More than once recently, a young mom with a bunch of little kids in tow has lamented to me that she’s falling behind on her job as a Christian…
…Because she’s not hosting dinner parties.
Well-known Christian authors have published books about the importance of having dinner at a table and inviting many people to that table –often with scripture that supposedly backs this up.
I have some shocking news: not only does scripture not tell us to host dinner parties, it doesn’t even command us to have dinner at a table.
Ok, now, catch your breath.
I know I just contradicted hundreds of years of Christian traditions.
But, Christian traditions do not equal Bible commands.
In fact, what we really need to do is compare the traditions of men with scripture.
Did you know that the Bible commands us to not get caught up in the traditions of men —especially if those traditions are based on philosophies that are not according to Christ?
So what is the definition of hospitality?
“Friendly and welcoming to strangers or guests” according to Google.
One Bible commentary defines it as “willingness to help the weary and heavy-laden ones of the world.”
And what does the Bible have to say about hospitality?
How is the word hospitality used in the Bible?
What are these verses that are misapplied and used to make moms of little children feel like failures because all their energy is going into providing for and caring for little eternal souls instead of cooking fancy meals?
Aren’t little souls supposed to be a mama’s first responsibility?
And, who is daring to make a mama who is focusing on those little souls feel bad about her properly-placed priorities?
One rule of Bible interpretation is that you use the most detailed verses on a topic to help explain the less clear verses.
Another rule is that you take the historical context and passage context into consideration when applying scripture.
That means that we cannot pick a verse out and use it however we want to –we have to figure out what the verse was intended to mean.
The most detailed verses regarding hospitality are the following verses:
“Do not neglect hospitality, because through it some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2 (MEV)
The KJV doesn’t even use the word “hospitality” in this verse but gets right to the point of focusing on strangers:
“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Hebrews 13:2 (KJV)
Another verse on this topic lists the qualifications for a widow to be worthy of financial support from the church:
“Do not let a widow be counted unless she is over sixty years old, has been the wife of one man, is well attested in good works, if she has brought up children, has lodged strangers, has washed the saints’ feet, has relieved the afflicted, and has diligently followed every good work.” 1 Timothy 5:10
Other translations say she doesn’t qualify unless she is “known for showing hospitality.”
“Above all things, have unfailing love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without complaining.” 1 Peter 4:8-9
Here are some things we know based on the above verses: we are commanded to show hospitality to other Christians according to 1 Peter and to show hospitality to strangers according to Hebrews.
Now, let’s look at the historical context of these verses.
What was going on in the world at the time? The New Testament was written against the backdrop of the Roman Empire.
Christians were being persecuted and were fleeing for their lives.
We know this because many of the letters in the New Testament telling the believers how to handle persecution.
Do you think that with all that persecution going on that the writers of the New Testament were actually telling the Christians to host dinner parties?
No, that’s ridiculous!
They are saying something like this: “When strangers who are believers come to your town fleeing persecution, open up your home to them and help them.”
See the context there? How that fits into history and agrees with the passages?
Hospitality in the New Testament isn’t what we think of as hospitality today.
It isn’t making an elaborate meal and keeping a house clean for people to come have a party.
In the context of scripture, hospitality is opening your home to or helping those who are in need.
While the Bible doesn’t specifically say that you cannot open your home to unbelievers, there are specific commands to be hospitable to other believers.
So, mama with a bunch of little kids who feel like you are not being hospitable, let me ask you a question: if someone knocked on your door today and they were injured and needed help, would you help them?
That is being hospitable.
If you knew a mom who was being beaten by her husband and she came to you and said “My children and I need a safe place to stay,” would you help her?
That is being hospitable.
If there was a car accident outside your house and people were hurt would you go out and help?
That is being hospitable.
This is helping true needs –serving and ministering.
And, it has nothing to do with a clean house, fine china, and elaborately planned dinner menus.
If you think hospitality is about those things, you are missing the point.
Hospitality in the context of the Bible is meeting the needs of other people and helping them when they need help.
That idea is further backed up by Hebrews 12:13 which says:
“Contribute to the needs of the saints, pursue hospitality.”
The command to be hospitable isn’t given to just women, either:
“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach.” (1 Timothy 3:2)
As a person with chronic illness, I may not be able to many things –I certainly am not healthy enough to host dinner parties, and we rarely even eat at the table because the table is usually covered in school supplies and groceries I haven’t had the strength or energy to put away yet.
Shocking, I know!
But, if you have a need, I will be there for you if I at all can.
We know a Christian family who lives a ways away from us and kind of in the middle of nowhere.
We were traveling and needed a place to crash for a few hours so my boys who were little at the time could take a nap while my husband was working that day.
Unfortunately, circumstances around the job he was working had prohibited me from making solid plans earlier –I didn’t know I needed a place to stay until that day, and we didn’t know another soul in any direction for hours and hours except one family.
This family refused to let us come by their house even for a few hours.
I was desperate for somewhere to go because my husband needed the car to go to the job he was there for –he needed the car for the job, and the children and I were not allowed on the job site or else I could have just stayed in the car and had the children sleep there.
Every plan I came up to address our situation fell through.
I ended up paying for a room at a hotel so my children could take a nap: we paid hundreds of dollars that we couldn’t really afford to use a hotel room for a few hours when our friends were right down the road unwilling to help us.
Although I’m sure their reasons seemed sound to them, it seemed like when we were really in need, they refused to help –like they viewed us as an inconvenience rather than a Christian brother and sister in need or a ministry opportunity.
That’s the point of hospitality: helping those in need.
It isn’t about having a finely set dinner table –it is about helping others when they are in need.
I have always wondered how I would respond to someone’s need –and planning and writing this post has made me rethink how I address requests for help.
I mean, sometimes, I am just unable to help.
If you call me and say “I really need a ride,” and I am in too much pain to drive that day, I cannot help you –but, I would probably try to find someone else to help you.
A while back, a car broke down across the street from my house.
I live on the busiest street in my town: it is the main road between our little town and the next big city where most people work.
I joke that the whole down drives by my house every day.
The car had been sitting there for a while along the side of the road with traffic whizzing by it.
The inhabitants didn’t get out of the car, and I wasn’t sure at first that there was even anyone in there.
I was getting ready for a medical procedure, and we really had to leave by a certain time.
Then I noticed movement in the car.
I wasn’t sure what to do.
I was concerned about their car being in traffic.
I was concerned that maybe they didn’t have a phone or that they needed help.
So, I finished getting myself ready to go and walked carefully across the street.
They had broken down, they had a phone, and they were waiting for a relative to come help them –he was about an hour away.
I offered to get my boys to push their car out of traffic, but they didn’t want to.
Thankfully, it was not hot that day, and the mom seemed to be entertaining her munchkins to pass the time.
I offered use of our bathroom, but she said they were fine.
I didn’t know them and didn’t feel comfortable leaving them in my house while I was gone: I needed to leave for the doctor’s office in less than 10 minutes.
I did the only thing that I could think of: I went into the house, gathered up some bananas and bottled water and took it over to the car for them, and I told her they were welcome to run around in our yard and use our lawn chairs while they waited if they wanted to.
She had mentioned that they were headed to someone’s house for lunch before they broke down; I would have provided something more to eat, but that was about all I had because I really needed to go grocery shopping.
She thanked me profusely, and I just tried to be as kind and helpful as I could be under the circumstance.
I kinda felt like there was more I should have done, but I couldn’t figure out what.
By the time I got back from the doctor’s office, they were gone.
Do you see someone in need? Help them if you can!
Even a little help is better than no help.
When the scripture says you may be helping angels unaware, it doesn’t mean that one of the people from your church who come over for a dinner party is secretly an angel.
It is talking about helping strangers.
I have seen my parents live out this idea of helping people in need –they have done it before my very eyes, and I am honored to be able to see their faith in action.
I have seen them help people who have needs –like being stranded in one state trying to get to another– and my parents have dropped everything and driven those families to the place they were trying to get to even hours away, provided food for them, diapers and clothes for their children, and made sure they were in a safe place once they got to the new location.
I have no doubt in my mind that my parents’ hospitality to strangers left a lasting impression and a strong testimony to those to whom they have ministered.
I implore you, do not reduce the concept of hospitality down to a dinner party.
If you do, you miss the point.
You do not have to have a clean house to minister to other people’s needs.
My house was not clean when I was helping the family with the broken-down car, and I would have brought them in my messy house if they needed to use the bathroom.
If I hadn’t needed to go –and been unable to reschedule the appointment, I would have even brought them into my home until their help arrived.
Do you think that the lady trying to get away from domestic abuse cares when the last time your living room was vacuumed? Or your shower clean out?
So, mama out there with a house full of little people feeling like you can’t be hospitable: look for ways that God brings people into your life that you can minister to.
Our responsibility is to focus on the eternal things in our lives: the souls of your children matter more than the condition of your house; the souls of those around us who are in need matter more than the condition of your house.
You do not need a clean house to help other people.
And, you certainly don’t need to host a dinner party to do it.
Those who say hospitality is about a dinner party are missing the point of these verses and missing opportunities to minister to others.
Not only that, they are teaching –erroneously– that women who are unable to host dinner parties are somehow in sin for not doing so.
It’s not that there is anything wrong with hosting dinner parties, but that is not what the Bible is commanding us to do.
We need to read the Bible with the context of what it was written and what God was trying to communicate through the original authors instead of simply viewing the words through our modern, wealthy, American culture.