The School of Hospitality
In Galatians 6:9-10, the Apostle Paul charged believers with the following exhortation: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Doing good will be an uphill battle for believers until we are in heaven. We are prone to lose sight of the hope that we need to endure weariness. But our kind God provides for our weak frames by means of the fellowship of saints along the way. Practicing hospitality is an essential hope-sharing ministry. The Apostle “derived much joy and comfort” from Philemon because the hearts of the saints had been refreshed through him for the sake of Christ. Paul considered the refreshment of the saints a valuable, Gospel-spreading tool (Philemon 6-7). I’ve gladly accepted the following titles: homemaker, housewife, stay-at-home mom, even domestic coordinator. However, sometimes, when asked my occupation, I’d like to be able to reply, “I’m a refresher of the saints.”
Hospitality by itself is not a uniquely Christian concept. You can pick up a degree in Hospitality Business from your local college. The refreshment methods you learn there may gratify your flesh for a time, but when Christians practice hospitality, we don’t just offer methods--we offer our very selves in order to point people to the Rest that will satisfy eternally. You may not earn a degree by practicing Christian hospitality, but there are plenty of lessons to be learned in this school.
One "first-of-many" lessons that I’ve had to learn about the refreshment business is that hospitality starts with the people who are already here. Our families are people (yes, even the toddlers and teenagers) who need to be ministered to as our neighbors (like the ones in the second greatest commandment). The proximity of people in our lives is part of God’s sovereign providence. Many places in Scripture teach us to prioritize our resources and labors. For instance, Paul insisted that "the man who does not take care of his own relatives is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim 5:8). The qualifications for elders require a man to have his family in order first (Titus 1). Older women are to teach the younger women to love their husbands and children (Titus 2). And as we’ve seen already, we are to do good, especially to those of the household of faith (Gal 6:10).
Those of us who spend the better part of our time in the home for both our work and rest are often at risk of losing sight of God’s diverse plan. I hear about new converts in foreign lands and on college campuses, or read about daring Bible smuggling operations into closed countries. Instead of being thankful for the variety of tasks the Lord has assigned to different people in different seasons, envy often whispers in my ear, "Family service is too ordinary to count as real ministry!" Whether from a guilt-complex, glory-hunting, or boredom, as a woman entrusted with the task of managing my home, I can be tempted to wish I was anywhere but here.
Those we sometimes call "Titus 2 women" are taught to be “busy at home.” At the same time, you’ve also heard about the dangers of becoming a "Martha." Jesus told Martha, who was cumbered with service in the home, that Mary had chosen the better portion. It’s not tiresome to remember that we are to give our undivided attentions to Christ; we’ll need that reminder until we are in glory. We should, however, be cautious not to follow any application that leads to a backdoor exit from striving for excellence in service in the home--as if being an attentive student of theology is at odds with our scripturally normative role. Here, Matthew Henry is more nuanced in his comments on Luke 10: 38-42 than some modern writers. Henry first commended Martha:
Here was a commendable care of her household affairs. It appears, from the respect shown to this family among the Jews (Jn 11:19), that they were persons of some quality and distinction; and yet Martha herself did not think it a disparagement to her to lay her hand even to the service of the family, when there was occasion for it. Note, It is the duty of those who have the charge of families to look well to the ways of their household. The affectation of state and the love of ease make many families neglected.
A few lines later, Henry singled out the real culprit:
(1.) She was for much serving. Her heart was upon it, to have a very sumptuous and splendid entertainment; great plenty, great variety, and great exactness, according to the fashion of the place. She was in care, peri pollen diakonian —concerning much attendance. Note, It does not become the disciples of Christ to affect much serving, to affect varieties, dainties, and superfluities in eating and drinking; what need is there of much serving, when much less will serve?
(2.) She was cumbered about it; periespato —she was just distracted with it. Note, Whatever cares the providence of God casts upon us we must not be cumbered with them, nor be disquieted and perplexed by them. Care is good and duty; but cumber is sin and folly.
Impoverishing my own family for the sake of relieving others is not what God wants for His people. He is not restrictive with regard to the good works he has prepared for us or with the grace needed to walk in them (Eph 2:10). While hospitality should start with serving our families, it is equally clear that stopping there, as an end in itself, is also not how God intends us to use his gifts. He wants us to turn a profit with the talents that He has entrusted to us (Matt. 25).
Which leads to a deeper and more obvious lesson that I’ve had to learn about refreshing hospitality—I am not the Living Water; I am simply a cupbearer of that Water. While it certainly it fitting for me to give my best to Christ the King, excellence in serving does not necessarily communicate to others how or where to find real rest. On the contrary, it may actually communicate that my highest aim is to field as much praise for myself as possible, giving everyone who walks through the door of my life the burdensome task of refreshing me. It takes biblical wisdom and maturity to examine our motives for excellence in service.
How much service we can handle without being cumbered by it will ebb and flow with our experience and the seasons of our lives. We must learn to shoot comparison dead on sight; one person’s delicacy may be another’s work horse. The point is simple: Weary pilgrims need Christ, not more of me and my “dainties.” Those who are most weary are often those looking for hope. Jesus fed and healed people, but he knew what they needed most of all was to feed on Him in His sufferings for sinners. I often return to the account of Jesus with the woman at the well whenever I am seeking to fulfill the call to refresh others in service: “Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life’” (John 4:13-14).
Craig Blomberg Contagious Hospitality
Tim Chester A Meal with Jesus