The end is nigh! The world as we know it is about to finish. So how should we respond?
Set the table.
Seriously. Get the cutlery and the crockery. Put something in the oven. And have some people round for a meal.
That’s what the Apostle Peter says. Check it out for yourself. It’s 1 Peter 4:7-11. He begins, ‘the end of all things is near’. And amidst a number of other encouragements, he commands ‘offer hospitality to one another without grumbling’. See, I didn’t make it up.
The Lord God expects His church to react to the news that the Lord Jesus is returning imminently (literally it could happen any minute now), by showing hospitality. I grew up in the shadow of a nuclear end to the cold war standoff. Our playground discussion in response to the question ‘what will you do when the siren sounds’ never once resulted in the answer, ‘invite some people round for a meal’. But before the Lord Jesus comes to finally take us home, the Lord wants His church to provide a place where people can feel at home.
Although hospitality is mentioned only seven times in our English versions, it’s nevertheless a hugely important concept. One reason for that, of course, is that God is hospitable. Throughout the Old Testament that are numerous occurrences where God extends His generous provision towards His people who invariably found themselves isolated, alienated and in need. And so, it comes as no surprise that when Moses gets round to publishing God’s Law, hospitality is meant to become a way of life amongst His people (Exodus 23:9).
In the New Testament, where there are five encouragements given to encourage us to ‘show hospitality’
- Hospitality mirrors the dependency of Christ. Jesus lived his life in a way in which he was continually dependent on the hospitality of others (Luke 9:58). When we’re being hospitable to others we reflect the provision that this world gave when God became man.
- Hospitality expresses our love for Christ. Jesus told a parable in which he made plain that any hospitality shown towards fellow Christians would, in a remarkable way, express of our love towards him (Matthew 25:31-46).
- Hospitality displays the grace of Christ. Jesus repeatedly offered hospitality to those who might least have expected to receive it. The guest list at his dinner parties reads like the cast list of Benefits Street. And that’s brilliant. And he encourages his disciples to provide for those from whom we have no expectation of receiving anything in return (Luke 14:12-14).
- Hospitality demonstrates our unity in Christ. Eating together and sharing a meal speaks volumes about whom we accept. And in a church family we accept everyone, don’t we? Especially those to whom we’ve been united together in Christ (Acts 2:42-47).
- Hospitality reminds us of our identity in Christ. Jesus was a stranger in this world. And we, his disciples, are no different in that respect. We too are aliens and strangers (1 Peter 1:1). Living in a context of hospitality where we are dependent upon the generosity of others to provide our needs reminds us that this world is not our home.
So, let’s move beyond the warm welcome and socially accomplished Sunday conversation and get people into our homes. That will no doubt be easier for some of us than for others. But a church captured by the gospel of Christ invariably shows that’s true in the way it treats one another and perhaps especially the outsider, the visitor and the newcomer.
Almost everything here is a rehash and rearrangement of a terrific little article by Jonathan Leeman on the 9Marks website. I stand in his debt.