Is hospitality a spiritual gift?
Hey friends! It’s been a while, right? Wanted to let you know I’m working on a new book, titled GodSpace: Embracing the Inconvenient Adventure of Intimacy with God. The good people at FaithWords publishers are publishing it. It’s about seven spiritual practices that slow us down and draw us close to God. Some, you’d expect from me: Sabbath, of course, and Simplicity. Some are a bit different, like Generosity and Critical Thinking (more on this to come in the next few posts). One of my favorite chapters so far is the one on Hospitality, which of course I’ve written about before here and here and lots of other places. (including this post about family spiritual practices, in which you can see some of the seeds of this new book)
Wanted to give you a sneak peak at the writing, which is still in progress and flux and causing a little stress since my deadline is looming. But I’d love to have you read this and give me any feedback you might have, and also to share it with our tribe, maybe on social media or whatever. (Anything to counteract all those negative political posts, right?)
Leave a comment and you’ll get the whole chapter as a preview (for free!) once the book is finished. Here you go:
We sometimes long to be closer to Jesus, to experience “more” in life, to connect with meaning, purpose, God. Jesus offers a clear invitation to that deeper life: feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, visit the prisoner.
It’s an invitation we sometimes turn down, because it sounds too hard. The thing is, we sometimes make it harder than it really is, because we are unwilling to even give it a shot. Welcoming strangers, feeding the hungry—that might be as simple as welcoming your kids’ friends. It would at least be a great practice to start. Lord knows, teenagers are always “the hungry” even if they just ate, and often times, they’re a bit strange. Who knows where God would take you after that?
I know a lot of Christians who say hospitality just isn’t their gift, it isn’t their thing. It can be sort of inconvenient. It can be intrusive, even. And if you say it’s not your gift, it sort of gives you an out. But is hospitality a gift? Or is it just a means of loving others? Might it be a means by which we can experience intimacy with God?
When I was growing up in a strongly evangelical church, I understood that some people had a gift for evangelism—like Billy Graham. Others of us might be less gifted in that area, but my tradition’s interpretation of “Go into all the world and make disciples” meant that everyone was supposed to “witness” and “lead people to Christ” which, is a bit like leading a horse to water, it seemed to me. But people in my culture would literally ask how many people you’d led to Christ. You were supposed to keep track, and always look for opportunities for conversations that might take a turn for the spiritual.
So there was a gift for evangelism (which I don’t have) and a sort of general requirement of all Christians, based on Jesus instructions to his disciples to go and preach the gospel, to make disciples.
If that is how evangelism works, is that how hospitality is supposed to work as well? Some people are gifted for it, but all believers need to find a way to engage in it somehow. It’s a means of loving people—by telling them about God’s love for them. We’re invited to it, whether or not we are specifically gifted at it.
Its funny, because I’ve been told numerous times I have a spiritual gift of hospitality. But when I read the Bible, I don’t see hospitality listed among the spiritual gifts. It’s a spiritual practice, and it’s something that Jesus invites us to do, but not a gift. The lists of gifts in the Bible on not necessarily exhaustive, but still—since the Bible talks a lot about hospitality, you think it would have made at least one of the “top ten” type lists. Nope.
Spiritual practices are not ways to earn God’s favor. Nor are they ideas that we simply think about, or philosophical positions we affirm. They’re actions—things we literally do with our bodies, such as serve, worship, rest—that form us spiritually. Practices are not the same as gifts, although our gifts might shape the practices we are drawn to, and help us to grow. Practices draw us into God space, invite us into intimacy.
By gift, I mean a divine enablement, given by the Holy Spirit, to build up the body of believers. The two main passages that list the spiritual gifts are in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. Oh, and Ephesians 4 lists a few more. They include things like prophesy, teaching, giving, mercy, wisdom, knowledge, healing, tongues, interpretations, service, just to name a few.
The Bible doesn’t mention hospitality as a gift specifically. It mentions serving, a broad category that might include (but not be limited to) hospitality. It does mention hospitality as something all of us should engage in, just as we are to love one another, we are to offer hospitality to one another. In fact, love for neighbors and hospitality are often linked in Scripture.
The invitation to extend hospitality is mentioned in the context of loving others. It’s something that some of us might be more comfortable doing than others, but we’re all asked to practice it. It is one of the ways in which we love others.
Offering hospitality is something we do with our lives that shows Christ to people. Not to earn God’s favor, but so that we might be transformed. Spiritual practices are not about getting good at the practice, but about our spiritual transformation. They shape us into people who are more like Jesus, and are more deeply connected to Jesus.
This is not about entertaining or perfectionism. It’s about love. It’s about letting the love God’s lavished on you spill over onto others. Jesus told his followers: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
He also, when asked what was the most important commandment, invited us again to love:
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
So whether or not we’re “gifted” at love, Jesus asks us to love. Other passages in the New Testament elaborate on what it means to love, including numerous verses that tell us to practice hospitality.
Hospitality is often mentioned in the New Testament in the context of exhortations to love one another. It is a practice, a way of loving our neighbor as ourselves. The Bible says: “love, show hospitality” as if those two were inextricable practices. We’re commanded to love, to show hospitality, to do good and share with others, to serve. That could be as simple as bringing a meal to someone who’s sick, inviting a neighbor in for coffee, or offering someone a place to stay for a night.
photo by Aldyth Moyla
It is one of the requirements for church leaders in the early church, which Paul mentioned to Timothy:
If anyone wants to provide leadership in the church, good! But there are preconditions: A leader must be well-thought-of, committed to his wife, cool and collected, accessible, and hospitable. He must know what he’s talking about, not be overfond of wine, not pushy but gentle, not thin-skinned, not money-hungry. He must handle his own affairs well, attentive to his own children and having their respect. (1 Timothy 3:1-4, MSG)
Peter wrote about love, hospitality, and service as interconnected obligations:
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 4:9-11)
The writer of Hebrews also ties these same themes together, adding in visiting people in prison as a form of hospitality:
Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering….And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:1-3, 16)
In the original Greek, the word in each of these texts, which we simply translate hospitality or hospitable is philóxenos, which means not just hospitality but someone who is “generous to guests” and “a lover of hospitality.”
I’m not sure if I’m right about this, or what it looks like. I’m just wondering. I wonder what it would look like to welcome people graciously on, say, Facebook or Twitter. I see a lot of Christians behaving in ways you could never describe as “hospitable” on social media.
Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 seem to indicate that the final judgment will be based on our response to human need and suffering. Did we feed the hungry, offer hospitality to strangers, visit the sick and those in prison?
So is part of being a Christian taking in strangers? Is it regularly visiting those in prison? If so, why do so few Christians engage in these practices? Welcoming refugees?
Yes, there are prison ministries at a lot of churches, but the level of engagement across the whole of Christendom is pretty small. Did Jesus expect all of his followers to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoners? Aren’t all of these things facets of hospitality?
I don’t think his meaning is metaphorical. And I don’t think we are simply supposed to send money to missionaries or inner-city missions that do these things—although that’s an excellent place to start. I mean, yes, send money to support prison ministries or inner city shelters or international missions. But also, I think we’re invited to engage—to not fear the other but rather, see them as a brother or sister.
What would “engaging with the other” look like in your everyday life? How might practicing hospitality allow you to experience intimacy with God? Please leave a comment below.
Excerpted and adapted from GodSpace: Embracing the Inconvenient Adventure of Intimacy with God by Keri Wyatt Kent.