Build a Responsive Sympathy
Scriptures: 1 Timothy 3:1-7
by Jacob Abshire on February 13, 2023
When was the last time you invited a stranger into your home? Do you budget your time and resources to meet others in need? You may not know it, but this is an essential quality of the godly person. In our series on godly character, we have discussed the qualities of being above reproach, sexually pure, objectively thinking, self-disciplined, and dignified. Now, we want to turn our attention to how we can meet the needs of others in order to share the gospel with them.
“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”1 Timothy 3:1-7
What Does “Hospitable” Mean?
I anticipate that some of you men might be turned-off by the idea of hospitality. Maybe you’re thinking that it’s not manly enough, or maybe more suitable for women, since they are generally better at hosting and nurturing others. But, this characteristic is more than that. It is about sharing your life with those who are in need, not simply by making your home welcoming.
The practice of hospitality is seen early in the Bible, but never as definitive and compelling as when it is found in the OT Law where it says, “Treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and love them as you love yourself” (Lev. 19:34). And, here is the reason, “Because God showed you love when you were a stranger to Him” (Lev. 19:34; Deut. 10:19). Hospitality is showing love to strangers who are in need based on the love God has shown you.
Now, here’s a number of useful points to draw from this passage and others like it. For instance, it teaches us that hospitality is sympathetic to needs. It keeps a pulse on those who are nearby, in order to find someone who might be in need. It is also responsive. It is prepared to take action, to give from its resources in order to meet the need. And finally, it is purposeful. It recognizes that the end game is to express God’s love and put the gospel on display.
So, I’m calling this quality a responsive sympathy, because it calls us to be alert to those in need and respond to their needs by sharing our lives with them as if they belonged to our family. It is not entertaining guests or showing off with extravagant decor to earn someone’s approval, but meeting someone’s need with the end goal of sharing God’s love with them.
Help with Hospitality
Now, when thinking about our responsive sympathy as Christ followers, here are some ideas to consider. These will help you build this quality with the Lord’s help and guard you against the temptations that come with it.
First, it will not be easy because it is spiritual warfare. When people gather to share life with the intention of expressing God’s love and displaying the gospel, everything possible will try to get in your way. Your schedule might be disrupted, your body might be tired, your children might act up, your marriage might have a hiccup. Remember, the gospel flows upstream and the enemy doesn’t like hospitality.
Second, hospitality varies in its expressions. We often connect it with inviting strangers into our homes because life is most vividly expressed there, but you might be a guest in someone’s home. Or, you might bring along someone to grab some pizza or a cup of coffee. Maybe you are extending a car ride to a neighbor or sharing a seat next to a visitor during Sunday morning worship. Hospitality is more about how you share, than it is about what you do.
Third, hospitality is good for the giver. It keeps you accountable. Sharing life often means that you’re transparent before others. They get to see the real you, so it compels us to repent of sin and live below our means. Furthermore, it instructs our household. For instance, our children will witness gospel fluency and possibly witness unbelievers come to Christ over the dinner table. It may even be the tool that God uses to save those in your home.
If nothing else, building a responsive sympathy will make you a more personal person, particularly if you are a man. It will broaden your sphere of influence, cause you to be more selfless, and improve your witnessing confidence and skills. Being hospitable is a key quality to your godliness and ministry, in whatever form it takes. Here are five ways to help you build your responsive sympathy for the glory of God.
Schedule some time in your week to purposefully show love to strangers. Maybe you need to commit a budget for simple meals and explain to your family what you’re doing and why. And, set your aim on those who need to hear and see the gospel in action.
Spontaneously inviting someone over for lunch after church is a good beginning. Don’t overdo it. If you are going to barbecue, invite them to grill with you. Or, work it into your usual schedule. If you eat dinner each day at a certain time, invite them over for that time and make it part of your usual schedule.
This is the easiest way to show hospitality. Invite others, particularly those who do not have family in town, to join your family for a holiday dinner or activity. This is particularly useful if you have an unbelieving friend who needs the gospel. Holidays for believers are generally full of gospel exposure.
If there is something you already enjoy doing, invite someone to do it with you. If you like fishing, take someone with you who might enjoy it as well. Or, if you like to golf, hike, work on cars, bring someone along. Everyone likes to eat, so consider taking someone to lunch or inviting them to your home for a meal.
God has designed hospitality to be a tool for gospel ministry. Practicing hospitality is good, but it is better when it is saturated with the power and blessing of God. Pray for opportunities. Pray for resources. Pray for others. And, don’t forget to pray for those with whom you have shared the love of God. You may not see it at work at the moment, but hospitality has a strong, lasting effect.