Thursday, June 5, 2008

Hospitality

by John D Ramsey

Many people say that Lisa has the gift of hospitality. I have always considered Lisa a wonderful hostess, but I have questioned what is meant by “gift of hospitality”. To me, hospitality was simply a willingness to serve others. If that is a gift, then I concede that Lisa has it. Still it seems to me to have more to do with an act of the will than with special giftedness. Cooking wonderful things is hard work. Making people feel comfortable requires planning and execution. I would never detract from Lisa’s capacity or willingness to work hard. Maybe that is why I have an aversion to hearing that Lisa has a gift of hospitality. Calling it a gift makes it sound easy, and I know how hard Lisa works.

On the way to work the other day, I debated this point with myself. Nowhere in Scripture does it mention “the gift of hospitality.” Scripture does tell us to “be hospitable” and to “show hospitality.” I decided that certainly hospitality not a gift, but rather it is being willing to serve others.

Later that evening at the dinner table, I asked Claire to pass me the pitcher of iced tea. Claire picked up the pitcher and rather than handing it to me, she held it near my glass as if to fill it. I thought to myself, here is hospitality, a willingness to serve; like mother, like daughter. Claire poured the tea over my glass and onto my plate. Seeing what she had done, she laughed aloud.

I instantly concluded: hospitality is a gift.

Actually, according to Peter, hospitality is an imperative. He writes, “Be hospitable to one another without complaint.”[1] Peter then goes on to say, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” [2] Notice the italic and the strike-through on the word special. I have taken the small liberty of striking that word because the translators took the enormous liberty of adding it out of thin air. Everything we have is a gift of God. Everything we have we should “employ in serving one another as stewards of the manifold grace of God.” If we only have to share special gifts, then who decides what is special?

When Claire poured tea on my plate, I laughed with her. I was disappointed by soggy bread, but it was funny. She was willing to serve, but at that moment, she was spatially challenged. If we serve people, we will make blunders. Yet it is better to blunder in service than to do nothing perfectly.

We serve others, not because we have to, but because we want to. If we do not want to serve others, then we need to consider again what Jesus Christ did for us. Peter finishes his thoughts on hospitality and service by saying,

Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.[3]

We will use both our spiritual and material gifts in hospitality, but hospitality is not a spiritual gift. When Paul wrote about spiritual gifts he asked questions like, “Do all prophesy?” Of course, not. Likewise, if hospitality is a spiritual gift, then most of us are off the hook. Nevertheless, Peter says, “Be hospitable to one another without complaint.” To a Christian, hospitality is choosing to be gracious because we have received grace. In fact the word translated “gift”, carisma, derives from the Greek word for grace. We could translate Peter's imperative to say, “Be hospitable to each other and not grudgingly. As each one has received grace, use it to serve one another even as good stewards of the greater grace of God.”

In that respect, hospitality is a gift — not a gift that we have specially received — but rather hospitality is gifts that we eagerly give to one another. In the last year or so, Lisa has served meals in our home to over 100 people (I stopped counting several months ago, but Lisa has not stopped cooking). Some people were barely acquaintances before they sat down at Lisa's table, but after dinner they stood up as our new dear friends.

I can say with confidence that Lisa uses her gifts, both spiritual and material, for the purpose of hospitality.

[1]
1 Peter 4:9 (NASB)
[2]
1 Peter 4:10 (NASB))
[3]
1 Peter 4:11 (NASB)

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