“Prevenient Grace”: The Theological Term for “Hospitality”

Part I of our series on Opening Your Home

Two Greek words in the New Testament are rendered in English as “hospitality.”

The first is philoxenia (used here, here, here, here, and here) which literally means “lover of strangers.”  In other words, according to the Bible, hospitality doesn’t refer to us hosting our friends and family well.

It refers to us opening up our homes to people we’ve never met.

A second Greek word for hospitality, xenodocheo (used here) is a compound of xenos, which means “stranger,” or “someone without the knowledge of, without a share in,” and dechomai, which means “receive,” “accept,” “take with the hand,” “give ear to,” “embrace,” or even “to receive into one’s family to bring up or educate.”  Hospitality, then, extends even to taking by the hand and embracing into one’s family the other who has no share in or knowledge of one’s own identity and life and values.

Our first instinct is to think about this in terms of ourselves. Could I accept into my home someone who does not share in or know my identity, life, and values?  This is a great question…but it’s not where we want to start. Instead, we start by asking, “How did Christ first perform this Work of Mercy on me?”

When we think about things this way, we see that God accepts into his home a race of people (us) who do not share in or know his identity, life, and values.

Theologically, we have a name for this Work of Mercy of God. We call it prevenient grace.

But before we dive into that, let’s take a step back and ask what we mean when we talk about hospitality. A great definition comes from David Gushee in his review of a great book, Making Room: Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, by Christine Pohl:

This is the biblical meaning of hospitality—making room for the stranger, especially those in most acute need. Such care must not be reduced to mere social entertaining nor may it be self-interested and reciprocal; instead, biblical hospitality reaches out to the abject and lowly and expects nothing in return. Hospitality is not optional, nor should it be understood as a rare spiritual gift; instead, it is a normative biblical practice that is learned by doing it.

Hospitality, or its lack, was immediately apparent in the towns and cultures of the ancient world. As biblical historian Rodney K. Duke notes, in the absence of a professional hospitality industry, the survival of the traveler really did depend entirely upon the kindness of strangers:

The plight of aliens was desperate. They lacked membership in the community, be it tribe, city-state, or nation. As an alienated person, the traveler often needed immediate food and lodging. Widows, orphans, the poor, or sojourners from other lands lacked the familial or community status that provided a landed inheritance, the means of making a living, and protection. In the ancient world the practice of hospitality meant graciously receiving an alienated person into one’s land, home, or community and providing directly for that person’s needs.

That’s exactly what God does for the human race as a whole and for us individually!

On a day-by-day basis, we usually have very little awareness of how completely desperate our plight is without God’s moment-by-moment hospitality!  In our next post, we’ll explore God’s hospitality to the Israelites and the entire human race.

For now, though, stop and ponder: How did God show his hospitality to you today?

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is also the International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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2 Responses to “Prevenient Grace”: The Theological Term for “Hospitality”

  1. Pingback: The Host-Like Grace of God | Rev. Eric Foley

  2. Pingback: Why the Private, Personal “Sinner’s Prayer” is Completely Unbiblical | Rev. Eric Foley

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