Proverbs Series: Kingly Wisdom, Part VI, On Biblical Hospitality

People of God,  we are seeking to build a community where Jesus is supreme over our lives, our thoughts, and actions. Submitting to Jesus in this wholistic manner is no easy task. If you grew up in an environment where basic commitment to Jesus was not stressed, or if it was simply left as an option, it is difficult to imagine being confronted by a message that says “friendship is a necessity, not an option,” and a message that says that “hospitality is not an option, but a holy obligation.”[1] We considered biblical friendship last Lord’s Day, but the other side of the coin is the obligation of Christian hospitality.

This is a skill and a gift that need to be cultivated in our congregation. I am going to say right from the beginning that this is going to be a challenging message to those who rarely are hospitable, and a challenging message to those who are hospitable, but do it out of necessity and not out of holy delight.

Proverbs is teaching us to be Kings and Queens in the world that God has given us, and that means that we are called to share our abundance with the world out of the abundance of gifts God has given us. If we are to be imitators of God, then we are called to be like him in the way He distributes His gifts. What we see in the Bible is this three-fold pattern: The fruits of our labors are to be used to provide for our families and all that entails, the tithe (the gifts to sustain the Bride of Christ), and then to others. I want to focus on the latter in this sermon.

Let me begin with a general principle:

Proverbs 15:17 says: “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.”

Here is a common contrast in the book of Proverbs. Solomon is contrasting two meals.[2] One meal teaches that love towards one another is at the heart of what Solomon wants to convey. So when we speak of hospitality we speak of love as its central character.

Illus. As you may know, my father was a minister of the Gospel in Northeastern Brazil. He would often come home with stories from his many pastoral visitations. We grew up in one of the poorest regions of Brazil, but one thing that was so fascinating was the immense hospitality of a people struck by severe poverty. He would tell stories of how when the hosts knew he was coming to visit they would get on their bicycles or motorcycles and ride 30-40 minutes to a grocery store to buy a pound of sugar and a few other ingredients to provide the pastor strong coffee and the equivalent of a local pastry. They would do the same with others as well. These people had nothing. Some of them were living in slum-like condition, but they gave of their best. Now consider the abundance of our environment; an abundance that as a little boy I never dreamed of, and then ask yourself: “When was the last time you invited someone over your home for some coffee or a meal?”

If you do not show hospitality, you are not showing love. That’s the end of the story. And I realize that hospitality some times is hard work, and if we did not grow up in an environment where this was stressed, we are going to have to make some changes in our lifestyle. If you want a passive Christianity, then you will lack the joys of hospitality. We want to stress and encourage you to show love through hospitality. It is better to invite someone over for a cup of coffee with love and intentionality, then to prepare a glorious feast filled with contention and strife.

The Bible uses the image of a “fattened ox” because  it represents the finest foods available. The contrast is a great contrast. “Love” is to be preferred over the best foods available. Abundance and hatred do not go hand in hand. Abundance and hatred produce an un-godly environment; an environment where people do not want to be. Wealth and hatred only lead to disaster, but wealth and love: the ability to give of what you have for the sake of others and building relationships and communities, this is the heart of biblical wisdom.

We have a great theological responsibility to one another. If friendship is to be pursued as a necessity, and not as a luxury, then the out-working of biblical friendship is hospitality. But in order to bring friendship and hospitality to a point of harmony, we need to begin practicing hospitality in our own homes. Familial hospitality means eating together. A family that eats together stays together. I understand the complexities of life will not allow us to eat together at every meal, but there should be at least one meal where we have an opportunity to stare into each other’s eyes and laugh and enjoy each other’s company as we eat and drink together. Hospitality begins with your own families. As Steve Wilkins says: “If your house is not a haven for your own family, how could other people possibly enjoy being there?”[3] If you are not practicing hospitality as a family, it will be rather strange to invite others to share your hospitality.

Once there is some level of continuity and consistency at home, then we need to open our homes to others. When you consider the nature of food, in some sense you are considering the nature of human beings. We can be salt seasoning the lives of people,[4] and we can sweeten our words to encourage one another. Food is a symbol of how we can bring the entirety of the gospel message of hope, love, community, gospel truth lived out among the people into our kitchen table.

Robert Capon puts it this way:

“The bread and the pastry, the cheeses and wine, and the sugar go into the Supper of the lamb because we do. It is our love that brings the city home. It is I grant you, an incautious and extravagant hope. But only outlandish hopes can make themselves at home.” [5]

We establish the aroma of our home not only with our love for one another, but also with the smells of good wine and the Thanksgiving Turkey. But all these things are in and of themselves a waste of our time and energy if there is no love. If we lack the theological foundation to grasp the centrality of this Christian duty, then it will be just another representation of our hypocrisy to the world.

If hospitality of some sort is not marked  somewhere in your monthly calendar, then you may need to re-orient your Christian priorities. Paul says in Romans 12:13 that the “whole Church is to be given to hospitality.” Does this reflect the agenda of your home? Is hospitality a part of the Christian experience you cherish, or is it simply a random act of kindness that you exercise once a year?

How Now Shall We Then Live?

The first observation to make on the topic of hospitality is that this is a very broad topic, and we have worked our way through Steve Wilkin’s book on Hospitality, and my first application is that if you have the book and have not read it, let me encourage you to read it as soon as possible, and if you do not have a copy, please come and speak to us and we will provide you one.

The second element to stress is that hospitality needs to be a part of our budget. However that applies to you personally, God commands you to show favor to those in the body. Paul says in Romans 12 that the mark of a Christian is to “seek to show hospitality.” And the way this happens is by opening your home to brothers and sisters in the faith. Sit down together this afternoon and look at your monthly calendar, and say: “On this Wednesday or Sunday, or whatever day, I would like to invite this individual or this family over for a simple meal.” Set the date and make it happen. If you would like some guidance, there are people in this congregation who have made hospitality an art; they love the delight that accompanies having people over. Another option is instead of a meal to have people over for desserts. We are going to have coffee and cake, or something of that nature. The application here is: “Begin somewhere! Don’t wait!”

Hospitality can take many shapes. There is no one way to practice it, but we are called to practice it.

Thirdly, hospitality is for laughter. Ecclesiastes says a “feast is made for laughter”[6] “It is not a waste of time to sit at the table, telling jokes and stories.”[7]

Illus. Some years ago I received an exasperated call from a friend. He wanted to be with other Christians, but he lacked the ability to simply enjoy people’s presence and smile. He thought that every time  he was with another Christian, he needed to have a life-changing conversation about a theological subject or the political climate of the day.

If you can’t enjoy each other’s company with laughter at the sight of a smiling child, or listening to the ability of some people to tell extremely humorous stories, you need to re-examine your Christian identity. Alexander Schmemann wrote:

“The source of false religion is the inability to rejoice, or, rather, the refusal of joy, whereas joy is absolutely essential because it is without any doubt the fruit of God’s presence.”

You were made to laugh with others. Pastor Steve Wilkins from Auburn Avenue Presbyterian says it best: “Where on earth do people get this idea that edifying speech is only to talk about Bible verses and theology? This is not only unchristian; it is inhuman. It is certainly not Biblical; feasts are made for laughter.”[8]

Fourthly, our children need to see daddy and mommy showing hospitality to others. They will learn by example and imitation the things we should all know: generosity, friendliness, and selflessness.[9] The way to begin thinking covenantally and generationally is by raising a new generation who despise selfishness and who delight in open-heartedness to others. For the older saints in our Church whose children are out of the home, use these opportunities to teach the young how to practice this virtue.

I love the stories of children now grown sharing with their friends the great meals they enjoyed with other families growing up. Hospitality is pleasurable. It builds unforgettable memories. “The continual exercise of disciplined and glad hospitality is the best way to teach it to our children and those around us.”[10]

Finally, let me say that hospitality is for the sake of the gospel. We were sinners and wanderers and God brought us into his kingdom; his house, and gave us food (The Lord’s Supper), shelter (the Church), a new family (brothers and sisters in Christ), and a new King (Jesus Christ). If you want a model of hospitality, look no further than God himself. And because it is for the sake of the gospel, we need to manifest an un-tiring joy. We have at times failed to proclaim the gospel because we have lost the joy of the gospel.[11]

The Table is a tool of evangelism. Use it. Laugh when using it. Rejoice with those around you. Celebrate the goodness of God. Tell stories, because stories build lasting relationships. And then when everyone is gone, and you are exhausted from all the hard work that went into preparing that meal and entertaining guests, take a deep breath and rejoice for you have shown the world once more the glories of the Gospel.

In The Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Steve Wilkins, Face to Face, pg. 91

[2] Waltke, Bruce, Commentary on Proverbs, pg. 627

[3] Face to Face, 140

[4] Colossians 4:6

[6] Ecclesiastes 10:19.

[7] Face to Face, 125.

[8] Ibid, 125.

[9] Again I express my indebtedness to Steve Wilkins’ excellent book.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid. 120.

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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