To be honest, when I read the e-mail, I didn't jump up and down for joy. I didn't run to my collection of recipes and search for the perfect meal. No, admittedly, my heart sighed as I thought about the planning and details that lay ahead.
If you knew me, it may come as a surprise that hospitality doesn't come easy. We host many events, parties, Bible studies, play dates, and more at our house on a regular basis. Some of the visitors to my home probably think that I open my house in hospitality because I love it.
In reality, I open my house in hospitality, not because I love it, but as an act of obedience to God. In fact, I'm sure that 1 Peter 4:9 was written with me in mind: "Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling."
An introvert who's shy in large groups, I face parties and events in our home with anxiety. I dread the exhausting efforts at making small talk, not to mention all the cleaning before guests arrive and after they leave. Over the years of opening our house in hospitality, overwhelming thoughts have always flooded my mind. We don't have enough room. I'm not that good of a cook. I'm really bad at socializing.
Backdrop to a Greater Story
For most of us, when we think of hospitality we picture a clean home, perfectly set table, extravagant recipes, flickering candles, and all the rest. We look at the elegant pictures that cover our favorite magazines and think, My house will never look like that. We see our friend's Pinterest boards full of recipes and feel like failures because we are lousy cooks. We look at our dining table that seats four and wonder, Where would anyone sit?
But as I've learned over the years, the Bible looks at hospitality a bit differently. Hospitality in Scripture is a means to an end. Opening the doors of our home in hospitality is the means to inviting them into our lives and hearts. Sharing a loaf of bread with others across the dining table creates opportunities to share with others the Bread of Life.
The details of hospitality are the backdrop to the greater story taking place in our home.
Hospitality in Scripture plays an important role in the story of redemption. During Jesus' life, hospitality provided a place for him to teach. He also found rest and relaxation particularly in Peter's home. In the New Testament church, Christians opened their homes to encourage and meet the needs of other believers. Homes were also used to provide a meeting place for worship and teaching. Scripture encourages hospitality for meeting the needs of the lost and hurting, demonstrating to them the love of Christ.
Martha and Mary
If we focus on the details of hospitality we miss the real purpose behind it. In fact, when we only see those details, we might miss the heart of hospitality altogether. Remember Martha and Mary?
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"
"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:38-42)
Martha was focused so much on the details that she missed the reason why she was hosting guests — so that they might learn from Jesus. If scrubbing and cleaning becomes our focus, we might miss sharing the mess and dirtiness of our lives with others. If our greatest concern is wondering how a group of people will fit in our home, we'll miss the opportunity to make room in our hearts for people. If we worry about making the perfect meal to serve, we'll miss sharing with our guests the only food that satisfies.
Hospitality is an act of service that helps us share the love of Christ with others. God calls each of us to practice hospitality, whether it comes easy or not. And for those of us who hesitate for one reason or another, it becomes an act of obedience to our Savior who has opened his own home for us through his shed blood on the cross. How can we do any less than open our own hearts and homes to others?