As we come out the other side of the pandemic and begin to consider the ways we’ve changed (and the society around us has changed too), I’ve been encouraged to reflect on the impact that COVID, lockdowns and restrictions have had on the ways that I serve and show hospitality to my neighbours, friends and church family.
Because for much of the past few years we were stuck inside our own homes, and for more of it we were separated (quite literally) from friends and family forcing us to get creative with the ways we spend time with our loved ones. All of this also served to help me consider afresh the importance of hospitality in our community.
This act is so important for us as God's people because it can display and communicate so many things, and Peter helps us to consider that in his first epistle.
1 Peter 4:7-11
The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Peter writes his letter to Christian churches in Asia Minor, and his heart for these Christians is that they might know more of God's grace as Peter declares it to them through his letter, and that they might continue to stand firm in it as they live for Jesus in times of trial and persecution. And while a lot of Peter's letter is concerned with showing these christians how they can faithfully witness Jesus to their hostile pagan neighbours, he does spend time helping these believers consider their relationships with one another as well.
And interestingly, as Peter reminds his readers that ‘the end of all things is near’, he turns their minds and hearts towards the work of the cross which welcomes in a new reality and a resurrection future for God's people. It is this reality and the assurance of Jesus’ return that Peter looks to as he calls these believers to offer hospitality to one another.
This hospitality should be seen as an integral part of our deep love for each other and should be offered with a generous, willing spirit...not one of grumbling. For Peter, and for Jesus, the way we interact with and care for each other is a sign of how well we have let the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection impact us. As we consider the nearness of His return, we should be moved to share all that we have with one another not because we’ve been told to, not because we had some leftover that we might as well giveaway, not because it’s what we’re meant to do...but willingly because the welcome we’ve received from God and His generosity towards us should change us.
As we allow our hearts to be impacted by the reality that rather than leave us on the outside God demonstrated the most generous welcome to us we should be moved to offer that kind of welcome. He knew we could offer nothing in return; he knew our hearts were stubborn and cold towards him; He knew that the reality of sin and our brokenness would remain until the final day. But even so he welcomed us into his family and shared everything He had with us. And that is what motivates us to offer hospitality to one another.
But like with many things we’re called to by God, we can easily misunderstand what He’s really asking. Sin can distort our motives and we can end up living out the gospel with the wrong focus. I think with hospitality, this is especially true, and I think there are a number of ways that we can get wrong the command to be hospitable.
Here are 3 ways I think we do that:
1- Our hospitality is driven by our reputation
Have you ever invited someone over and then felt the pressure to spend the hours before hoovering the house, cleaning the bathroom, lighting candles and making sure all the pillows on the sofa are fluffed up? Or have you ever chosen to use certain plates and cups because they’re nicer than your everyday ones? Or have you ever challenged yourself to cook a home-made dish from scratch with all the trimmings, even though on a regular basis you’d eat pasta and a sauce or beans on toast?
Let me confess that I have done all three. And while I’m sure we know in our heart of hearts that we’re not defined by our skills in hospitality we can end up having two sinful responses! We’re either led to believe if we nail the hospitality we’re better people! We might believe we earn extra blessing from God or impress and therefore win others. Or we’re led to believe if we fail we’re bad people! That we’re not good enough because we’re not like those men and women in our church who are super gifted at having others over, always seem to have the energy and time for it and always do it well.
Like with many things, sin convinces us that being hospitable is just another opportunity for us to make something of ourselves. To be talked about as the generous ones; or the ones with the lovely home; or the ones who cooked an amazing meal or the family that they had the best time with. Our sinful hearts lead us to take our eyes off of God, and they cause us to look down at ourselves and use hospitality as another way to create an identity for ourselves. And like everything else it never delivers. We’re always left feeling insecure because maybe we didn’t do enough; maybe they were just saying they liked the food but actually they thought it was awful; maybe they didn’t feel comfortable or the house wasn’t clean enough and we should try harder next time. And before we know it, hospitality isn’t a gift to enjoy but a great big weight pressing down on us reminding us that we’re all flawed and falling short of God's glory.
2- Our hospitality is restricted by convenience
Each of us has a number of demands on our time, from work to family to friendships to church commitments. And so inevitably we end up only exercising hospitality when it suits us. We might want to wait until we’re rested over the summer before having friends over...but what happens when we never really get the rest we need?! Or, we only spend time with the people we like because it’s easier, more comfortable and usually requires less of us. Quite quickly our hospitality stops being about generosity and instead becomes quite the opposite. We don’t reflect Jesus’ welcome to us, instead we keep people at arms length.
3- Our hospitality is limited to one-time arrangements
Or thirdly, our hospitality becomes about nothing more than an invite for a meal once every few months where we work through a set of questions and then head home. We become satisfied that we’ve offered hospitality as long as we’ve had someone round for Sunday lunch once that month and we never really get to go deeper with people because we limit our welcome to set times and days. When we reduce hospitality to just being about a meal, it can feel incredibly frustrating when we look through our diaries and realise that between work, family and prior church commitments, the next time we could see that person is in 3 months time...and we might either feel constantly frustrated by the lack of opportunity to see people and build relationships...or we might be on the other side of that, feeling constantly left on the outside because no one seems to have time to see us. And I think this view of hospitality can be especially damaging for those who don’t have families or spouses, or those who are really struggling. When we make hospitality about set things on set days, our single friends, or those friends who live alone can easily be made to either feel like a burden to us that we have to make time for, or they can feel like they’re missing something in life because when the meal is over they are left on the outside of the family. When we limit it to certain mealtimes our struggling friends are left to spend the rest of the week in the darkness of their pain, struggling to keep going. But this is not what Christian family looks like!
We need a bigger, richer view of hospitality if we are to enjoy the blessings God has given us in our union as His children. Instead of defining it for ourselves, let us consider what Peter meant when he called those Christians to offer hospitality to one another.
Our hospitality is about serving and bringing glory to God (v11)
Peter recognises that the very gifts and abilities we have are marks of God's grace in our lives, and so Peter tells these Christians that as they use these gifts to serve others, they get to enjoy and celebrate that grace! If we can cook a great meal, it’s because God has gifted us with that ability; if we can engage people in great conversation and ask really thoughtful questions, it’s because God has given us the ability to do that; if we have a heart to serve people it’s because by His grace God has gifted us with that. And Peter reminds these Christians that as they remember God's grace to them, and offer this service to others they should do so for His glory, that in all things He might be praised, and that he might receive the glory forever. And isn’t that such a more wonderful reason to be hospitable than when we do it to serve/ make something of ourselves?! Far from needing to prove ourselves, our hospitality offered to one another is another way we express our thanks to our Father who has made a way for us in Jesus. When we use what He has given us to serve His people and make much of Him, in a small way we thank Him for His welcome towards us and we declare to others that all we have, and all we do is for Him. Our generosity, done with the right motivation, is able to point others to our very generous Father who has given us everything in His Son, and it provides a space for us to enjoy Him together as we share all the many good gifts He has imparted to us.
Our hospitality is about using what we have, where we can (v10-11)
Its right to rest! It’s right to have time with family! It’s right that we don’t burn ourselves out every night of the week. But I think what Peter says here frees us from thinking of hospitality in terms that require us to always work hard, sacrifice family time or never have a day off! He encourages these Christians to use “whatever gift you have received to serve others”. How wonderful is that- He recognises that God has gifted us all differently not just with abilities, but with ministries and circumstances. Some of us are parents with young children; some of us are doctors; some of us work shifts; some of us are single; some of us have our own homes; some of us share homes with others which means that hospitality is different for everyone. And that’s the beauty of Gods grace. This idea that hospitality is about 3-course meals, Sunday lunches and seeing everyone in church once a month is not gospel! Hospitality is simply offering the gifts God has given us back to Him by serving His people with them!
Our hospitality is about living life together as we grow in love for Jesus
Jesus didn’t have a home that he lived in, he very rarely cooked the meal and he wasn’t spending a lot of time cleaning up...and yet wouldn’t we consider Him an example in generous welcome? Which leads us to see that it can’t be about what we’re doing. It’s simply about the heart with which we’re doing it. And Jesus’ heart was to share His whole life with those around Him. He welcomed them in to pray with Him; he ate with them; He went to the homes of the people that society despised. He is an example to us of how hospitality is so much more than just having someone over for dinner. It’s about living life together as we grow in love for God.
And that’s the great joy of it! Genuine hospitality, far from being a burden that takes us away from doing things we want to do, actually helps us to deepen relationships and disciple each other as we each seek to live for Jesus. Genuine hospitality is about sharing all of life- the good bits and the bad; the clean and spotless house days and the ones where there are toys everywhere and our hair hasn’t been washed in 7 days; the lovely all-the-trimmings Sunday roast days and the ‘I had leftovers from a curry last night- lets have that for lunch days. It is about sacrifice and generosity...but it is also about coming alongside others and saying ‘this is me and this is my life with Jesus; do you want to share it with me?!’ It’s far more than just ‘come into my house’ but ‘come into my life’ and not just see the lovely, shiny happy bits...but the difficult, ugly messy bits too.
And its in those moments of hospitality that the most beautiful things happen! When we let our guard down and stop putting on a show, we can actually talk with each other about how life is. Where we’re struggling; how our marriages are; what we want prayer for; what we’re learning; when we stop treating it as something we need to find time for, and start seeing everyday mundane things as opportunities for hospitality our friendships blossom; and when we recognise that it’s an everyday task we see God at work in our lives and in the lives of those we share it with.
Hospitality is inviting a friend for dinner and letting them wash up!
It’s going for a run with a friend from your life group
It’s doing the big shop and chatting about the joys of the week
It’s building your new furniture and praying together that God would help you in your week at work!
It’s simply using the gifts God has given you to bless others and welcome them into your life, reflecting on the resurrection future that Jesus has ushered in, recognising the transformation His welcome into God's family has brought to us and rejoicing in that together as we extend love and welcome to others. And isn’t that such a precious gift?! Isn’t that something that all of us can partake in and enjoy?!