My sabbatical came to an end last week and I was left reflecting on the wonderful time that I had enjoyed and the astonishing sights that I had seen. The trip to Australia was a particular highlight. I loved seeing kangaroos on my opening night and breathtaking coastal scenes throughout the trip alongside the richness of experiencing a different culture. As I looked back and considered all of this another thought struck me- all that I had experienced and the refreshment that I had enjoyed was down to the generosity of others.
The hospitality and welcome that I received in Australia were outstanding- warm, easy going and immensely generous. I am not great at being on the receiving end of hospitality and so the fact that I enjoyed myself tremendously speaks of how good it was. Actually, my experience seems to have been typical. My brother’s family spoke of moving to Melbourne and being offered temporary use of a house and car by a church that didn’t really know them at all. There was an open handed generosity there. I suspect that such openness might represent a cultural difference between Australia and the UK, where open relationships take much longer time to build. One of the things that is essential for the Christian is to develop an ability to critique one’s own culture rather than simply absorb it. If it is true that an Englishman’s home is his castle (complete with moat and drawbridge that makes it impossible to enter) then the Christian Englishman will need to repent of ingrained cultural tendencies.
Of course, hospitality can be a tricky one in that it comes to some more naturally than others. One good friend speaking of my bachelor pad noted that my “attempts at hospitality were…endearing.” But in some ways there is a danger if hospitality is simply boiled down to an ability to provide something more than a badly cooked pizza. Of far more significance is the underlying attitude of heart. And what seems to be commended throughout the New Testament is an open handed generosity.
There is to be an open approach when it comes to our possessions. “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:42). The problem with that saying from the Lord Jesus is that our instinct is to say “Yes- but what if that means our stuff gets lost/damaged/not returned etc?” To which the answer is- there are much bigger dangers in life than your stuff getting damaged. Being mean, defensive and disobeying Christ is much more serious.
We are to be open to personal inconvenience. It is in the verse prior to the one mentioned above where Jesus speaks about going the extra mile. It can be very easy to limit our love to the extent that it remains personally convenient. But Jesus won’t have that. For most of us, our most valuable commodity is time because it feels the most scarce. Open handed love will involve being generous with time. It is why busyness is so often the price of compassion.
The repeated biblical commands to offer hospitality must indicate an openness with regard to our homes. These are, after all, not ours but a gift from God and so it is appropriate that they be shared with others.
But lastly there is to be an openness of life. Paul’s model of ministry amongst the Thessalonians is instructive: “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the Gospel of God but our lives as well.” (1 Thess 2:8). A concern for his privacy and an emotional reserve that hides his heart do not seem to feature strongly in Paul’s leadership manual. Instead he is marked by an openness that gives of himself to others.
All of this is quite challenging for a reserved English introvert to write. But, as I wrote previously, we need to face down the weaknesses of our personality type and a significant drawback for the introvert is the tendency to regard others as a threat against whom we must defend ourselves. No- we are called to be open and generous. Because, ultimately we want- in the right sense- to be like God. For the God who is perfectly content within Himself and needs no-one else is also the ultimate example of what it is to be open, even at great cost to Himself. We are at our best when we imitate Him.