• Cole Feix

When to Love & When to Rebuke: The Wisdom of Hospitality


A couple of weeks ago I came across an article I’ve been thinking about ever since. Over at the Gospel Coalition, Karen Swallow Prior published a piece titled, “Christian Hospitality in the Age of ‘They’re Not Welcome Anymore, Anywhere.’” Prior is an English professor at Liberty University and writes all over the place. I’m looking forward to diving into her new book, On Reading Well, when it comes out in September.


Reflecting on the Red Hen event, and others that followed, where Sarah Huckabee Sanders was refused service because of her role in the Trump administration, Prior explores a thorny question - where is the line between loving your neighbor and standing up for what’s right? We’ve probably all wondered this. Does loving your neighbor mean you can never say something is wrong? Christians cannot afford to silently acquiesce to the demands of the culture, and at the same time, the Bible is very clear that one of our salt-and-light qualities is loving our neighbors.


Prior tells a story of confronting an abortion doctor in a checkout line. While she had routinely protested outside abortion clinics, she had never actually come face to face with one of the people whose work she was opposing. I’d encourage you to read the story to find out what happened. What caught my attention was her discussion of hospitality.


It’s been alarming over the past few weeks to read coverage and watch videos of people being inhumane to each other just because they’re in opposing parties, groups, and factions. Unfortunately, it’s normal to see people being cruel to each other on social media - which is a problem of its own - but it’s pretty shocking to watch videos of it happening in real life. We’ve come to a point where our best opportunity to look different is through showing hospitality.


What is hospitality?

In the Bible, hospitality is a central virtue, from the story of Abraham entertaining strangers who turn out to be angels to Paul admonishing the Romans to help the weak to Jesus knocking on the door of the church at Laodicea in Revelation. Paul lists hospitality as a spiritual gift in 1 Corinthians 12. Although this word is used only one time, this concept appears throughout the NT to encourage believers to help the weak (1 Thess. 5:14), to look after the less mature (Rom. 15:1), and to give what they have to others (Acts 20:35). All of this rests on top of Jesus’ revolutionary command, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.


So what should we do? It’s easiest for us to gravitate toward one extreme or the other. We either want to be all rebuke or all hospitality. Biblically and practically, this is impossible. Prior writes, “In a free society, we are called both to live peaceably with one another and to hold one another accountable for violating principles that we believe to undermine society.” It is never the case that we can be loving without drawing any boundaries of any kind. This is nonsensical. What is most important is how we treat people who have crossed the line.


Here’s the difference between Christian hospitality and what we see going on right now in the restaurant wars. As Maxine Waters so beautifully demonstrated as she called for people everywhere to harass and refuse service to anyone associated with Trump, we’re wired to show kindness to those we like and hatred toward those we don’t. This is not hospitality. Hospitality has to occur in the context of difference. Loving your enemy means you actually have to have enemies! Showing hospitality to a guest means they are not the type of person who would typically be in your house. The beauty of Christian hospitality, and what sets us apart, is that we are called to set distinctions by drawing clear lines and taking truthful stances, and then love across the lines. It does us no good to pretend that we have no disagreements with our opponents. But it makes our love all the more potent.


So we have to learn to live with this tension. We live in a society where it is becoming impossible to disagree about something and still show hospitality. As Christians, we reject that. We’ll show the world what that looks like. Here are some things to think about.


Let’s make our default hospitality.

When in doubt, be hospitable. I want to make an important distinction between love and hospitality. Love is a bigger category than hospitality. Some things are loving, like rebuke done the right way, that are not necessarily hospitable. Hospitality is taking active steps to show friendship and kindness to an outsider. This should be our default. If we’re known for something, this should be it. Whether we rebuke or show hospitality, we always love. It takes wisdom to know what to do. We will rarely err if we default to loving through hospitality. This can be as simple as having someone into your home, sharing something you have, or finding someone to listen to and include.


Let’s rebuke out of care and compassion.

Love never rejoices in wrongdoing. There are going to be times we have to stand up for what’s right, but it’s vital that we do so out of care for other people, not simply care about the issues. A well-reasoned argument is worthless if it doesn’t come from a place of compassion. As Christians, this is our burden, sin is utterly destructive. If sin were merely an arbitrary distinction between good and bad choices, who would care enough to rebuke someone about anything? But sin captures people and enslaves them. If we care about people, we desperately want to see them walk with Christ.


I’ll never forget a sermon I heard John Piper preach a few years ago. At the end of the sermon, he asked everybody, when was the last time you pleaded with somebody to leave their sin and follow Christ. He said, I’m not talking about arguing with them or trying to convince them; when was the last time you just pleaded because you love them and you want what’s best for them. This is our posture, even in rebuke.


Let’s keep the goal in mind.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the goal is not to win points, grandstand, virtue signal, or build a following. The goal is transformation. Hospitality done right turns enemies into friends. Listening to Maxine Waters, the owner of the Red Hen, and the people demanding that Scott Pruitt resign would lead you to believe that the goal is keeping enemies enemies. We have a greater goal. Hospitality is a smoothly paved road to evangelism, and its life-giving along the way. When we rebuke, show hospitality, or love our enemies, let’s ask the question, what’s our goal?


A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.

Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear.

Proverbs 25:11-12




Cole Feix is the founder of So We Speak and a regular writer. Follow him on Twitter, @cfeix7.


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