Written by McKenzie Warmouth
As born and bred Southerners, nobody understands the term “Southern Hospitality” better than we do: Its cooking incessantly for any and everybody, treating an absolute stranger like a long lost brother and immediately offering him a cool glass of sweet tea, its eating lunch at a different persons house every Sunday afternoon. Southern hospitality is a wonderful thing – something Southerners are known for and proud of…
But is there a deeper calling that we as Christians have to be hospitable? A calling that requires of us a sacrifice that won’t always fill us with Southern pride?
When we look deeply into what the Bible requires of us in regards to hospitality, we must see that it isn’t always a comforting feeling. Hospitality, in fact, requires us often to give up of our comfort. So what is it that God wants us to focus on when it comes to hospitality? A familiar verse in Philippians reminds us that hospitality is really only a means by which we can demonstrate selflessness. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”
What does this verse tell us about hospitality? It reminds us that God blesses us most when we sacrifice ourselves in order to bless others. That is the true meaning of hospitality – and if that is demonstrated through fried chicken and sweet tea, then it is a wonderful thing. However, there is often so much more to it. Sometimes, its giving our of house to someone who needs a place to stay, sometimes its sacrificing our afternoon to visit the sick or the physically and spiritually needy.
A few years ago, my parents decided that they would devote Saturday evenings to taking my grandparents, extended family, or church family members in and fellowshipping with them the evening before the Sabbath. As much joy as my family always ends up receiving from this, it would be far, far easier not to do it at all then it is to do so. It requires that my family wake up at a decent hour on Saturday mornings, that my mom spend her entire day off cleaning the house from top to bottom, and cooking a dinner fit more for royalty that it is for my family. It requires her to plan a dessert and a bible study or movie night. It requires that I finish my homework and various chores for my family before I make other plans. It requires that I spend more time with our guests then in my room or with my homework or friends, or doing whatever else I would rather be doing. It requires sacrifice, something my mom demonstrates and teaches me to demonstrate every weekend as she diligently prepares from the hour she wakes up until the hour our company leaves. Yes, she’d probably rather sleep in, she’d probably rather get her day off and do as she pleases… But, she understands the importance of giving, and, every weekend, she is blessed in return through the fellowship of those she gives to.
The very most important element of hospitality is the blatantly obvious one for Christians – the one in which we do what we are always told to do – imitate Christ. Were I to describe hospitality to someone who had never heard of it, I’d use the words “Hospitality is when you take someone in and treat him selflessly” – The key word being “selflessly” as we’ve discussed. But what is it that we do selflessly? – TAKE SOMEONE IN. If we think about it, these are the key phrases as well that sum up the very essence of Jesus and what He means to us. What is our salvation based upon? Everything we are, everything we stand and fight for, is based upon our faith that Jesus was selfless enough to take us in, and not just as guests, but as permanent residents. We think that cooking and cleaning is a sacrifice to be made in preparations for our guest’s arrival. Think of what Jesus had to do to prepare for us! We certainly couldn’t have made it to heaven if He hadn’t prepared us, if He hadn’t created a pathway that lead us there. He didn’t give up His comfort or His Saturday, He gave up His life. He didn’t fix us dinner, hand us sweet tea, and send us on our way, He fixed our broken souls, handed us eternity, and sent us to paradise. Southern hospitality is a fun and lovely thing by which all Southerners should grow up learning to abide. But we must realize that hospitality goes deeper than our ancestral roots and Southern pride. True hospitality is a sacrifice of oneself in imitation of and devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ.
As Matthew wrote, “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? …
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’