How I Started Pursuing Hospitality

By Kathy Ferguson Litton

The New Testament abruptly righted my lens in regard to hospitality versus entertaining when I got schooled by the actually meanings of two Greek words.

One word for hospitality is philoxenia; the word literally means, “to love strangers.”

A second word for hospitality xenodocheo is a compound of “stranger,” or “someone without the knowledge of, without a share in,” and dechomai, which means, “receive,” “accept,” or “take with the hand.”

It’s pretty plain, hospitality means opening up our homes to people we’ve never met. Or people we have little or nothing in common with. And people who are outsiders.

When I reflected on my typical guest lists–few fell into that category.

Other things I continue to learn about hospitality:

Hospitality requires pursuit.

Romans 12:13 is often translated “practice hospitality” yet the original language is much more aggressive. Paul is literally saying “pursue” or “chase” hospitality. This word seems to identify that our natural default is not toward hospitality. It is just easier to invite familiar people that we share much in common. We have a natural pull to a self-centered life. It takes intentionality and leaving our comfort zone to move past entertaining to genuine Biblical hospitality. “Chase” after it by looking for those who need community, those who are outsiders or complete strangers. The numbers of internationals are swelling in every community in our nation. Exegete your community to learn about its ethnic populations. Look for a complete stranger in a church service to invite to your home. Pay attention at your kid’s school. You literally might see dozens of new faces that would welcome a smile, a conversation, and an invite to coffee or tea.

Hospitality is compelled by love.

We need to reflect on what it feels like to be “outside” and not in community or family. Ask God to cultivate a genuine love and empathy in your heart for the needy, disenfranchised or the stranger. This kind of love is the basis of human kindness. One critical warning right here, people are not projects they are people in need authentic love, human dignity and honor.

“Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor.” Romans 12:10

Hospitality involves unlikely guests.

We took a long look at the definition of hospitality in the Biblical context in part one and it was clear we would open our homes and lives to STRANGERS. To be honest there was a time when I thought far too much about creating a compatible social atmosphere when we entertained. It looked like this, “Will this person like this person? Or “What does person A have in common with person B?” Hospitality celebrates unlikely groups of people with often little in common. Your social comfort is not the goal–welcoming outsiders is.

Hospitality is marked by stories.

Since we aren’t gathering to cheer for the same team or eat with those we do life with, what will we talk about? Our stories. We are wired for story as it is universal in every culture. Sharpen your listening skills. Lean in with gentle questions to help get to know them. Listen more than you talk. When we listen we honor their journey and began to know the strangers that we want to become friends. Laugh together, cry together. Honor their culture and be grace filled with differences.

Hospitality is sacrificial.

Peter was a realist. When he wrote, “Offer hospitality to one another without complaint.” (1 Pet 4:9), he is admitting that being hospitable means sacrificing our comfort and convenience. Another way to articulate sacrifice is–“willingness to be disadvantaged for someone else’s advantage.” Putting others first. Also we can expect some awkwardness when culture, language, life experiences, and worldviews are wildly different. Put your comfort on the back burner and focus on theirs.

Hospitality is strategic.

The gospel was actually advanced in this way. Historical sources tell us that the early church was marked by three things: healing and miracles; care for the poor and the outcast; and hospitality. Taking in strangers was a way to spread the gospel in the New Testament. It still is today. How can we use our homes to draw people to God? How have we overlooked this timeless, universal, natural model?

This is critical to our understanding of hospitality especially when we often think of impact in terms only of the masses: Never under estimate the power of inviting a stranger or outsider into your home. The impact is huge, perhaps eternally life altering. Since we are leaders we begin to set an example of the intentional, strategic use of our kitchen tables as gospel sharing and discipleship centers.

“When you give a lunch or a dinner, don’t invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, or your rich neighbors, because they might invite you back, and you would be repaid. On the contrary, when you host a banquet, invite those who are poor, maimed, lame, or blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you – for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12-14)

They ate together in their homes, happy to share their food with joyful hearts. They praised God and were liked by all the people. Every day the Lord added those who were being saved to the group of believers. (Acts 2:46-47)

How have you pursued showing hospitality?

Published October 8, 2015

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Kathy Ferguson Litton

Kathy lives in Mobile, Alabama, with her husband Ed, pastor of Redemption Church. Both lost former spouses in car accidents, and God uniquely gave them new love and life together in 2009. Kathy enjoyed 26 years of life and ministry alongside Rick Ferguson. She has three children and ten grandchildren. Presently she serves as Director of Planting Spouse Development.