/ Barry York

Hospitality in a Fallen World by Rebecca VanDoodewaard

The following article is a guest post by Rebecca VanDoodewaard, author of Reformation Women: Sixteenth-Century Figures Who Shaped Christianity's Rebirth, and is a modified version of an article that first appeared in the Banner of Truth Magazine, June, 2019. Republished here with permission.

The last chapter of Revelation gives us a picture of Heaven, where God welcomes His people into His city. But for that home to open to us, Christ had to come to earth and pay the price of God’s reconciliation with sinners. When He came, “his own did not receive Him.” When Christ arrived on earth, his own people showed him no hospitality. A lack of hospitality is a mark of spiritual blindness. In Scripture, unbelievers refuse hospitality to others, while saints offer hospitality at cost to themselves. When spiritual blindness becomes sight, sinners become hospitable.

Because Christian hospitality flows out of the gospel, it is a powerful tool. It strengthens families, communities, and is a strong witness. Hospitality is an instrument for sanctification, unity, and blessing. But there is another side to the truth. This is a Genesis 3 world: fallen. I have had someone come to the door bleeding from a deep cut, and hospitality looked like first aid. We have had a guest loose it and scream top volume at their child at the dinner table. I have had visiting children tell me that my food is disgusting and that they are bored.

Then there are other things that cannot be dealt with using bleach, a board game, or a peanut butter sandwich. There are guests who are grieving. We have sat in the living room with guests weeping over deep loss. There are guests that will burn you. One friend had a lunch guest steal some silver tea spoons. Others have sacrificially hosted, only to have people reject the relationship. Real hospitality is costly. And the greatest cost is not physical, just like the greatest blessing is not physical. We have had a homeless alcoholic, many liars, and a man who turned out to be a pedophile in our home. And every harmful person we have hosted has been a part of the visible church. That is a sobering thought.

But all of these scenarios are not an excuse to not practice hospitality. There are sensible, wise, precautions that we need to take to protect ourselves, children, and other guests, and we need to take them. But we cannot tell who will end up being the thief or the slanderer. It is probably not the stranger that you think it is. I would never have guessed that the polite dinner guest was a predator. The alcoholic became a lovely Christian man. We cannot tell who needs the strength of Christian hospitality. Our homes are to be safe but open places.

But there is a category of people whom Scripture tells us not to welcome: spiritually dangerous people. 2 John 10–11 tells us that for anyone calling themselves a Christian but teaches error, “…do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.” These are people whose teaching (usually informal, conversational) denies the deity of Christ, disrupts households, exploits people, captures weak women—and we are not to welcome them (1 John 2:22; Titus 1:11; 2 Peter 2:3; 2 Timothy 3:6). Safety is not primarily a physical thing, but a spiritual thing.

The inherent risk in any hospitality makes the truth of God’s economy clear: bodies are valuable. Souls are more valuable—so valuable, that it is right to take the physical risk of having strangers and other church folks into your home in order to try and minister to their souls. We must use discretion and wisdom when dealing with physical threats, but when it comes to spiritual threats, we are just told not to go there. Refusing someone hospitality on biblical grounds is a way of standing with the truth (1 Cor. 5:11). We are willing to take on the social awkwardness of closing our doors to certain people because we take God at His Word. This refusal of hospitality makes us vulnerable in other ways than hospitality does. It almost always comes with rejection, ridicule, and lies. It comes with spiritual warfare.

That sounds uncomfortable—who wants to be vulnerable? Vulnerability means potential hurt. We don’t want that, but we are called to that, because vulnerability is connected to love. The more you know someone, the more the potential for love and for hurt increases. But God does not call us to invulnerability. He calls us to love. C. S. Lewis said,

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries… Lock it up safe in the casket… of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable…[1]

Christians are called to love our families, neighbors, and enemies. That means that we are also called to the hurt that comes with love.

But Lewis is not entirely right. He is when it comes to other people. But vulnerability towards God will never leave our hearts broken. Other people will hurt us, we will hurt other people, but God will never disappoint.

What does that have to do with hospitality? It means that when we practice hospitality first of all out of love for God, it is never a waste. The food that gets scraped into the garbage, the relational problem that did not get fixed, the bed times that did not happen, the dishes that are still there next morning, the heartaches that are still there next month—not one of these things is a waste when done for Jesus’ sake. That is the goal in hospitality: doing it for Jesus glory.

Hospitality cannot save people. Only Jesus can do that. But hospitality is a means that He uses to build up the church and sanctify believers. He decides how obedience bears fruit. We just need to obey. That is why we do not get to decide if hospitality is our thing. If we are Christians, it is our thing: it is a command. And when we practice hospitality for Jesus’ sake, then our hospitality will not be consumed with the straw and stubble of this world. It is the kind of hospitality that God values and rewards because it is a proclamation of truth in a crooked world.

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harper Collins, 1960), 155.

Barry York

Barry York

Sinner by Nature - Saved by Grace. Husband of Miriam - Grateful for Privilege. Father of Six - Blessed by God. President of RPTS - Serve with Thankfulness. Author - Hitting the Marks.

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