6 Ways to Rethink Biblical Hospitality in a Busy World

Janet Thompson

Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
Updated May 23, 2024
6 Ways to Rethink Biblical Hospitality in a Busy World

As our Couples Bible study group was leaving our home, one of the couples thanked us for our hospitality. That wasn’t the first time they had mentioned this to us. When we hosted a New Year’s dinner at our house, they said the same thing, commenting on how we made hospitality look so easy. When someone suggested filing through the kitchen to fill our plates, I said let’s all sit down and pass the food dishes so we can eat together at the same time and see each other to interact over our meal. That made a big impression on this couple even though I was just doing what seemed natural to me. 

Like everyone today, my life is super busy with writing deadlines, family, church and community activities, and health issues. Yet, the joy and warmth that fills our home when we open it to others always energizes and motivates me to say things like, “Sure the group can meet at our house!” Even though I know that’s going to mean extra preparation when my schedule is packed, biblical hospitality doesn’t have to be arduous.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/SolStock

Sign that says "welcome please come in"

What Is Biblical Hospitality?

The Bible tells us that Jesus was often the guest in people’s homes. Sometimes, he invited himself, and other times, he accepted someone’s invitation. Often he brought his disciples with him so the host had many mouths to feed, but who wouldn’t want to have Jesus visit them?! Jesus and His disciples relied entirely on the hospitality of others as they ministered from town to town (Matthew 10:9-10).

In biblical times, travelers depended on the hospitality of strangers, as traveling could be dangerous. There were few inns, and the poor couldn’t afford to stay at them, anyway. We remember at Christmas time how Jesus’ parents found no room in an inn for his birth, but a kind inn owner offered these two strangers the use of his barn where Jesus was born among the animals.  

As the early church was getting started, kind men and women like Priscilla, Aquila, and Lydia opened their homes for strangers to come and worship together. Hospitality was a highly regarded and necessary virtue in ancient times, especially for Christian leaders who surely had very busy lives back then without the help of the internet, computers, or phones to research their sermons. Yet, Titus 1:8 and 1 Timothy 3:2 require that a church leader “must enjoy having guests in his home.” That could mean feeding, lodging, or both!

However, biblical hospitality is more than offering a room and board or a meal. It mirrors the Gospel. Biblical hospitality requires thinking of others more important than ourselves as we’re commanded, “Love our neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave us what’s known as the Golden Rule, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). 

Biblical hospitality is a sacred act of kindness every Christian is expected to extend to others, even when it doesn’t come naturally to us. “Hospitality is the friendly reception and treatment of guests, or strangers, warmly and generously,” but biblical hospitality adds to this that we honor and obey God when we serve others, even strangers, joyfully and sacrificially. Then he turned to his host. “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” Luke 14:12-13

Peter Wagner’s definition of hospitality in his book Finding Your Spiritual Gifts says, “The special ability that God gives to certain members of the body of Christ to provide an open house and a warm welcome to those in need of food and lodging.” You might be thinking: Well, that’s definitely not my spiritual gift. Or you have the willingness to open your home but, like Martha, become so entangled in the details of having everything go perfectly that your greeting to guests is wearied instead of full of warmth.

Contrary to Wagner’s definition, the Bible calls every Christian to be hospitable, not only just those who feel it’s their spiritual gift. We all, especially Christians, can learn how to be welcoming to others. Hospitality is simply “the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.” 

In the New Testament, the Greek word translated “hospitality” literally means “love of strangers.” Hospitality is a virtue both commanded and commended throughout Scripture. Let’s look at some of those Scriptures and six ways to rethink biblical hospitality in a busy world.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Aaron Burden 

Old senior couple friends talking at table eating

1. Biblical Hospitality Keeps It Simple

Hospitality can be simple acts of kindness. Giving someone a ride to and from church, to the doctor, or shopping. Inviting new people at church out to lunch after service. My husband and I have made lifelong friends through this simple, hospitable practice. 

Keep cans of soup in the pantry to pair with grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza handy in the freezer, or burgers ready for the grill so you’re always ready to invite someone over to lunch or dinner. Fellowship doesn’t have to be fancy. You’re not formerly entertaining; you’re graciously welcoming others.

Having people over to your home doesn’t always have to be a meal. It can be coffee or lemonade on the porch or a light snack or dessert. For our Couple’s Bible study group, everyone takes a turn at bringing a snack and we rotate homes. 

When the weather is nice, backyard barbeques are always enjoyable. Make group meals a potluck where the host provides the main dish and everyone attending brings a side dish. This allows all guests to participate. This also means giving up control over the exact planning aspects of the meal, but enjoying the adventure of tasting what everyone brings. 

Use paper plates and cups, even plastic utensils to make clean up easy so you’re spending time with guests, not in the kitchen. 

The main ingredient of successful hospitality is prayer. Pray over your plans, your home, the guests coming, and of course, start the meal with a group prayer. 

“And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my [Jesus’s] followers, you will surely be rewarded.” Matthew 10:42 NLT

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Friends out eating

2. Biblical Hospitality Focuses on the Guests Not the Mess

Genuine hospitality never focuses on the giver, but always on the receiver. We don’t worry about how perfect our house appears or how good we look when offering hospitality. Instead, we humbly offer what we have to those who may not have as much as we do or are in need of Christian heartfelt fellowship or the human touch of kindness. 

Jesus was always hospitable and kind, especially to the afflicted, weary, and unsaved. When feeding the 5000 and 4000 with what little he had available, he knew a welcoming smile and caring about their practical needs was an open door to the hearts of some who might not otherwise be open to hearing the Good News of Jesus Christ

Remember, having guests over is not a home tour, unless you want to. Shut off rooms, so you only need to do a quick cleanup of the guest bathroom and maybe a light dusting of the main room and dining room furniture. Usually, the time to vacuum and clean the kitchen floor is after everyone leaves since there will always be crumbs left behind.

When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Romans 12:13 NLT

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two friends consoling each other sitting on a log bench outside

3. Biblical Hospitality Looks for the Overlooked to Invite

Consider that biblical hospitality extends beyond close friends and family to those you might not know as well. A perfect example is the Good Samaritan parable that Jesus told when asked by a man who said he knew he was to love his neighbor but “who is my neighbor?” Jesus then told the story of a Jewish man attacked by bandits and left by the roadside for dead. A priest and a Levite came by but neither helped the injured man. Yet a Samaritan saw the man and took pity on him, bandaged him, and took him on his donkey to an inn where he paid for him to stay while he was recovering. Jesus then asked which of these men was a neighbor to the injured man? Of course, it was the Samaritan stranger and Jesus told us all to “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:25-38

We should look to see who needs our help and kindness as a possible “neighbor” to love as ourselves. We all know someone injured emotionally, physically, or spiritually in need of a Savior, a comforter, a friend. They can sometimes be the difficult ones to open our hearts and our houses to, yet they are the ones who need our Christian loving hospitality the most. We extend Christian hospitality in the name and Spirit of Jesus!

If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. Matt. 5:46-47 NLT

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Hosting friends

4. Biblical Hospitality Opens Your Heart and Your Hearth

Interestingly, after telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus went to the home of sisters Mary and Martha where Scripture says, “Martha opened her home to him.” While her sister Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.” If you remember the story, “Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” She came to Jesus and asked him to make her sister help her. 

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42

Such wise advice from Jesus for us to take to heart when like Martha, we become overly concerned or stressed about the details of having visitors in our home. Instead of a heartfelt gracious, selfless welcome, guests sense an unwelcoming tension and frustration making them feel uncomfortable and a burden. 

When Jesus sent the seventy-two disciples out in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit, he gave them these instructions, “Whenever you enter someone’s home, first say, ‘May God’s peace be on this house.’ If those who live there are peaceful, the blessing will stand; if they are not, the blessing will return to you. Don’t move around from home to home. Stay in one place, eating and drinking what they provide. Don’t hesitate to accept hospitality, because those who work deserve their pay.” Luke 10:5-7 NLT

That biblical reminder is that guests should feel peace and not angst that we’re not comfortable having others in our home or extending hospitality to them. Maybe we’ve worked too hard on things that don’t really matter.  We’re exhausted and on edge. Our guests will notice our agitation. Biblical hospitality isn’t just the work of our hands, but encompasses the work of our heart. Rather than a compliment on the meal or decorations, it’s a blessing to hear, “Your house is so homey.” Or the best praise a host can receive is when someone says they feel the presence of Jesus in your home! 

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Heb. 13:2

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hands offering a red crocheted heart giving kindness

5. Biblical Hospitality Makes What Is Mine, Yours

We’ve all experienced the awkwardness of being a guest in someone’s home where we must be watchful of every move we make as opposed to the host who says, “Think of our home as your home away from home. Make yourselves comfortable, and let us know if there’s anything you need.” We breathe a sigh of relief that our host is glad we’re visiting. 

The early church shared what little they had with each other. They understood that everything they owned was a gift from God. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. Acts 2:44 NLT

Sharing is a blessing. Hospitality places others needs above our own not out of duty, but out of love. It’s a gift to give

And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Heb. 13:16

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6. Biblical Hospitality Serves Others Joyfully

6. Biblical Hospitality Serves Others Joyfully

The Bible is convicting that if we go through the mechanics of providing food, shelter, or even caring for someone while grumbling, it is not biblical hospitality. Hard to imagine that our world is any busier than that of ancient times when they had to scrub their clothes on rocks, grind grain to make flour, slaughter animals for meat, cook over a fire, and walk miles for water. In fact, they walked in most places. Our life isn’t any busier than theirs was. We’ve just filled our days with things that often take us away from the most important thing in every Christian’s life: showing others the love of Jesus, who had time for even the lowliest person. 

When we approach hospitality with eagerness not dread, excitement not anxiety, gratitude not perfection, grace not guilt . . . we and our guests will be filled with peace, laughter, smiles, and joy.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 1 Peter 4:8-9

Christian hospitality is Christian living. It’s how we live out our Christian faith with love in action. Sharing Jesus’ love is the key difference between secular and biblical hospitality. Sometimes, it requires a sacrifice or inconvenience, but it's always serving others in a Christ-like way. God will bless our efforts when we do it for his glory and not our own. You’ve heard the term “blessed to be a blessing.” That’s the heart and soul of being busy extending biblical hospitality, and we will be blessed in return.

“It is the duty of every Christian to be Christ to his neighbor.”—Martin Luther

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Daisy 

Janet Thompson is an international speaker, freelance editor, and award-winning author of 20 books. Her passion is to mentor other women in sharing their life experiences and God’s faithfulness. Janet’s new release is Everyday Brave: Living Courageously As a Woman of Faith available at AmazonChristianbook.comBarnes and Noble, and signed at author’s website. She is also the author of Mentoring for All Seasons: Sharing Life Experiences and God’s FaithfulnessForsaken God? Remembering the Goodness of God Our Culture Has ForgottenDear God, Why Can’t I Have a Baby?Dear God They Say It’s Cancer; Dear God, He’s Home!Praying for Your Prodigal DaughterFace-to-Face Bible study Series; and Woman to Woman Mentoring: How to Start, Grow, & Maintain a Mentoring Ministry Resources. Janet is the founder of Woman to Woman Mentoring and About His Work Ministries. Visit Janet and sign up for her weekly blog and free online newsletter at womantowomanmentoring.com. Join Janet on FacebookLinkedInPinterestTwitter, and Instagram.

Originally published Wednesday, 22 May 2024.