly 80% in the 1950s to just 50.7% today. That means that the U.S.'s 86 million single adults could soon define the new majority. Already, unmarrieds make up 42% of the workforce, 40% of homebuyers, 35% of voters, and one of the most potent—if pluralistic—consumer groups on record.14

As you consider your guest lists, consider the singles you know who could be included. More than likely, their life experiences are rich, and they will enhance your social gathering.


In 1999, almost half (45 percent) of the women over 65 were widows. Nearly 700,000 women lose their husbands each year and will be widows for an average of fourteen years. There were over four times as many widows (8.4 million) as widowers (1.9 million) in 1999.15

Scripture provides a clear definition of a Christian widow and specific instructions on how the church is to respond to her if she has no means of providing for her daily needs. A Christian widow, according to 1 Tim 5:3-16, is one who is 60 years or older—in the New Testament culture 60 was considered retirement age (5:9). The church is instructed to nurture widows by

As with the single, the widow possesses a wealth of life experiences that will enhance your social gathering—in the beginning of the grieving process she may not be the life of the party, but your invitation, extended with a heart of compassion, may allow her recovery process to accelerate. Remember, as believers, we are instructed to be sensitive and compassionate to the pain and sorrows of others (Rom 12:15; Col 3:12).16

The Grieving

Grieving individuals are an interesting dichotomy—generally they desperately need nourishment but have no desire to eat. Having lost both of my parents, I can attest to the blessing that hospitality to those grieving provides. As we fulfill Rom 12:15, more often than not, we will find that we have provided a ministry of compassion that no restaurant or catered meal could.

Compassion and Food Security

Food Security is a twenty-first century term that describes whether or not an individual has access, at all times, to enough food for an active, healthy life; you are more than likely familiar with terms like low income, poverty level, or the homeless—which describe food insecurity. This term should touch the hearts of believers when they consider that the Lord Jesus, during his earthly ministry, met the physical needs of the hungry. According to the USDA Hunger Report, the prevalence of food insecurity rose from 10.7 percent in 2001 to 11.1 percent in 2002, while the prevalence of food insecurity with hunger rose from 3.3 percent to 3.5 percent.17

While our pantries may not always be filled with all of the delicacies that our palate might desire, most of us have an adequate enough food supply to be considered food secure. We can demonstrate hospitality and compassion by designating a portion of our food budget each month to those who encounter food insecurity. You may ask, "What would I buy, or how would I begin?" If your church has a program in place, consider supporting it. If not, begin by researching what programs your local community might have. Conducting an internet search should yield websites for the local agencies that can provide a list of needed food and non-food items. These lists become a helpful resource for purchasing groceries to share with others. While you may lack the resources to purchase a full bag of groceries, you probably can manage several items—even if it means excluding the ice cream or chips from your grocery list. Perhaps you can collect the items for several weeks and then make a trip to the distribution center of your choice to apply hospitality and compassion in a practical way—and if you have children, do include them in the delivery process. 

Sharing one's time and/or resources at an agency whose primary purpose is to meet the needs of the food insecure is another way to practice compassion and hospitality. Again, an internet search can provide you with a description of some of the needs of a typical rescue mission. Clearly everyone could do something to demonstrate hospitality and compassion to the food insecure throughout the year. 

Before I bring this section to a close, I want to share with you another category of the food insecure—the elderly. I recently read an article entitled "The Driver Behind Meals on Wheels,"18 which paints a word picture of Helen Barnes who, at the age of 58, helped found Meals on Wheels in 1971. At 90 she still drives two Meals on Wheels routes each week and arises each Monday morning at 4:30 a.m. to bake coffeecakes and assorted treats for the more than fifty Meals on Wheels volunteers. As the article suggests, more than 65 percent of their clients live alone, and the volunteer may well be the only person a client sees all day.  Using the Meals on Wheels concept is a perfect way for believers to apply Matt 25:40 by providing both spiritual and physical sustenance to those who are experiencing food insecurity!

A Concluding Consideration

Matthew 5:1-12 and Luke 6:20-26 are passages of Scripture that are commonly referred to as the Beatitudes. When describing the Beatitudes, John MacArthur writes that blessed literally means "happy, fortunate, and blissful."

It speaks of more than a surface emotion. Jesus was describing the divinely-bestowed well-being that belongs only to the faithful. The Beatitudes demonstrate that the way to heavenly blessedness is antithetical to the worldly path normally followed in pursuit of happiness. The worldly idea is that happiness is found in riches, merriment, abundance, leisure, and such things. The real truth is the very opposite. The Beatitudes give Jesus' description of the character of true faith.19

As a conclusion to this article, I would like to share with you a word I coined to summarize its contents—hospitalitude; it is drawn from the word hospitality, meaning to pursue the love of strangers, and beatitude, signifying the character of true faith. It is my prayer that you are stimulated to practice biblical hospitality so that the Hospitalitudes will be evident in your life.

The Hospitalitudes

Happy are those

  • Who practice biblical hospitality, because in so doing, they are demonstrating their love for God (1 John 3:17-18).
  • Who "pursue the love of strangers," for they are choosing to obey their heavenly Father's command and modeling his character (Rom 12:13b).
  • In church leadership who practice hospitality, for they allow others to observe them in their homes where their character is most graphically revealed (1 Tim 3:1-2; Titus 1:5-8).
  • Who include people of all cultures on their guests list, for in this manner they are demonstrating the expansive love of their heavenly Father (John 3:16).
  • Who develop hospitality management skills, for in this way they are capable of being faithful stewards of all that our Lord has provided for them (1 Cor 4:2).
  • Who intentionally extend hospitality to "the others"—singles, widows, the grieving, and those experiencing food insecurity—for they are choosing to live out biblical compassion (James 2:14-16).
  • Whose homes are both a place of refuge and a center for evangelism, for they are glorifying their heavenly Father by their actions (1 Pet 2:11-12) and fulfilling his instructions "to do the work of an evangelist" (2 Tim 4:5).
  • Who do not become disillusioned in practicing biblical hospitality, for they understand that in due time they will reap if they do not grow weary (Gal 6:9).
  • Who acknowledge that they are unable to practice biblical hospitality in their own strength, for by this means they learn that our Lord's power overcomes their weaknesses and allows them to become vessels used for his honor and glory (2 Cor 12:9-10; Phil 4:13)!


1 Online: http//

2 Ibid.

3 Russell Cronkhite, A Return to Sunday Dinner (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2003), 195.

4 See Pat Ennis and Lisa Tatlock, Designing a Lifestyle that Pleases God (Chicago: Moody, 2004), 184-85.

5 Webster's College Dictionary, 2d ed., s.v. "refuge."

6 See Pat Ennis and Lisa Tatlock, Becoming a Woman Who Pleases God: A Guide to Developing Your Biblical Potential (Chicago: Moody, 2003), chapter 3, "The Wise Woman Develops a Heart of Contentment," for further elaboration on this topic.

7 Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 236.

8 Ibid., 207.

9 John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville: Word, 2000), notes at 2 Tim 4:5.

10 David H. Roper, "The Boxcar Wall," Our Daily Bread, 30 July 2002.

11 Online: http//

12 Webster's College Dictionary, s.v. "hospitality."

13 Ibid., s.v. "compassion."

14 Michelle Conlin, "Unmarried America," Business Week, 20 October, 2003 [accessed 24 July 2006]. Online:

15 Online: http//

16 See Ennis and Tatlock, Becoming a Woman Who Pleases God, 273-78.

17 Online: http//

18 Gin Phillips, "The Driver Behind Meals on Wheels," American Profile, 11-17 June 2003, 6-10. 

19 MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, notes at Matt 5:3.

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