Book Review: The Hospitality Commands, by Alexander Strauch

Review
12.30.2010

Our culture is increasingly individualistic and isolated. We drive through banks and pay at the pump for gas, often intentionally avoiding human contact. We’re told that success means “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps,” and that needing others is a weakness. We quickly forget that even the Lone Ranger didn’t travel alone.

We have been created for relationships. God noted that it was not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18), and Scripture reminds us that “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil” (Eccl. 4:9-12). Though we are saved as individuals, we are saved into a community that stands as a light in the darkness. Jesus said that it would be by our love for one another that the world would know that we are his (John 13:35).

As a pastor, indeed, as a Christian, I am saddened whenever I hear a church—whether ours or someone else’s—described as cold or unwelcoming. I’m saddened that we don’t welcome more people, both insiders and outsiders, into our homes. Many believers have allowed our culture’s individualism to color our view of church, and we have lost a sense of community in the process.

In his book The Hospitality Commands, Alexander Strauch has written a clear and passionate plea for believers to regain this sense of community. He does so by focusing on hospitality, noting that the lack of hospitality in many churches is not only “loveless,” it is “outright disobedience to the clear commands of Scripture.” Yet hospitality only flourishes in the soil of love, and Strauch carefully examines and applies the Scriptures in order to foster both love and hospitality.

LOVE AND EVANGELISM

Strauch develops the idea of Christians as family, not “merely because they share similar ideas, interests and circumstances, but because they share the life of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:10). Love is the key to hospitality and Christians must love one another as evidence that we love God (1 John). It is love for God and for others that marks true believers, and this love will naturally express itself in acts of hospitality.

While many assume that evangelism always means going somewhere, Strauch reminds us that the home can be one of the most powerful and effective tools of evangelism. He examines the early church’s use of homes as a base for ministry and reminds us that the simple act of opening one’s home is a powerful testimony, partly because it is so rare.

COMMANDS TO BE HOSPITABLE

The heart of the book is a consideration of Scriptural commands to practice hospitality. Strauch lovingly demonstrates how these commands are natural expressions of a heart changed by God, and he is careful to let Scripture speak for itself and convict where necessary. By examining several clear Scriptural commands, Strauch develops the thesis that our lack of hospitality is actually disobedience. Strauch does an excellent job demonstrating just how much Scripture has to say on this often neglected topic.

Strauch considers some more subtle aspects of hospitality as well. Few churches would consider hospitality a prerequisite for a pastor, but Scripture does (1 Tim. 3:2). Caring for God’s people cannot be done from a distance. It is rare that a congregation progresses beyond its leaders. If pastors are inhospitable, the local church will be inhospitable. Leaders must first open their homes if we expect our people to open theirs.

Strauch also calls attention to the biblical connection between church discipline and hospitality. In several places, the New Testament calls on churches to refuse hospitality to false teachers and unrepentant sinners (e.g. 1 Cor. 5:11; 2 John 10). The significance of this is easily lost on an individualistic culture. But exclusion from the community sends a powerful message. Of course, it is only when local churches foster biblical community that the true impact of the command to refuse hospitality can be felt. Many of our churches miss the significance of discipline because they miss the significance of community in the first place.

PUTTING HOSPITALITY INTO PRACTICE

Strauch concludes with helpful hints for practicing hospitality, moving from the abstract to the practical. It is here that Strauch’s heart is evident. He not only wants readers to see that Scripture commands hospitality, he wants to aid us in pursuing that goal. Some of these practical tips include

  • Plan ahead. Unless you plan for hospitality, it probably won’t be a priority.
  • Make a list of people who might be encouraged by your hospitality and start here.
  • Start with your neighbors in using hospitality as an outreach.
  • Don’t forget the holiday season as they are difficult times for many.
  • Collect and file simple and inexpensive recipe ideas. Remove the excuse of expense.
  • Be interested in people’s lives. Learn key questions for meaningful conversation.
  • Be creative in activities for guests. After a meal, take a walk, pray, or even sing. Keep things interesting.
  • Ask your church leaders to teach on the topic of hospitality.
  • Pray that God would give you joy in serving. Confess the selfishness, pride and disobedience that so often hinders us from opening our homes to others.

While this book is short and easy to read (and comes with a helpful study guide), it is also powerful, staying close to Scripture and demonstrating not only the need for hospitality but offering help implementing it. It is both an indictment and an encouragement. It rebukes our churches’ neglect of hospitality, while also encouraging and equipping us to practice it. This is a valuable resource for leaders and lay people alike who want to move beyond surface-level relationship to true biblical community.

By:
Brent Thomas

Brent Thomas is the Lead Pastor of Church of the Cross, a non-denominational church in the Glendale, Arizona area.