Charging Timothy to shepherd his new flock well, the apostle Paul lists the following requirements that he must discern in freshly appointed elders: they must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, able to teach, amongst other things. Yet, what is quite surprising is to find that Paul includes among his various qualifications the requirement that an elder must be hospitable.
These qualifications for elders are not the stuff of super-Christians but humble requirements that all believers ought to pursue. That being the case, we ought to contemplate why that curious qualification—to be hospitable toward outsiders—finds itself among the other commands required of elders.
Christians recognize that God has not only saved us so that we might be saved, but that he has additionally called us to participate in God’s reconciling activity through Christ for the world. For Christians, true participation in this reconciling activity means acts of love displayed toward others that reflect the fullness of the Triune life. In short, it means loving one another through hospitality. As God has been hospitable to us through the giving of his Son, so we display God’s hospitable love toward others in the giving of ourselves—opening our homes and our hearts toward others.
As we consider what it will mean practically to practice hospitality, we must first consider theologically the dimensions of a hospitable life. In our exploration, we will find that love cultivates generosity which then extends toward others through hospitality.
“What Greater Love Than This?”: Love
A call to be hospitable is a call to love.
Preceding any hospitable action is a heart that has been sanctified and made alive by the love of God, such that love has overflowed into generosity toward others. Christians fulfill all of the law through love (Rom. 13:10). Christians are called not to love those whom our natural proclivities draw us toward, but also our enemies as well (Luke 6:27-32). Our obedience to the Lord Jesus ultimately finds its wellspring in our love for him (John 14:15). Love is not just an amicable feeling toward others, but the greatest of virtues: “faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).
Hospitality is love incarnate; the fulfillment of a call to love one another. To be hospitable is to lay one’s life down for their friends, an act of sacrificial love on full display. There is an implicit connection between love and service because to serve something is to display our love toward it. “You cannot serve God and Mammon.” Why? Because our love to one will display its superior worth in our hearts.
“That God Gave Us His Son”: Generosity
The love of God toward sinners in Christ is not just satisfactory, it is abundant—generous. So generous that at the heart of the Christian gospel is the bountiful generosity of the Father giving his only Son so that sinners might have life and have it abundantly. It is through the generosity of God that sinners know the fullness of life that there is in Christ.
Likewise, Christians are not just called to give, but to give to others generously. Our hospitality toward the stranger, the alien, and the outcast is such that it looks like waste and folly to the world. Yet, for Christians, the very folly of giving so fully displays the wisdom and kindness of God toward those who were once lost, but are now found.
The Importance of Tables: Hospitality
The table metaphor in Christian theology is rich and multivalent. Tables are where enemies become friends. Tables are where dividing walls of hostility are torn down. Tables are where generosity is extended toward those who were otherwise excluded. Christians behold God’s generosity at the Lord’s Table, and extend this generosity toward outsiders with their own tables.
This is why the Lord’s Supper, from the beginning, has been so crucial in Christian theology. At the Lord’s Supper we see the love of God for sinners, in God’s generous giving of his Son for us to feast upon for nourishment. At the Lord’s Table, we see the hospitable God extend mercy, though we were by nature children of wrath. We who were once enemies are now friends; we who were once orphans are now children.
Hospitality means homes, and tables, and meals, and joy. It means laughter and tears, sorrow and hope. It means families and friends and shared lives. Through opening our homes, we open our hearts and display the warmth of Christian charity. In our acts of love we push back the darkness with a little more light. In the extra servings of mashed potatoes and blackberry cobbler, the generous, hospitable love of God is made known to a watching world.
For Christians, if we are to continue to retain our prophetic voice to a suffering, decadent culture, we must respond with hospitality—sanctified decadence—and a joy that makes even the demons tremble.
Introducing a New Series: Hospitality Matters
In the rest of this series we will be exploring how hospitality shapes who we are as Christians and how we ought to extend this hospitable love toward others. We will look at how this plays out in Christian homes, for women and men, and how we might consider our small acts of hospitable love as larger participation in God’s plan to see disciples of Jesus be made and welcomed into the household of faith. We hope that you might begin to consider what it looks like for you, no matter the season, to begin shaping your home and your life toward a hospitable aim.