This series, “Truth & Love: Communicating Gospel Truth in Speech & Action,” began last week with a podcast with John Shaw (Find that here: “Podcast- Shaw”). This week, Al Tricarico digs into the call of hospitality as a gospel welcome. As many will know, Al is the Associate General Secretary for Home Missions and former foreign missionary to Uganda. Here’s Al:
Hospitality & The Gospel
One of the saddest sights in rural East Africa is a man or woman sitting alone. The Karimojong people of Northeast Uganda prize community above many things you and I regard as valuable. I observed this in my years serving as a missionary among them, and learned from the example they provided. The Karimojong spend time together. They work together. They feed each other. They dance together. They share stories. Unless forced by circumstances to be alone, they find people to provide them company.
An extension of this cultural value is hospitality. Many were the times when I enjoyed a village welcome from my neighbors—one that included the honor of the best seat and a sincere invitation to share my thoughts. I always felt free to pray, present gospel teaching, or just talk about my life. Being in their company was a great pleasure, and I loved telling them so.
Hospitality is not a mere cultural commitment. It is a Biblical mandate. It is a practice that emerges from the welcome we have received from God and provides a pattern of that welcome, as members of the body of Christ enter each other’s lives and homes. It also contemplates receiving strangers—a duty that turns our thoughts to the last day when the hospitable are welcomed into Christ’s eternal kingdom. (Matthew 25:35) It is likely that those reading this will agree. Here are a few thoughts to inspire us all to grow in providing God’s welcome to others.
Jesus welcomes us
There are so many texts that show God’s welcome. The prophet Isaiah provides the invitation in vivid culinary terms.
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” (Isaiah 55:1-2)
Jesus is the fulfillment of this feast-promise. He said so as he offered his very self as the bread of life and the living water that will satisfy forever. (John 6:35; 4:10,13; 7:37) The regular welcome of Jesus is extended when Christians participate in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus is our host—he welcomes us. Jesus is our food—we feast on him by faith. Jesus is our returning king as we proclaim his death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:26) When he does come, he will welcome all who trust in him to his marriage supper. (Revelation 19:7-10)
Consider the many times Jesus visited people at mealtime. The fact that he was despised because he ate with “sinners” (Matthew 9:10) is proof enough that he was a known guest of many. One such host was Zacchaeus. He showed his faith in Christ, not only by giving to the poor and compensating the victims of his greed, but first by receiving Jesus joyfully. (Luke 19:6) You might say that the first evidence of his repentance was to show hospitality to his savior.
Jesus was also a generous host. He fed five thousand people with bread and fish. He took up the cause of undersupplied wedding guests and provided the wine needed for the celebration. Here is something to ponder. Consider how Jesus lived as both guest and host throughout his ministry. Now ask how we as his disciples might follow his example. In other words, let’s all consider how we are to welcome others and be welcomed by others.
The spiritual dimension of this is clear enough. Jesus will always receive those who come to him. His particular words of welcome are worthy of our regular meditation.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Jesus welcomes you. Do come. Bring others along.
Hospitality and the Christian
Hospitality is a great equalizer. After all, everyone eats! We have different homes, different tastes, different capacities where we live. But we do not have different obligations. To be hospitable is to follow the example and command of Christ. The texts are clear.
“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1 Peter 4:9) “Contribute to the needs of the saints. Practice hospitality.” (Romans 12:13) “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2)
While not every person finds himself in a situation conducive to welcoming people at home, we all need to think about how we can follow the welcome-commands of Scripture. It may mean treating a friend to lunch out. Or visiting someone in the hospital or in prison with a welcoming spirit. (Matthew 25:39) It may mean being a gracious, affirming guest. Give others the joy of welcoming you while you enjoy the company of hosts and other guests. In the broadest sense, live in a way that makes others feel “at home” with you.
The Bible clearly states our duty to care about other people—particularly, though not exclusively—in the church. Regular practice of hospitality gives the context for practicing the many one another commands of Scriptures. “Love one another.” “Pray for one another.” “Bear one another’s burdens.” “Encourage one another.” “Outdo one another in showing honor.” “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (1 John 4:11; James 5:16; Galatians 6:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:11; Romans 12:10; 16:16) “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7) It is nearly impossible to obey these words without being in the presence of those we are called to love. Hospitality is a wonderful means of providing that presence.
Hospitality and church office
The Lord has given us a list of qualifications that must be met for those who serve as officers in his church. When you read 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, you will not be surprised to learn what is on the list. “Above reproach,” check. “The husband of one wife,” got it. “Hospitable?” Really? Why would that be a requirement for leaders in Christ’s church? Here are three reasons.
First, it is commanded for all believers to be hospitable. Elders and deacons are believers, so they have the duty to welcome people. But there are other commands that do not appear in the qualifications. Why, then, hospitality?
Hospitality is perfectly designed to display the gospel. Jesus has welcomed us into the home of his Father. When we welcome friends or strangers into our homes, we are providing a parable-like gospel message. Our welcome reflects Christ’s welcome. Thinking this way transforms an ordinary meal into a profound statement of grace and invitation. Let’s all think that way.
Finally, as examples to the flock, pastors in particular are to let their conduct be seen so that others would follow them. (1 Timothy 4:12)
Hospitality and you
We can all learn from stories of people like the Karimojong. It is good to do so. But the best teacher and example we have is Jesus—the one who gave his life for sinners and now welcomes them into his family. Consider how he has welcomed you. Then ask him to help you welcome others in his name and for his glory.