When we understand what hospitality is at its core, how believers are motivated to show it, and the rich blessings that it brings to both guest and host, I believe we will approach the practice of biblical hospitality with joy and eagerness.
The word hospitality may bring to mind a hospital, or the hospitality industry (hotels). Both would be appropriate associations. In both hospitals and hotels, a guest or patient is offered a place to sleep and food to eat.
This is what we typically think of when we hear the word hospitality: room and board, offered for free.
But biblical hospitality is more than room and board. The word hospitality can be found in the ESV Bible four times (Romans 12:13; 1 Timothy 5:10; Hebrews 13:2; and 1 Peter 4:9). To summarize, these verses show that hospitality is both action and affection, receiving and loving a stranger.
You might ask: why is this distinction important? And the answer is that it is possible to offer all the components of hospitality—food, a bed, a shower—without love, but this is not biblical hospitality.
Anyone can do acts of hospitality, the outward dimension. But there is an inner dimension of hospitality that requires a change of heart. 1 Peter 4:9 says we are to show hospitality to one another without grumbling. If we grumble or complain while giving food or lodging to someone, we have not truly shown biblical hospitality.
This is because hospitality is the glad reception of the stranger. Hospitality engages the stranger with both our hands and our hearts. But, Peter takes this one step further and expands the usual use of hospitality.
Show Hospitality to One Another
We know we are to be hospitable to strangers, but consider what Peter says in 1 Peter 4:9: “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Peter writes that we are to show hospitality to one another. Hospitality is not only for people we have recently met but also for people we regularly see!
You are called to show love to the new kid at school, your Muslim neighbor, your atheist cousin, an illegal immigrant, a political refugee, or someone with a criminal history. But you are also called to love and receive the widow that sits beside you on the pew at church, or the young couple with children that live far from their families.
Serve these people. Feed them, clothe them, and invite them into your home. But most importantly, invite them into your hearts by loving them with the love of Christ Jesus. Biblical hospitality is not merely a work of our hands but involves a work in our hearts.
A Stronger Motivation
We answered, What is biblical hospitality? Now we turn to answer another question, Why show hospitality? What is our motivation?
One simple answer is that God commands hospitality from us in Scripture (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9). Yet, our natural reaction to law (what is commanded) is sin and rebellion (Romans 7:7-11).
For Christians, the strongest motivation to show hospitality is not God’s commands (the Law) but His love for us in Christ (the gospel). This is not unique to hospitality—the gospel ought to be the driving motivation for all our good works.
Any other motive fails to produce the same effect. When I obey a command out of a sense of obligation, I am far less likely to obey that command with joy and eagerness than when I obey a command out of a sense of gratitude. This is true of hospitality.
And we have good reason to respond in gratitude. Jesus gave himself as living water to quench our spiritual thirst (John 7:37-38). He gives us his Church as our temporary spiritual lodging on earth (1 Peter 2:5), and Heaven as our eternal home (John 14:2-3). Those who were not God’s chosen people (Gentiles) have been welcomed into the family of God by Christ, and this is why we are called to welcome and live in harmony with one another (Romans 15:5-7).
We have been graciously loved and received by God in Christ. So gratitude, not guilt, is the strongest motivation for us to love and receive others with joy and eagerness.
Blessed to Be a Blessing
Most use this phrase in reference to Genesis 12:2, where God says to Abraham: “I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” The meaning is that God’s blessings to Abraham are meant to spill over to all the families of the earth, which we recognize as the future blessing of Jesus Christ (Genesis 12:3).
This is the purpose of God’s blessing to Abraham: that others would be blessed. But the phrase is also true in another sense, since “it is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35). In other words, the result of my blessing others is my own state of blessedness.
Personal gain is not our main motivation to show hospitality, but hospitality does have a good result in the lives of those who practice it. We can approach hospitality with joy, knowing that it will be as much a blessing to offer hospitality as to receive it.
The purpose of your blessedness is to bless others. The result of your blessing others is that you are blessed even more. This isn’t the lackluster gospel of prosperity. This is the lavish grace of God. He gives to us, that we might give to others, and in that giving we might receive even more of his kindness.
Are you hesitant to open your heart and home to others? Do not be afraid. Seek out opportunities to show hospitality (Romans 12:13), for in doing so, some have entertained angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2). You are blessed by God in order to be a blessing to others, and by God’s grace you will be blessed by Him when you are a blessing to others.