3 John 9-12 – On Hospitality and Against Being Inhospitable

Trinity by Russian artist Alek Rapoport (1933-1997)

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So, when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.

Dear friends, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true. (NIV)

I believe in an egalitarian world. That is, humanity is meant to live, ideally, in equity with one another. Humility, meekness, and gentleness are to be the inner dispositions of a person’s life. These virtues work themselves out in being concerned for the common good of all, laboring toward just and righteous ways of living for everyone and sharing our lives as well as our resources with each other. In short, viewing one another as equals inevitably leads to gracious hospitality.

However, in a world of power disparities and privileged inequities are attitudes of seeking attention, a perceived need to always win and be first, and tight-fisted control of authority and money. The common good of all persons is scaled back to be the concern for the common good of some. There is a failure to regard the weak, poor, and vulnerable as legitimate members of the community.

The Apostle John wrote his short succinct letter in a concern that the church may be following a leader who was taking them down a bad path – a road leading to injustice where power and privilege remain with a few, and perhaps even one. John’s plainspoken exhortation was to judge rightly between what is good and bad, and then imitate the good while forsaking the bad.

Hospitality is the true litmus test between the good and the bad. An openness to the stranger, the immigrant, the migrant, the alien, the foreigner, the newcomer, and the outsider characterizes authentic fellowship. Being closed to such persons and having a xenophobic bent to others who are different is the mark of unwelcoming and inhospitable people. Hospitality serves others, whereas being inhospitable cajoles others to serve our needs.

Even Jesus, the Lord of all, did not come to this earth for people to serve him. He came to serve others and to give his life to save many people (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; John 13:1-17). We are to imitate the loving service and radical hospitality of the Lord Jesus. He is our example. We are to imitate Christ.

We are to have both orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right practice). Both go together like a hand in a glove. Good actions are to be the result of good and proper beliefs. The following are some thoughts about this nexus between belief and practice:

  • Hospitality (which literally means “love of the stranger”) is a way of life fundamental to orthodox Christianity, based in the person and work of Jesus.
  • God is hospitable and loves the outsider, welcoming them into the dance of the Trinity, and provides for them. Our human hospitality is to reflect this divine welcome.
  • Hospitality means extending to another a kindness typically reserved for family or friends.
  • The teaching of the New Testament emphasizes the practice of hospitality, i.e. Luke 14:12-14; Matthew 25:31-46.
  • The consistent witness of the Church in history is to lift and uphold Christian hospitality. For example, the Reformer John Calvin said, “Whatever person you meet who needs your aid, you have no reason to refuse to help them.” This was no mere theoretical advice for Calvin, whose ministry center of Geneva, Switzerland swelled with French Huguenot refugees fleeing persecution. Calvin, always the theologian, grounded his understanding of hospitality in the divine: “We should not regard what a person is and what they deserve but we should go higher – that it is God who has placed us in the world for such a purpose that we be united and joined together. God has impressed the divine image in us and has given us a common nature, which should incite us to provide one for the other.”
  • Hospitality is a practice which integrates both respect and care. St. John Chrysostom warned his congregation to show “excessive joy” when offering hospitality to avoid shaming the recipient of care.
  • Biblical hospitality does not need to know all the details of someone’s life before extending care. If Christ forgave and healed those who injured him, how could we neglect even a starving murderer? 
  • True hospitality involves a face-to-face relationship of encouragement and respect – not just a distant giving of alms. Hospitable persons pay attention to others and share life with them.
  • The great twin concerns of hospitality are universalizing the neighbor and personalizing the stranger. One reason why many of the rich have little sympathy for the poor is because they seldom visit them. Hospitality depends on us recognizing our commonalities with strangers rather than our differences.
  • This is how we evaluate our hospitality: Did we see Christ in them? Did they see Christ in me?

Hospitable God:

Give us eyes to see the deepest needs of people.

Give us hearts full of love for our neighbors as well as for the strangers we meet.

Help us understand what it means to love others as we love ourselves.

Teach us to care in a way that strengthens those who are sick.

Fill us with generosity so we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give drink to the thirsty.

Let us be a healing balm to those who are weak and lonely and weary by offering our kindness to them.

May we remember to listen, smile, and offer a helping hand each time the opportunity presents itself. And may we conspire to create opportunities to do so.

Give us hearts of courage to risk loving our enemy.

Inspire us to go out of our way to include outsiders.

Help us to be welcoming and include all whom you send our way.

Let us be God’s hospitality in the world.

Amen.

A Conversation with Jesus

JesusEmmausFriends

If we want to know what worship truly looks like, the story of the two men talking with Jesus along the Emmaus road shows us (Luke 24:13-35). Worship is not just us talking, praying, and singing to God. Worship is meant to be a conversation between us and God – a dialogue in which we hear from God and reply to him. Worship, then, is both God’s revelation and the people of God’s response. 

The term “liturgy” describes what we do in worship.  Liturgy is a Greek term that means “the work of the people.”  Every church has a liturgy.  All gatherings of believers have some sort of prescribed ways of moving through their worship. Liturgy is not only a reference to more traditional forms of worship.  Contemporary styled worship may have less liturgical elements to it, but it still has a liturgy of several praise and worship choruses (in which the people know when to stand and sit), and an extended time of preaching. 

After Christ’s resurrection, it was Jesus who approached the men.  In this divine movement of liturgy, God is always the initiator of salvation and worship.  If it were not for God approaching us, most fully expressed in Christ’s incarnation of coming to this earth, then we have no hope.  Humanity in the vice grip of sin needs someone to help. So, when we begin worship, it is God himself who starts the conversation.  

Liturgy bumper sticker

As the two men continued with their conversation, Jesus engaged them in the Scriptures. He went to the Old Testament and explained to them what it had to say about the Christ. They heard from God. To understand Holy Scripture, we too, need to walk with Jesus and converse with him. Liturgy exists to encourage a relationship between us and God. It is designed to create space whereby God and God’s people can be in a meaningful dialogue with each other. 

Maybe it goes without saying, this means we must listen well. We cannot listen well if we our minds are wandering, and our hearts are somewhere else. Sometimes we intentionally make our lives overwhelmingly busy so that we either cannot or do not have time to listen to God. We might create noise and keep moving because we are much too uncomfortable with silence. We may not want to hear what is in our hearts. Getting to the place of relaxing enough to listen can seem, for some, like a daunting task. This is not a plea for you to do more (i.e. “hear more, listen better!”). It is really giving you permission to do less so that you can enjoy a conversation with Jesus.  A good place to begin is to practice the Sabbath, and use the day, not just the morning, to connect with God. 

Jesus became known to the two Emmaus friends through table fellowship.  It was at the table that the two men’s eyes were opened to who Jesus really was.  This would not have happened unless they were in meaningful conversation with Jesus.  Then, after Jesus left them, the two men were inspired in their going.  They went out as witnesses telling others of what they had seen and heard from their conversation with Jesus. 

Road to Emmaus by He Qi
“Road to Emmaus” by He Qi

In this liturgical rhythm, this conversation between us and God, the good news of Jesus is presented.  God first acts by seeking and desiring fellowship with us; God sent his Son, the living Word, to restore the fractured relationship – Jesus is the divine Word who has accomplished the restoration between us and God.  This revelation, this realization of what God has done for us in Christ begs a response from us. We praise him for wanting fellowship with us. Having glimpsed how holy God is, we realize how sinful we are, and, so we confess our sins to him. God, in his grace, forgives us our sin and assures us of our pardon. In our gratitude for that grace, we joyfully listen and live according to his Word. And, so, back-and-forth we go, with the liturgy proclaiming the gospel to us in a divine dialogue that blesses both us and God. 

Now, if you think about it, all of life is liturgical. We each have routines, habits, and life patterns that shape how we get things done. For example, in the first year of marriage, my wife and I experienced a clash of liturgies.  Her family had their ways of doing things, and my family had theirs.  I quickly learned what a proper liturgy was for folding towels. 

A worship liturgy is neither only for Sunday morning nor to be always within a church building. We can deliberately build spiritual rhythms and spiritual conversation throughout each day in our homes, at our jobs, and throughout our daily lives. For example, our daily call to worship is when we wake up, realizing that we have been called into wakefulness to enter praise for a new day. My own personal daily prayer when I get out of bed is:  

“Almighty God, thank you for bringing me in safety to this new day. Preserve me with your mighty power that I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity. In all I do today direct me to the fulfilling of your purposes through Jesus Christ my Lord.”   

Morning Bible

As we go through our day, we can recognize sin when it happens, and be quick to confess it and accept God’s forgiveness. We can be intentional about hearing from God, by creating space and setting aside time for reading Scripture. When our heads hit the pillow at night, we receive the blessing of God in sleep, until a new day begins. 

Whatever way we go about it, we have the privilege of developing spiritual rhythms and habits of approaching God, listening to God, and responding to God. And, we need to acknowledge that something can trip us up in this attempt to live a godly life. There are other secular liturgies that vie for our attention and our hearts. We just might be influenced as much or more by a different competing liturgy. For example, the shopping mall’s version of liturgy is to gather shoppers and develop practices of buying in us.  If we shop because we feel that we would have a better life with new clothes, or more stuff, we might have a competing liturgy working in our lives. If we feel we need to shop because there is something we lack in our personhood, as if we are not enough, then we just might have another liturgy that wants our loyalty over God. 

The point is not to avoid shopping malls (you have to anyway!); the point is to realize that there are competing loyalties to God’s kingdom, and that we are to be shaped as followers of Jesus as our primary commitment in life.  Our lives are to revolve around the person and work of Jesus, and so we must intentionally cultivate liturgical practices in our daily lives and train ourselves to be godly. 

Christianity is not merely a system of beliefs; it is a way of life.  The kind of habits that we develop in that life will determine what kind of disciples we will be.  So, we must choose well the kinds of routines that we need in order to walk well with Jesus and carry on a delightful conversation with him.