So this post is less explicitly theological than the last couple of posts on witnessing to Muslims. That’s probably a good thing because in a certain sense we can become so preoccupied with the apologetic and theological task of witnessing to Muslims that we cease to focus on living like Christians. And one thing the Christian life is to reflect is a hospitable character.
Why hospitality? Well, what more practical way to make love for the lost more tangible than to open our homes and our calendars in a way that invites intimacy and friendship?
There are the biblical admonitions to care for the strangers among us, to treat them equitably and kindly. And we’re told that in the process some have entertained angels unaware (Heb. 13:2). We’re also told that in a certain sense our service to and care for strangers is a service rendered to Jesus himself (Matt. 25:35). Who knows but that through our hospitality one of our Muslim friends will become a brother in the Lord.
But hospitality is a lost ministry among so many Christians–even Christian-to-Christian hospitality. It seems that so many people feel unduly burdened, inconvenienced, or uninterested in sharing their lives. There is a hardness of heart that reflects itself in an unwillingness to open our lives to others, to invite them to our tables, and to serve them from the bounty the Lord has given us. A wrong kind of privatization of life has occurred even among Christians many of us would otherwise think solid. This ought not be so among us.
And for some others, there is the fear of man that expresses itself in embarrassment or shame at the prospect of having someone in their “meager” homes. A worldly mentality assumes that to show hospitality we must have showcase homes and fine place settings (at least as fine as that neighbor or friend who has all the “really nice” stuff we covet). And so, some Christians neglect this important ministry because they’re actually thinking of themselves and comparing themselves to the wrong standard–other fallen men. This ougnt not be so either.
Hospitality is so important a Christian characteristic and ministry that the Lord requires leaders in His church to be hospitable (1 Tim. 3). It’s not that being hospitable is a habit that belongs only to the “super spiritual.” It is, rather, that being hospitable often leads to spiritual growth as it cultivates humility to serve and generosity befitting those who would be servants of all. And every Christian should aspire to serve, just as our Lord came not to be served but to serve.
The need for our witness in Word to be accompanied by the witness of hospitality struck me while in southeast Asia a year ago. My Arab friends prided themselves on their hospitality. I remember meeting one young man whose first questions to me included, “How do you find our hospitality? Have you been well cared for?” And I recall that when things grew tense during the Christian-Muslim dialogue I had been invited to participate in, my counterpart reminded the 90% Muslim audience of their need to be hospitable to guests.
Now, I could do certain mental gymnastics that disregard the hospitality I’ve experienced by saying, “None of it counts because they’re not in Christ.” But, that’s to miss the point, I think. I’m one who knows Christ and I’m afraid that I and too many other Christians do not exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, scribes or Muslims when it comes to being hospitable. Insterad of trying to explain this away, it’s better to repent than to reflect.
And strategically, we need to recognize the opportunity that a ministry of hospitality affords us in our home countries. Most Muslim growth in places like the U.S. start with small trickles of immigration. “Strangers” enter the land, often without family or friends. They come as international students or as workers seeking opportunity. That’s the time for us to extend a welcoming hand of hospitality and to speak with them of the gospel. We’re far too often inhospitable when we notice the stranger, and then we lament when those communities grow and seem impenetrable to us. Let’s welcome the stranger from the start and prayerfully work to place ourselves inside those communities as they form and grow. If there was ever a time to heed that old saw about “gettin’ in on the ground floor,” this is it.
To witness to Muslims, we must place ourselves in the way of Muslim neighbors and friends. We can do that by waiting in alleys and pouncing on them with tracks and harangues when they pass by (please don’t do that). Or, we can use what the Lord has given us in the way of homes, living rooms, kitchen tables, food and drink, community outings, and family celebrations to invite a Muslim friend to experience Christian hospitality. Prayerfully they will taste and see that the Lord Jesus is good!