Strategic Hospitality

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality.

When Job was protesting against his sickness, one of the virtues that he said he never neglected was hospitality. In 31:32 he said, "The sojourner has not lodged in the street; I have opened my doors to the wayfarer."

The God-Appointed Duty of Hospitality 

And that's not surprising because the Lord himself said that Job was an upright man who feared God and turned away from evil (Job 1:1). As far back as you want to go in the history of God's people, one of the God-appointed duties of the righteous was hospitality—by which I simply mean the willingness to welcome people into your home (or your apartment) who don't ordinarily belong there.

In the New Testament the duty was reemphasized for the Christian community.

Romans 12:13 says, "Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality." Literally it says, "Pursue hospitality." And the verb implies continuous action. So the command in Romans 12:13 is that hospitality not just be a once a year thing at Thanksgiving or Christmas, but a constant attitude and practice. Our homes and apartments should stand constantly ready for strategic hospitality—a readiness to welcome people who don't ordinarily live there.

A Command to Be a Certain Kind of Person 

1 Peter 4:8–9 says, "Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another."

Ungrudgingly! That means, be the kind of people who do it and like to do it! In other words the command to be hospitable is not just a command to do something. It is not just a command that can be legalistically fulfilled with a quota of guests. It is a command to be a certain kind of person, namely, the kind that doesn't resent having to be hospitable. The kind of person who doesn't look at the extra dishes and bedding and bother—and grumble. "Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another." Without murmuring. As the next verse (4:10) implies, let your hospitality be an extension or an overflow of God's hospitality to you. Be a good steward of God's grace.

Be Constant, Do Not Neglect It 

Hebrews 13:1–2 says, "Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."

Romans 12:13 said that we should "be constant" or persistent in our practice of hospitality. Hebrews says the same thing in a negative way: don't neglect it. Evidently it is something that can easily fall into neglect. Indeed it can.

The physical force of gravity pulls everything to the center of the earth. In order to break free from earth-centered life, thousands and thousands of pounds of energy have to push the space shuttle away from the center. There is also a psychological force of gravity that constantly pulls our thoughts and affections and physical actions inward toward the center of our own selves and our own homes.

Therefore the most natural thing in the world is to neglect hospitality. It is the path of least resistance. All we have to do is yield to the natural gravity of our self-centered life, and the result will be a life so full of self that there is no room for hospitality. We will forget about it. And we will neglect it. So the Bible bluntly says, "Stop that!" Build a launching pad. Fill up your boosters. And blast out of your self-oriented routine. Stop neglecting hospitality. Practice hospitality.

What Does Hospitality Have to Do with God? 

Why? This is a worship service, not a seminar on successful living. What does hospitality have to do with God? If it doesn't have to do with God, it is simply of no interest in a church that aims to be God-centered and God-saturated. The mark of a God-besotted Christian is that you always answer the question why you do something by referring to God as we know him in Jesus Christ.

When I am dead and gone and another man stands in this pulpit to candidate as your pastor, O how I pray that you will ask: Does he relate everything to God? Or is he content to simply promote morals? Is there distinctively Christian theology in all he says? Or could his messages be spoken by a tender-hearted secular psychologist with keen insight into how to get along better?

I can't see why Christians ought to be very interested in morality or mental health that is not related to Christ. If I understand the words of Jesus in Matthew 23:15, hell will be largely populated by people who were "moral" and mentally "healthy" but who had no love for Christ.

I strongly resist the temptation to justify any action, including hospitality, just because it is part of the so called "Judeo-Christian ethic." When you consider the tiny length of time that we live on this earth, and the infinite length of time that we will live in heaven or hell, what have you achieved of any significant value when you mobilize people to affirm a tradition of morality and don't make them new creatures in Christ? Will they praise us for an eternity in hell because we helped them live healthy, successful, hospitable lives for fifty years that are gone faster than the fireworks over Nicollet Island (James 4:14)?

The only ethics and the only morality that have eternal value are ethics and morality that are shaped by God's will, performed by God's power, and aimed at God's glory through Jesus Christ. On the scales of eternity, morality without Jesus Christ is lighter than air.

So as pleasant as the habit of hospitality may be in and of itself to our man-centered mentality, THE question is: What does it have to do with God? What gives Christian hospitality its eternal value and sets it off from mere popular morality? The answer to this question will be the answer to the question: Why do it? What is our motivation?

Rooted in the Old Testament

The God-centered motivation for hospitality begins in the Old Testament. Perhaps the clearest text is Leviticus 19:33–34: "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God."

What is the motivation for hospitality here?

"I Am the Lord Your God"

Love strangers "for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Why should a person love strangers just because he has been a stranger? Perhaps he shouldn't. But that's not the point. The point is that they were strangers in Egypt, but aren't any more! Why? Because: "I am the Lord your God."

The words "I am the Lord your God," are packed with meaning because they are the very first words of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:2. Any good Israelite could finish the sentence: "I am the Lord your God WHO BROUGHT YOU UP OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT, OUT OF THE HOUSE OF BONDAGE." "I am the Lord your God" (which occurs a dozen times in Leviticus 19) is shorthand for: I am Yahweh who came to you when you were oppressed aliens in Egypt and saved you.

For the people of God in the Old Testament the duty of hospitality came right from the center of who God was. I am the Lord your God who made a home for you and brought you there with all my might and all my soul. Therefore, you shall love the stranger as yourself. You shall be holy as I am holy (Leviticus 19:1). Your values shall mirror my values.

What God's Values

And what did God value? Why did God come to Israel and show them such hospitality to rescue them from the refugee camps of Egypt and bring them home to the land flowing with milk and honey? Was it because Israel was so virtuous? Or was it because of his own commitment to glorify his name by keeping covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?

Then I thought [says the Lord] I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt. But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they dwelt. (Ezekiel 20:8–9)

Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider thy wondrous works; they did not remember the abundance of thy steadfast love, but rebelled against the Most High at the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name's sake, that he might make known his mighty power. (Psalm 106:6–8)

God's hospitality is motivated by his unwavering commitment to the glory of his own name. "I acted for the sake of my name that it should not be profaned." Unless we can see this, we will never understand the meaning of grace.

The Meaning of Grace

Grace is the hospitality of God to welcome sinners not because of their goodness but because of his glory. If God chose not to magnify the glory of his own self-sufficiency, and instead to enrich himself by looking for talented and virtuous housemates, there would be no grace in the world, and no hospitality, and no salvation. We owe our eternal life to grace, and grace is God's disposition to glorify his freedom and power and wealth by showing hospitality to sinners.

Repeated in the New Testament 

This is the same thing we see when we come over into the New Testament and ask how Christians are motivated to show hospitality.

Gentiles Brought Near in Christ

Remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:11–12)

It is small encouragement to us Gentiles that God made a covenant with the people of Israel. We are still aliens, strangers, outside salvation, without God and having no hope in the world.

But then Christ (according to Ephesians 2:15–16) sacrificed his flesh "to create in himself one new man in place of two (Israel and Gentiles), so making peace, and reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end." Christ came to reconcile both Jews and Gentiles to God and thus to each other. The result for us Gentiles is given in verse 19: "So then you (Gentiles) are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.

The Ultimate Act of Hospitality Done for God's Glory

The ultimate act of hospitality was when Jesus Christ died for sinners to make everyone who believes a member of the household of God. We are no longer strangers and sojourners. We have come home to God. Everybody who trusts in Jesus finds a home in God.

And why did God do it? Why send his only Son to die so that sinners could have hospitality in heaven? Ephesians 1:5–6: "He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace."

He did it for the praise of the glory of his grace. It was the same reason that he rescued unworthy strangers in Egypt—for his own glory. This was grace in the Old Testament and it is grace in the New.

"By grace are you saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8). The ultimate foundation of Christian hospitality is God's unwavering commitment to glorify the freedom and all-sufficiency of his grace.

Our Motivation to Practice Hospitality 

So then what is our motivation for practicing hospitality? It comes from a memory of the past and a hope for the future.

Looking Back

We look back and remember that we owe our life to an act of God's hospitality. We were once strangers and aliens in the Egypt of sin and death. But God came to us in the Passover of his Son's cross (1 Corinthians 5:7) and made us alive (Ephesians 2:5) and brought us out through the Red Sea of conversion.

Looking Forward

Then we turn and look forward into a future where we are loved with an omnipotent power and zeal that are as sure as the commitment God has to his own glory. He will meet all our needs in the wilderness of this life, and he will see us safely through the Jordan into the promised homeland, where we will enjoy the milk and honey of his fellowship forever.

What Happens When We Practice Hospitality 

Therefore when we practice hospitality, here's what happens: we experience the refreshing joy of becoming conduits of God's hospitality rather than being self-decaying cul-de-sacs. The joy of receiving God's hospitality decays and dies if it doesn't flourish in our own hospitality to others.

Or here is another way to put it: when we practice hospitality, we experience the thrill of feeling God's power conquer our fears and our stinginess and all the psychological gravity of our self-centeredness. And there are few joys, if any, greater than the joy of experiencing the liberating power of God's hospitality making us a new and radically different kind of people, who love to reflect the glory of his grace as we extend it to others in all kinds of hospitality.

So in order to increase the joy of your faith and promote the glory of God, let me close with some specific exhortations for strategic hospitality.

What Is Strategic Hospitality? 

What I mean by strategic hospitality is a hospitality that thinks strategically and asks: How can I draw the most people into a deep experience of God's hospitality by the use of my home or my church home? Who might need reinforcements just now in the battle against loneliness? Who are the people who could be brought together in my home most strategically for the sake of the kingdom? What two or three people's complementary abilities might explode in a new ministry if they had two hours to brainstorm over dinner in my house?

Strategic hospitality is not content to just have the old clan over for dinner again and again. It strategizes how to make the hospitality of God known and felt all over the world, from the lonely church member right here, to the Gola farmers in Tahn, Liberia. Don't ever underestimate the power of your living room as a launching pad for new life and hope and ministry and mission!

Three Examples of Strategic Hospitality 

Here are three specific opportunities. Don't limit yourself to these! Pray for God's special strategy for you.

1. Invite Each Other Home

Last Sunday we attended First Baptist Church of Cambridge, and we got invited out to dinner after church by Alma Bjork—all six of us! And Alma is a widow with nobody at home to help her add six extra places (along with the six people already invited). But she is thinking strategically. She has lost her great missionary husband, and so what does she do? Yield to self-pity? Focus on the good old days? No, she starts to think strategically how her kitchen and living-room might be a launching pad for ministry and missions.

Invite each other home. We finish our evening service between 7:15 and 7:30. If you want to be in bed by 10:00 PM and it takes you a half hour to get your pajamas on, you have two strategic hours to be with each other in your homes. What a great time to bring visitors into your home. Just kick the toys into a corner as you walk out the door on the way to church and make sure you have popcorn, cooking oil, and water.

We are talking about wartime hospitality you know. Nothing fancy. Thirteen of us ate in Alma's kitchen. Abraham had his desert on the floor. It was perfect. I want to go back! Forget trying to impress anybody. Paper plates are most appropriate for Sunday dinner! Nobody should have to spend Sunday afternoon washing dishes!

2. Greet and Welcome People

Greet people and welcome people warmly to Bethlehem. Invite them to Sunday School. Show them where the nursery is. Let them read the hospitality of God in your smile.

Let me relate this to our worship strategy. When you enter this room to worship on Sunday morning and the prelude begins, all conversation should cease, except with God. The point of the prelude is to help you prepare for worship, and worship is no light affair. It is an earnest encounter with the living God. You cannot expect to meet God in power if you don't pray during the prelude. This is not the time to meet the visitors. There can be a smile and a brief hello, but what we want to communicate to visitors is that from the beginning of the prelude to the end of the benediction we are going hard after God. Our focus is on him not on each other.

But when that benediction is over and the postlude starts (unless you need some solitude to process the message of God), you should turn on your PWHR! Post Worship Hospitality Radar. A good PWHR picks up all new or distressed people within a radius of 10 or 15 feet, sometimes even further. Usually you can't go to all of them, but if we all went to someone, this place would be electrified with post worship hospitality. That is the time for conversation. The spill over of worship in words of welcome.

We have organized greeters at all the doors before our services to help newcomers find their way around and feel welcome. Ruby Ohman is the coordinator of that ministry. She is always ready for new recruits—she will be especially ready as the new Saturday evening worship service begins in October. Call her, or the church office.

And Steve will be leading the Ananias teams on Monday nights when they start again for the fall on September 9. These teams take our hospitality out of the church building into the lives of people who are interested in our church. Call him and find out more.

3. Dream and Plan of Hospitality to International Students

Let's dream and plan about more strategic hospitality to international students. A dozen of our young people are with 26 internationals in the Boundary Waters right now. A frat house near Dinkytown has been leased to house about a dozen internationals with a team of Bethlehem people. God is clearly moving in this direction.

Ways to Expand Ministry to International Students 

Here are three strategic ways to enlarge this ministry of hospitality.

  1. Pick up an arriving student at the airport this fall. Be their first contact with America. Be their ongoing contact person that they can always call to get their questions answered. Call Barb Olson at the Minnesota International Center, 373-3200, for arrangements, or the church.
  2. Have a student over for a meal anytime.
  3. Open your home during the holidays to one or two students. The dorms shut down. They have to find other places to live for a couple weeks. Just talk to someone on our International Students team for the details.

Freely you have received. Freely give. Is there any greater joy than the joy of experiencing the liberating power of God's hospitality making us a new and radically different kind of people, who love to reflect the glory of his grace as we extend it to others in all kinds of hospitality?

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org