Welcome Others: What is Hospitality and Why Does it Matter?

Jul 5, 2022Blog, Theology

For the next few weeks on the blog we are going to be exploring the topic of Hospitality from a biblical perspective. Both globally and locally, there is a desperate need for a fresh obedience to this often neglected biblical command. Could it be that many of the ills that plague us today could be greatly muted if the people of God could hear with fresh ears Paul’s exhortation to the early Romans? He says, “Welcome others, just as God, in Christ, has welcomed you” (Romans 15:7). What God has done in Christ is nothing short of miraculous when it comes to Hospitality. So what is Hospitality? 

Perhaps when you hear that word you think of ‘an industry’ that involves hotels and food. Or perhaps you think of cooking meals and keeping a clean house. “Hospitality” comes from the Latin word hospes which means “visitor or stranger.” From it we get words like hospital (which originally meant a guest-chamber, guest’s lodging, or an inn) and hospice (which originally meant a lodging for travelers, often run by a religious group). Throughout history, this often happened with family and friends, but true hospitality extended this sacrificial service to visitors and strangers. 

The word for “hospitality” in the New Testament is either philoxenia or xenodokeo which means “to receive and show hospitality to a stranger, that is, someone who is not regarded as a member of the extended family or a close friend.” Both include the root xeno which means “stranger.” In short, there is a clear emphasis on strangers when it comes to hospitality. 

Acts 28 is a great example. Luke tells us that a man named Publius received Paul and his band of brothers and entertained them for three days. But the Bible gives more than just good examples when it comes to hospitality, it also commands it. Paul tells the Romans “be eager to show hospitality” (Romans 12:13). Peter says to “offer hospitality without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:8-9) and the author of Hebrews says “don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers” (Hebrews 13:1-2). Paul tells Timothy and Titus that “being hospitable” is a qualification for church leadership (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8). 

But hospitality goes even deeper than that. It is, in effect, what God has done in the person and work of Jesus Christ for the salvation of His bride. Below are 5 ways that biblical hospitality articulate and/or advance the Gospel: 

    • It levels the playing field. Biblical Hospitality reduces societal ‘hierarchies’ because the command is to both show hospitality to, and receive hospitality from, others, especially strangers. This fights the natural tendency to over or under value ourselves and others based on means in regard to service and instead elevates the work that Jesus gave and received. 
    • It is a counter-cultural reality. In a post-Genesis 3 world, (generally speaking) fear is the natural response that develops over time toward the ‘stranger.’ This is the phenomenon known as xenophobia or “fear of the stranger.” Biblical hospitality intentionally combats that through sacrificial, courageous acts. The word philaxenia literally means “love of stranger” while xenodokeo means “to think well of.”
    • It’s rooted in the character of God. Throughout the entirety of Scripture, God is presented as the hospitable host of creation. From Genesis 2, to Exodus 16 to Psalm 106, it’s clear that God is inviting all of creation (re: strangers) into a relationship with Him and with one another. For humans then, being made in His image, it makes sense that stories and commands of love and hospitality (and lack thereof) are so prevalent in the Hebrew Scriptures.   
    • It’s been realized in Christ. This thread all comes together in the person and work of Jesus who simultaneously was a giver and receiver of hospitality. Being virtually homeless the last 3 years of His life, He was dependent upon the generosity of others. Yet, in almost every arena Jesus was in, He became the host. And the New Testament writers were very shrewd in how they depicted this with the stories of Jesus echoing and alluding back to Old Testament narratives. 
    • Resourced and Empowered in the Gospel. Regarding hospitality, the Apostle Paul takes us behind the curtain, so to speak. In Ephesians 2, Paul says that the cross of Christ has secured for the church a vertical hospitality (2:1-10) dependent upon faith alone, thus tearing down any inhospitable barriers in Christ’s flesh (2:11-22). Thus he can command the Romans (whom he is entreating to partner with him to take the Gospel to strangers in Spain) “welcome others, just as God in Christ has welcomed you” (Romans 15:7).

So in a world of deep and divisive hostility like ours today, we truly believe a recapturing of the understanding and practice of biblical hospitality to be a key component of real revival. Not only here in Nashville, but in America and across the globe. We invite you on this journey of hospitality with us.