Living Hospitably

In our pursuit of individualism, American hospitality is dying. It’s not custom to greet new neighbors with a pan of brownies or get to know them at all, because (A) who knows how long they’ll be around and (B) getting to know people is now considered a violation of privacy. We would much rather sit in our houses and watch TV shows like Friends or How I Met Your Mother, where a group of people hang out at their usual cafe or bar, all the while thinking to ourselves, I wish I had friends like that. Television is our surrogate friend.

But for all of the “greater gifts” I desire and still ask God for as Paul told me to do (1 Cor 12:31), it seems clear to me at this point in my life that hospitality is one of the gifts God has put in me. It took me awhile to realize that not everybody likes cooking for others and throwing big parties and having people in their house. This is a bit more standard for me as I have typically opened my house every Thursday to my small group for a few years now. The only thing about it that I don’t love is cleaning the house before everyone gets there—otherwise it’s a dream come true for me.

I suppose I’ve inherited this gift from my parents. My entire life, my parents always had the door open. Having friends over was close to an everyday thing. We were always doing something together at my house, whether it be cooking, playing video games, watching TV, surfing the web, playing music, or something else. Having friends around was a way of life in the Bradley household and now I don’t know how to live without it.

Now, to be honest, I feel a little weird calling hospitality a spiritual gift. There are a few verses that maybe imply it to be so, but aren’t all Christians supposed to be hospitable? I think whether we have certain giftings or not, God expects us to try to live as though we do. Take for example, Paul’s list of gifts in Romans 12:6-8:

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

While Paul describes people having different giftings here, I don’t think Paul ever meant to imply, “If you’re not gifted to serve, exhort, contribute or show mercy, then don’t.” No; he expects us to do these things whether we’re gifted or not.

I think we’re even expected to try and do the greater gifts. If you’re not gifted to heal, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to pray for people’s healing. It’s not like you were going to heal them in your own power anyways. It’s all the grace and power of God in the end, so if someone is sick, you pray for them regardless of any anointing on you and see what God does. Besides, how can we desire the greater gifts if we’re not willing to try them out and see if he has given them to us yet? I am certain there are people gifted for prophecy who have no idea, simply because no one ever taught them how the gift works.

My point in all of this is that just because you don’t feel hospitable, doesn’t mean you don’t have to be hospitable. After all, Peter told us to, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Pe 4:9). Why would I grumble about hospitality if I was gifted for it and liked doing it? Obviously, this is a call to all of us.

Hospitality is a great form of generosity and it is a great mark for the church to carry in this day and age of individualism. I remember a Christian friend of mine telling me how cool it was to see pictures of our community in my house all the time and how she wished she had that. This kind of generosity is appealing to others. It’s even a missional strategy in which churches create small groups that are expected to invite their neighbors in to see and experience the beauty of Christian community.

Hospitality requires us to be generous towards others—to spend money on food and to take the time to cook it; to take hours out of our day and clean; to leave our doors open long into the night if everyone is still enjoying their time together.

There are two women in my church who are by far some of the most hospitable people I know. One doesn’t speak a whole lot of English, but rather speaks volumes in her service. Our church would be an absolute mess without her help and she also loves to cook for all of us. Her breakfasts and tacos are some of the best things I’ve ever tasted. Without her hospitality, I would have never known just how good salsa is on eggs and potatoes. She’ll cook me up as many servings as I want. Her heart is so full of this form of generosity that she ran a ministry in our church for some time, cooking food for anyone in the community who wanted it. Many of the poor in Jackson benefited from her meals over the years.

The other woman cooks up the best southern food I’ve ever had and is constantly giving me delicious food to take home. The two of them together often cook enough food for the entire church at our monthly potlucks and many find themselves running back for seconds and thirds. They give freely even if they themselves don’t have a lot to give. These are beautiful acts of generosity on their parts and many have benefited from them.

This is an excerpt from my book, A Taste of Jesus.

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