The dictionary defines hospitality as “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers”. This is a great definition, but the Bible tells us so much more about how God wants Christians to show hospitality.
What is the theology of hospitality? The theology of hospitality is what the Bible has to say about showing hospitality. The Bible tells Christians that hospitality is a gift, it’s about being generous, serving others, and inviting them into the family of God. Biblical hospitality is commanded and it mirrors the Gospel.
For most of the world, being hospitable is a given. There’s no question that you show hospitality to others, even strangers. But in the Western culture, we have forgotten the importance of hospitality and Christians have forgotten how the theology of hospitality can change their lives and others.
The Biblical Definition Of Hospitality
True followers of Jesus should be the most hospitable, loving people on the planet. Not because they’re so great, but because they allow the Holy Spirit to move, speak, and love through them.
The best place to hear from the Holy Spirit is from God’s word, which explains everything we need to know about the theology of hospitality.
Biblical Hospitality Is Generous
Hospitality is a gift, and it was given to us by God. God is the good giver, and He provides everything we need.
When God provides everything we need, He does it for our good and others’, so that we can be generous with them just as God was generous to us.
Being generous is also a gift since God tells us that we are blessed when we give in all things, including hospitality.
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’Acts 20:35 ESV
Being hospitable doesn’t mean that we can’t keep a single thing for ourselves or have no boundaries with people whatsoever, but it does mean that we can generously serve and love people as Jesus would.
Biblical Hospitality Is About Loving And Serving Others
God tells us in the Bible to love Him first with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Then, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Jesus said that everyone is your neighbor, not just the people who live across the street from you. This means that we can be hospitable to a friend, a stranger, and someone who may even be hard to love.
Jesus even calls us to love our enemies. We may not want to love our enemies by inviting them over for dinner, and that may not be a good idea, but we can still pray for them like Matthew 5 says to do.
Matthew 5 also teaches us that we shouldn’t love or serve people because we’ll get something in return, or because they’ll love us back, but instead we should be so hospitable that it looks out of the ordinary to the rest of the world.
For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same?Matthew 5:43-48 ESV
The tax collectors and Gentiles were people that seemed unloveable. No one would’ve wanted to serve them.
Sure, loving our friends and loved ones is good and easy, but it’s ordinary. As Christians, we are called to love extraordinarily.
This includes being hospitable to the outcasts, the ‘sinners’, the hungry, the sick, the naked, the prisoners, and everyone who desperately needs God’s love.
With Jesus, we can treat all these people not as we may first percieve them, but how we would want to be treated.
If we would want someone to be hospitable to us, we should be that for them.
So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.Matthew 7:12 ESV
As Christians, the Bible tells us that people will know us by our love for one another. If we want to spread the gospel, then loving others through selfless hospitality is one of the best ways to do that.
It’s not always easy to selflessly serve others, but even Jesus came not to be served, but to serve.
Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.Matthew 20:28 CSB
Jesus performed the most selfless act by giving His life for us. His love motivates us to love others, and if we have the same Holy Spirit in us that raised Him from the grave, we can serve and include people by that same power.
Biblical Hospitality Is Inclusive, Not Exclusive
Along the same lines of loving and serving others, it’s important to know that the theology of hospitality is inclusive, not exclusive.
It’s inclusive in who is called to serve. Everyone can serve, not just those who are more nurturing, such as women, and it’s inclusive in who it welcomes. Everyone is welcomed, not just the people we think are loveable.
To make sure the disciples understood this, Jesus told them a parable about the great banquet and explained what it meant.
He said also to the man who had invited him, ‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.’Luke 14:12-14 ESV
God promises us that the reward waiting in heaven for us is greater than anything we could receive from people on this earth.
The greatest reward is when we’ll be in God’s presence and completely wrapped up in His love with those we showed hospitality to.
Those people will be the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked, the sick, and the prisoners we see now. Those people are the ones God is calling us to show hospitality to.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’Matthew 25:34-45 ESV
The whole purpose of this kind of hospitality is to invite people into the family of God, where they can experience Jesus’ new life and love for themselves.
Biblical Hospitality Is About Inviting Others Into The Family Of God
Biblical hospitality is more than just entertaining people and inviting them over for a meal, though those things can be part of it.
True hospitality is inviting people into a relationship with God and His family.
God invites everyone into His family by His Holy Spirit and by grace. Those who repent from their sins and believe in Jesus get to become the sons and daughters of God.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,John 1:12 ESV
Now, God is our Father. The God of the whole universe, the King of Kings, the Lord of Armies, and the God of family is our Father. He’s the best Father, and He loves His children so well.
When we see that and take His word to heart, we realize just how much God loves everyone around us and how much He wants us to love them through hospitality.
If God accepted us, sinners, into His family and made us righteous before Him through Jesus’ blood, how much more will He give us the ability to serve others and extend an invitation of love to them? That invitation is the one to a relationship with Jesus, the God who loves and cares for His family.
If we’re going to invite others into the Kingdom and family of God, we also have to be willing to invite them into our own homes, families, and lives.
We don’t have to have a five-course meal every time and we don’t have to have the best house on the block to show hospitality. All we need is a willing heart that wants to listen to the Holy Spirit and love people as Jesus commanded for our good and others’ freedom.
Biblical Hospitality Is Commanded
God not only wants us to be hospitable, but He commands us to be, just as He commands us to self-controlled and disciplined.
For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.Titus 1:7-8 ESV
This verse is talking about people in leadership in the church, but God still commands other Christians not to neglect to show hospitality.
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.Hebrews 13:2 ESV
The goal isn’t to entertain angels, but to serve whoever God tells us to. Still, how cool would that be? If God tells us how important hospitality is through sending angels to some of us, how much more important is it to entertain those who don’t know God?
You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.Leviticus 19:34
God commanded the Israelites to be hospitable and welcoming to sojourners because the Israelites knew what it felt like to be strangers. They already had the compassion that’s needed for showing hospitality.
After they were strangers in the land of Egypt, the Israelites were saved by God and brought into God’s family. In the same way, God saved us from sin and brought us into His family.
If what God has done for us is true, why wouldn’t we want to share in that hospitality? How could we keep it to ourselves? We can’t, and we won’t because God has commanded us to love others and show compassion to them.
We can do this because we remember what it’s like to be a stranger to God and we also know how much better it is to be part of His hospitable family.
Biblical Examples Of Hospitality
The Bible is full of stories of hospitality where people from all different walks of life showed grace and generosity to those around them. These stories show us that no matter what our life looks like, we can use what we’ve go to make a big deal of Jesus and love His people.
Hospitality In The Old Testament
In the Old Testament, there are endless stories about how hospitality is done right and done wrong. But to help you get a picture of what the theology of hospitality looks like, I’ve found three of the best examples of biblical hospitality:
1. Abraham With The Three Strangers
He looked up, and he saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to meet them, bowed to the ground, and said, ‘My lord, if I have found favor with you, please do not go on past your servant. Let a little water be brought, that you may wash your feet and rest yourselves under the tree. I will bring a bit of bread so that you may strengthen yourselves. This is why you have passed your servant’s way. Later, you can continue on.Genesis 18:2-5 CSB
Abraham was God’s servant, and he showed it by wanting to serve and others. Just like Abraham’s eagerness to serve, we should also be willing to show hospitality even when we may not be expecting it.
2. Rahab With The Spies
Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two men as spies from the Acacia Grove, saying, ‘Go and scout the land, especially Jericho.’ So they left, and they came to the house of a prostitute named Rahab, and stayed there.Joshua 2:1 ESV
When God lead Joshua and the people to take back the land of Cannan, they had to defeat the evil city of Jericho first.
As spies were sent out to scout the land, the prostitute Rahab sheltered them and later on in the chapter, kept them from harm.
Because of her hospitality and faith in God, Rahab and her whole family were saved from the destruction of Jericho, proving that no matter who you are, you can show hospitality to others.
3. David And Mephibosheth
One of my personal favorite stories of hospitality is David and Mephibosheth.
You may know the story of King David well, but Mephibosheth was a nobody. He was less than a nobody, he was a descendant of Saul, the man who tried to kill David on many occasions.
David knew this, and actually sought out Mephibosheth in order to show him kindness.
‘Don’t be afraid,’ David said to him, ‘since I intend to show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all your grandfather Saul’s fields, and you will always eat meals at my table.’2 Samuel 9:7 CSB
Instead of wanting to kill Mephibosheth because of Saul’s hatred, David wanted to show Mehibosheth mercy and hospitality.
So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table just like one of the king’s sons. Mephibosheth had a young son whose name was Mica. All those living in Ziba’s house were Mephibosheth’s servants. However, Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem because he always ate at the king’s table. His feet had been injured.2 Samuel 9:11b-13 CSB
It’s interesting that this passage makes it so clear that Mephibosheth was lame. Before this passage, Mephibosheth even admitted to being no better than a “dog” before the King.
Just like Mephibosheth, we are unworthy to be shown hospitality, and just like David, God welcomes us and loves us anyway.
His hospitality is the same we should be mirroring as Christians, welcoming the least of these to our table and showing them kindness and love, even if they don’t deserve it.
Hospitality In The New Testament
Just like the Old Testament, there are a plethora of scriptures to choose from concerning hospitality. But for now, we can focus on three:
1. The Good Samaritan
The parable of the Good Samaritan can be found in Luke 10:25-37, and it’s all about how we can love our neighbors, no matter who they are.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, a Jewish man is mugged and left on the side of the road half-dead.
A Levite and priest, both holy men, walk by him and do nothing. But, a Samaritan, who the Jews hated, came by and showed kindness to the man.
The Good Samaritan bandaged his wounds, got him a place to stay, and paid for his care.
The Good Samaritan expected nothing in return, and in the same way, we should show generous hospitality to others who we may not like and expect nothing back from them.
When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down because today it is necessary for me to stay at your house.’ So he quickly came down and welcomed him joyfully.Luke 19:5-6 CSB
What’s crazy about this story is that Zacchaeus was a tax collector, hated by the Jews. No one would’ve expected Jesus to call Zacchaeus or even show him forgiveness which Jesus does later on in the story.
Sometimes, Jesus will call us to be hospitable just like He called Zacchaeus. Sometimes when we’re not expecting it. And just like Zacchaeus, we can joyfully listen to Jesus and hospitably welcome others.
3. Lydia Of Thyatira
Last but not least, is the story of Lydia of Thyatira.
Lydia was a wealthy woman, a dealer in purple dyes, and when she heard Paul’s teaching, she and her whole household were saved.
After she and her household were baptized, she urged us, ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.Acts 16:15 CSB
If you’re a new believer, you can immediately practice hospitality just like Lydia did with Paul and his traveling companions.
Hospitality can be shown to believers and unbelievers alike, and it’s the perfect way to live out the gospel in our lives.
4. The Gospel
The gospel is the good news of Jesus. How He came, died, was resurrected, and ascended to the Father was how He saved us from our sins to give us new life in Him through the Holy Spirit.
As a way to spread the gospel with unbelievers, Christians can mirror Jesus’ story through their hospitality.
Just as God is generous to us with the sacrifice of His Son Jesus, we can be generous to others. Just as Jesus was selfless, we can be selfless to others too.
Just as God invites us into His family, we can invite others into our family, home, and life, so that they may see just how much God loves them.
The Theology Of Hospitality Matters
The theology of hospitality is more than simply entertaining friends and family, it’s the act of loving people like Jesus and welcoming them into your life and into the family of God.
Jesus is too good to not want to share, and His gospel is one of acceptance and community. Because of this, let’s get excited again about showing hospitality and loving people like Jesus does.
The theology of hospitality matters because it’s a gift. It’s about being generous, serving, and loving others.