I was asked a few weeks ago to give a talk on hospitality from Romans 12:13. An edited script is below. I was challenged and encouraged by the assignment and hope you find the reading of it profitable.
Hospitality to Nazis?
There was a small town in France during World War II, made up of Christians, deeply committed to Christ and faithfully led by their pastor, Andre Trocme and his devoted wife, Magda. At the time, many in France had allowed themselves to be convinced by the Nazi propaganda that concealed the death camps. But Pastor Trocme and his church were not so naive. They perceived the deception and together, rescued and sheltered more than five thousand Jewish children.
In his book, The Call, Os Guinness, describes the night Andre Trocme was arrested. He writes: “The pastor and his wife had been invited to dinner by church members who, knowing they often forgot such invitations, sent their daughter to remind them. But when she entered the dining room, she saw the police arresting her pastor. So word flew around the village.” But as the town began to worry, Magda Trocme was calmly inviting the policemen to her own dinner. Later, her friends asked: “how you could bring yourself to sit down to eat with these men who were there to take your husband away, perhaps to his death?” Magda’s reply was this: “It was dinner-time...we were all hungry. The food was ready.”
The story of Magda Trocme is a picture of Romans 12:13. The simple command to “seek hospitality” is connected to a much bigger idea that begins in Romans 12:9 and is repeated in Romans 12:21. The two verses are “bookends” exhorting Christians to genuine love that conquers/overcomes evil with good.
In between Romans 12:9 and 12:21 are some ways in which Christians are to display unhypocritical and evil conquering love. And listed there, is the admonition to show hospitality...who would have thought of hospitality as an evil conquering act? Certainly not our culture.
Generally speaking, our culture’s definition of hospitality doesn’t go far beyond beautifully decorated homes, tables and meals. We love the appearance of perfection, so gorgeous Pinterest suggestions for entertaining and experts like Martha Stewart become our benchmark in receiving others in our homes and spaces.
Now of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with a beautiful home, well-set table and tasty meals. There are some among us who are naturally gifted in making things look beautiful. Others are talented cooks whose flavors bless the tongue and heart. These skills can serve well in our welcoming of others (1 Peter 4:9-10).
But we are also sinners who can easily take good gifts and mold them into idols. Those of us who are interior decorators, good cooks and extrovert personalities can define our value and sense of worth by these characteristics, ultimately serving ourselves and not others by our “hospitality.” In other words, we can serve people--not to show Jesus but--to be seen.
Knowing this, our definition of hospitality, must move past the mere outward presentation of our Pinterest pages. Romans 12:13’s vision of hospitality goes beyond the surface to the heart and is something we cannot do without the supernatural empowerment of the Spirit.
Romans 12 describes a love that expresses the spirit and not just the letter of the Law. It is sincere, genuine and without hypocrisy. This love opens its heart to those within the household of faith as though the saints were true brothers and sisters (because they are!). It goes beyond cultural standards to outdo others in showing honor. It rejoices with those who rejoice and weeps with those who weep. It guards the heart against haughtiness and pride. It associate with “the lowly,” and seeks to live in harmony with all, always pursuing hospitality--even to the point of feeding and blessing hungry enemies. This love conquers evil with good!
Scripture’s vision of hospitality goes beyond the culture’s because it reflects Jesus Himself. If the story of Magda Trocme was impressive, know that Jesus’ hospitality is even more stunning!
The One for whom all things were created; the One who is the image of the invisible God and the firstborn of all creation; the One in whom all things hold together and is preeminent above all (Colossians 1:16); that Person condescended to be born as a poor carpenter! He made Himself nothing and suffered that He might make His enemies members of His own family.
Before Christ, you and I were not “good people” doing the best you can to please God. We were enemies of God, sinners determined to rebel against our Creator (Romans 5:8-10). But Jesus’ “hospitality” is out of this world! He doesn’t wait for you to come to Him but He comes to you. He redeems you by His own blood and reconciles you to God. He calls you His own and begins to conform you into his own image, so that, according to Romans 8:29, He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters that resemble Him.
His love for us is without hypocrisy. His grace and kindness toward us is without measure (Ephesians 2:7). He is preeminent above all and yet He associates with us (Colossians 1:16). He sympathizes with us in our weakness (Hebrews 4:15). He is good to us! His love conquers evil! And we are called to look like Him.
Love of neighbor is the fulfillment of the Law (Romans 13:10); and Christ fulfills the Law (Matthew 5:17-20). We are those called to conform to His image. For us, hospitable isn’t what who do, it is who we are.
If so, how are you seeking to outdo others in showing honor? How do you rejoice and weep with those in your life? How are you pursuing hospitality in your home? Are you pressing to dwell in harmony with your husband, children, family, and friends? What about the neighbors on your street, your colleagues at work, and your fellow church members? How are you serving those who may even seem to be your “enemies”? Does your hospitality reflect Jesus or does it reflect the world?
These are hard questions and personally, I can’t say that I “pass the grade.” I write as one who falls short of Scripture’s high command of love. But praise God for His Word that both challenges and encourages the believer.
The Only “Grade” That Counts
I’m thankful that Romans 1 comes before Romans 12, for in Romans 1:6-7, we are told that the book is written to those “loved by God and called by Jesus Christ as saints.” The letter isn’t sent to those who are hoping to belong to God or seeking to “win” him somehow through their acts of service, rather it’s meant to challenge and encourage those who already belong to Him by His love and are called saints.
I belong to Jesus through His work on my behalf, His is the only “passing grade” that counts. And God, by His grace, is pleased to credit that “grade” to my account (Romans 4:22-25). I belong to Him and I’m loved as a saint in Christ. And because of that reality, God’s Spirit works progressively to reveal Christ’s image through my acts of genuine love.
If you are reading this and you belong to Jesus, please pray persistently for the empowering grace to conquer evil with genuine love. And if you are reading and are uncertain of your position in Christ, then please remember that God is willing to save even His enemies. He will not turn away those who knock at His door. Pray for Him to make you a member of His own family. And then, by the help of His Spirit, show the world Jesus!