It can be uncomfortable being a host. It’s not just about vacuumed rugs and well-timed main courses. Hosts let people into their private worlds and become subject to the inconvenience, assessment and inspection of other people. Hospitality takes time, money, energy and humility. It’s a form of giving that requires pride-swallowing vulnerability.
Hospitality takes many forms. Hospitality is defined as “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.” My friend is in the hospitality profession and works at a hotel. Hotels and restaurants employees strive to make people feel comfortable and cared for. When they succeed, people come back. Comfortable and cared for people feel valued and affirmed.
When we are hospitable, it tends to be to people with whom we want most to associate.
These verses don’t just talk about with whom we should associate. They also specify how we should associate. Pauls says we should practice hospitality. The Greek word used for practice is the word diókó (dee-o’-ko), which translates to mean “to pursue with all haste (‘aggressively chasing’ after), earnestly desiring to overtake (apprehend).” This is not a passive, twice-a-year practice! When we practice violin or piano, it’s daily. When we practice hospitality, we are told by Paul that is should be a pursuit (like a hunter, actually) and with haste!
When told who to “pursue with haste,” Paul’s chosen word for hospitality further explains the people we should “desire to overtake” with our inclusiveness. The Greek word for hospitality is philoxenia (fil-on-ex-ee’-ah), which translates to be a combination of two Greek words. The first is phílos, which means "friend" and the second is xenos, which means "a stranger.” The resulting meaning is that of love of strangers. Philoxenia means practicing generosity and the opening of our homes to not just friends, but also to strangers.
Paul tells us not just to be hospitable, but to be so with great enthusiasm and regularity with needy people and strangers.
Today, my youngest son was speaking of the kind family who greatly impacted our family this last season. He forgot their long, multisyllabic name and referred to them as “the people who took her in.” By the word “her” he was referring to our daughter. She was working to pay her way through college, and the cost of dorm-living in our outside-of-NYC area was prohibitive.
Responding to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, this family opened their home and provided a room for her. They hosted her for three semesters. The father woke early and shared brief breakfasts with her, and locked up after her when she returned late at night. The mother washed her sheets and towels and included her as a member of her family. The girls, her peers, laughed with her and shared stories with her before she retired to her room many nights over that time.
Those words, “the people who took her in,” hit me hard when he used them. They really did take her in. She wasn’t family, and we never paid them a penny. They gave freely, sacrificed and tolerated her quirks and frailties, all for Jesus. They didn’t consider the inconvenience, or their vulnerability, or discomfort. They just did it. And they blessed her, and our family, profoundly.
Have we made hospitality into an intimidating, performance-oriented event, thus rendering it nearly extinct?
Romans 12:10 is the preface to the above verses on hospitality. It says, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” This is basically what true, Biblical hospitality is. It sacrifices pride, convenience, maybe even social comfort, to devotion to one another in love. It says that we will put another person’s need for fellowship, inclusion and acceptance above our own needs. Sometimes it may even be with someone of an awkward or low position. Just like Jesus did, over and over again.
Biblical hospitality expects that we will give generously to those who have less than we do, and those we may not know, following the lead and prompting of the Holy Spirit, with enthusiasm to do so. It stretches us beyond our comfort zone, and requires us to turn our words to actions. We’re called to listen and be prepared to check our calendars. In fact, we're called to consider being flexible, for not all opportunities will wait for an opening on our calendars. We should be prepared. The very person or people that God asks us to invite over, or spend time with, or give to, in the days ahead, may bless us in ways that we would otherwise never know.