What Does Biblical Hospitality Really Look Like?

Jana Carlson

Jana Carlson

Entertaining puts things before people; hospitality puts people before things. Genuine, humble hospitality points guests toward the Gospel. We open our doors and our arms, and say “You are welcome."

The best examples of biblical hospitality I’ve experienced look very different from what you’d expect.

I’ll share three stories with you.

A Cup Of Water

During a very difficult season in our lives, friends of ours knew we needed some encouragement. They were in the midst of moving into a new home, but they told us to come over. Upon our arrival, they ushered us through their still-in-process-of-unpacking home into their backyard. We all sat down and they listened and encouraged. We were offered glasses of water. There was no food. There were no apologies for the state of their house. They knew what we needed and they simply wanted us to feel cared for. And we sure did!

Simple Humility

Another couple spontaneously invited us over for lunch after church one Sunday morning. We arrived at their humble home and the wife wondered aloud, “What should we have for lunch?” They had invited us without even knowing what food they would serve us! Their cupboards didn’t have a whole lot in them. We ended up eating a can of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. We loved it! It was comfort food. The simplicity of it took the focus off the meal and onto the fellowship. It was refreshing! It made us feel like family.

A Family Affair

On another occasion, we were invited to have dinner at the home of friends of ours. This is a busy family with their own house full of children and pets. Both parents work and they constantly struggle to make ends meet.

We arrived at their home at the pre-arranged time and discovered that both the husband and wife were just returning home at the exact same time.

We all walked into the house together. It was messy. The floor needed sweeping and vacuuming. There was clutter everywhere to the point where we couldn’t sit down until we moved a pile of something onto the floor. Supper had not yet been prepared.

That evening stands out in my mind as one of the best times of fellowship we have ever had in our entire married life.

One might say it was awkward having to find a place to sit. And I did help to prepare the supper we all ate together.

But we were warmly welcomed. We felt loved and valued. Our fellowship was meaningful.

This family opened their hearts to us – to every single member of our family, no matter how young! And we came away from their home feeling refreshed and encouraged. It might have been nice to walk into that house with the smell of fresh food and with an inviting comfy couch or a set table all ready for us. But their willingness to have us over even though they didn’t necessarily “have it all together” was itself an encouragement and a ministry.

Entertaining vs. Hospitality

We often shy away from opening our doors to others because we are insecure. We compare ourselves to others and feel that what we have to offer is inferior. It’s not good enough. We think we don’t have the resources or the space or the time to invite others into our homes.

There’s a difference between “entertaining” and “hospitality”.

Entertaining puts things before people; hospitality puts people before things.

Entertaining has a mindset of wanting to impress. It’s about presenting a beautiful home or table, creative decorating and gourmet cooking.

Hospitality, on the other hand, seeks to minister. It says, “This home is not mine. It is truly a gift from my Master. I am His servant and I choose to steward these resources as He desires.”

Hospitality does not try to impress, but rather to serve.

Entertaining is “me-focused.” It has the feel of a show and is embarrassed if something “goes wrong”. It is really rooted in pride. It also hopes to be repaid or rewarded. It often carries an air of formality and tends to be intimidating, particularly for women who desire to “measure up” to the false standard we have set. Entertaining subtly declares, “This is mine – this home, this decor, this recipe. This is an expression of my personality – an extension of who and what I am. Please look and admire.”

Hospitality comes from the heart. It’s an attitude, a ministry – not a to-do list. It’s an expression of love toward others. It can happen anywhere, not just in a home or church. It’s about availability. It takes time. It’s about people, not details.

Biblical hospitality is humble.

Biblical Hospitality = Humble Hospitality

In Luke 14:12-14, Jesus describes humble hospitality:

“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, that they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Biblical, humble hospitality:

  • looks to the needs of others. (Romans 12:13)
  • is about serving. (Galatians 5:13)
  • creates an atmosphere where people can be themselves. (James 2:1-8)
  • fosters fellowship. (Hebrews 10:25)
  • facilitates ministry. (Acts 2:42)
  • recognizes that the importance of any other person rests in their having been made in the image of God. (Genesis 1:27)
  • doesn’t seek to hide areas of weakness or flaws –these are assumed because pride has been put away! (2 Corinthians 12:9)
  • desires God to receive glory. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
  • is open to the needy and doesn’t seek repayment. (You’ll notice in the passage from Luke that none of the guests Jesus tells us to invite really have anything to offer in return.) (Mark 9:41)

Hospitality Points To The Gospel

Genuine, humble hospitality also points guests toward the Gospel.

Remember what the Gospel is… no matter who you are, what you’ve done, where you’ve been, what you look like, how you talk, what you wear, the Heavenly Father welcomes you. He wants you. You don’t have to do anything to deserve it. You don’t deserve it, actually. (Nor do I!) But He loves you and He wants a relationship with you. And because of that, Jesus gave His life for you.

We open our doors, we open our arms, and we say “You are welcome.” I want you here. I want to share this place with you! I want to spend time with you. Don’t feel obligated to do or say or give anything because that’s not why I’m doing this. I simply want to serve you because I have chosen to love you.”

This is the message that true hospitality communicates. This is presenting the grace of God, which is what the Gospel is all about, in living form!

“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 4:8-10)

You may also like Stress-Less Hospitality by Rachel Lee over at Welcome Heart.

Read my next post: Jesus: Our Best Example of True Hospitality.

7 Responses

  1. Thanks for this, Jana! You have summed up true hospitality so well—putting others first, keeping it simple, loving one another. We are clearly on the same track this week… 😉 Blessings to you!

  2. Biblical hospitality is a beautiful thing. Why is it that I wouldn’t have any problem walking into a situation like this, and yet, would be totally embarrassed if I was the one on the inviting/messy side? I know the few times it happened, went well, though. #slowlearner!

    1. Aryn, I hear you! I have been there. I’m so grateful the Lord allowed me these experiences (the 3 stories I shared, plus more) because they helped me to lower my expectations re: the material things, and to really examine my heart on the matter. He is so good to us – gentle and gracious.

  3. I have never heard this difference between entertaining and hospitality. And I loved your examples. I think for years I was entertaining. Now I know why it was so draining. Thanks for this picture.

  4. Thank you so much for this! I’m much better at hospitality, but feel like I need to entertains, so I end up doing neither!
    This has given me permission to work on my hospitality.

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