Cultivating Gracious Space

Common rhythms based on the yearly calendar often dictate our behavior, especially here in the desert. Recently, Spring Break enabled many families to schedule a quick getaway. Out-of-state visitors made a quick dash to Arizona for MLB Spring Training, and others simply came to enjoy our above-50-degree temperatures. With summer approaching, many are making travel plans to seek respite from the heat. And as “fall” and “winter” weather returns, travel patterns will circle back to Arizona.

In response to these predictable rhythms, a multi-billion-dollar industry has sprung up over the last century to provide for and capitalize on these life-enriching patterns—the hospitality industry. Vacation rentals, hotels, resorts, cruise ships, venues, restaurants, and more have made the word “hospitality” synonymous with tourism, entertainment, exploration, comfort, and adventure (and we’re getting excited just thinking about it, aren’t we?).

Hospitality 2000 Years Ago

Beyond this popular concept of hospitality, there is a less entertaining and more remarkable practice of it found in the Bible. The word “hospitality” or “hospitable” is translated six times in the New Testament (ESV): four by Paul (1 Tim. 3:2, 5:10; Titus 1:8; Rom. 12:13), once by Peter (1 Pet. 4:9), and once by the author of Hebrews (13:2). Paul’s usage covers hospitality as evidence of godly maturity in church overseers, older widows, and followers of Christ in general. Peter similarly exhorts the church to “show hospitality to one another without grumbling,” and the author of Hebrews says, “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

This last translation in Hebrews reveals the remarkable concept of hospitality that is hidden in the original language. To be hospitable essentially means to practice “welcoming friendship for a stranger” or “to love someone you do not know” based on the compound Greek words for “friendship love” (philos) and “stranger/foreigner” (xénos). This mirrors the practice of the global hospitality industry, with one significant difference: the biblical motive is genuine wellbeing for another without financial strings attached.

To be hospitable essentially means to practice “welcoming friendship for a stranger” or “to love someone you do not know.”

Customary hospitality in the first century included welcoming foreign travelers into your home, washing their feet, reclining at table together to enjoy food and drink, having significant discussions, and offering a place to sleep for the night—all without expecting your guests to give money or complete a sale on a phone app. For the Christian, the practice of hospitality was a natural outpouring of grace-transformed fellow believers showing love and solidarity with one another. They also welcomed nonbelievers in a world where Christians were frequently misunderstood and maligned for their belief in Christ as Savior and Lord, not the Roman emperor. Dr. Tim Keller likens this connection space to a front porch of a home, “The original church porch (as we can see from the New Testament) was simply a highly hospitable Christian home, a place to which non-believing neighbors and colleagues are constantly invited and where Christian faith is unselfconsciously modeled and discussed.”

Creating Hospitality Rhythms

What might creating and maintaining a “church porch” of hospitality look like? How might we already be practicing these inherently gospel-centered rhythms in our lives? Here are a few examples:

Eat Together – This is truly the most disarming and community-building activity we can do. We all need to eat, and as church goers, it is common to enjoy meals together frequently. But how often do we open our homes to neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family who don’t follow Jesus or go to church, offering a safe space for them to experience community, get to know each other’s stories, and even engage in civil discussions about contentious topics? Conversations are usually friendlier after receiving the service of food and drink!

Family Parties – Parents of young children may find it difficult to entertain people amidst the chaos. What might it look like to occasionally open your home for birthday parties and celebrations with other families outside your church community?

Holidays – Some holidays are typically family-only events, and it might be hard to include others. But which holidays might be simply another day off for you and perfect opportunities to bring your grill to your front yard and invite others to hang out in the driveway, or host a gathering in your apartment’s common area? Are there ways to creatively and respectfully commemorate the holiday to give the day more meaning?

Game Nights – For some, providing meals can be a stressful process. What might it look like to instead have neighbors and friends bring their own dessert/drink to share and play some fun games to simply enjoy friendly competition and laughter as friendships are cultivated?

A Hospitality Mentality – You might have read these examples and said to yourself, “that’s not for me.” Indeed, not everyone has the same burden, excitement, and energy to be a party planner. But think of how incredibly life-giving it would be to team up with the people who DO and help them with all the set-up, clean-up, and finances it takes to be hospitable!

Beyond all this, hospitality is more a posture of the heart than an event. Think about the places in the community you visit, and how can you treat them like your own and care for the people who operate them? What might it look like to bring strangers into those spaces as if it were your own? In the digital community, how might treating text threads, emails, social media accounts, comment boxes, and websites as hospitable public spaces to practice the Spirit’s characteristics of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23)? In our time, this could be the most prominent front door there is that’s in need of Christian “stranger love.”

A Through Line Awaiting the Perfect

Once hospitality is in focus, it’s hard not to see it all throughout Scripture. Abraham practiced it with the three strangers who showed up at his tent (Gen. 18:1-8). Moses conveyed God’s command to practice continual rhythms of festal celebration and joy before the Lord (Lev. 23:1-44). King David honored an outsider from King Saul’s family at his table (2 Sam. 9:1-13). Ezekiel spoke of a New Covenant to come when God’s Spirit would rest in His people and they would one day enjoy sustenance in abundance with Him forever (Ezek. 36:22-38). Isaiah spoke of a lavish feast to be prepared by God Himself one future day when the Lord finally swallows up death and pain forever (Isa. 25:6-8). Citing all the examples in the New Testament of when Jesus and His disciples depended on hospitality for their world-changing mission to bring about the Kingdom of God would require many more blog posts.

But there is one more hospitality text that I’ll leave you with, and it’s my favorite. It is a remarkable vision that reveals the perfect hospitality we can only long for now, with the perfect Host who loves nothing more than making strangers His own sons and daughters:

“‘Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come…’Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.'” (Rev. 19:7, 9)

“‘He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.'”(Rev. 21:3–5)

What a homecoming wedding feast it shall be indeed!



James Delarato



Further Reading:
The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World – Rosaria Butterfield
The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith – Timothy Keller
Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth – Hugh Halter
Surprise the World! The Five Habits of Highly Missional People – Michael Frost