As lovely as the marriage bed is, eventually you will have to climb out of it in order to raid the fridge. Eating food is basic to our existence. It’s essential nature and ultimate meaning points to Jesus, who gives His life as bread to the world.
That makes our own sharing of food one of the most important Christian virtues. The practice of household hospitality reflects God’s invitation to enter His house and eat at His table.
Here, at Jesus’ table, we learn what the table – and what the food on it – is for. Jesus sets the pattern.
First, eating with Jesus means restoration and acceptance. We see this in John 21:4-19 where Peter, who had denied Jesus, is formally welcomed back into the fold through the sharing of a meal at the beach.
Our supper at Jesus table is also the place where the covenant is renewed and fellowship restored with God and His people. Hospitality, therefore, creates the opportunity for communion.
Where communion between a married man and woman takes place in the privacy of an inner sanctuary to the exclusion of all others, hospitality represents a communion between households.
From the Garden of Eden to the Tree of Life in Revelation, shared food is a sign of the covenant.
Food sets the boundaries of our fellowship. And so, the dinner table Is a place of discipline and discipleship where manners are learned. It is also a fundamental expression of brotherly love (1 Peter 4:8-11; Hebrews 13:1-2).
Secondly, eating with Jesus means partnering in His mission. Having been restored and renewed in His fellowship with Jesus, Peter is then commissioned. Having been fed, Peter is then told to go and feed others.
Hospitality, therefore, establishes an opportunity to bear witness. Food shared is a witness to the goodness of God who welcomes strangers in.
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In the early church, hospitality was something much more demanding, more radical than today.
Hospitality involved not only entertaining people in the home but giving travellers a place to stay, helping others through difficult financial and family crises, and providing for others’ needs.
Julian, a Roman Emperor, complained that Christianity was spreading and had become an embarrassment to the state, in large part because of its hospitality. He said,
It is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galileans support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.
The fact that the spread of Christianity and the cause of the spread was observable, even by the highest authority in the land, was a witness to the central place and power of hospitality.
This is not surprising when we consider that hospitality was a core virtue of a qualified elder in the church (1 Timothy 3:2).
But the early church fathers also said that individual believers were supposed to imitate this same hospitality. So, early church father, John Chrysostom, said to his own church…
Even if a needy person could be fed from common church funds, ought you not do likewise? If another man prays, does it follow that you no longer need to?
He urged his parishioners to make a guest-chamber in their own houses, a place set apart for Christ. A place set aside which you could welcome the stranger and the needy in.
In an era before Holiday Inn and Big Four caravan parks, travellers were ordinarily dependent on local church hospitality. Chrysostom’s church in Antioch, with the little they had, cared for three thousand widows and virgins daily and, in addition, cared for those in prison, the sick, and the disabled, and those far away from their own homes.
The church also provided food and clothing for those who came ‘casually’ every day.
Interestingly, when Inns started to take over this function and turn it into a money-making proposition in the 16th century, many in the church saw it as a sign of human depravity.
Thirdly, eating with Jesus means partnering in His death. In the restoration of Peter, he not only enjoys fellowship with God through food and is commissioned for service, but he is also called to lay down his own life.
Eating with Jesus has consequences.
Jesus came eating and drinking, and much of His mission of calling others to repentance occurred around the dinner tables of ordinary Jews living ordinary lives, eating ordinary food.
But Jesus was more than just an example to be followed. Jesus was and is Bread. Bread, broken and shared.
Hospitality, therefore, sets forth the necessity of sacrifice. The gospel is an invitation to come to Jesus’ house and have supper. To come have your feet washed. But it also an invitation to share in His death and resurrection.
Jesus came to fill the hungry with good things, and He did it through sacrificial service grounded in love.
And as strange as it may seem to us, when we start doing the same: When our table manners are consistent with His, when they are sacrifice and love, the gospel is being preached and adorned in our lives. And people are drawn to Christ, not because, “we were nice, and kind and loving”, (though this is hopefully true), but because all true Hospitality, all food at the table, along with it’s Christian graces, points directly and unmistakably to the sacrificial death of Jesus as the means of life.
What do you do when you live in a culture where, because of a prior Christian culture, many of these forms of hospitality (think soup kitchens, widows pensions and caravan parks) have been put in place?
Well, we can restore the practice of household hospitality.
All we need to do is open our own doors and set our own tables in humble obedience to Christ and genuine love for the stranger within our gates. The food need not be fine, and the accommodation need not be 5 stars.
Better a dry crust eaten in peace than a house filled with feasting and strife with it. (Proverbs 17:1)
Some think that godliness is tied to the stinginess of the portions. They worry about gluttony. But God has also given us wine and beer; olives, apricots and rib-eye steak cooked medium-rare.
Whatever the menu, our food should be thoughtful of the guest. It should be generous in spirit. And the manner in which it should be eaten is thankfulness, simplicity and humility.