Hospitality Series: What is hospitality?

With events from Super Bowl parties to holiday celebrations right around the corner, all this week we will be bringing you a variety of insights, tips, stories, resources and, of course, recipes in our Hospitality Series. Enjoy!

My husband Joel and I were part three of a past-present-future-themed progressive dinner party this spring. This meant the partygoers, all fellow volunteers at an English as a Second Language program in our Chicago neighborhood, had appetizers at one apartment, where the food and decorations had a “past” theme, then moved to another for dinner.

We were tasked with serving futuristic desserts in our very vintage newlywed apartment, furnished almost entirely with pieces we’ve found in thrift stores, on Craiglist and in our parents’ basements. At least one bookshelf my very resourceful husband hammered together from old doors he found in alleyways.

For the record, Joel and I both love offering hospitality. We both love having people over and talking to them and cooking for them and showing them weird movies and making them feel at home in our home.

After the past and present parties, though, I was starting to feel a little insecure.

Both were in clean, newly-rehabbed apartment buildings. Our apartment building, which we’d moved into less than a year before this particular party, after we were married, dates back to the 1880′s and hasn’t been very well maintained. The linoleum is peeling up in our bathroom, and there always seems to be a thin layer of dirt over everything, no matter how often I clean.

But then, our guests arrived. And when one of them settled into the rocking chair in our living room, a third-generation hand-me-down from a friend, he said, “It just feels really good in here.”

That’s the point of hospitality. And that’s where it differs from “entertaining,” according to Karen Ehman of Proverbs 31 Ministries.

Ehman wrote in her 2006 book A Life That Says Welcome,

Entertaining puts the emphasis on you and how you can impress others. Offering hospitality puts the emphasis on others and strives to meet their physical and spiritual needs so that they feel refreshed, not impressed, when they leave your home.”

That’s a lesson she said she’s learned the hard way since marrying into a family of caterers and interior decorators and bed-and-breakfast proprietresses. That’s why she wrote the book, she said in a phone conversation earlier this summer with Start Marriage Right.

Ehman’s own mother had been an excellent cook—she worked in food service, even—but she also worked full-time to make ends meet as a single parent to two teenagers. That didn’t leave much time for modeling hospitality or for cooking lessons, she said. And when she married her husband, she only had been a Christian for about five years. He was a youth pastor, and their first home, “an un-airconditioned apartment the size of a postage stamp.” But, she said, “I knew that was something you were supposed to do.”

The Greek word philoxenia, which literally means “the love of strangers” and is translated into English as “hospitality,” appears several times in the New Testament, Ehman said. It appears as a requirement for those in church leadership in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:8. It also appears in 1 Peter 4:9, in which St. Peter commands Christians, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling,” the same way the Bible commands Christians elsewhere not to lie, she said. Commands, she emphasized, not suggests. “Unfortunately,” Ehman said,

I set off in the wrong direction, trying to impress everybody. That’s when God taught me a really big lesson between what the world calls entertaining and the Bible calls hospitality. I knew He would bless my efforts even if they were very feeble and I didn’t know what I was doing, and He did. I have wonderful memories from when we were first married, even if we were just having people over for takeout pizza and ice cream sandwiches. The friendships that were forged and the people I got to know who were discipling me through their lives—that would have never happened if I had remained in that place of fear and of comparison.”

And that’s important, she said. “Offering hospitality to other Christians, using what we have with an open hand, is part of being the body of Christ,” she said. “And to those who don’t know Christ, it’s a glimpse of who He is,” she said.

After all, Ehman said, “He offered us hospitality first when, in the person of Jesus Christ, God came to Earth to offer us a home forever.”

What’s stopping you from offering hospitality to others?

RECIPE: Southwestern Chicken Lasagna (A clever new twist on an old favorite. A crowd pleaser!)

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

2 14.5-ounce cans crushed tomatoes

14-ounce jar mild picante sauce (or salsa)

1 package taco seasoning mix

16-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed

2 large egg whites

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 package lasagna noodles, uncooked

2 cups chopped, cooked chicken

4-ounce can diced mild green chili peppers

8-ounce package shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Mix first four ingredients in a large bowl. Add beans, stirring lightly. In a separate bowl, mix egg whites and ricotta cheese. Set aside. Spread 1 cup of the bean sauce over the bottom of a greased 9-by-13 pan. Top with five uncooked noodles, overlapping slightly. Sprinkle with half the chilies followed by half of the chopped chicken. Spread ricotta mixture on next. Sprinkle on half the cheese. Add five more noodles, the rest of the chilies, chicken, sauce, and cheese. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 40–45 minutes until noodles are fully cooked. Cool slightly before serving. Top with sour cream. Serves 8–10.

Recipe credit: Karen Ehman



Emily McFarlan Miller is an awards-winning education reporter and adventurer, a social media-er, a Christian, a Chicagoan and, as of May 2011, the unlikeliest of newlyweds. Mostly, she writes. Connect with her at


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