Saturday, April 07, 2012

Hospitality Commands

I recently reread Alexander Strauch's The Hospitality Commands. I had forgotten what a helpful and convicting booklet this was. Strauch begins his book by walking us through a quick history lesson on the lives of Christians as described in the New Testament. He shows hospitality was an absolutely integral part of the early church, to the point of it being a defining characteristic of these first believers.

Scripture describes the relationship between Christians in familial terms. In fact, the terms brethren, brother or sister occur some 250 times in the New Testament, particularly in Paul's letters. Home is where familial relationships are built. Martin Luther's Table Talk is a compilation of just that - talks around his table recorded by his students and guests. Luther and his wife were known for their generous and frequently-extended hospitality. Sharing a meal, eating together, is an intimate activity.

Strauch says, "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...We cannot know or grow close to our brothers and sisters meeting for an hour and fifteen minutes a week with a large group in a church sanctuary."

Homes are natural places for the spread of the Gospel. I'll never forget hearing Chuck Swindoll repeat this quote on one of his radio shows, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." Opening their homes to others has been a hallmark of Christianity since the beginning. Just think about the homes of Aquila and Priscilla or the home of Martha. We have the scriptural examples of Cornelius and Matthew opening their homes for the purpose of spreading the Gospel. Inviting visitors into your home (or out for a meal if the budget allows) shows loving concern and can be a more effective means of evangelism than all the talking in the world.

Showing hospitality provides us with more than just evangelistic opportunities. It lets us put the solitary in families (Psalm 68:6). We have the opportunity to give our singles experience with what a Christian home looks like, how a Christian husband and wife interact, and how Christian parenting is done (albeit all imperfectly). We have the opportunity to show "pure and undefiled religion" by caring for our senior adults (James 1:27) through the sharing of meals and fellowship. When we host visiting college kids, traveling Christians or missionaries, and others in our homes, it gives our families glimpses into their lives and callings that others may never see. When we help God's messengers, we become partners in their work (I John 8). Finally, we can't forget it gives us the opportunity to play host to angels (Hebrews 13:2)!

An experience in my 20s has had a lasting impact on my life. It was the summer after I graduated from college. I decided to delay starting a career until the fall to participate in my denomination's summer missions program and spend ten weeks in the American Southwest working with local churches. One week was spent in a home that could have come straight from the pages of Architectural Digest. The house was stunning, but I always felt I was an intrusion upon them.

Another week, I spent a week with a family who shared from their poverty, not their wealth. The home was humble and the conditions were, at times, downright challenging. I confess several mornings I woke up grumbling. My hosts were consistently warm and welcoming. When we left, this loving family gave my partner and me gifts. From observation, they didn't have the extra funds to do this. It brought me to tears. I have never forgotten that lesson on gracious, truly Christian hospitality.

Let me make myself clear: What differentiated these two families was not their socioeconomic levels; it was their love and concern for guests.

If we are going to practice hospitality, we have to plan to practice hospitality. Set a regular time each week or month to have people over for a meal. If you don't plan, typically you won't do because life will get in the way. Plan ahead simple (and budget-appropriate) meals. Remember, beans and franks, when freely shared, is showing hospitality. If you have an extra room or your kids could be persuaded to bunk up for a night or two, host a visiting missionary or traveling Christian.

Sometimes the scariest thing about having strangers or new acquaintances in our home is the fear of running out of things to talk about! Be interested in people's lives. Ask questions. If we're honest, we all love to talk about ourselves and our families.

It was a tradition after communion in the church of my youth to sing, "Blessed be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above." That blessed tie is developed and strengthened around the dinner table.

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