Before heading south to Philadelphia, I was warned that seminary could be a lonely place.
The person who warned me complained that he had little fellowship because no one had ever invited him into their home. This struck me as odd. Why not invite people into his home? After all, both Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 insist that elders be accustomed to offering hospitality. A pastor’s, or a future pastor’s, home should be a place where people are welcome, where God’s people are loved in tangible ways. Even as a bachelor who had failed to pay attention to kitchen-learning opportunities at home, I was convinced that there was something that I would be able to offer. Even if I could not foresee how time with me could be of any use to anyone else, I had to take seriously the idea that a teaching or ruling elder, or an elder-wannabe, had a duty to open my home to others, and let the Lord make whatever use of it he pleased.
To say that an elder is hospitable is not the same as saying that an elder is to entertain, at least not in the modern sense of that word. Today, entertainment suggests that great food and good dishes be used, that the hosts be fresh and attentive, the house presentable for guests. Entertainment can be wonderful. But it is usually done for the pleasure of the hosts as much as for the guests. Entertaining is not to be confused with service per se.
Hospitality is different. It is often inconvenient, unimpressive, and tiring. Hospitality will be offered when entertainment would never be: when the house is messy; when the food is uninteresting. I’ve been a life-long recipient of simple, but gracious hospitality and wanted to pass it on. As a single man I exercised hospitality ineptly and enthusiastically, spreading calories and food poisoning wherever I went with offers of pancakes, French fries, and grilled cheese sandwiches.
In my case, things got a lot better once I met Emily. In a very modest fashion, my wife and I started to offer hospitality early on in our marriage. We were both in seminary and we opened our home once a week to students who might like to study quietly, but not alone; we offered ice cream at 9:30pm and eviction notices at 10:00 pm. On Sunday nights we offered pizza bagels and coat-hangers – the coat-hangers were for those who wanted hotdogs. They had to cook them in our living-room fireplace.
In attempting to offer hospitality, 1 Peter 4:8-9 has added context and qualification that I have often had reason to recall. Peter’s basic call is for Christians to “love one another earnestly.” We want to do that, he says, because love covers over a lot of sin. He then urges Christians to “show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” As I see it, one way in which we love is to cover over sins. Another way in which we love is to show hospitality. Peter has moved from a general principle (love) to specific out-workings of that principle (forgiveness and hospitality).
I hope that many of you will be able to serve your church, or your fellow students, by offering hospitality to those who might need it or benefit from it. If so, I am guessing that you will find your greatest joy in an opportunity to imitate Jesus -- the One who first welcomed you, and whose home is always open.
Dr. Chad Van Dixhoorn
Associate Professor of Church History