The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 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 4:7-11
It may sound cliché, but we have much to learn from the early church, from those who embraced the Christian message and lifestyle in all of its freshness and force. When we read the New Testament, particularly books like Acts and the life and letters of Peter, we see a clear and vibrant commitment to worship, prayer, evangelism, and the Holy Spirit. In varying degrees, many of those commitments have been emphasized throughout the history of the church and continue to be valued today.
But this past Sunday we considered a commitment of the early church that for various reasons has fallen by the wayside, at least in the contemporary American churches. In his book, Thirty Years That Changed the World, scholar Michael Green notes that it was hospitality that was one of the hallmarks of the lifestyle of the early church. He writes, “Hospitality is one of the greatest joys in life, and the early Christians used it to the full; but it is undeniably costly. It costs time, effort, trouble, money. Yet the first Christians found it absolutely central to their mission. Their hospitality to strangers was legendary…This love, this cohesiveness, this hospitality is no less vital today.” The hospitality Green describes, and which Peter commends in 1 Peter 4:9, is the practice of welcoming people into one’s home, not only for a few hours of talking and eating, but for an extended time of living as guests.
Countless dynamics of our culture push back against the idea of practicing this type of hospitality. Many of us have become too busy, too individualistic, too fearful, and too dependent on institutions to consider hospitality possible, much less normal. Sure, there may be some younger “radical” Christians who could take the disruption of hospitality in stride, or maybe some older “empty nester” Christians who might even enjoy the hustle and bustle of it for a season. But if Peter only knew the pace and pressures of our lives, he might back off the idea of hospitality as a universal Christian commitment, right? Probably not. In fact, he might just consider that question itself a form of “grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9).
It’s worth noting that hospitality is the first example Peter gives of what it looks like to “love one another earnestly (1 Peter 4:8).” If hospitality is an act of love, there’s little room for opting out. In fact, if hospitality is an act of love than it is one of the most essential duties of our lives as Christians. Remember how Jesus described the most important commandments? He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:37-40).” To show loving hospitality, no matter how counter-cultural or disruptive it may seem, is basic to Christianity.
By God’s grace, in Jesus Christ we have a perfect model of and motivation for hospitality. In the most unexpected and selfless acts of history, the Son of God left His home and sacrificed Himself so that we, His enemies, would be shown eternal welcome in heaven as His family. As we consider together how God is calling us to show hospitality to one another, may God dissolve our objections and fears with the power of His loving hospitality to us.