What is Biblical Hospitality?

What is Biblical Hospitality? Rediscover the Powerful Practice of Simply Making Room

Spring is officially here, and it’s time to begin planning my annual dinner for the women of my church. Trust me, I’m no hospitality expert, but I try to make it special for them with a pretty table and a scrumptious dessert. One year I made a turkey dinner, another year it was chicken cordon bleu, and I honestly can’t recall what I served last year, but pie is usually on the menu.  

Once the crowd arrives, I am elated that I made the effort to host the gathering, but the truth is that all day long my stomach will have been in a knot. The length of the do-list always far outpaces the number of triumphant check marks.  Practicing the spiritual discipline of hospitality is both a risk and a joy, but I want to keep saying “yes” to God because when I open my home to others, my heart expands too.

An Old Testament Guy on Hospitality…?

Food preparation and clean-up run like a perpetual conveyor belt through my kitchen and through my life, so for me, the bigger challenge is always logistics. I feel overwhelmed as I gather chairs from the far corners of the house. I forget to dust the top of the piano or spend too much time perseverating over which tablecloth to use.

With a head full of faithless fretting, I ask myself every time, “Why do I take on these assignments?  My house is never as clean as it should be!  I don’t have time for fancy menus…”   Feeling and sounding a lot like Martha of Bethany (Lazarus and Mary’s overwhelmed sister), I realized one year that I had been overlooking a far better role model in the Old Testament. 

We don’t usually consult Nehemiah for lessons in hospitality — he’s the guy we look to when it’s time to expand the church’s facility or to take on a project that requires delegation and teamwork.  However, in Nehemiah 5, he confides to his journal that throughout the course of his twelve-year term as governor, he regularly hosted “one hundred and fifty Jews and rulers, besides those who came to [him] from the nations around [him].” 

Nehemiah’s table was a metaphor for Nehemiah’s heart.  His fear of God (5:15) spilled over into a love for God’s people.  Making room for them at his table, he expanded the boundaries of his life to welcome them into his schedule.

Nehemiah fed “one hundred and fifty Jews and rulers, besides those who came to [him] from the nations around [him].” His table was a metaphor for his heart. Making room for them, he expanded the boundaries of his life. #hospitality

A Legacy of Hospitality

Author and missionary Elisabeth Elliot attributed her own vision for seeking the kingdom of God to her mother’s hospitable home.  She and her siblings were privileged to “meet Christian men and women from all walks of life, to hear firsthand their stories of the faithfulness of God, and to enjoy the privilege of asking them questions.” 

In The Shaping of a Christian Homeshe recalls Depression-era frugality alongside open-handed hospitality, and “if things were not perfect, [Mother] trusted friends to understand without making a fuss for the sake of her pride.” 

Herein lies the challenge:  if my home cannot be “Pinterest perfect,” am I willing to open my doors anyway?  As usual, the real discipline shows up in motives and attitudes.  I Peter 4:9 sifts mine:

Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.”

Strictly speaking, my gathering of church ladies does not meet the definition of hospitality, because the Greek philonexia means, literally, to entertain strangers.  The guest list for Nehemiah’s table was much broader than mine, and his provision for the needy remnant in Jerusalem is the same brand of faith-expressed-in-works that I recall from The Hiding Place in which Corrie ten Boom, faced with the plight of God’s people under the Nazi regime in Holland, prayed, “I offer myself for your people — any way, any time, any place.”

Hospitality is a spiritual discipline in which I trust God for the ability to pour myself out for the comfort and the needs of others.  Paul’s letter to the Philippians encourages me that a sacrifice of love, offered freely, is a lovely fragrance that pleases the heart of God—even more than the scented candles that I almost always forget to light in all the flurry of preparation. 

True hospitality is more than food.  It is more than a luxurious space and table settings and the perfect menu.  The spiritual discipline of hospitality is the practice of making room in my schedule, in my home, in my budget, and—most challenging of all—in my heart for the people that God chooses to bring into my life.

Hospitality: Trusting God for the ability to pour myself out for the comfort and needs of others. A sacrifice of love is a fragrance that pleases the heart of God–even more than the scented candles I almost always forget to light.

And Now Let’s Talk Books…

If you have read Bridge to Terabithia or Jacob Have I Loved, you have met and fallen under the spell of Katherine Paterson’s writing. The two-time winner of both the Newbery Medal and the National Book Award writes with a special sensitivity toward children and an understanding of the plight of being human which has endeared her to readers since her first novel was published in 1973. Now, at the age of 91, she shares Stories of My Life, a look back over her shoulder at the shaping influences that have impacted her writing over the course of her long life.

Because her parents were missionaries to China, Paterson’s childhood was both mobile and non-traditional with multiple trips to and from a land that saw its fair share of upheaval in the early half of the 20th century. Certainly, she can point to a richness of experience and a loving family, but she also remembers the Valentine’s Day party in first grade when she didn’t receive any valentines from her classmates–likely a downside of her itinerant education.

Even so, she followed in her parents’ footsteps as a missionary, but she served in Japan, and I was fascinated by her speculation that because of contemporary attitudes toward traditional missions, she could have come into writing from a career as a prostitute and received less criticism and done less explaining.

The book reads like a friendly conversation over tea with a friend who has lived long and well. Writers will benefit from her casual descriptions of her practices and thoughts on what she calls “the fragile magic” of storytelling. Readers of her well-known body of work will enjoy getting the backstory behind the fiction. Everyone will learn and be challenged by her love of family, her positive outlook, and her clear determination to live as a conduit of the grace she has received.

Holding You in the Light,

“Grace is the thread that goes through my life and is, therefore, the thread that connects all that I have written.” #KatherinePaterson #StoriesofMyLife #WestminsterJohnKnoxPress

With Less Than Two Weeks Until Easter, There’s Still Time to Come Close to the Story!

As a gift to my newsletter subscribers, I’ve created a collection of 20 devotional readings called Come Close to the Story, a preparation for your true celebration of resurrection on Easter Sunday. This Lenten season I invite you to join me for a daily pause—most readings should take five minutes or less—to come close to the story. In your busy life, remember that Easter is on its way. Affirm your belief in resurrection power, and then admit that without a death, there would be no resurrection.

Every month I send a newsletter with biblical encouragement straight to my subscribers’ email inboxes. Frequently, I share free resources, and the newsletter is where everything lands first. I’m committed to the truth that women can become confident followers of God and students of his Word, and it’s my goal to help you along that path.

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Many thanks to NetGalley and Westminster John Knox Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which is, of course, offered freely and with honesty.

15 thoughts on “What is Biblical Hospitality? Rediscover the Powerful Practice of Simply Making Room”

  1. OH I always spend so much time fretting and planning and trying to make everything perfect and even when I fall short of my own expectations everyone (myself included!) has fun. I really have been working on saying “it’s good enough..” because in the end the people we invite over really just want company and fellowship and support and all the rest is just extra.


    1. Yes, we want our guests to enjoy their time with us, but if we make all the preparation too complicated, we’ll be exhausted before they ever arrive. I agree completely with your “good enough” policy. Perfect is just too much pressure!


  2. You know, Michele, the Lord really spoke to me about extending hospitality after coming home from my sojourn in Africa where folks who had little invited me to their home. Yes, it is not about the food we offer or the tidiness of our homes. It is about my willing heart. I also think it is important to extend that invitation to folks outside our comfortable circle of peers.


    1. That last sentence is pure gold. It’s easy for me to welcome in the people I already know and trust, but it takes special (God-given) courage to risk welcoming people who are outside our comfort zone. Thanks so much for making that point!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You’re right, I had not thought of hospitality in connection with Nehemiah. But he does exhibit it. I can identify with being glad I’ve extended hospitality afterward and even in the midst of having someone over but being in knots beforehand. Yet the hardest time for me to make room in my heart is not with the invited guest but with the unexpected interrupter.

    I’m trying to think if I have ever read Jacob Have I Loved. If I did, it was pre-blogging days before I started keeping records. I remember being interested in it. Your comments about Stories of My Life have piqued my interest further.


    1. She reminds me of a friend, long deceased, who was a missionary to China pre-communist days. I remember the stories and Katherine is a bit younger but her writing voice feels like an in person visit.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve studied the book of Nehemiah pretty extensively, yet never made the connection between hospitality and feeding 150 daily (I went and checked scripture – yes it was daily, and every 10 days there was wine!). In comparison to Nehemiah, I’ve done less than nothing in the area of hospitality.

    I love the idea of hospitality meaning “making room,” which makes me think of my granny who loved to tell anyone stopping by her house for any reason, “Come on in and pull up a chair and join us.”


  5. Guilty as charged, when it comes to hyper-cleaning and hyper-preparing for guests, and all the while wishing we hadn’t made the commitment. Then, like you, once they’ve arrived I’m so glad for the effort. The foundational issue within me is easy to recognize: pride! Not satisfied with people just being pleased, there’s that nasty part of me that wants to impress them. So ugly. I want to purify my motives by remembering: “a sacrifice of love, offered freely, is a lovely fragrance that pleases the heart of God.”( I might insert, “offered without pride” too!) Thank you, Michele.


    1. I’m writing from the same place of confession and need for change, Nancy. We both know that our guests are not visiting us because they want to be wowed, but we can’t resist the temptation to drive ourselves crazy!


  6. I love that there is a Nehemiah connection to hospitality – but I understand more how Martha feels – she is doing the cooking, the cleaning, the physical preparation. I doubt Nehemiah was that physically worn down by his preparations. I always want my hospitality to provide a place of refuge and refreshing, whether it’s a cup of coffee at the counter in a morning visit, a lunch shared, or a stop-over on a trip. I want to feed souls and strengthen them. No – my kitchen and house isn’t often pristine clean. My kitchen is usually a mess. Loving on people like I love on my family – it happens in the daily mess! Your topic, Michele, is one that goes straight to my heart!


  7. Michele
    We serve international students and hospitality is a huge part of our ministry. We have students from all over the globe and I love your reminder of Nehemiah because many of our students are future leaders of their nations when they return home. We keep it simple and we are very intentional about sharing the gospel with our students. They ask so many questions and we are more blessed and lifted up than they are.
    Thanks for writing this piece. It is forgotten gift.
    Blessings to you.

    Liked by 1 person

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