The Art of Biblical Hospitality

by GenerousChurch  |  September 23, 2015

As children, we often heard the warning, “Don’t talk to strangers.”  We were taught about stranger danger and the dreaded consequences of getting too close to those we didn’t know.  And as a parent, I taught my children the same things.  “If someone stops their car and tries to talk to you, come in and get me immediately!”  “Don’t ever get into the car with someone that you don’t know, regardless of what they tell you.”

Unfortunately, childhood lessons are hard to un-learn as adults. 

Most of us rarely talk to people that we don’t know.  We don’t get too close for fear of what may happen.  Those people that we see around town are strangers.  We don’t know what they do in the privacy of their homes.  We don’t know what makes them tick and what strange thoughts may be running through their heads.  So, we stay away.

Sometimes, our neighbors even seem suspicious.  “Why is she sweeping the driveway at ten o’clock at night?  That’s weird.” 

“Why does he always keep his garage door down?  What’s he trying to hide?”

“Why do they keep looking over here when I’m mowing the lawn?  What are they thinking about me?”

On the flip side of that, many people also suffer with a lack of self-confidence.  When they look at neighbors and strangers, they wonder, “What would they think of me if they really knew me?”  “Wouldn’t it be embarrassing if they found out that my life is a mess?” 

I sometimes wonder if Jesus suffered any of these anxieties.  If He did, we don’t really see it in Scripture.  He didn’t seem to worry too much about what others were thinking.  Unlike us, He just worried about what the Father was saying.  And more often than not, it seems like the Father was telling Him to love the people He encountered in the day-to-day activities of life.  Beyond that, it seems like the Father was telling Him to share life with them…invite them into His private world.

Remember Zacchaeus?  He was a stranger (a somewhat unpopular stranger at that) until Jesus looked up into the tree and spoke to him.  Jesus didn’t approach him with caution.  Instead, He asked to go to his home and willingly ate the food that the stranger, Zacchaeus, served.

Remember the bleeding, impure woman who touched Jesus’s robe?  He didn’t turn around and give her the stink eye.  Just the opposite. practice hospitality He stopped long enough to acknowledge her and love her – the stranger.

In both of these cases, Jesus was teaching us the art of hospitality.  He was teaching us that those who imitate the generosity of the Father will lovingly welcome the stranger into the private parts of their world.  Ironically, Jesus established His entire way of ministry on the foundation of generous hospitality.   As He traveled through towns like Bethany, He often relied on the hospitality of Mary, Martha and Lazarus.  And when He sent the disciples out to the surrounding towns and villages, He told them, “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts—no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep” (Matthew 10:9-10). 

Later, Hebrews tells us that when we lovingly welcome strangers, we might unknowingly be welcoming angels. 

Thankfully Abraham was a man who practiced hospitality.  If he had some of the same insecurities that I have, he would have missed out on an opportunity to play host to God Himself (Genesis 18).  That was a good thing…even though the thought of entertaining God scares me.  And according to Jesus, we are all afforded the opportunity of “hosting” God.  How do we do that?  By walking with those who are imprisoned, sharing a meal with those who are hungry and welcoming the stranger into our private worlds (Matthew 25:31-46).

Generous hospitality matters to God.  It is one way of stepping into His kingdom.

As I recently read Jimmy Dodd’s book, Survive or Thrive, I was reminded that kingdom living – and the way of hospitality – is completely backwards from the way we normally experience life.  He says,

Newborns are weak and helpless. If the parents were to leave a baby alone at home while they took a vacation, the child would not survive. As children grow and slowly mature (emphasis on slowly), surprising things take place. They begin to feed themselves, walk, and talk! Soon, children begin to dress themselves, take on household chores, and actually function as a productive family member! Later, they can stay home alone and may even take on responsibility for younger siblings. Some may begin to drive and hold down their first jobs. Some go on to college, while others enter the workplace. Eventually, they are no longer dependent on the parents. Life is a journey from 100 percent dependence to 100 percent independence.

Not so in our walk with God. While human development moves from utter dependence to complete independence, our spiritual journey is from unmitigated independence from God to 100 percent dependence on the Lord Jesus.[i]

As we move away from independence and move toward total dependence on God (in other words, as we step into His kingdom reign…), we have to un-learn some of the lessons that our parents taught us.  Maybe it’s time that we, as individuals and churches, release the idea of stranger danger and unleash the idea of generous stranger love.

That’s the art of hospitality.  And it seems that the Father may want us to walk through that gate…even though it looks narrow and feels a little dangerous.

[i] Dodd, Jimmy (2015-09-01). Survive or Thrive: 6 Relationships Every Pastor Needs (PastorServe Series) (Kindle Locations 1033-1040). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.


To dig deeper into generous hospitality, click on the resources below.

Dhati Lewis
True Biblical Hospitality
Welcoming Church
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