Have you ever had God teach you a lesson while you were teaching others? Once, I gave a talk on hospitality to a group of ladies at a retreat. As I prepared that talk, God gave me an opportunity to practice hospitality. Unfortunately, I didn’t see it as an opportunity, but more as an interference, an intrusion.
My friend who usually hosts our community group in her home had to go out of town and asked me to take over and host it instead. Though I said yes, to be honest, I was not filled with joy. My own family had been out of town for a couple of weeks, and we were just getting back into our routine. The thought of cleaning up my house only to have it trashed again was unappealing. Our house is no longer childproof, so I fretted about what to do with all the children while the adults had their study. And then there were the worries about where everyone would sit.
Perhaps 1 Peter 4:9 was written with people like me in mind, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
Hospitality and the Bible
For most of us, when we think of hospitality, we think of what can be seen with our eyes: a spotless home, a perfectly set table, mouthwatering recipes, and flickering candles. We might look at the elegant pictures that cover Southern Living Magazine and think, My house could never look like that. Maybe we see our friends’ Pinterest boards full of recipes and feel like failures because we are paltry cooks. Or we look at our dining table that seats four and wonder, Where will everyone sit?
Scripture has a different approach to hospitality than what you might read in Better Homes and Gardens or watch on The Food Network. It’s not that cleaning and preparing our homes for guests and presenting a nice meal isn’t part of it. It’s just that hospitality in Scripture is really a means to an end. Opening the doors of our homes in hospitality is the means to invite people into our lives and hearts. And, ultimately, sharing a loaf of bread with others across the dining table creates opportunities to share the Bread of Life with them. The details of hospitality that we get so caught up in are actually the backdrop to the greater story that takes place when we invite others into our homes.
Martha and Mary
We can see this most clearly in the familiar story of Mary and Martha.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38–42)
Luke’s contrasting descriptions of Martha and Mary show us the proper function and place that hospitality serves in our lives. Here we see Jesus teaching and Mary sitting at his feet, learning from him. Martha was preparing and serving food. She was so focused on the details of hosting that she missed the reason why she was hosting guests to begin with—so that they might learn from Jesus. This passage points us the heart and purpose of hospitality: to share the Bread of Life with others.
Here are a few lessons for us when we open our homes in hospitality:
1. Details Are Just Details
For Martha, the details became the focus of all her concern. Sure, we need to make a nice meal. And it’s also okay to create a warm and cozy space for our guests to gather. But we must remember that those activities are merely the backdrop to the greater story unfolding in our homes.
If scrubbing and cleaning our homes in preparation for our guests becomes our focus, we might miss sharing the mess and dirtiness of our lives with others. If our greatest concern is wondering how a group of people will fit in our home, we’ll miss the opportunity to make room in our hearts for others. And if we fret about making the perfect meal to serve, we’ll miss sharing with our guests the only food that truly satisfies.
2. Heart Checks
If we find ourselves stressed like Martha about the details of hospitality, it means it has become a primary focus of our heart. When we engage in hospitality, we need to do frequent heart checks. We need to ask ourselves questions such as: Are we grumbling in our hearts about opening our home to others? Have the details consumed us? Are they distracting us from engaging with people? Do we care more about how our home looks or how the food tastes than we do about Christ being exalted?
3. Don’t Pull Guests Away
Martha wanted to pull her sister away from sitting at the feet of Christ. If what we are doing in our hospitality interferes or impedes with people being encouraged by the gospel, then we are not engaged in biblical hospitality. Jesus told Martha that Mary had chosen the better thing. Feasting on Christ, being encouraged by the gospel, and learning God’s Word are all priorities above the details of hospitality. The truth is, the dishes can wait. And feeding a hungry soul is more important than feeding an empty belly.
4. Not About Us
Martha was focused on herself and what she wanted done, not on Christ’s mission. Our goal should be God’s mission, not satisfying our own wants and desires. If the spotlight is shining on us and not on Christ, it’s not biblical hospitality. This is true when our hearts are resistant to doing hospitality, when we grumble and complain about it, and also when we get wrapped up in making all the details perfect.
The next time we open our doors to guests, may we pray for hearts that magnify Christ in all our efforts in hospitality. May all we do be for Christ and His glory, in each and every detail, pointing our guests to the only meal that will truly fill their souls.
How about you? Do you get caught up in the details of hospitality? Do you grumble at the thought of opening your home to others? How can remembering the purpose behind hospitality change your heart toward it?