For the first quarter of 2020, I have committed to study closely the topic of hospitality. Partly, this is a result of pondering themes in Romans 12-16, the closing section of Paul’s letter focused on the life of the church body in a culture hostile to Christianity. In addition to this, I have spent the better part of my first year at Covenant thinking about ways a church like ours expresses salt and light to our neighbors. After all, we understand our mission to “love God and our neighbors by making Christ known in all of life."
Hospitality is a strange word, isn’t it? I keep thinking of the word, hospital, which seems a strange connection. In the Latin, hospes is a noun that can mean both “host” and “guest”. So, in a military setting, it can be both the man who provides housing for a soldier, as well as, the soldier being housed. As an adjective, (hospitalis) refers both to the action of a host or the action of a guest. In Latin, it is a kind of impartial kindness between host and guest. Over time, the noun came to refer to a special kind of guest, one who was a stranger or a visitor, someone with unique needs. This is why, in thirteenth century France, the word was officially employed as the place where the sick, particularly the needy, could receive care, the hospital (or hôpital in Modern French).
The real popularization of this word arises from the life of the church. In Geneva, likely contemplating Romans 12.8, John Calvin divided the ministry of the deacons into two groups, or “orders”. One he called procurers, deacons whose work mainly consisted of administration and the management of church funds. The other he called hospitaliers, those specifically called to provide mercy for the sick, those unable to fund medical help on their own (perhaps like the woman of Luke 8.43). We should expect every biblical diaconate to engage both tasks, as do the wonderful deacons of Covenant. Indeed, we should acknowledge that as early as the fourth century, it was common for a church to have not only a facility for worship, but also a facility to provide care and mercy for those in need. These deacon-run facilities ultimately became models for the modern hospital.
Care for the needy appears throughout Scripture as a prescribed practice (see Leviticus 19.33-34 and Luke 14.12-14). But, hospitality also appears as an act that gracefully reveals the contours of the gospel. In this regard, we might think of the Samaritan, in Luke 10, who displays the gospel affection of a Good Physician who does not simply pass us by. Along these lines, we might consider the overflow of the joy of salvation in the life of Lydia, such that her response is...hospitality (Acts 16.13-15). To be sure, the Bible addresses hospitality as a natural by-product of Christ-centered life within the church as brothers and sisters care for one another (see Romans 12.13 and Hebrews 13.1-3). Let’s not forget that elders, in particular, are to be great examples of hospitality (1 Timothy 3.2 and Titus 1.7-8), as well as, widows (1 Timothy 5.9-10).
As we look at Romans 12-16, we’ll touch on the subject of Christian hospitality often. Know that I will be doing some special study of this subject, sharing with you what I discover. Know, also, that I am doing this, not merely for insights regarding our life together as Christians, but also looking for ways that our corporate hospitality may be more easily detected by Covenant visitors.