Hospitality encompasses so much these days. After all, there’s an entire industry modeled after it! When I hear the word hospitality, I think dinner parties with beautifully scaped tables. I think of guest rooms with soft, clean sheets turned down next to gorgeous displays of beautiful Bouqs flowers. And I think of magnificent events that I couldn’t dream of putting together on my own!
But what is hospitality truly about? There’s got to be more to it than the superficial approach that our American culture has inflated!
Contrary to popular belief, hospitality isn’t only about making things look pretty, feel nice, or taste good. There is so much more to it than what we’ve been led to understand. Honestly, this encourages me personally because I struggle so much with finding the effort to set a pretty table after I’ve been slaving in the kitchen all day. And please don’t judge, but I barely have time and energy to clean my own sheets, let alone the sheets in the guest room!
So, what are Some of the Ways to Practice Hospitality Without Being Superficial?
Hospitality at Home
When we think of hospitality, we think of our homes, and the act of inviting others into our homes. This is the whole reason that the early nineteenth and twentieth century homes included a formal living and dining room. These suggestions might seem obvious to some, but my hope is that you’ll find a helpful nugget in there somewhere!
1. Host a Dinner Party
Wait, what!? I thought you said dinner parties were superficial!! Haha, I did, didn’t I? Here’s the thing – It’s all about where your heart is.
I have a close friend who has every sort of dish set imaginable. She has platters, serving bowls, or stemware for any occasion you can think of (I know of one such set that is specifically and beautifully designed for an east coast crab feed!). And her husband can cook!! Together, they are a formidable team. Dinner at her house isn’t just a nice time, it’s an event that will remain in your memory for a long time to come.
Wisdom has built her house; she has set up its seven pillars. She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her servants, and she calls from the highest point of the city, “Let all who are simple come to my house!” To those who have no sense she says, “Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of insight.” Proverbs 9:1-6
When you take the time to prepare a table for somebody, whether it’s the food or the design, you are saying to that person that they are important, that they are special. Those statements are magnified if those invited do not have the ability themselves to create the same effect.
But if your heart is not in blessing your guests, but instead in obtaining your own praise and recognition, then you’ve missed the point of hospitality. It should not be about you, but about them.
2. Provide a Place to Stay
A couple of years ago, I attended my grandmother’s memorial service. She had passed of natural causes right before COVID hit the community. We were all thrown into immediate lockdown, unable to give her the proper send off until later that summer. What I experienced at her service, sitting around those who loved her most, was a deep appreciation for the unique type of hospitality that she exuded.
One by one, family members and close friends alike, got up to share testimony of how she had invited them in. This not only included warm meals when needed, but also a place to stay.
I have a good friend who also approaches hospitality in this manner. I have known her family to welcome other families much larger than theirs into their modest home for whatever length of time has been needed. In this, she has become a second mom to those in her midst, and there have been many who have been blessed because of it.
The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:34
3. Serve Your Church Community
I am not the pretty table person. I am not the come into my home and stay person (my husband is definitely not that person). But I do love opening up my home. So, what does that look like for us? We try and follow the example of the first church in Acts, and we share what we have.
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. Acts 4:32
Our house has been used for church BBQs, meetings, weekly Bible studies and community groups, and even an annual trunk-or-treat on Halloween. We love having our home used for His purposes, and we love the example it sets for our kids, who also love their friends coming in and out throughout the week!
4. Invite Them In
This is one of my favorites. I think sometimes we overthink hospitality, beating ourselves up for not having the clean house or the proper hors d’oeuvres. But when we stop the overthinking and overplanning, and we simply invite someone in, we are blessed with an opportunity to get to know somebody as a real person, by letting them get to know us as a real person. Sometimes, the façade that we create by wanting to impress so badly, can make a person feel intimated about their own imperfections, which only causes their own façade to remain.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could just get past the fake? If when I invited someone over, and they saw my laundry on the floor and a mess on the table, they felt at home, not feeling so bad about their own dirty baseboards and windowsills? What if the immediate impression was that they didn’t feel the pressure to make a good impression?
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Encouragement can come in more than just words. We can choose to encourage our guests by dropping all pretense, and welcoming them in just as we are.
Being Hospitable Outside Your Home
This is where hospitality gets tricky. This is where we start to move away from society’s understanding of the word, and toward God’s definition. What if I were to tell you that true hospitality has nothing to do with your home at all?
5. Invite Them In…To Your Life
We all know those people. You know, the ones that we are comfortable bumping into on the street, but maybe not so comfortable inviting into that inner circle of our lives? Honestly, I really struggle here. Some people are just hard……and messy. I don’t always want them impeding on the serene environment that I’ve created for myself. They might drain my energy, or bring drama where there wasn’t any before.
But God says that my feelings are wrong. My life has been given over to Him to be used for His glory. That means that it is not mine to hoard, it is His to share.
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6
When we invite others into our lives, we invite them into our mess. We invite them to witness us as we (sometimes poorly) navigate the path to Christ. Like the apostle Paul, we invite them to:
Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1
This point, above all the others in this post, encompasses all the other points made. When you execute this well, every other suggestion will fall into place naturally and as needed.
6. Maintain a Welcoming Demeanor
Honestly, this one is hard to fake. Believe me, I’ve tried. When it is not sincere, the relationships you build are not sincere. You will grow weary and the relationship will fall apart.
But there is good news. The closer we grow to Christ, the more we begin to reflect who He is. And there has not been one more welcoming on this planet than our Savior.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14
When we’ve invited the Holy Spirit to come live through us, His characteristics begin to shine through. When this begins to happen, your demeanor will most definitely change before you are even aware of it. Whether you are ready for it or not, others will be drawn to you…because of Him.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23
7. Feed & Serve the Poor & Needy
It is almost impossible to look up verses in the Bible about hospitality without finding instructions on caring for the lowly in life.
There are so many who fit this description, from the sick, to the widowed, the drug addict prostituting herself, to the convicted criminal serving his life sentence. In my community, the homeless have taken over and trashed our town in such a substantial way, that a bitterness has consumed even the most devout Christian. The act of humbling ourselves to the point of serving these individuals has been reduced to a precious few.
And yet, that is what we are called to do.
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:12-14
Our instruction is not only to do the minimum, merely seeing to their basic needs. Our instruction is to treat them as though they were royalty. Our instruction is to give them the very best of ourselves.
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:37-40
8. Put Others Before Yourself
The very center of the hospitality mindset is the concept of putting others before yourself. You cannot truly welcome somebody in, whether to your home, your life, or elsewhere, if you’re thinking of yourself above all else. To my dismay, there is a large level of humility that is needed for this to occur. It is not possible to put someone else’s needs first if your (or specifically my) inflated ego gets in the way.
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ Luke 10:30-35
To understand this passage more fully, you have to understand who the Levites and the Samaritans were. The Levites were the tribe chosen to serve God personally. These were the men from whom the high priests were chosen. They served in His temple and lived the closest to holy ground. By contrast, the Samaritans were a mixed breed of Jews and Gentiles and were looked down upon by the Jewish community. The two groups were not social with one another and did not mix in any of their daily responsibilities.
The wounded man was passed over by both the priest and the Levite, but the Samaritan, who had been fully rejected by Jewish society, took the time to put the man’s needs before his own, going so far as to take responsibility for him long after he went on his way.
And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Hebrews 13:16
When Hospitality is Not Quite Right
When we don’t have the right heart in hospitality, it can look wonky. We can hurt the very people we’re trying to minister to, and the results can be damaging. When we give the impression that we’re putting others before ourselves, but then don’t actually put that impression into practice, we can come across as insincere. We can make others feel guilty for imposing, or, knowingly or not, feed off of their insecurities in order to make ourselves feel better. Our words may not come across as welcoming as we intend, or we can make them feel less than, by focusing too much on our own attempts at perfection.
One of the most retold Biblical accounts within women’s ministries is the story of the sisters, Mary and Martha.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42
One of the quickest ways to tell a person that you don’t have time for them, is to invite them over and then not give them your full attention. I have experienced this more times than I can count, as it is a common phenomenon among busy middle-aged women. We have a hard time slowing down, especially when we see all those dishes piling up, or when the house feels unkept and people are over. I used to do this when my sister came to visit. I’d busy myself with making all the yummy food and afternoon snacks, but she made a comment once that stuck with me. She said that she didn’t come over for the yummy food and snacks. She came over to visit with me and to relax. Wow! That was convicting!!
Check Your Attitude at the Door
In addition to displaying the fruits of the Spirit, God is crystal clear about where He stands on our negative emotions as well.
Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 1 Peter 4:9
When we approach others with the intent of reaching out and connecting, but we are struggling internally with not really feeling like it, resentment can build. In order to move forward with a true heart of hospitality, you must first surrender those feelings to the Lord, and let Him work within you.
Use Your Free Will Wisely
We can spend our time however we want, with whomever we want. This is a freedom that we should not take lightly.
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. 1 Corinthians 10:23-24
Just because you can do something, or just because you can not do something, doesn’t mean that that choice is the best plan of action for those involved. But one thing is for certain, one has never been worse off for showing hospitality, in some form, to another.
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. Galatians 5:13