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Loving the Stranger

As the light at the end of the COVID tunnel seems to be approaching, I’ve been thinking a lot about what life will be like when we are fully “open” again. I imagine it will be slow going for many of us as we respect the varying comfort levels we each possess after a year with this pandemic.

No doubt there will be many differing opinions we will encounter as we reemerge from this past year. But there is one practice that I am certain the world is in desperate need of and I am hoping many of us will embrace again, or perhaps embrace for the first time—biblical hospitality.

But first, a little story

In my early twenties I had a roommate who always wanted to host people—parties, meetings, small gatherings, you name it. I hated hosting. To me it was a waste of time and energy. Why not just go to a restaurant or something and let someone else do all the work? Why did we need to have people over? Then we have to clean the apartment, make sure we have enough food and drinks, proper plates and utensils—after all we were in our early 20s and we didn’t have much stuff—not to mention, who knows how late everyone would stay. And the mess when it’s all over. Ugh. It all sounded like a total chore, not fun at all.

As time went on and as I grew in my devotion to Jesus, my heart began to change. Soon hosting turned into hospitality. I went all out to make sure our guests felt welcome and had everything they needed to enjoy themselves. If I am honest with you, there were times it was also an attempt to keep up appearances. I wanted everything perfect—best food, the best decorations if it was a bridal shower or birthday, proper seating, lovely linens (or at least pretty paper napkins), and the list goes on. A lot of my hospitality during this season revolved around my own ideas and thoughts and had a lot less to do with the people I was inviting into my home.

What is Biblical hospitality?

In her book The Gospel Comes with a House Key, Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World, Rosaria Butterfield says, “The word hospitality approximates the Greek word philoxenia, which means ‘love the stranger.’”

According to the Webster’s Dictionary hospitality is generous and friendly treatment of visitors and guestshospitable treatment. And, according to my Bible dictionary it means to entertain or receive a stranger (sojourner) into one’s home as an honored guest and to provide the guest with food, shelter, and protection.

When I read these definitions I cannot help but notice that practicing hospitality is practicing the Gospel. Do you see it?

Generous treatment: Do we not worship the most generous God that humanity has ever known? He made the way for us to be with him through the ultimate sacrifice.

Love the stranger: Are we not commanded to love others as ourselves?

Honored guest: Did our generous God not make us an honored guest at the banquet table? An honor we do not deserve apart from his sacrifice.

Provide: God is our ultimate provider and gives us the chance to provide this world with love, peace, and joy.

The gospel is a story about community. It is about a communal God, the triune God, making a way for us to certainly be with him for eternity, but also, and just as important, to co-labor with him in the now and not yet.

What is the now and not yet? This current moment in history when we know that the Messiah has come and yet, we wait for him to come again. But in this waiting, we are given the greatest opportunity of all, to follow His lead in fulfilling His kingdom purposes in our very own lifetimes.

Biblical hospitality brings the gospel to life. It shows the struggling Jesus follower we love them and will walk with them through thick and thin. It shows the skeptic there is room for them at the table and we will love you no matter where your faith lands. It shows the outright atheist, whether you believe it or not I believe you are made in the image of God and so I lovingly welcome you too.

In his book Beautiful Resistance, The Joy of Conviction in a Culture of Compromise Jon Tyson says, “If you were to trace the hospitality of Jesus through a gospel, you would find that hospitality wasn’t one of Jesus’s strategies; it was the strategy.”

What does Biblical hospitality look like?

I’m hearing people eager to “go back to the way things were” and others, “Let’s not go back to the way things were, they weren’t always that great.” No matter where we fall on this spectrum, one thing is certain, there has been a collective loneliness that we’ve experienced. For some it has led to the most tragic of circumstances, loss of life, but for many of us it is a profound realization that we really do need one another.

Biblical hospitality requires we live outside our introverted comfort zones (preaching to myself here as I’m one of those introverts) and embrace the messiness that can come from opening our homes and lives to others. It means we need to see the lonely neighbor as more important than our own comfort.

“We live in a world that highly values functionality. But there is such a thing as being too functional. When we are too functional, we forget that the Christin life is a calling, not a performance. Hospitality is necessary whether you have cat hair on the couch or not. People will die of chronic loneliness sooner than they will cat hair in the soup,” Rosaria Butterfield, The Gospel Comes with a House Key.

This brings me back to the little story about my hosting charade when I was younger. Biblical hospitality is not about me or you—it is about the stranger, the neighbor, the hurting. Which means that the house (or backyard if you’re not comfortable being indoors yet) does not have to look perfect. We don’t need the best linens, perfectly manicured landscapes, or fancy foods. We just need to open our spaces. It can be something as simple as inviting a neighbor family over for pizza in your backyard on a Friday evening. The point is, we build connections and relationships with people by using the very thing God has given us, our homes.

In this moment in America, as COVID slowly becomes less of a challenge for gathering, as Jesus followers we have the opportunity to show His love to a world that is so very desperate for community and connection.

“… Jesus’s hospitality was scandalously unconditional. Conditional hospitality crystalizes borders. Unconditional hospitality deconstructs them. We are called to this unconditional hospitality.” John Tyson.

How incredible would it be to see the body of believers open our spaces without condition, build trust with those that do not know him, making a way for hurting hearts to find the One that loves them more than they can even comprehend? Oh, how beautiful that picture is!

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Lindsey Zarob
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