Hospitality is not Optional
In Romans 12:13 Paul teaches, “contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”
Most of us read this and interpret it to mean, “give to church and be friendly.” Yet this summary is not remotely similar to what Paul is teaching. If we return to the context of Romans 12:13 we come to realize that Paul is speaking about what happens when we die to our own desires and surrender our will to God.
Paul isn’t providing a list of “to do” items to help us move towards righteousness. Paul is speaking about what it means to “be” a believer, a disciple of Christ. There is a great difference between the two. The “doer” is resorting to their own understanding, their resources and may even be over extending himself or herself but in the end, the “doer” is performing out of their own will and character.
The person of faith who seeks “to be” isn’t performing in order to convince their own desires to be holy, or seeks to work in conjunction with God to do good. A believer who has sacrificed their own will and surrendered to Christ in essence is one who gets out of the way and allows the Spirit of God to reign in them. In their consciousness, their intellect, their emotions and passions. The works of a believer are an evidence of the work of God in their lives.
So when Paul asks us to meet the needs of the saints and show hospitality he is not asking us to modify our behavior, but to allow the transformation of our hearts to be complete. This implies that out of genuine love (Romans 12:9), we develop a thirst for goodness and learn to abhor evil. In that God’s love is evidenced in our lives we begin to respond to the world the way God has responded. In love, sacrifice and openness.
In Jesus’ day the disciples asked him, “How many times must we forgive our brother who sins against us?” They were attempting to reconcile justice with compassion. Today I am asked, “Pastor, how many times do I give that homeless man a dollar? What if he goes and buys a beer?” We too are attempting to reconcile justice with compassion.
In asking such questions what we are really proclaiming is that the balance of justice, the balance of good and evil, are to be monitored and carefully weighed by our experience. What we are really saying is that we don't trust God to be a good and just Lord. If we truly believed that in the end the great judgment of God will address the sins of the evil and those who have rejected the Gospel, then it is not for us to be concerned with the weights of justice be balanced at this time.
Does this mean that we allow evil to reign? Again I repeat Romans 12:9, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” In other words, God is calling us to represent his love. In this love we live to demonstrate the compassion, forgiveness and grace. The same love that gives us the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the same love that motivated Jesus to die on the cross for us, and the same love that extended the act of grace by offering us forgiveness is the love we will see evidenced in our lives and thus manifest itself in similar fashion through our works as in Jesus. In simple words, Jesus lives through us.
Our calling is to function from an operative of love and offer grace and forgiveness to as many as possible. It also means that we offer love and goodwill to everyone in an unlimited capacity. If they take advantage of that love and that grace then that is on them and ultimately God will reconcile the acts of good with the evil demonstrated. Catch this – it is God’s role to reconcile good and evil. Not ours.
You may argue, but scripture says abhor evil! Yes, it is speaking in very personal terms and it is being directed to us for personal reflection again as an evidence of God’s grace in us and not our actions. We are to abhor evil in our own lives, in our minds, in our character and in our relationships with others. It is calling us to accountability for our sins. It is not a license to begin to judge the actions or merits of others.
Our call is to hold on fast to good which implies we keep doing good even when its not convenient to us, even when its detrimental to us. We are not to demand good for our good, we are to give the good – which is the Spirit of God in us – unconditionally to the world around us. This is hard stuff because we tend to get in the way.
If you doubt me then read on to Romans 12:14 where Paul calls us to “bless those who persecute you.” This is a call to service and love that is unconditional and persistent in its pursuit.
We have to be careful that we don't give up on people because they don't come around in the timeframe we’ve established for the situation. We must keep giving. In the way Jesus responded to Peter’s question and said “I tell you not seven times but seventy-seven times” and so, if you can afford to share 50 cents or a dollar on a regular basis and you suspect that it might go towards a beer, my response is keep giving. However, lets qualify this. We are being asked to be hospitable. This doesn't mean be friendly. It means invest in the life of the individual. In other words, take the time to know the person. Don't withhold the dollar to prevent the purchase of a beer but instead give the dollar in order to gain a few minutes of time to know the person, to speak into their life and point them to the cross.
We as Christians are not called to provide “random acts of kindness,” we are called to recognize the sanctity within them that warranted Jesus dying on the cross for them. We are called to see people for who they are. Hospitality by definition is “friendly and generous reception of guests.” That means invest in them, invite them in to your realm of concern and love them. If they reject your message or reject you, then that is what happens in a broken world and you may move on with a clean conscience. Mark 6:11 provides a clear directive on how we are to behave when we are received or when we are rejected while sharing the Gospel. We are not in high stressed sales but instead we are into relationship building.
In the end, what I’m trying to point out is that being “hospitable” is not an option based on your resources, your personality type, or your time management. Hospitality is a natural outgrowth of the presence of God in your life. If you are not hospitable you have reason to be concerned with whether or not you've properly opened your heart for the Lord to reign in you.
When God is at work in your life, your life will be at work for God.