The house is clean, orderly, and organized and there are fresh cut flowers from the garden on their table. Candles are lit, there are no dirty dishes in the kitchen sink and the food served is gourmet and fabulous. They have three children all under the age of 5, and a big, hairy (very clean) dog. Everyone looks like they're enjoying themselves.
This picture is what our culture esteems as the epitome of entertaining. It's what you see in magazines and it serves as a special compartment of the American Dream. As believers we need to ask ourselves if this picture taints our understanding of biblical hospitality. So what is the difference?
The exhortation in Scripture to be hospitable is allotted to every believer, male or female, whether or not it is one of our gifts or something we enjoy doing (See Part I). In the following verse, notice how it is given along with two other important commands:
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show 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 4:8-11).
All three of these commands are parts of the great commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. Hospitality is important to God as we observe it woven throughout all of Scripture (see Jonathan Leeman's article for a biblical theology of hospitality) and can infer that the evil one seeks to twist, distract from, and distort it.
Here are some observations about entertaining vs. the hospitable heart that we are to cultivate from God's Word:
Entertaining is fundamentally "me-focused."
It has the feel of a show and it's heart is impressing other people either visually or with a meal.
It is embarrassed if something "goes wrong" or doesn't fit the kind of reputation it is trying to project or protect.
It is essentially prideful and hopes to be repaid. It carries an air of formality that prohibits spiritual intimacy and fellowship.
It tends not to associate with the "lowly."
Biblical hospitality is humble.
It attempts to make people feel comfortable; creating an atmosphere where people can be themselves, fellowship together, and where ministry can take place.
It doesn't seek to hide areas of weakness or flaws - these are assumed.
It recognizes that the importance of any other person rests in their having been made in the image of God, not their social status.
It is servanthood that desires God to receive glory by time spent with others.
It is open to the needy and doesn't seek repayment.
It points unbelievers and those who are weak toward the Gospel.
This differentiation doesn't mean we shouldn't strive to make a great meal or to clean up our home for others. It just isn't the focus! Instead of going from war zone to Martha Stewart Living the day before people come over, which can completely de-rail a godly attitude of hospitality, we should strive to keep our homes somewhat orderly and available for guests that may come at any time. We shouldn't be embarrassed if our homes look a little lived in but be thinking about how we can bless those who come to our door.
Alexander Strauch says in his book The Hospitality Commands,
Hospitality fleshes out love in a uniquely personal and sacrificial way. Through the ministry of hospitality, we share our most prized possessions. We share our family, home, finances, food, privacy, and time. Indeed, we share our very lives. So, hospitality is always costly... Unless we open the doors of our homes to one another, the reality of the local church as a close-knit family of loving brothers and sisters is only a theory.
Hospitality is a discipline to be applied, worked at, and prayed over in our homes as believers. Sacrificial giving doesn't come easy to any of us and we need God's grace to stretch us in this area and help us to serve with humility, thinking more highly of others than ourselves.
© 2009, The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood