On Friday night in my Bible Study we explored Romans 12. Romans is not the easiest of books to understand, that’s for sure, and the more practical bent of Chapter 12 was a welcome relief after the theologically heavy preceding chapters.
However, the twelfth chapter of Paul’s treatise, is one to which the phrase ‘deceptively simple’ could be applied.
Here’s verses 9-21 that we explored:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
If you’ve never read Romans Chapters 9-11, believe me, this is a lot easier to digest. But to live out? Ay, there’s the rub.
Just pick one instruction and that’s hard enough. The one that stands out to me most often is the shortest: practice hospitality.
hospitality (noun): 1) the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers; 2) relating to or denoting the business of entertaining clients, conference delegates, or other official visitors
That’s how Google defines hospitality. There’s a lot in that to take on board, but I think it reflects common misconceptions about what exactly hospitality is in its repetition of the concept of entertainment.
Hospitality in that sense is somewhat of a display or a show: a neatly packaged event or period of time. Something “official” for someone “important”: clients, delegates.
I’m going to be an OED snob for a moment because I think there’s an element being missed:
- friendly and generous behaviour toward guests
Hospitality is not an event confined to a set period of time, but is rather a behaviour with attached attitudes. Such behaviour and attitudes can be displayed at anytime, anywhere, without a single meal being on offer.
And on that point Oxford, apologies, but your second definition doesn’t really hit the spot: food, drinks, or services that are provided by an organization for guests, customers, etc.
Hospitality doesn’t need to be in any way formally organised. Hospitality can be ‘off the cuff”.
Hospitality is a welcome, no matter the time of night or day. Hospitality is helping out when you could be loafing out instead.
Hospitality doesn’t need a fancy tablecloth, silverware and crockery. Hospitality can be a cup of takeaway coffee in a park on a wooden bench.
Hospitality doesn’t need to be done for all to see. Hospitality can be quiet: a letter, a held door, an sms or a phone call.
I think the Bible’s understanding of hospitality is a lot more liberating.
That doesn’t mean it’s easier. It just means it gives a lot more scope to the imagination.
Yours in a park on a wooden bench,