I have walked on many streets and knocked on many doors as I have canvassed neighborhoods to pass out flyers, to evangelize, or simply to meet my neighbors. Do you know what many of those houses have in common? Most of them have some variation of a welcome mat. The welcome mat has been a staple of home decor for as long as most of us can remember. However, today it seems like more of a tradition than an invitation. Today, the welcome mat may be a decorative piece, but the reality is that most people still want you to just leave them alone.
The established church can be like the homeowner who lays out the welcome mat but actually hopes that you will just leave them alone. We do not intend to do this, but we often slip into this mode of operation when we lose focus on things that matter. Over time, certain things become acceptable and we learn to live with it, and we forget to consider what that says to outsiders.
The welcome mat says to the stranger that they are welcome here. What sometimes happens is that the rest gets forgotten about or neglected. This is the challenge with hospitality. If it is not prioritized, we assume it will happen, but the reality is it does not. Hospitality requires intentionality.
Our third stated value as a church is hospitality. What do we mean by that, and how do we see that as an area in which we can grow? Hospitality speaks to how one receives and provides for the needs of a guest. We are called to engage in hospitality as we seek to be givers of the blessings of God.
Romans 12:13 says,
Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality.
We are being hospitable when we share in one another’s needs.
Don’t neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it.
We are commanded to show hospitality to strangers. This includes the Christian and non-Christian alike.
Our hospitality stems from our love for others and generosity. Being hospitable is then an expression of love and generosity toward others. As we talk about this concept of hospitality, I want to turn to Luke 14. Jesus gives two parables that help illustrate hospitality for his listeners. We will begin in verse 7.
He told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they would choose the best places for themselves: “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, don’t sit in the place of honor, because a more distinguished person than you may have been invited by your host. The one who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in humiliation, you will proceed to take the lowest place. “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when the one who invited you comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ You will then be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Jesus had arrived at someone’s home and it looks like they were gathering around the table for a meal. He noticed that there were invited guests who assigned themselves places of prominence at the table. Seeing this, he begins to share this parable. Put yourself in the story for a minute. When you go to a wedding and it is time to be seated at the reception, who decides the seating assignments? The bride, the groom, family members, or a combination of them all make those decisions. It is not you. Could you imagine walking into a wedding reception as a guest and taking a seat at the table closest to the table reserved for the wedding party? What does that communicate? That says something about what you think about yourself.
What Jesus is saying to these people picking out good seats for themselves is that it would be better to take the more humble position and let the host move you up to the place of honor rather than assume you have the place of honor and have to be moved back in front of everybody. It is a humiliating thing when the proud is humbled in front of an audience, but it is a rewarding thing when the host elevates you to that position in front of an audience. The trick is then not to let that become pride.
The first key to great hospitality is:
Be a good guest.
Be a good guest.
The underlying principle Jesus is getting at here is that when you are the guest, be a good guest. Do not assume a posture of entitlement. The life of a Christian is that of modeling the life of Christ. This calls us to a life of sacrificial living. This kind of living is the antithesis of entitlement. This does not mean that we do not have rights that need protecting, nor does this mean that you allow everyone else to walk all over you. What this does mean is that we have an attitude about ourselves that values placing the needs of others above our own.
This attitude is expressed as the apostle Paul writes to the Philippian church,
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look not to his own interests, but rather to the interests of others.
Hospitality, even on the part of the guest, kills self-centeredness. Growing in hospitality begins with being a good guest. The question we must ask then, is are we good guests? Any time we are not on our own property, it means we are on someone else’s. How do we handle ourselves when we are on someone else’s turf? How we handle ourselves as guests can be very informative about how we will handle ourselves as hosts.
Here are a few tips to being a good guest:
Arrive on time.
Don’t bring uninvited guests.
Know when it’s time to leave.
Leave it better than you found it.
If you follow these tips, you will be on your way to being a better guest.
The second parable Jesus shared with his audience turned the tables from the attitude of the guest to the attitude of the host.
He also said to the one who had invited him, “When you give a lunch or a dinner, don’t invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors, because they might invite you back, and you would be repaid. On the contrary, when you host a banquet, invite those who are poor, maimed, lame, or blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
The attention is no longer on the guests who picked out places of honor for themselves, but now to the host. When Jesus says not to invite friends, relatives, or rich neighbors, he is not saying you can never invite them. The key to understanding this statement is the latter part of that verse. Nor does this mean that you always have to invite the poor, crippled, lame and blind. Look at the motive at the end of verse 12. The group Jesus was speaking to did what they did as a matter of social status. If your motive for inviting the people on your guest list is the hope that maybe they will invite you to their next dinner party, you have the wrong motive. If you invite people so you can look good by association, you have the wrong motive.
Rather, we should be the kind of people that invite the kind of people who are poor, maimed, lame, or blind because they cannot repay us. Like I previously stated, hospitality done this way kills self-centeredness. Hospitality is not about the host. If we gain something from our hospitality, verse 12 says we have already been repaid. If you host people in your home so you can get an invitation to theirs, and you do, payment has been received. But the heart of Jesus is inviting in those who have no means of repaying us. Rather, we will get our repayment in the form of reward at the resurrection.
Therefore, the second key to great hospitality is:
Host with no strings attached.
Host with no strings attached.
We must always consider what hosting people or organizations from the outside looks like. Do we make it very difficult to use our space, or do we try to make it simple? Is our space accessible to the greatest number of people? Do we strive to create the most welcoming environment we can? Do people feel comfortable when they enter in our building? The ultimate question is what does our welcome mat look like?
You can always tell when a church has neglected this area of ministry. Let me remind you what a pastor one told me. The church is the only organization that exists for those who are not here yet. We exist not to serve ourselves, but to serve others. As we mature in our walk with Christ together, we should see ever increasing capacities to love others, be generous, and show hospitality. Let me show you what it looks like when a church loses focus on hospitality.
I was speaking to a mentor who had been pastor at a number of churches. When he arrived at this particular church for the first time, he walked through and realized the church was in trouble when they had used their baptistery to store Christmas trees. That church was not intentional about making disciples. Their baptistery was used to store Christmas trees.
Another time, at the first church I served in, a group from the neighborhood showed up on Wednesday nights and played soccer in the back parking lot of the church. Looking back, it was a missed opportunity. We could have done something to minister to them better than we did. But there were people in the church that hated the idea that we would have teenagers and young adults in the back of the church playing soccer while we had Bible studies going on inside. At the time, they did not interfere with what we were doing, and we did not interfere with what they were doing. But somebody eventually went out and told them that they could no longer play soccer on our property unless they came to church. That group never showed up again. We must always be aware of how the outsider might perceive the welcome mat of our church. If we don’t it won’t be very welcoming.
Two parables about two aspects of hospitality. One being the part of the guest and another on the part of being the host. But the thing that ties them both together is humility. The guest humbles himself by not thinking too highly of himself. The host hosts with no strings attached. These things humble a person and demonstrates the character of Christ.
The verses following Philippians 2:3-4 are some of the most well known regarding humility:
Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. For this reason God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow— in heaven and on earth and under the earth— and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
When we grow in loving one another, being generous with everything we have, and in hospitality, it humbles us and makes us look more like Christ. When Christians look more like Christ, it leads to more glory to God.