Hospitality: our contract with Jesus

By being hospitable, our churches can be the warm, loving, and caring families they are meant to be.

Mary Barrett is a pastor's wife, homemaker, mother of two daughters, and is very active in her local church.

When they first invited us for supper my initial reaction was to say No! It had been a long day at church, and I was tired. Spondylitis had made my neck painful and stiff. All I wanted was a hot bath and bed!

Our two daughters wanted to go. And after all, he was my husband's new ministerial colleague. So reluctantly I agreed. I'm so glad I did!

As we walked through their front door we were embraced by their warm friendship. I was given a pair of slippers to wear and told not to concern myself with my children getting too excited as they enthusiastically ran about with their new friends. The wife understood their need for "freedom" after sitting in church for several hours.

With supper on the stove, the four of us joked and laughed. We felt so much at ease that Jonathan lounged on the floor and curled up in an easy chair. We were also able to share our frustrations, hopes, and dreams as ministerial families.

Our hosts asked if we would like to spend the night, as it was a long journey home. Even though their home was small, they assured us that they would love to have us stay. Early-morning commitments the next day made us decline the offer.

However, before we left, the wife gave my neck a massage, as she was concerned about my discomfort. Her husband lent me his heat lamp. Even though he regularly used it for a back problem, it was mine as long as I needed it.

We left their home that evening refreshed, renewed, and revived. They had shown us true hospitality by welcoming us into their home and making our needs and comfort their priority.

Hospitality in the Bible

Hospitality permeates God's Word. The Bible is full of stories of people who shared their food, home, and possessions with others.

As ministers' spouses we need to ex tend hospitality to those with whom we come in contact. Hospitality is not an option. We cannot say "Let someone else do it," because God asks each one of us to be selfless in giving. By opening our homes we can reach others for Christ. Let's consider some biblical passages that focus on hospitality.

Isaiah 58:5-11. Here God tells us what true religion is. It is not just adhering to some beliefs or practicing certain routines. God expects religion to be practical: "to loose the bonds of injustice"; "to break every yoke"; "to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them."* When we thus open ourselves and our homes to the needs of others, our Christian experience becomes real, strong, fulfilling, and satisfying. Otherwise our relationship with God is just empty and barren.

1 Peter 4:9,10. Hospitality is not a matter of routine duty, but a result of a love relationship that the gospel creates in us. "Be hospitable," says Peter, "to one another without complaining." The apostle wrote this at a time when Christians were persecuted, and caring for Christian refugees was expensive and risky. Yet hospitality flourished. Lack of re sources does not exempt us from sharing what we have. Ellen White says that if we share what we have, God will take care of the expense. 1 "Like good stewards . . . ," Peter commands, "serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received." A saving relationship with Jesus will drive us to be "good stewards of the manifold grace of God," extending genuine hospitality wherever needed.

Romans 12:13. Paul provides a double thrust to the meaning of Christian hospitality: "Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers." The apostle wants to make sure that the Christian virtue of caring and sharing is not limited to the community of believers, but extended toward strangers. Extending a wholehearted welcome and hospitality to visitors to our worship services may by itself become an evangelistic endeavor.

Acts 2:46, 47. The early Christians emphasized both worship and fellow ship: "Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home." Meeting in one another's homes, studying the Word, breaking bread, and fellow-shipping together enhanced the family feeling of those early Christians. Consequently, Jews and Gen tiles, men and women, slaves and free lived in a harmonious community. "And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved."

When we share oneness and open our hearts and homes to everyone, there is little possibility for power struggles and personality differences to interfere in Christian fellowship. It is extremely difficult to think badly of fellow believers when they invite you to their homes and tend to your needs. Real hospitality offers a genuine remedy to feelings of disharmony and division.

But what is hospitality?

What is hospitality?

In Webster's dictionary, the word "hospitable" is wedged in between "hospice," which means shelter, and "hospital," which means a center of healing. Hospitality suggests, then, both a place of shelter and healing. Ideally, hospitality means to make individuals a part of your family, to make them aware that you accept them totally and are concerned about their needs and difficulties.

Hospitality must not be confused with entertaining, which is Satan's counterfeit. Entertaining says, "Come to my house, admire my possessions, see the beautiful way the table is laid. Enjoy the scrumptious food that has taken me all week to prepare. See how perfectly neat and tidy and clean my house is. Come and listen to my views and thoughts."

Entertaining is hard, stressful, be cause through it we perpetuate the myth that we are perfect. We put up a facade saying that we manage our lives perfectly and that our children are perfectly disciplined and obedient.

Hospitality is totally different. We do not seek to portray a "perfect" image, so people can love us in our weakness, re lax with us, and enjoy our company. Hospitality says "Come to my house and be a part of my family. My house isn't 100 percent tidy. There's dust on the mantelpiece. The furniture isn't perfectly coordinated, and the food is simple. The children's toys are scattered on the floor, and I haven't had time to clean the break fast dishes, but you are still welcome!"

Hospitality further says, "I don't want to talk about myself, but I'd love to listen to you, to learn about you, to share your problems. I want to be your friend. Perhaps we can talk to the Lord together." Hospitality seeks to serve others. It does not desire to impress others with our importance; it only shows true concern.

Hospitality is not easy

Putting hospitality into practice is not always easy. It involves giving ourselves. We may find numerous excuses not to take up the responsibility. We are busy. Children, outside employment, house work, and church offices push us to the limit, and one more responsibility such as hospitality will be the last straw.

We feel our talents lie elsewhere. We feel that God has called us to minister in a different way. We feel uncomfortable with having to minister to people on a one-to-one basis in our home.

We are shy. We find it difficult to communicate with others. We feel we may run out of questions to ask!

We may be in poor health, which may make hospitality an enormous task!

We may lack cooking skills. Or we may be living too far from our churches to have people home for lunch.

All these reasons for not opening our homes to the needs of others are legitimate and valid, but the problem is that if each one of us accepted these reasons, no one would practice hospitality! When you choose to be hospitable, you will find a way.

What then do we do?

Ask God to show you how you can be hospitable despite the pressures that you face. Ask Him specifically to show you how to open your homes to others. If you are really sincere about this, God will show you the way. He never asks us to do anything without supplying the energy and strength to do it. In doing this, He will also give you the satisfaction that comes with serving others.

Deal with your limitations. If you are a busy mother or suffer from poor health, then make your Sabbath hospitality as simple as possible. Do not be afraid to serve a simple meal, perhaps just soup and bread. Alternatively, ask someone to pop in just for a hot drink, a biscuit, and a chat! Our self-esteem is based in Jesus, not in the opinions of others. As long as we want to minister and meet the needs of others, we need not be too perturbed about their thoughts concerning us.

If you are shy, invite small groups of people to your home rather than one or two individuals. Do not be embarrassed if after eating one slice of your chocolate cake your guests decline a second! Make friends with a good cook in the church and ask her for some recipes that never fail! Have potluck lunches instead of you providing all the food.

If you live too far from your church to invite members home or you really are uncomfortable with having people in your home, look for other ways to show people you care. Make a cake for a church member or contact. If that's not feasible, then how about sharing passages of Scripture, lending a musical tape, or giving some flowers to someone going through a difficult time?

A contract with Jesus

In her book Open Heart, Open Home Karen Mains tells us that when we kneel before the cross of Jesus and accept His sacrifice for our sins, we make a contract with Him.2 That contract is to live our lives totally, utterly, and completely for Him. We give Him not only our very beings, but every possession, every talent we have to be used in His ministry.

As ministers' wives let's ask God to help us fulfill that contract by being hospitable. It may catch on, and our churches can become the warm, loving, vibrant places that God wants them to be.

*All Scripture passages are from the New Revised Standard Version.

1 Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home (Nash
ville: Southern Pub. Assn., 1952), pp. 450, 451.

2 Karen Burton Mains, Open Heart, Open
Home (Elgin, 111.: David C. Cook Pub. Co., 1976),
p. 58.

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Mary Barrett is a pastor's wife, homemaker, mother of two daughters, and is very active in her local church.

September 1995

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