The Glorious Inconvenience of Hospitality
By Austin Donahoo
As a church in Greenville, we are in a city that is highly residential and filled with many families and individuals from all kinds of backgrounds. All of these people have stories that they bring with them everywhere they go. For me personally, I bring with me the story of growing up in the Southeastern United States trying very hard to fit into the typical Southern culture. As you can predict, this story and many others can get very complicated and are often difficult to unpack. This is one of the main reasons we as the Church and the society in general have lost the glorious art of hospitality. Hospitality calls for us to dive into the messy and often complicated lives of others as we also seek to share our own.
Hospitality: A Biblical Mandate
When I think of hospitality revealed in the biblical story, the first narrative that comes to mind is the story of the angels' visit to Abraham. Abraham is approached by “men of God” that come to bring news of the fulfillment of God's promise regarding Abraham's offspring. In Genesis 18, it shows how Abraham ran to meet these men with an intention to persuade them to come into his tent for rest and a meal. Not only that, but he orders his wife Sarah to go and cook unleavened bread and have a calf cooked for the meal. It is important to recognize that this was not a convenient task, especially in a day when food was not so readily provided. This visit from the “men of God” led to a renewal of the promise that God had made to Abraham to give him a son.
Another example that may be a little more well-known is the description of the early church in Acts 4:32-37. It states, “Now the full number of those believed were of one heart and soul and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common” (v. 32). The early church was so filled with the Holy Spirit and so cognizant of their familial relationship under the headship of Christ that they saw everything they had as an opportunity for hospitality and generosity.
Rosaria Butterfield: A Modern Example of Biblical Hospitality
While I cannot take too much time in this post to describe Rosaria Butterfield's testimony and the work she has done through biblical hospitality, it suffices to say that this former LBGTQ activist and tenured English professor who was openly hostile to the Gospel became a Christian through the hospitality of those she hated. A pastor of a quaint Presbyterian church and his wife began to show hospitality through many meals together and discussions of classical works of literature. As Rosaria has said multiple times in her books and talks, the couple loved her through their differences and worked diligently to show the glory of the Gospel even when it brought tension between them. This led Rosaria to a curiosity about Christianity, to converting to the faith of Christ, and eventually grieving the loss of her old way of living through the newfound love of her church family.
Rosaria’s story and her continued work in replicating this type of sacrificial hospitality is a modern example of how our modern society must slow-down in order to take care of those hurting, broken, and lonely. Rosaria writes in her newest book The Gospel Comes with a House Key, “We practice radically ordinary hospitality by bearing sacrifices of obedience that God’s people are called to offer” (p. 12). She explains that radical ordinary hospitality that is in line with God’s will calls us to give until it hurts and share generously with those who are freely welcomed into our homes and lives. This is an inconvenience, especially in our modern world, but it is gloriously inconvenient. It is an emulation of Christ's condescending work in our everyday lives.
Exhortation to Christians
Finally, in revealing just a small glimpse of the biblical mandate for hospitality and a modern example of a woman’s obedience to it, I pray that the Spirit will work within your heart and mind to find ways to become inconvenienced in your hospitality towards your family, neighbors, coworkers, and others you come into contact with. Open up your homes, share the love of Christ, give even until you have nothing left, and pray that the community you build will truly reveal what the family of the Lord is supposed to look like. Let your homes and your lives be the greatest apologetic for the Gospel that you can give. May God be with you as you heed this call to be inconvenienced.
Austin Donahoo is a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary pursuing a Master of Divinity. He has a B.A. in Christian Ministry from North Greenville University. Austin is from Greer, SC, and his passions include reading, discipleship, and Christian Community Development.