We both know the feeling. That anxiety you get when you walk through the door right after work and immediately fly into cleaning your house. At some point, you thought it would be a good idea to invite them over for dinner. But now, in the moment, you are dashing around the house trying to make the place presentable. There is this passing thought the problem may not be the dinner invitation but the fact that you do not keep the house as tidy as you would like it… but this fades as you attempt to make the throw pillows on the couch look intentionally haphazard.
The idea of “gospel hospitality” is becoming a buzzword in Christian circles right now. That may be good, or it may be bad. Whatever the case, the best understandings of this idea stab at a sizable hole in our approach to gospel proclamation. There is something significant about the idea of demonstrating the gospel through hospitality, and certainly speaking the gospel during hospitality. For it to be biblical, gospel hospitality must be more than being nice or welcoming to people. It is hospitality rooted in the Christian mission. The gospel is both the fuel and the purpose behind such hospitality. The gospel reminds us that we have been shown immeasurable hospitality in Christ, sacrificing himself to welcome us into the household of God. It also fuels us on to hospitality, as we imitate our master by demonstrating hospitality to others in Jesus’ name.
Opening up our homes to our unbelieving neighbors has a profound impact on our mission as the church. First, it rightly demonstrates key concepts of the message we are speaking in those moments. Second, if speaking the gospel is always a key piece of this, then it is doing relationship evangelism rightly. Finally, it meets a significant felt need in a culture stripped of good community.
These are all good things, but there is more. Good, gospel-centered hospitality strengthens our testimony to the outsider, but it also sanctifies the insider. Gospel hospitality serves as a healthy means of sanctification in the life of the believer, one that is often lacking in church life.
Keep Your Conduct Among the Gentiles Honorable
In Peter’s first letter, he calls his readers (or listeners) to live a life of holiness. He writes, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Pet. 2:11-12, ESV). Peter reminds the scattered churches throughout Asia that the world is watching and that their scrutiny is a gospel opportunity.
Just like that impulse to flash clean your house, opening up your home to the outside world provides healthy accountability to clean up other aspects of your life. It is too easy for people in our culture (believers or otherwise) to hole up in their homes. Our houses are our castles, our fortresses of solitude, and we retreat there to seek refuge from the world outside. This may be part of the American dream, but it is deadly for a gospel-centered community. Consider the impact of closing off what happens in your home from the outside world. That is where so much of life is lived. Our families are raised there. Our marriages are navigated there. Our secret life of privacy takes place there.
Now, consider the sanctifying benefits of transparency in the home. Certainly, the Christian community (read “your local church”) should have free access to this space. They should know what is going on in your household. But how much more are we pressed on to good deeds when we start seeing our dinner table as a place for missions? Peter knew the importance of living a life open to the scrutiny of the unbelieving world around him. He called Christians to do so, not so that they may be seen as special or good people or perfect families, but so the outside world “may see your good deeds and glorify God.” Sounds like a pretty good reason to me.
We should follow Peter’s exhortation to live a life of holiness in front of a watching world, and there may be no better place today to do so than at your own dinner table.