Meditations for Troubled Times
“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” (Romans 12:13)
On June 13, 1525, Martin Luther and a former Catholic nun named Katherine von Bora married. On their wedding night, Andreas Karlstadt—a frequent adversary of Luther’s—showed up at their door. He had been fleeing a recent battle in the Peasants’ War and was seeking shelter. What do you think Luther did? He invited Karlstadt into his home, and he stayed for eight weeks! For the Luthers, this was not a random act of kindness. Throughout their marriage, they brought thousands of people into their home. Children, university students, weary travelers, and church members ate around their table and enjoyed Christian fellowship—all without paying a dime. What led them to be so hospitable? Two things: God's command and God's example.
In Romans 12, Paul describes various marks of a Christian. A person who has received God’s mercy in Christ ought to hate evil and love good, sincerely care for others, be full of joy and patience even in suffering, be constant in prayer, bless those who persecute them, and be peaceable, humble, and forgiving. In view of God’s saving grace, they should not allow themselves to be overcome by evil but instead overcome evil with good. However, nestled within these various marks of a Christian, Paul proclaims, “contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Notice, we are being commanded to seek to show hospitality. As Christians, it is something we are called to pursue. We intentionally are to look and plan for opportunities to open our homes, share a meal, and spend time with others. Why? What’s behind this command? God’s hospitably saving work in Christ.
In the Bible, the very same language that is employed to describe how we are to engage in hospitality is also employed to explain God’s redeeming activity. Guest, stranger, invitation, welcome, house, feast, fellowship—all these words explain different aspects of hospitality, but they are used to outline God’s redeeming work as well. He is the ultimate and ideal host because he has been hospitable on a much grander scale. After Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, they were removed east of Eden (Genesis 3:24). They were estranged from God, and we are, too, in Adam. But in Christ this estrangement has been overcome (Colossians 1:21-22). Once strangers and aliens, we now are adopted and brought into the family God and nurtured in his household (Galatians 4:4-6). Because of Jesus, we, who were once outcasts, are now guests at his banqueting table (Matthew 22:9-10). Therefore, we should “show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9).
In our day of COVID-19, this imperative is challenging. Some of us are nervous that we might unknowingly pass along what might be a deadly contagion. Or our own immune systems are weak, so we are cautious about getting together for a meal. However, we need fellowship, and others do as well. Without it, sin solidifies within us (Hebrews 3:13). If you are uncomfortable having people over right now, think of other creative ways to spend time with people. Go out for dinner, cook and send a meal, regularly call or Facetime someone, or set up a weekly Skype or Zoom meeting. Don’t let the call to social distance make you unsociable. Have a warm spirit about you because this is what God in Christ has shown you. “Therefore, welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7).