Series: 1 & 2 Peter, by Rosie Moore.

“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies.”  Peter 4:9-11.

Practise hospitality… without grumbling!

Generous, cheerful hospitality. This is a vital way that God works through his church family to bring refreshment and love to others. But there is a deeper significance to hospitality than providing food, drink and a place to sleep. Hospitality is one of the ways that we welcome Christ into our everyday lives and homes. And it is the way that we mirror his gospel invitation to others.

What’s more, like all God’s commands, hospitality enables us to live well in God’s world. According to a seventy-five year old Harvard study of well-being, the happiest and healthiest people prioritize relationships with family, friends and community (Click here). God’s ways are always for our good.

Hospitality reflects God’s heart

But hospitality has always been more about God than us. Among God’s Old Testament people, welcoming a stranger was a cultural expectation, as was hospitality among friends (Ruth 2:9; 1 Sam 25:6; Job 31:31-32). And likewise, in the New testament, hospitality is a pillar of Christian living: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Rom 12:13; Heb 13:2).

Amazingly, Rahab the prostitute demonstrated true faith in Yahweh by welcoming the spies into her home in Jericho (Heb 11:31). And the Bible remembers the Shunammite woman and the widow of Zarephath, (both Gentiles), for their willingness to show hospitality to the prophets Elisha and Elijah (2 Kings 4:9-10; 1 Kings 17:9).

Likewise, hospitality is listed as an attribute of a godly leader in the Church (Titus 1:8; 1 Tim 3:2). And specific mentions are made of first century lay Christians like Aquila and Priscilla who, through their willingness to show hospitality, opened the doorway of the gospel to many people in Rome, Corinth and Ephesus (Rom 16:3-4; 1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19). We read about this hospitable couple in Acts 18.

Hospitality and the gospel invitation

But the Greek word for hospitality in the Bible (philoxenia) has a much wider definition than just having our friends around for a meal. It means “love of the stranger”. It has always been a fruitful vehicle for gospel ministry. As Stacy Reaoch explains,

“We want to serve others well so they will see Jesus and desire to follow him, bearing kingdom fruit. We want them to be drawn to the love of the church, not because of our elegant china, but because of the kindness shown them”.

Hospitality is important to Christianity, because it mirrors God’s gospel invitation. And so, when Jesus told his parable of the Great Banquet, he was inviting sinners into God’s spiritual family. But then he concluded his parable by instructing his followers to offer hospitality to those who couldn’t repay them, just as God has done with us (Luke 14:13-14). And so, hospitality is an everyday, tangible way to mirror God’s gracious offer in salvation. That’s why it’s just a way of life for a Christian.

Looking from this gospel viewpoint, it would seem that when we show hospitality to someone, we welcome and serve Christ himself (Matt 25:34-35; 40.)

A joy… or a duty?

Yet, despite knowing all these things, I’ve often found myself viewing hospitality as just another guilt-inducing chore, a heavy burden to bear. Why are we prone to be more like Martha, “troubled by many things” (Luke 10:41), rather than like Lydia, who begged to host Paul in her home in Thyatira (Acts 16:15)? It’s easy to see hospitality as a duty rather than a joy:

Especially if you’ve got young children and can barely make it to the 5pm finish line;

Especially when your living space is tiny (and your bank balance is even tinier);

Especially if you’re an introvert and find people draining;

Especially if you’re in the habit of burning supper!

But Peter must have anticipated this response, since he adds the condition– ‘without grumbling!’ Perhaps we’ve been brainwashed by too many episodes of ‘Come Dine with Me’ or ‘Downton Abbey!” We’ve bought into the idea that hospitality is about cooking skills, an impressive menu, a decorated home and table settings.

Hospitality is not entertaining

But Jen Wilkin stresses that hospitality is nothing like entertaining, for

“Entertaining seeks to impress, Hospitality seeks to bless.’

Unpretentious hospitality is accessible to every Christian, married or unmarried… if our focus is directed away from ourselves and towards Christ and the person he has led us to serve.

The goal of Christian hospitality is not what we offer, but the heart behind it. There are many ways to show hospitality, including inviting a friend for coffee; hosting a Bible study; spontaneously inviting someone for lunch after Church; having children over for a play date; cooking and childminding for a sick friend; offering a meal or basket of eggs as a gift; baking a loaf of fresh bread. Hospitality is simply using whatever God has given us to refresh others.

The heartbeat of hospitality is to echo God’s welcoming heart, regardless of how much money we have or what our living arrangements are. I’m sure Peter’s original readers– scattered Christians in the first century—did not have fancy homes or special food. In fact, many of them were homeless, but I imagine that Aquila and Priscilla’s tents came in handy as a shelter from the cold.

To make hospitality a sustainable way of life, we must avoid the fuss-trap! Here are some principles to help us:

  1. Hospitality starts at home.

During Covid, the Lord has shown us that hospitality begins in our own household: Make a regular dinner-time, arrange a special night of the week to read Scripture and speak words of blessing over your household. Invite one or two guests at a time to share a meal, especially the vulnerable and lonely. Ask them to share what the Lord is doing in their lives. Pray that guests will find Christ in your heart and home.

  1. Focus on people, not preparation!

You’re much more likely to practice hospitality if you keep things simple from the word go! Collect simple recipes for one-pot meals and cook double quantities so that there’s always a spare meal in the freezer for unexpected guests. Use up whatever you have in the house to avoid a special trip to the shops. Remember that the goal of hospitality is to make your guest/s feel loved and cared for, rather than to impress them with a fancy menu and spotless home. So don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself.

  1. Hospitality is a team effort

Hospitality is often misrepresented as a one-sided gesture—the host must wait hand-and-foot on the guest, who sits on the sofa! But the Bible speaks of mutual sharing and reciprocal serving among his people. In fact, the phrase “each other” occurs 100 times in the New Testament. So, if your guest offers to contribute something or to help with the meal, accept their offer gladly. Great conversations happen over the chopping board and braai! And if you have children, train them to help. Make your meal a team effort, so you won’t say, “Once, but never again!” Likewise, if you are the guest, think of how you can refresh your host.

  1. Be you!

Remember that there’s no rubric for hospitality!

My mom’s love language is food and her meals are pure heaven! Even at 80, when she invites people over, her table groans with a feast that the best chefs would envy.  She loves poring over recipes, planning menus, and her greatest joy is watching her grandchildren relish five roast potatoes for Sunday lunch! In contrast, my sister and I are in the habit of serving ‘recycléés’ to our guests– a fancy French term for recycled leftovers! Our greatest joy is seeing an empty fridge by the end of the week!

But I remember being a child and living for six years in a tiny caravan. Even with four children in that tiny caravan, far from the nearest town, I watched my parents offer generous hospitality to friends and strangers alike. We had a steady stream of guests staying with us, eating and laughing around our wobbly green table! If I were to sum up what I saw in our home, it would be this:

People mattered, not perfection. My parents were genuinely interested in other people, and so they created a home where the elderly were cherished, young people were welcomed and children were loved. Relationships were nurtured and nourished as a way of life.

In obeying Peter’s instruction to practise hospitality, we do not have to meet some unattainable standard. We don’t have to pretend that our homes and families are perfect. We just need to be ourselves. Peter reminds us that God has gifted us differently to serve one another in the church family, “as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). And God’s name is glorified when we open our hearts and our homes to those around us, whether that’s over a three course meal, Uber Eats or a can of baked beans on toast.

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