By / Nov 23

Recently, I was in bed and had just closed my eyes to go to sleep when I received a call from my nephew in Guam. He doesn’t regularly call me, so I knew this was important. Frantic, he let me know that one of his best friends, Sean, had recently traveled from Guam to the States to start school. This friend had been scammed by a false apartment advertisement, and he’d lost most of his money. Now he was alone in the city — my city — and needed a place to stay. There was no question; we needed to pick him up right away.

I met Sean around midnight at a closed coffee shop on the other side of Seattle where he and all his luggage were waiting for me. To my surprise, his optimism and gratitude outweighed his circumstances. We packed up my car, and we headed back home to get some sleep.

Over the next few days, our family helped Sean get settled into this big, new city. Moving is a stressful experience for everyone. That’s even more the case when you’ve been scammed. I’m so grateful for how my wife, Amy, showed Sean hospitality. I, on the other hand, had a busy to-do list that weighed on the back of my mind. Try as I might to be present and lean into the opportunity God had put before me, I couldn’t shake the anxiety I had about the tasks and projects that I couldn’t make time for. 

Even though I genuinely wanted to be present and knew that Sean was more important, I struggled internally with the tension between God’s timing and my priorities. 

Leveraging ordinary moments for extraordinary purposes

I’m convinced that Christ followers are called to leverage ordinary moments for extraordinary purposes. I believe that Jesus graciously gives us opportunities to be his hands and feet on earth. And yet serving Sean was one part conviction and two parts guilt. I think that’s because I wanted my opportunities for hospitality to come on my own terms and not on God’s terms. 

In 1 Samuel 30, a surprising act of hospitality is on display during a pivotal moment in Israel’s history. After hiding from Saul for 16 months, God brought David and his men home to their camp in Ziklag. But when they arrived there, the men’s hope of reunion with their families was met with a scene of destruction. David and his army discovered that the Amalekites had raided their camp. All of their supplies, as well as their wives and children, were gone (1 Sam. 30:3–4). 

David immediately redirected his men back toward battle. They headed out, ready to go to war in search of their families, when they discovered a traveling wayfarer. The Bible describes it this way:

David’s men found an Egyptian in the open country and brought him to David. They gave him some bread to eat and water to drink. Then they gave him some pressed figs and two clusters of raisins. After he ate he revived, for he hadn’t eaten food or drunk water for three days and three nights. Then David said to him, “Who do you belong to? Where are you from?” (1 Sam. 30:11–13a) CSB

It is fair to say David had a lot going on when they found the Egyptian. His family had been kidnapped. His men were disappointed by his leadership (at this point, the band blamed him for leaving the camp unguarded). As Israel’s future king, he was under enormous pressure. But during it all, David paused and showed hospitality to a stranger. 

It was only after the man had been revived that David was able to ask who he was. There was no initial benefit in helping the Egyptian. At first, it seemed as if this surprising act of hospitality would inconvenience David’s mission. But then the man reported, “I’m an Egyptian, the slave of an Amalekite” What an extraordinary turn of events from a surprising act of hospitality! This stranger would be the providential hinge that would lead David and his army to rescue their kidnapped families. 

David’s story shows us the value of showing hospitality even when it’s uncomfortable — even when it seems to inhibit our priorities. David didn’t let his agenda, however important, hinder an opportunity to discover God’s purpose in someone else’s need. The result was a rescued Israel, and a faith-revived king.

Whenever we must delay our plans for the sake of someone else, we feel uncomfortable. And yet the beauty of the gospel is ours to experience if we trust God’s timing. Christ’s beauty is there in the late-night car ride, the clinking of dinner plates, and the dining-room small talk. His holy love is experienced at the table — perhaps more than in life’s demands and my to-do list. In fact, part of the beauty is in the act of forfeiting the task and forgetting the to-do list.

On the receiving end of hospitality

Recently our church celebrated its first gathering in a newly purchased building. If there was an example of the church valuing service over personal to-do’s, this was it. The outpouring of love and service our people demonstrated was immense. It was in the thick of preparing for the grand opening that I was encouraged in my faith and reminded of the many people in our community who — despite their schedules — prioritized the opportunity to be hospitable and serve. 

So many church members valued serving one another over their to-do lists, and it bore fruit as the building was readied and the family gathered for corporate worship. Just as Sean was encouraged by our family’s hospitality and service to him, I was encouraged by my faith family. Now I was the recipient of the priority of hospitality put into action. I was the one who now experienced the kind of grace that I’d recently found it so difficult to give. 

On the other side of the equation, I didn’t feel guilt or anxiety, I felt gratitude. Instead of being scolded by my conscience, I was brought to the table and lifted up in service. I experienced God’s grace leveraged through the church who set aside their priorities for one extraordinary moment.

In the busyness of our lives — and the holiday season — may we be a people of gracious hospitality. May our hearts and homes be open to share the love of Christ through a warm meal, a loving embrace, or a word of encouragement. And through it all, may we come to treasure the God who went to the uttermost lengths to welcome us in. 

By / Nov 16

When we moved overseas, we began to taste how generous hospitality can be. Sitting on drab floor cushions in sparsely-furnished homes, we were welcomed into the lives of the Roma of Eastern Europe. Roma live hand-to-mouth, and even then, what they make today is often not enough for their meals tomorrow. Despite our protests and attempts to visit without sharing a meal, they had joy and honor in feeding us as their guests. Their generosity humbled us every time.

Receiving such sacrifices convicted us of our selfishness. I began to see how closely I held what we had. I wasn’t just hoarding the food we had; I was also hoarding our space, our time, and our gifts. God was teaching me that everything I had belonged to him and was not mine to be accumulated for my family alone. 

But more than stirring a desire to imitate the Roma’s welcoming hospitality, I realized how the Christian’s hospitality has a bigger purpose: to preach the gospel of Christ who poured out everything for us. 

I’d love it if I was a natural hostess who always had a clean house, delicious meals, and cooperative children. My husband and I are introverts, our house gets messy more quickly than we can clean it, and it often feels scary to give others an up-close look at our sinful family. Opening our home can take a lot out of not just me but the whole family. If it’s hard, why practice it?

Hospitality is biblical.

We are commanded to practice hospitality. Both Titus and 1 Timothy name hospitality as one of the requirements for a pastor, but elsewhere we see hospitality commanded to others within the body of Christ. Moreover, our hospitality is supposed to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Rom. 12:13). 

And we should not just offer hospitality to those we know, but also to people we’re unfamiliar with: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers” (Heb. 13:2). Furthermore, the Bible is clear that how we open up our homes matters: “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Pet. 4:9). 

Hospitality gives us opportunities to serve others. 

Service is a tangible way of loving one another. When we serve, we are humbling ourselves and putting the needs and desires of another in front of our own (Phil. 2). Everyone in our family has opportunities to serve when we invite people into our space. My children have learned many lessons about taking care of the needs of others because of guests. 

Jesus, our Creator and Lord, was the perfect example of a servant. He healed the sick, he fed the hungry, he poured himself out until he was exhausted. He “did not come to be served, but to serve,” and his ultimate service was when he gave “his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Serving is a way we can act like Christ and point others to him.

Hospitality helps us prioritize people over stuff. 

It can be hard to let people into our home sometimes. Hospitality can come at a cost. When we have another family over, we often use our resources to feed them. My children have slept on the floor to allow overnight guests to use their beds. We have had messes left by guests that we have to clean up (including the time a toddler dumped out every one of my children’s Legos) and broken toys that we replace with our money or have to do without. 

We have long had a family saying: “People are more important than things.” This is easy to say but hard to actually believe in our hearts because of our selfish flesh. The things we own are temporary, but people have eternal souls and bear God’s image. When we have people in our home, we try to remember the significance of our stuff pales in comparison to the significance of our guests (Luke 12:15; Matt. 625-34). 

Hospitality allows us to deepen discipleship relationships.

Many of the people we have over are members of our church and have covenanted with us to encourage one another in our faith. A different facet of discipleship is caught in our home when people get to watch our family interact with each other, deepening what is taught when we study the Bible and pray together. Real life happens in our home amongst our family, and welcoming people into it is the best way to give insight into how our family functions, in all the messy ways. 

Inviting people into our home means that we cannot so easily hide our lives behind a facade presented on Sunday morning, but rather those close to us can see what we look like throughout the week and how we are trying, even as we stumble and falter, to follow Christ as a family.

Our children are also benefactors of this. Their relationships with people are strengthened when we have them in our home, allowing opportunities for our children to grow and learn from others as well. They also feel more at home within our church family because of how many people they’ve eaten meals and talked with at the dinner table. 

Hospitality provides the time and space to display and preach the gospel.

Hospitality is a means to display the gospel by using your home for the good of others. It is a way we can show what God has done and is doing in our lives. When we welcome others to our home, we have the opportunity to invite them to taste and see how good the Lord is. 

Like most Christians, we thank God before we eat for providing food to enjoy and sustain our bodies. We want to always remember that every good gift comes from him and that he alone is our provider. Remembering that God has provided our daily bread should turn our hearts to his ultimate provision: The broken body and spilled blood of Christ.

And that’s one of the sweetest parts of opening up our home: sharing testimonies about the Lord’s saving grace in our lives. We have heard stories about God’s faithfulness countless times while at our dining room table or in our living room. I am reminded that my salvation is a “gift of God, not a result of works” (Ephesians 2:8-9). My children have heard how God brought people from all stages and walks of life to him. They’ve also watched us practice evangelism in our house around our normal activities. 

My family has been changed by welcoming others into our home. We’re still having our sin revealed to us and being sanctified through our attempts at hospitality, but we’ve settled into a happy family rhythm that includes people who don’t share our last name. Our kids regularly think of people who we need to have over and how we might serve them. It isn’t always easy, even after having hundreds of people in our home, but it is always worth it. 

By / Aug 20

Th[e] idea that our houses are hospitals and incubators was something I learned in my lesbian community in New York in the 1990s. We knew that our traditional, so-called Christian neighbors despised and distrusted us and regarded us as abominations. So we set out to be the best neighbors on the block.

We gathered in our people close and daily, and we said to each other, “This house, this habitus, is a hospital and an incubator. We help each other heal, and we help ideas take root.” We duplicated many house keys and made sure that everyone we loved had one. We meant what the key implied: you have access anytime. The door is not meant to hurt you or to keep you away.

This was during the first wave of AIDS, originally called GRID (gay related immune deficiency). Nouns such as Kaposi’s sarcoma, toxoplasmosis, pneumocystis carinii, cytomegalovirus, molluscum contagiosum, peripheral neuropathy, and cryptosporidiosis went from obscurity to familiar household words. Those were the days when my kitchen window held “Silence = Death” stickers and not children’s cutout snowflakes.

The AIDS epidemic required a big learning curve for me and my friends in the lesbian community. Outsiders might not know this, but there is no natural simpatico between women who identify as lesbian and men who identify as gay. We thought our brothers were hedonists, and they thought us politically high-minded prigs. But learn to come together we did. We learned how to care for one another across the fear of the plague. Some of my friends learned how to bootleg AZT before the pharmaceutical companies dropped their prices so that dying people could have a shot at taking it.

Out of desperation and fear and banding together in spite of our differences, a community was born. The tenacious, consistent, and sacrificial work of the LGBTQ community—work that was birthed over dinner tables and work benches (like the one I type on right now) have changed the landscape of American culture and pushed the boundaries of natural law. Of that I am sure.

I do wonder, now, as a Christian, if the church had been there, had helped, had shared in our grief, how the story would have unfolded differently.

A need for mercy-drive hospitality

These lessons—learned as far outside the walls of the church as possible—are instructive for Christians. We live in a post-Christian world that is sick and tired of hearing from Christians. But who could argue with mercy-driven hospitality? What a potential witness Christians have, untapped and right here at our fingertips.

Christians have a moral responsibility to be good stewards, and this includes stewarding the church, religious liberty, ideas, laws, the family, and the worldwide refugee crisis. The world is watching—and rightly so. And our lack of visible and genuine hospitality—practiced both inside our community and outside— is speaking louder than words right now.

Christians have a powerful history of building schools and hospitals, of showing up during natural disasters to offer water and food and shelter and medicine. We have that history. But do we have the daily witness of Christian neighboring?

Our post-Christian neighbors need to hear and see and taste and feel authentic Christianity, hospitality spreading from every Christian home that includes neighbors in prayer, food, friend- ship, childcare, dog walking, and all the daily matters upon which friendships are built.

Take, for example, our Christian brothers and sisters who struggle with unchosen homosexual desires and longings, sensibilities and affections, temptations and capacities. Our brothers and sisters need the church to function as the Lord has called it to—as a family. Because Christian conversion always comes in exchange for the life you once loved, not in addition to it, people have much to lose in coming to Christ—and some people have more to lose than others. Some people have one cross, and others have ten to carry. People who live daily with unchosen homosexual desires also live with a host of unanswered questions and unfulfilled life dreams. What is your responsibility to those brothers and sisters who are in this position in life?

Our Christian responsibility includes a house key

One answer is this: the gospel comes with a house key. Mark 10:28–31 reads:

Peter began to say to [Jesus], “See, we have left everything and followed you.”

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Please note what Jesus says about how to love anyone who responds to the gospel in faith and obedience and who must lose everything in order to gain the kingdom’s promises. Jesus says that he expects we will lose partners and children and houses in the process of conversion, that conversion calls everyone to lose everything. God’s people need to wake up to something. If you want to share the gospel with the LGBTQ community or anyone who will lose family and homes, the gospel must come with a house key. This hundredfold blessing promised here in these verses is not going to fall from the sky. It is going to come from the church. It is going to come from the people of God acting like the family of God. God intends this blessing to come from you. And real Christian hospitality that creates real Christian community expresses authentic Christianity in deep and abiding ways to a world that thinks we are hypocrites.

All around you, people hunger for the covenant of God to include them. 

If the gospel comes with a house key, then the people in the house are not primarily instrumentally useful but rather inherently valuable. In Christ we are family. In the family of God the personal is the covenantal, not the political. We—all of us—are image-bearers, first and foremost. We belong to each other because we share a heavenly Father. Our identity and our calling must emanate from God’s image radiating in and through us.

All around you, people hunger for the covenant of God to include them.

The gospel comes with a house key, not because it is easy, but because it is hard. God makes the key—and the lock to fit it.

Content taken from The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World by Rosaria Butterfield, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

By / Oct 29

Introduction

The apologists of the early church represent a group of early Christian writers primarily concerned with defending Christianity in a culture hostile to the faith. Champions of the faith such as the unknown author of the epistle to Diognetus, Justin Martyr, and Athenagoras of Athens demonstrate a deep concern for defending deep gospel truths. They also reveal a uniquely Christian perspective on sexual morality in a sexually deviant Greco-Roman culture. Second-century apologists offer a consistent biblical defense relating to sexual holiness as an apologetic for the veracity of the Christian faith. Additionally, this apologetic relates to other biblical motifs calling Christians to exhibit a faithful presence in society. This idea of a sexually faithful presence in culture is ever-so helpful for Christians of the twenty-first century. We may be centuries away from second century Rome, but the moral atmosphere is all too familiar and remains relatively unchanged.

The Epistle to Diognetus 

The author of mid-to-late second century, The Epistle to Diognetus, text is ultimately unknown. Though seemingly written as a letter, “the consistent impression,” Charles Hill maintains, “[is] of an oral address in which a Christian teacher explains Christianity in the presence of one who has requested it, a man of some social stature named Diognetus.”

Using the motif of citizenship, the author contrasts two ways of life, that is, Christian and gentile, or Roman. The author of the epistle claims that Christians do not “practice an eccentric way of life” (Diogn 5.2). For this author, the Christian life is heavenly in the sense that its not a “human doctrine” which might be “discovered by the thought and reflection of ingenious people” (Diogn 5.3). Their character and behavior is reflective of the citizenship which some may consider “remarkable” and “unusual” (Diogn 5.4). The writer of the epistle declares, “They share their food but not their wives” (Diogn 5.7). Benjamin Dunning notes how the text of chapter five “develops this framework in which Christian practice is contrasted to that of a stereotyped Roman social order” wherein “Christians fulfill expected norms of hospitality…but never at the expense of sexual purity.”

Diognetus presents an alternate realm of existence, advocating for an ethos transcending reality. This moral domain includes not just obeying the laws of the land, but transcending laws in their private lives  (Diogn 5.10). The author of Diognetus calls his reader to a life of imitation of God. Imitation of God comes when one imitates his primal act which is to love. Therefore imitation of what is ultimately Good leads to good acts. Greediness and impious ambition are contrary to God’s nature (Diogn 10.5).

Diognetus shows a consistent strand of biblical reasoning in regards to sexual holiness. Though not a diatribe against the sexual conventions of Roman society, the author provides a contrast, similar to the apostolic writings, between citizens of earth and citizens of heaven.  Michael Bird notes, “The author attempts to rise up and meet the challenge of the cultural despisers of the Christian religion in the Greco-Roman world and he employs Pauline motifs to that end.” The author posits a community wherein imitating God leads to imitating his goodness, and this is indicated in their sexual practices.

Athenagoras’s Embassy for the Christians 

Athenagoras of Athens (c. 180) sets about contrasting the gods and lifestyle of the Romans to those of the Christian community. Athenagoras states, “But we are so far from practising promiscuous intercourse, that it is not lawful among us to indulge even a lustful look” (Embassy 23). Athenagoras posits that Greco-Roman morality simply mirrors that of its gods. In the same way, Christians mirror the morality of their progenitor, Jesus Christ.

In Chapter 34 of the Embassy, Athenagoras engages the vices of Roman sexuality head on. Prostitution includes the young, even boys, “men with men working that which is base.” (Embassy 34). For Athenagoras, such a debasement is a “dishonoring [of] God’s created beauty” (Embassy 34). Athenagoras avers, “These men reproach is with those deeds which they have upon their own consciences and which they say their gods do, and brag of them as noble and godlike. Adulterers and pederasts, they revile us who live in self-denial or single marriage.” (Embassy 34). It is not the Christians who should be ridiculed for their supposed deviant behavior, but the adulterers and pederasts who should be reviled. Athenagoras betrays a knowledge of homosexuality and pederasty within society, a presence he assumes that his readers understand as well.

Justin Martyr’s First Apology

Justin Martyr (c. 100–c. 165) provides a “veritable mine of information about mid-second-century Christian and even Jewish and Roman theology, attitudes, and practices.” Justin’s defense of Christianity demonstrates more a proof for its validity and veracity as an ancient religion and one worthy of tolerance, yet his use of Scripture and appeals to reason demonstrate a desire to convey the reasonableness of Christian moral practice. He states, “Of old we rejoiced in promiscuity, but not we embrace only temperance” (1 Apol14.2).

Chapter fifteen of the First Apology provides a string of texts relating the standards of sexual holiness in Christian marriage and Christian celibacy in contrast to Roman practice. Some have lived their entire lives as “disciples of Christ and [have remained] pure” (1 Apol15.6).  Justin’s goal in this regard is to “point them out in every race of people” that is, as a testimony of Christian morality and faithfulness to the teachings of Christ (1 Apol 15.6).

Justin’s goal, as it is with other apologists, is to show that Christians should not be judged on the basis of their name alone, but rather on the merits of their life and practice. He asserts, “For neither commendation nor punishment could reasonably be based on a name unless actions can show something to be virtuous or wicked” (1 Apol 4.3). Justin demonstrates the unique, and desirable, way of life demonstrated by the Christian community. For him as with other apologists, this included a faithful presence in regards to sexual morality.

Conclusion

The apologists of the second century offer modern readers much insight in understanding the contrasting morality of Christians and the surrounding culture. Especially in regards to sexuality, Christians imitate the virtues of their savior. Likewise, Romans imitate the vices of their gods. In understanding sexual ethics from an early Christian perspective, the apologists help believers today by revealing the consistently of the transformational power of the gospel, whether in the AD 100 or AD 2015.