The Bible instructs us to be hospitable—to lovingly welcome strangers—which is exactly the opposite of how we are to act in a pandemic! I’m writing this from lockdown 3.0 in the UK, and we must stay at home unless legally permitted to leave. We are not allowed into each other’s homes and must stay 2 meters away from other people at all times. Does this mean we can legitimately put off God’s command to practice hospitality (Rom. 12:13)?
As always with Biblical commands, it is important to dig deeper to understand the principle behind the requirement. Then, we can seek how to express that principle in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.
The apostle Paul exhorts us to practice hospitality, but he doesn’t just call us to it; he shows us what it looks like by his own actions. Nowhere do we see this more clearly than in the opening chapters of 1 Thessalonians, where he writes:
But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory (1 Thess. 2:7-12).
Share the Gospel and Your Life
Church is not an educational institution but a family. God is our Father; we become children of God through the death of his son in our place. And so, when Paul describes relationships in the church, he uses family language: he acts towards them in tender love like a nursing mother; he encourages, comforts, and urges them like a father.
The primary reason we are to show hospitality is because we are a family, and that’s what families do. Families share real life with one another, the ups and downs, the sorrows as well as the joys. Family life is badly broken for most of us in this troubled world. But here, Paul gives us a beautiful picture of a devoted, nursing mother and a caring, present father who intentionally trains his children. What can we learn from this God-given illustration?
I’ve found this idea of acting like family towards my church really helpful. Families care practically for one another: cue the nursing mother. Families love enough to speak hard truths: enter the encouraging, comforting, urging father. Families can see through each other’s eyes, knowing when a news headline will evoke anxiety or when an anniversary will trigger grief. Even in a pandemic there’s loads we can do to share both the gospel and life in a familial way. Sending brownies and a card to the sick, ordering Christian children’s books for families, taking meals to healthcare workers and praying for them on the doorstep, arranging walks with those who are lonely and using that time to talk about what the Lord is teaching us, writing messages to the elderly, finding time for chats with neighbours, remembering birthdays.
The Church is Watching
As a result of the missionaries’ actions, the Thessalonians didn’t just hear the gospel; they experienced its authenticity. Paul says,
For you remember… you are witnesses [to]…our conduct…” (v. 9-10).
The church saw the way the gospel shaped their leaders’ behaviour.
Recently, I read Pastor Colin Smith’s encouraging account of his family’s commitment to hospitality when they first came from England to their new church in the United States. He writes, “We decided to get to know as many of the people as we could. So, we invited all the members of the church to our home. There were about 800 people, and it took a year of Sunday evenings to do it.” Praise God for leaders who model God’s love by sharing the gospel and opening their homes and hearts to us—even when it takes enormous time, effort, and sacrifice.
Yet, it’s not enough for the church leadership to be committed to sharing life. Sharing life is not a one-way street. There needs to be a willingness amongst the whole church to share life—to receive care as well as to give it. As proud, independent beings, this is often hard to do.
Sharing life means sacrificing your time, your energy, being willing to go out of your way. But it reaps huge rewards as the depth of relationship increases almost exponentially when you take a step closer to other people, seeing what they love, what their lives are centred around, and who they are when no one is looking.
This is why church online must be only a temporary measure. We must live amongst our church family so that we can remember, witness, and know what it looks like to live out the gospel in practice—through hospitality and sharing our lives.
Good News for Loneliness
Never before has our world been such a lonely place. People are isolated and crying out for those who will share with them not just the hope of the gospel, but also their own lives—drawing others in to find the source of this loving welcome. The gospel of Jesus Christ on display in the lives of believers is such good news for a world in lonely isolation.
How do we show hospitality in a pandemic? By finding creative ways to safely share the gospel and our lives. Our Saviour didn’t confine the gospel to teaching in a lecture theatre; he walked with individuals. Our Saviour wasn’t limited by not having a home in which to invite people into; he was often found eating with people from all walks of life—tax collectors, sinners, sharing his life with any and all. Our Saviour shared his life to the point of shedding his blood, holding nothing back, opening his heart and life to us so that he could welcome us eternally into his Father’s house. Let’s imitate our Lord Jesus, sacrificially sharing our lives with others, whatever our circumstances.