When Kenneth and I were building our house, we were in awe of a God that would provide for us to do so. I have always been in Christian education, which is a financial sacrifice. So when God made a way for us to build on our family land, we promised our home would always be open for kingdom purposes.
But to be honest, hospitality doesn’t come naturally for me. I love to be around people, but I’m not a great hostess. My tendency is to get caught up in conversation and forget to invite people to sit or ask if they would like a drink.
I cook because we like to eat, but I am no Betty Crocker. So I have shied away from having people over for dinner–especially when all the women I know can cook those down-home, Southern country meals.
Women Who Welcome
One of the women in the Bible who has always intrigued me, though, is Lydia. We only get four verses to figure out who she was, but to me she is a fantastic example of hospitality.
Paul and his companions were on their second missionary journey when God led them to the city of Philippi, a Roman colony in eastern Macedonia. Very few Jews lived there, so there was no synagoge. Luke described their arrival.
“On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.”Acts 16:13-14, NIV 84
Lydia was a Gentile businesswoman who had come to believe in the God of the Jews. She had already found a group of faithful women with whom she could join for prayer. Her heart was open to the message of the gospel.
When she believed, she shared that message with her household, and all of them were saved and baptized. Her first act of service was to open her home to these missionaries.
“When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.”Acts 16:15
I love this story! Lydia was eager for community and fellowship with other believers. She wanted to open not just her heart but also her home to God. Lydia persuaded these missionaries that she wanted them to stay.
Who knows whether or not she was a great cook or her home was perfectly decorated or everything was in its place? But she was willing to share the home with which God had blessed her.
She wanted to be around other believers. Her prerequisite wasn’t necessarily a perfect home but a willingness to share it. As I think about hospitality and what it means, three things stand out to me that I believe will help us grow in hospitality.
Once when Paul and the missionaries had been shipwrecked on an island, they were shown hospitality by the native chief official.
“He welcomed us to his home and for three days entertained us hospitably.”Acts 28:7b
The word welcome means “to receive or embrace” (NIV Exhaustive Bible Concordance). This official showed kindness to the missionaries. He received them warmly and took care of them while on his island.
I don’t know exactly how he “entertained” them–maybe with conversation and a cup of hot tea. But the emphasis on this passage to me is the welcome–the warmness and kindness with which he received them.
Paul and his companions prayed for the official’s father and healed him. Because this official was willing to receive the missionaries, he was blessed in return.
Another characteristic of hospitality is honor. When we invite people into our home, we are showing them that we honor our relationship enough to make space for them in our lives.
“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”Romans 12:9-13
When we sincerely love others, we honor them. That honor can be shown by sharing our sofa, our coffee, our bread, or our prayers with one another. In a digital age in which we are so connected through our phones, we often fail to connect in person.
We honor one another when we open our homes and invite others in. We show them that they are worth our time, our attention, and our real connection.
I’ll be honest, serving others does not come naturally to me. I have a friend whose primary gift is service. She is always ready with an open hand to give and to help others.
Me–not so much. It’s not that I don’t want to give, it’s just not my first reaction to others. I want to talk and connect and pray. But guess what? Each of these gifts can be used to make others welcome.
“Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with all the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.”1 Peter 4:9-11a
The point is that our hearts and our attention should be on those we are inviting in. Whether or not I remember to offer them tea is not that important. But the fact that I want to embrace them, honor them, and connect with them is what reflects the love of Christ.
Jesus has called us to make disciples. Sometimes we will need to open the front door and invite someone to come sit at the table with us in order to build a relationship with her.
Sometimes hospitality will look like a dining room table covered in Bibles, laughter, chips, and salsa.
At times, we may be able to welcome missionaries to our home for a furlough, or we may get to open a spare room to a foster child. God calls us to show hospitality for the sake of the gospel.
“We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth.”3 John :8, NIV
We are all working together for the truth, so how can we open up our lives in a way that extends a welcome, shows honor, and serves those around us with Christ’s love?
You don’t have to have a perfect home or be the perfect hostess. And you don’t need a particular spiritual gift to be hospitable. You just need to love people like Jesus did.
Follow Jesus’ Example
We follow Christ’s example because He has opened His arms to us and received us as His own, He has honored us enough to die for us, and He has served us through His example.
Remember our girl Lydia who was so eager to invite the missionaries to stay? She ended up planting the first church in Philippi.
“After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and encouraged them.”Acts 16:40
Maybe you have a neighbor God has put on your heart to have over for dinner. Perhaps the Holy Spirit has been nudging you to start a home Bible study. Maybe you just want to have someone over for coffee and conversation around your faith.
Or perhaps you can host a missionary, exchange student, or foster child in your home.
God calls each of us to be hospitable, to open our hearts, our hands, and our homes to others that we might share with them His love and His truth. Serving doesn’t have to be your “spiritual gift.” You just need a heart that welcomes.
Who needs your invitation today?