by Tony Merida
What are some of your favorite meals of all time? I don’t just mean the food, but the occasion.
Most of the time, people recall certain experiences with friends, family and some type of festivity. It’s rarely just the food they remember.
Why is this? Deep within us, we all long for good food and drink with family and friends, in which there’s conversation, joy and love. All of these experiences are pointing us toward the kingdom of God.
I believe hospitality is essential for understanding the nature of God and the mission of God. It’s why, when we started Imago Dei Church in Raleigh almost two and half years ago, we had a goal of creating a culture infused with evangelism and hospitality.
Why practice hospitality as a church?
1. To reflect God’s hospitality.
God’s welcoming character is displayed throughout Scripture. In the Garden, God provided Adam and Eve with everything, including fellowship, food and a home. After they sinned, He provided clothing to cover them. In Exodus, God provided manna for the Israelites in their wanderings. Later, God led them to the promised land—a land flowing with milk and honey.
Throughout the Old Testament, God welcomes, establishes, feeds, protects, nourishes and instructs his people with gracious hospitality.
Additionally, Jesus shows us a picture of gracious hospitality in numerous ways. Throughout the Gospels, He eats with sinners, receives children, and teaches us to invite the lowly to parties and to welcome strangers.
At the last supper, Jesus tells his disciples He will make room for them in His Father’s house: “I am going away to prepare a place for you” (John 14:3).
After His resurrection, Jesus prepares a breakfast for His disciples and eats with the Emmaus disciples.
Finally, God’s hospitality is on full display in the book of Revelation. Heaven is divine hospitality! We who deserved misery have received mercy, and have the holy joy of dwelling with our God forever.
Whether we realize it or not, we long for the great Messianic feast, the marriage supper of the Lamb.
|Opportunities for hospitality evangelism
2. God’s servants have passed on a legacy of gracious hospitality.
In Genesis, Abraham entertains three guests, one of whom is the Lord. Later, Joseph welcomes and cares for his brothers and others in a famine. Rahab demonstrates hospitality by offering protection and lodging to Israelite spies. Boaz feeds the hungry. Nehemiah shows us a picture of the hospitality of a leader, providing for 150 men at his table.
In the New Testament, God’s people are urged to continue this legacy of caring for strangers. When Jesus sent His twelve apostles out to minister in Matthew 10:9-11, hospitality to God’s messengers was built into the mission. He emphasizes its importance saying, “The one who welcomes you welcomes Me, and the one who welcomes Me welcomes Him who sent me” (Matthew 10:40). Passages like 1 Peter 4:9 and Romans 12:13 exhort all Christians to practice hospitality.
Hospitality is a marvelous theme that runs through the Bible. Because God is a host who has welcomed us into the kingdom, we should imitate Him and welcome others into our lives and homes.
3. Practicing hospitality is a practical way to “live as a missionary.”
At Imago Dei we continue to reinforce the idea that “everyone is a missionary.” Every new member at Imago Dei is commissioned as a missionary to the city of Raleigh. We want our people having meals with their neighbors.
By sharing a meal a few times a week and combining that with a passion for Jesus, you’ll be living on mission. You may find that lives are changed by simply asking, “Do you want to come over for a barbecue on Thursday?”
4. Authentic ministry involves not only sharing the gospel, but also the sharing of our very lives.
Hospitality is a practical way to combine mercy ministry and evangelism. Our homes are a place to welcome others the way Jesus has welcomed us.
In the ministry of Jesus, meals were occasions for displaying revolutionary love, radical grace and kingdom mission. Those who have experienced Jesus’ gracious hospitality should extend the same type of gracious hospitality to others. The only response to grace is grace upon grace.
As you practice hospitality and encourage others to do the same, allow me to offer two exhortations.
Invite outsiders to your feasts (Luke 14:12-14). I find most Christians fellowship well with other Christians, but they don’t necessarily do well at hospitality with those outside the church.
Jesus says to give preference to the poor and vulnerable. So when you look at your invitation list ask yourself: where’s the single mom, the kid down the street, the broken, the abused? Express love to the marginalized in real, authentic, Christ-like ways.
Invite outsiders to the King’s feast (Luke 14:15-24). What a privilege to invite others to the King’s table. It’s sometimes surprising who will respond to His gracious invitation. Let us display this revolutionary love though gospel hospitality.
It’s not difficult to show someone you care and develop a relationship that leads to gospel conversations. Be genuine. Ask them questions about themselves. Talk about grace. Tell your story. Serve them. And then invite them to the ultimate feast.
Have you practiced kingdom hospitality? Built relationships? Invited others into your home? Gone for coffee and shared the gospel?
How about the people in your church? Are they practicing gospel hospitality?
Tony Merida is pastor of Imago Dei in Raleigh, N.C. and associate professor of preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also the author of Faithful Preaching and coauthor of Orphanology.