Hospitality is not for Suckers

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Have you ever been on the receiving end of truly gracious hospitality? How about on the giving end? For Andi Ashworth, the art of caregiving is something that came alive in her. She said, “I discovered that, with design, intent and hard work, I could contribute to a story laced with the true, the good, and the beautiful in the lives of my family and friends.” In her book Real Love for Real Life, Andi contends that caregiving is more than a second-tier Christian duty. It is a “grand invitation to serve others with beauty, imagination, and love to which God calls us.”

And according to the Bible, she is so right.

The Apostle Peter wrote, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:8-11

A story. When my brother and I were in college, my parents signed up to provide a foster home for kids who had been removed from the worst of situations. Their first call was for a 13-year-old girl who had suffered much at the hands of those who were supposed to care for her.

Here’s how she came to live in our home. One day she woke up, got a bowl of cereal, heard a knock on the door, answered it, and there before her stood a social worker and a couple of police officers, come to remove her from her situation.

By 3:00PM that same afternoon, she sat in our living room as the social worker tried to explain that she was safe now and this would be her new home until they got everything worked out.

I remember how mom and dad called my brother and me to make sure we’d be okay with this. We went to a church which loved to remind us that whatever we do “for the least of these, that we do unto Christ.” (Mt 25:40) So of course, we offered no objections. But neither of us knew what this would mean for our lives. Up until then, we were our parents only two kids—boys 14 months apart, now both in college. But here, all at once we had a 13-year-old sister. For the summers we lived at home, we learned quickly that we were in over our heads.

My parents were remarkable people. Still are. One thing they modeled with unflinching conviction and unflappable grace was that hospitality was not a second tier responsibility for the Christian. In fact, my parents regularly put my brother and me in the presence of people who were hurting, alone and in trouble.

So it is fascinating to me that all the things Peter could have put in his mini-list of Christian duties in the text above, we find glad-hearted hospitality.

Hospitality can seem to be a sucker’s game. We go into it thinking, for example, “How hard could it be to open my home to someone in trouble?” But then they chain smoke menthol cigarette’s with the filters broke off in our garage because they know the rule about smoking in the house, but there’s three feet of snow on the ground outside.

Or we say, “We’ll host a get together for the young families in the neighborhood,” only to watch the neighborhood kids destroy our clean home. Somewhere along the way, we begin to think we’re getting wise this sucker’s game. But not wanting to appear inhospitable, we develop some rules—fail-safes to keep people in our homes, but not disrupting our homes.

Hospitality is not for suckers. It’s for Christians. But apparently according to Peter, it makes the heart want to grumble enough that the call to show hospitality without grumbling made it into the canon of Scripture.

It seems as if Peter is saying, “Expect hospitality will put you out a bit. It will cost you. Don’t grumble.”  Grumble about what? Is Peter talking about grumbling about the work involved in cleaning the house or cooking a meal or making a bed, or is he talking about people and their neediness?

Probably all of the above.

But when you consider that the aim of the Christian life is to glorify God through His Son Jesus Christ, of course hospitality would be central. Jesus played host to the most needy, desperate, ill-equipped collection of have-nots ever. We are all and have been sick, in prison (real or imagined), hungry, thirsty and displaced.

Jesus came to where His people were and are and took us in, gave us what we needed and did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He took us from our various forms of vagrancy and gave us a home with Him. The call to hospitality is a call to mirror what He had modeled.

Andi’s wonderful little book on the art and work of caring for people is a book that does not grumble.  She takes time to explore the idea of caring as a calling from God that is at the same time fruitful and inefficient, part spontaneous, part ceremony, without season, across generations and always done within our personal limitations of time, resources and abilities. But it is a rich life because it is a life that mirrors the true Caregiver.

My wife and I have personally been on the receiving end of Andi’s care (and her husband’s), and we say without hesitation that their investment in our lives has had more to do with the rich lives we live now than either of them could know. Her book reads like a conversation across the kitchen table, and you will learn about loving people well as you learn about how God has loved you well. That means time with this book will be time well spent.

Russ Ramsey and his wife and four children make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church and the author of Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative (Rabbit Room Press, 2011) and Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2015). He is a graduate of Taylor University (1991) and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv – 2000, ThM – 2003).

Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.


14 Comments

  1. Nate

    Thanks so much for the review and recommendation Russ. I can’t wait to get this for my wife and I. She, especially, is all about hospitality. But this welcoming needy kids into the home is something that I too would love to do. Trial that it may be. It was hard enough to add my wife to the mix… just like that Gullahorn song – Give it Time (Thyme?). Anyway, this sounds like a book for us. We don’t have much experience with this yet, but, oh, what God may have in store.

    Also, thoughts on adoption? Would that fall into hospitality or is it so much more that its in a different category? Just food for thought (and comments).

  2. Russ Ramsey

    @russramsey

    Nate, John Piper has a lot of wonderful stuff on adoption– both theological adption and the mercy of bringing a child into your family. With regards to the latter, I was just talking with a new friend the other day about this and he reminded me of something Piper said about adoption that got he and his family in the process of bringing two kids from Ethiopia into their home. Piper said, “Adoption is greater than the universe.” Go here for the context.

  3. Tony Heringer

    Russ,

    This sounds like a book Cherie and I would enjoy as well. We have always opened up our home and have grown more accustomed to it as we have been shown by other dear brothers and sisters the art and practice of hospitality. It’s called “practicing hospitality” for a reason (like medicine or law – rim shot ) and we’ve definitely had our share of faux pas – given and received.

    You think Peter was misty eyed when he wrote this letter? Think of Jesus reaffirming him after Peter’s betrayal – “Do you love Me?” Or Peter being sent with John by Jesus to make the preparations for the Passover meal—just prior to the cross. Or at that Passover feast, Jesus, as John writes, “shows them the full extent of His love” by washing Peter’s feet. Or maybe Peter is looking to that great Wedding Feast of the Lamb? The verse prior to this passage hints at that “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” (1 Peter 4:7).

    When it comes to the general practice of hospitality, I find this verse a strong motivator: “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” – Hebrews 13:2 It can be hard to open up sometimes – especially if you tend towards introversion like I do (no shy, just don’t mind being alone), but the possibility of missing an angel is not worth the discomfort that getting outside myself can require to practice hospitality.

    Nate,

    I think adoption qualifies. I pray that you and your wife follow the Lord’s leading here. Cherie gave birth to our two children but were not led to adopt any. We’ve had plenty come around enough to be adopted  We’ve been close to the process with other couples though. It is such a blessing and a great picture of God’s love for us and our own adoption into His family. God bless you and your house for giving this serious thought my brother. Let us know how we can pray for you and your wife.

  4. Tony Heringer

    Russ,

    Our posts connected on the adoption thread – well done. By the way, I love this website. This word by Tolkien has always warmed my heart:

    eucatastrophe
    “The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation — This story begins and ends in joy.” J.R.R. Tolkien

    Does Barliman know about this website? I found a link for some LOTR lectures by Peter Kreeft:

    http://www.eucatastrophe.com/blog/archives/2006/10/04/lotr-lectures/

    I’ve enjoyed Kreeft’s books over the years but I don’t know if I’ve heard him speak but look forward to listening to him soon. Thanks for the unexpected treat — how hospitable of you. 🙂

  5. Christopher Hopper

    Russ,

    Thanks for the moving post indeed. My wife and I seem to be one of those “revolving door” kind of families. The shocking thing is that we are so involved with “external ministry” we always wanted our home to be a sanctuary “away from ministry,” never thinking we would do a large part of real ministry “in” our home. Even typing this, with regard to the scripture you just quoted, that attitude seems silly to me. Almost embarrassing — you’d think I would have detected this sooner. We’ve had well over 100 house guests (with nights spent) this year so far and the tendency to complain is SO easy. So I’m really taking your post as a word from the Lord for right now seeing as how we have two people from France downstairs.

    OK, Lord. I get it. Done complaining… (nudges Russ)

    CH

  6. Tony Heringer

    So, Christopher, do you honor my Marriott points if I stay at your place? 🙂

    Sounds like a regular boarding house. Thanks for sharing here and in Curt’s post.

    It is neat to hear how God is working in different parts of the world and also how, though separated by miles (and in some cases oceans) we can still all assemble together in this virtual space to share our common family bonds.

  7. Angie H

    Russ,
    I heartily agree with your recommendation. This book was passed on to me by a friend this summer and I devoured it. It’s no Real Simple handbook on how to get your house picture perfect in five easy steps, and that was refreshing to me. Andi Ashworth draws an amazing distinction between entertaining (focused on the host/hostess) and hospitality (focused on serving the guest). Hospitality can take place over frozen pizza and, coupled with meaningful conversation, the focus can be where it should be. it’s not all about the fine china and a sparkling clean house. It’s serving God by caring for others with what you have and where you’re at. Thanks for the post.

  8. Nate

    Thanks again Russ, et al. I’ll check out that Piper stuff also when I get a chance – just covered up with school right now.

    I think growing up I never saw hospitality and realized what I was seeing. My parents were great at helping others and welcoming people into our home at times. But I think I saw it more as a trial to pass through or a party (depending on who it was) instead of a ministry opportunity. I never “saw” hospitality even though it was right in front of me. Since I’ve been married and we’ve been able to do some hospitable things (if you can say it that way) I’ve come to see the joy and the ministry in it.

  9. Christopher Hopper

    Tony,

    We do Marriott Rewards, One World Alliance Points, and give double-miles for all stays in which guests purchase their own food. 😉

    Thanks for the comment. And yes, I’m loving it here on the RR. I just finished a joint book tour with Jonathan Rogers, of the RR’s very own, and he turned me on to this place. Very cool indeed. From your comment, is it safe to assume you might be outside the US?

    Blessings!

    CH

  10. becky

    I grew up with great examples of hospitality in my parents. When we were grade schoolers, our house was the one where all the neighborhood kids came to play. In high school, our Campus Life friends hung out there. In college, our Campus Crusade friends came for Sunday dinner. We averaged about 10 to 15 every Sunday. When all four of the kids moved out, Mom and Dad signed up to be a host family for ISI. So numerous international students, and some of their parents, became part of our extended family. Visiting missionaries always stayed with us, and we “adopted” various people from church through the years. We didn’t have an elegant home, and with four kids living there it wasn’t immaculate. But our door was always open, and so were my parents’ hearts.

    I am adding this book to my reading list, cause despite their example I tend to look at my home as a haven to get away from things. Obviously I need to rethink that. So thanks for the recommendation, Russ.

  11. Peter B

    Russ, thank you for the recommendation and the honest look at God’s truth on the subject. It’s funny that for most of my life, I’ve felt like somehow inadequate because I’m not efficient enough in various ways… and yet the ministry of Jesus is hardly ever concerned with such a concept (once again, Christ comes with his truth and his love and gently turns my worldview on its ear).

    Becky, I know what you mean; our home *is* a haven, but not always for the reasons that we might imagine.

    Tony, thanks as always for bringing the perspective of a mature brother immersed in the subject matter of life 🙂

  12. Tony Heringer

    Peter B.
    Can an Aggie ever be called mature? Hmmmmmmm. Thanks bro, any maturity that comes through my text is most assuredly God using my feeble mind for His greater glory.

    Christopher,

    You never know, the Heringers might show up! We wil bring food and I’ll use my Marriott Visa to get the points 🙂

    I was born in another country — Texas. But, no I am here in the U.S. — in Georgia helping folks to better understand Texans (G.W. appears to have done a less than favorable job in this task these past 8 years). However, there are others in the Room lurking and posting that are from other parts of the world.

  13. Christopher Hopper

    Tony,

    Right on…Texas! lol Tiz’ true: another country indeed! Gotta’ love that patriotism. It’s kinda’ like how us NY’ers feel about our Yankees (hey, at least we have the Bills doing well this year! First time since 1992!).

    I digress…back to hospitality. Thanks Russ!

    CH

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