Why Hospitality is So Much Better Than Entertaining

*This is an excerpt from my book, Home Made Lovely.

In this post: There is a huge difference between Biblical hospitality and entertaining. Find out what it is and why one is better than the other. 


As we soon head into the Holiday season and prepare to welcome friends and family into our homes, I wanted to talk a bit about hospitality versus entertaining. 

One of my spiritual gifts actually is hospitality, despite the fact that I’m an introvert. (God totally has a sense of humor.) Because of that gift, I am entirely comfortable inviting others over for a meal to love on them by serving their favorite foods and making them feel comfortable in the sacred space that is our home base. 

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What is the original meaning of Hospitality?

The Greek word Philoxenia, literally translated as a “friend to a stranger,” is widely perceived to be synonymous to hospitality. For Greeks, it is much deeper than that. It is an unspoken cultural law that shows generosity and courtesy to strangers. [source]

But what does it mean now? Today?

Loving on people via lovely hospitality

We know food sensitivities well in our own family, so I’m good with tough dietary restrictions.

I keep decaf coffee on hand for my best friend in case she stops by because she doesn’t do caffeine.

I also keep throw blankets in a basket even in the summer, because my wonderful mother-in-law doesn’t love my air-conditioning.

We have five different kinds of sunscreen in a basket in case someone visits and has sensitive skin or need a higher SPF.

There is a stack of beach towels in the main floor powder room all summer, just in case you forgot your towel and want to go for a swim. (I have yet to stock extra bathing suits though, so you best remember that!)

I have a gazillion types of herbal tea for my herbal tea-loving friends, and I started keeping a supply of orange pekoe tea for my sister years ago, even though I don’t like it at all.

And our mug rack is full of monogrammed mugs for just about every person I know, and if I don’t have a letter when some come over, I usually order it for the next time they visit.

I am a big fan of loving others and inviting them into our home and everyday lives this way because it’s just so good for our souls. 

Striving for Perfection

But I also work in an industry that exalts beautiful spaces and over-the-top entertaining. I spend a lot of time on Instagram and Pinterest for my business as well as participating in virtual home tours with very talented people. There are gorgeous layered tables for Thanksgiving, perfectly coifed Christmas trees where every ornament is oh so perfectly placed, and the linen closets with labeled baskets and perfect little stacks of sheets and towels that never seem to get used.

Perfect, perfect, perfect. I am surrounded by all kinds of styled perfection and the expectations of others on a daily basis. And so are you if you’re on social media.

Unfortunately, all this striving for perfection has turned genuine hospitality into something it was never meant to be. 

While I admire her, Martha Stewart’s standards for hospitality and housekeeping are incredibly high. Much higher than I care to strive for. And actually, while the words hospitality and entertaining are often interchanged when discussing hosting people in our homes, they’re really not the same thing at all. 

In her flagship book Entertaining, Martha mentions, “Entertaining, like cooking, is a little selfish because it really involves pleasing yourself, with a guest list that will coalesce into your idea of harmony, with a menu orchestrated to your home, and taste and budget, with decorations subject to your own eye. Given these considerations, it has to be pleasureful” (emphasis mine).

Martha’s idea of having people over is self-serving and based on selfish motives – that the attention focuses on me, mine, look at me and my beautiful abode, it’s about your own plans and is focused on our own comfort rather than on the comfort of our guests. 

Unfortunately, it can be really easy to let a similar tone slip into our own hosting. But we should embrace the countercultural truth that our posture should be more one of honor and servanthood when most of what is considered hospitality now is, in fact, entertaining, and not hospitality at all! 

The Bible says, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1 Peter 4:9, NIV)

Comparison

Along with the feelings of inadequacy if our homes or gatherings aren’t Instagram-or Martha-worthy, are the very misleading feelings that we aren’t doing hospitality as well as our Christian sisters. You know, the wonderful women who can bake pies (I literally once set the oven on fire trying to bake a pie and have baked only one since) and serve up three-course meals with ease. The women who have an open-door policy and always have time for coffee (without reheating it five times in the microwave before they get to drink it). Who consistently have dinner in the slow cooker by 6:45 a.m. and never have dust bunnies blowing around like tumbleweeds. Who can make beans and rice seem like the most delicious meal on the planet. The ones who make even the Provers 31 woman look lazy. 

But guess what? You don’t have to do all those things. Or any of those things to practice the kind of hospitality that was important in Biblical times and that’s still important today. You really don’t!

Genuine Hospitality

Aside from wrongly thinking we have to achieve some impossible level of perfection with our hospitality, there are all sorts of excuses we tell ourselves so we don’t have to host:

  • I don’t know how to cook
  • I’m too busy
  • We can’t afford it
  • It’s too hard with kids
  • My house isn’t big enough

And on and on we go, repeatedly talking ourselves out of just doing it already, making little things into big things. 

But in Romans 12, Paul lists the marks of a true Christan. Things like “love must be sincere. Hate what is evil” (v.9). And in ver 12 he says, “Seek to show hospitality” (ESV). In other words, showing hospitality is one of the outward displays of a Christian life

The main principles of hospitality are the same as what Jesus defines as the greatest commandments in Matthew 22:36-40: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Radical hospitality has nothing to do with making the perfect centerpiece or baking pies. God can and will use you, right where you are to love on those around you.

By focusing first on the Audience of One (God), the pressure is off.

Hospitality becomes about welcoming and serving our guests. “here you are” versus “Here I am.” Serving others versus self-serving. “how can I love on you?” versus “Look at my shiny home.”

It’s all about the heart behind the actions. 

Where to Start 

01 | Begin with people you know well

Even though the Bible says we should be open and willing to show hospitality to strangers, you don’t have to start there. You can begin with the people closest to you. Make a meal for your family and set the table so that it’s beautiful and welcoming for them. Invite your neighbor over for a cup of coffee on the porch. Once you’ve got some practice under your belt, you can expand your hospitality circle. 

02 | Keep the food simple

Check out our recipes for easy dinner ideas. Make things that you know how to make and have made several times. Save trying new recipes for when you’ve had more practice. 

03| Invite before you’re ready

Don’t wait until everything is perfect or let discouragement over any past hospitality attempts get the better of you. Just ask people over. And don’t apologize for any perceived messes – your guests likely won’t even notice if you don’t draw attention to them. 

For Further Reading

You can check out the following resources: 

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