A few days a week, I go to the local YMCA and step onto a treadmill. I run side-by-side with about 15 other joggers. We run with our headphones on, look straight ahead, finish our run, and go our separate ways.
We run side-by-side, but you couldn’t really say we run together.
This may be a fine approach to getting in shape. But when the disciplines of the Christian life follow this individual, side-by-side “treadmill approach”, our joy in service decreases. The burden of the calling increases. Ultimately, the faithfulness of living the Christian life wanes.
One discipline in which it seems this could take place is that of hospitality. Hospitality has been described by Abraham Malherbe as the “concrete expression of Christian love”.1 From Lydia’s use of her house (Acts 16:15) to Christ’s welcoming the crowds by the Sea of Galilee (John 6), hospitality functions as a Biblical expression of the love of God.
And yet for so many, the call to practice hospitality becomes a burden. They climb on their hospitality treadmill, begin to jog, and when the pace picks up, they press pause, end their hospitality workout, and hesitate to climb on again.
But what if the calling of hospitality – or any other calling of Christian experience – isn’t meant to function like a series of side-by-side treadmills? What if hospitality is a calling that comes to the church as a body that is organically connected and constantly works together?
Of course, the body metaphor isn’t mine. It comes from Scripture itself. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul describes the church as body with many members united in the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:12-13). In v14-26, the church is depicted as a co-laboring body of hands, feet, eyes, and ears.
What does it look like for the church to function as this co-laboring body in the realm of hospitality? It looks like a hospitable body of hospitable sufferers and hospitable worshipers.
Hospitable Sufferers (1 Peter)
1 Peter assumes a life of Christian suffering. How do Christian sufferers press through? They “keep loving one another earnestly” (1 Peter 4:8). How do Christian sufferers practice love? They “show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9). In the church, hospitality becomes the constant and mutual welcoming of fellow sufferers.
- One with the foot of hospitality visits the sufferer unable to attend church on Sunday morning.
- One with the hand of hospitality offers the sufferer a warm plate of lovingly-prepared food.
- One with the mouth of hospitality invites the sufferer to their home for a time of sharing and prayer.
And on it goes. From sufferer to sufferer, a community of suffering hospitality is born.
Hospitable Worshipers (Romans 15:1-12)
Worship itself is a hospitable experience. God welcomes weary believers into His presence, to hear His Word and to come to His table. The hospitable body of Christ reflects God’s hospitality as together it welcomes fellow believers into worship.
It seems such worshipful hospitality drives Paul’s call in Romans 15. There, the Gentiles are to be welcomed after the pattern of Christ’s welcome “for the glory of God” (15:7). This welcome leads to public worship together with the Gentiles (v9-12).
Thus, hospitable worshipers actively work to live as the hospitable body within the context of worship.
- Open arms and smiling faces readily welcome children into a well-prepared nursery.
- Elders offer the right hand of fellowship to new believers and welcome them to the Lord’s Table.
- The lips of the preacher offer a warm greeting and smile from the pulpit.
- The eyes of the church member notice when a guest can’t find a bulletin or Psalter during worship. Their hands move in to provide what’s needed.
- The minds of elders give particular attention to those social divides that so often make other socioeconomic classes or races feel unwelcome in a worship service.
- Following the leaders’ example, the feet of children in the church run to play with those who are not like them.
- The ears of members listen attentively for words of guests that indicate their discomfort or feeling of unwelcome among the people of God
- Words of discomfort are responded to, not with defensiveness, but with mouths of love, gentleness, and peace.
Today, you may not feel able to engage all the tasks of hospitality in the church. It’s pretty hard to be a foot, a mouth, an ear, and a hand at the same time and all the time.
But how can your feet or your hands or your eyes or your ears join the hospitality of the body of Jesus Christ? How can you join the body of Christ as the welcoming people of the living God?
In engaging the hospitality of the body of Christ, you will reflect your Savior. After all, it was He who gave His whole body to make the sacrifice (Heb. 10:5-7) that sinners may be welcomed into the presence of God.
 Abraham J. Malherbe, Social Aspects of Early Christianity (Baton Rouge, LA: State University Press, 1977), 67. Malherbe is quoted on page 16 of Alexander Strauch’s book, The Hospitality Commands (Littleton, CO: Lewis & Roth Publishers, 1993).
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