Guest Post by Rev. Gregg Strawbridge
Just a little after the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, Flavius Claudius Julianus, was born in 332. He became infamous: Julian the Apostate. He tried to reinstate paganism despite the fact that he was the last of the Constantian emperors of Rome. Augustine reports how Julian the Apostate (the Roman emperor, 361-363) would not permit masters of rhetoric and grammar to teach Christians. Why? Because the liberal arts were “conducive to the acquisition of argumentative and persuasive power” (City of God, 18). Philip Schaff, wrote of this episode in Church history:
“Julian would thus deny Christian youth the advantages of education, and compel them either to sink in ignorance and barbarism or to imbibe with the study of the classics in the heathen schools of the principles of idolatry. . . Hence he hated especially the learned church teachers, Basil, Gregory of Nazianzen, Apollinaris of Laodicea, who applied the classical culture to the refutation of heathenism and the defence of Christianity…” (Church History, Vol. 3, pp. 53-54).
While he suppressed Christians through these educational policies for a time, there was something that he could not suppress: the hospitality of Christians. In Julian’s Letter “To Arsacius, High-priest of Galatia,” he complained against Christians, “the impious Galilaeans support not only their own poor but ours as well,” and “it is their benevolence to strangers” that keeps Hellenistic religion from greater acceptance.
The concept of hospitality is woven into the fabric on the gospel. The Father sent Jesus as the bread of life for the world. He showed the ultimate kindness to those at enmity with Him (Rom. 5:8). Though the world rejected Him at first, by His grace, He efficaciously called us to Himself and continually serves us. The terms translated in the NT strongly convey the concept: Philoxenia literally means, love for strangers or foreigners. Hospitality is kindness to strangers (Rom. 12:13, 1 Pet. 4:9). Another term, Xenodocheo (a verb) means literally to “lodge strangers” (1Tim. 5:10). Jesus taught this in Luke 14:12–14:
“When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
When we welcome others, strangers, foreigners, those that are different, this approaches the idea of hospitality. Many times, we have our friends over, whom we feel comfortable with and know that they will repay the kindness. This may be good to do, but it misses the mark of the biblical commands of hospitality. Hospitality takes us beyond our comforts into those awkward and somewhat fearful places of risking ourselves and our goods, without knowing or caring about a return. When we truly show hospitality, there is sometimes an occasion for complaining, e.g., since we did not get any return on our investment. This is why Peter adds a second exhortation to being hospitable: “Be hospitable to one another without complaint” (1 Pet. 4:9). Why would he have to say this? Because welcoming and serving those you know least and who are not your close and comfortable friends sometimes creates the occasion of guests not responding graciously.
If you knew your next guests would not be very gracious, would not be very grateful, and would even do some damage to your property (e.g., one of the kids break a dish), would you still serve them? The biblical answer is that true hospitality does not look for reward or repayment here or now. It acts on the basis of grace already received and gives without the need for human repayment. In this way the gospel can be preached through casseroles and cupcakes, through burgers, brats, and blueberries, when these are freely and graciously given.
I think once we have a right mind about hospitality (stranger love based on grace and looking for no repayment), then we must apply this to our own church circumstances. Hospitality is a means of loving people to Christ and to the means of grace in your church. It provides a means of general ministry for you and your family. It provides opportunities with visiting missionaries, pastors, or Christian workers.
Let Me Get Specific
- Schedule it. Set a regular time to reach out to those you don’t know well.
- Set a goal: Every family in the church over a set time period, starting with those least known to you.
- Write it down: Make a list of people who may need to be encouraged by your service.
- Practice kindness:
- “Some folks make you feel at home. Others make you wish you were.” Arnold H. Glasow.
- Learn to ask meaningful questions; make the conversation about your guests; seek to understand their spiritual journey; focus on knowing Christ, not secondary matters; don’t be negative; look for gifts and graces in guest’s lives; ask for matters about which you can pray and then pray.
- Practice serving and hosting in peace: Proverbs 15:17 – “Better is a dish of vegetables where love is than a fattened ox served with hatred.” Proverbs 17:1 – “Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it than a house full of feasting with strife.”
- Volunteer to house missionaries or traveling servants of the Lord.
Hospitality by hosting families for a meal can be a wonderful service. Unfortunately, we sometimes fall into the pattern of hosting those who least need it. One of the challenges in the Church today is the tendency for divisions along social and/or economic lines. Some perceive themselves as “normal” and view others not like them as “fringe.” There are those that have less means and space. They may feel intimidated by others and fear that what they could offer is “not good enough” for another family.
Epiphany in the kitchen. Some years ago an acquaintance invited our family to a meal along with another family, whom we also did not know very well. There was a slight amount of concern on my part: will this be enjoyable, awkward, stressful, peaceful? As soon as we arrived, we were put to work cutting up vegetables, sautéing mushrooms, peeling shrimp, filling up water glasses. We did not know these people very well and very soon we were conversing freely in the kitchen. The meal was great, but I hardly remember it. What I do remember is that the experience of simple preparations drew me into their lives.
Here’s a way to help overcome those self-made (imagined) obstacles. Bring all kinds of people in to share at your table and have them help in preparing the food. There is a place for simply serving others without their co-laboring. But I think some shared preparation opens up several possibilities to help overcome that awkwardness of a first invitation, of not knowing a person well, especially they are not at your exact socio-economic place.
- Preparation together changes the conversation to what is naturally before you and eases you into other conversation.
- Working together in the kitchen breaks down those imagined barriers.
- Providing guests with a needed service (however small) provides a way for them to feel even greater acceptance.
Consider some meals that work well with shared preparation:
- Salad – Most people can cut up vegetables (and other toppings). Some can mix herbs, oil and vinegar for homemade dressing. This can be a full meal or just the first course of a meal. We often do this by preparing some steak and/or salmon ahead of time for a chef/steak salad with a side of bread.
- Homemade pizzas – If you can make a good crust, then great. Otherwise pre-mades are widely available. Have guests cut veggies, mushrooms, sausage, create special sauce (tomato sauce, garlic, olive oil, spices). Serve it in courses starting with a cheese pizza, then a veggie, then a classic italian, then a dessert pizza, etc. Let the guests lead on the selections. Get everyone involved and let everyone choose.
- Hotpot – This is now my favorite such meal. It is a little like fondue without all the specialized equipment. Hotpot seems to be a pan-Asian meal that varies from region to region. It begins with a broth based soup and is very simple to make. Crock pot a chicken or a duck, strain the fat and bones. Add water and spices. We like ginger and five-spice for a truly Asian taste, but it can be bland to begin. Cook a large bowl of rice and/or rice noodles. Put the pot (on an electric burner) on the table. Let guests cut up veggies, mushrooms, shrimp, scallops, peel eggs (we like quail eggs), thinly sliced beef, tofu, etc. Everyone gets a bowl with rice. The first course is just broth on the rice. Then add an assortment of veggies (guests can select) to the pot and let them cook for a few minutes (keep adding water to it). Serve the second veggie course and notice the change in the broth. For the next course try a different assortment of veggies with mushrooms (in the pot). Then tofu, then seafood, then beef. This meal promotes conversation and a long time at the table. Remarkably, no one left stuffed after about 10 courses!
These kinds of meals provide an opportunity to share in the preparation, as well as show something about the gospel. When we welcome others into the fellowship, we share Christ and build up the Body. Many different ingredients go into the pot, but it becomes one meal. Hospitality within the Body of Christ keeps this in mind. We are not all alike, but we are like Him. We are not the same, but we belong to the same Lord. We are not much separate, but become a mighty army under our one Head, Jesus Christ.
Dr. Gregg Strawbridge is the Pastor of All Saints Church<>