This evening (3 September 2021), we’ll see the online launch of Graceworks’ video series, The Friendship Way, as part of the Biblical Graduate School of Theology’s launch of their microlearning portal, Theology for Life. It’s significant that our first offering is about spiritual friendship; it is our DNA, after all. But we learned it from the best Teacher, just as the Apostle Paul did,
Christian friendships formed between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, rich and poor testify clearly to God’s ability to create unity and friendship amidst great diversity. Paul’s strategy was to articulate how God’s hospitality in Christ created a common identity for all his churches, a welcome that transformed them from enemies and outsiders into friends and family—both with God and with one another. (Joshua W. Jipp, Saved by Faith and Hospitality [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017], 70)
The life-giving nature of hospitality was brought home (pun unintended) to us this week as we feasted on friendship at the table, both ours and our friend’s. The very nature of our vocation often includes groups that come for mentoring over a meal. While we enjoy that immensely, we walk a fine line between working and befriending, and do sometimes feel depleted. Earlier this week, we were blessed with an opportunity to relax and to share an extended tea with a dear couple who, in many ways, mentor us through their lives and ministry. Ps David and his wife Jenny graced our home with their godliness in walk and talk. We were able to resonate with many of their life experiences and equally lamented those times when other cultures/societies saw fellowshipping in the home as invasions of privacy.
An evening later, we were sharing an intimate dinner with friends who were planning to enter a new season in their lives. It was such a joy and privilege to feed, fellowship with, and find out more about them.
Yesterday was the icing on the cake! We were hosted by another dear friend who is more like a “comrade in crime” when it comes to thinking up ways to show hospitality. He now has a hideaway that will be used to return shalom to those in need of quiet in the manic busyness that is endemic in Singapore. We shared a meal in his home surrounded by lush greenery and the comforting calls of magpies, hornbills and a whole myriad of other bird species. Food was ordered in and the conversation just flowed.
I’m so glad that we know many in Singapore and Malaysia who readily welcome others into their homes (the Lows, the Thongs, the Wongs, the Yeos…), but if you think we’re all extroverts who gain energy from being in a crowd, I must disabuse you of that notion. I am an introvert to the max and I love nothing better than being left to my own devices. But as Dustin Willis and Brandon Clements write in their book, The Simplest Way to Change the World (Chicago, IL: Moody, 2017),
Half of all people identify as introverts, so if you are one, we realize you may be thinking, Yeah, but I really can’t practice—I don’t want to practice—hospitality because I’m an introvert. It would be too draining. Please don’t read this book thinking the message is, Force yourself to be an extrovert because of the gospel! Please don’t let your personality type be a barrier to living out a God-ordained calling that is actually tailor-made to suit your personality type.… I have found that inviting one person (or a couple of people) to my house where we enjoy quality time together, have good conversation, and experience a volume level that never gets too stressful is actually totally my speed (and completely fills the bill of hospitality!). (p. 31–32)
I had lessons very early in my adult life from someone who was hardwired for showing hospitality. And it’s not about being able to do this because one is comfortably well-off and can afford to entertain. She was not rich by worldly material standards and, as a widow, lived a very simple life herself. But whether you were a professor or a pauper, she would still offer her best when you came to our home. The table would be set with her best crockery and cutlery, but better yet would be the home-made dishes and desserts you would partake of—not always fancy versions of current culinary favourites, but always infused with love and made to her own exacting standards. This was my first mom-in-law, from whom I learnt how to show the accepting love of God through a welcoming, hospitable home. She was my shining widow of Zarephath!
So, can just about anyone provide a safe space for life-giving conversations and extending the hand of friendship? You betcha! And if God’s people can see beyond the socio-cultural binaries and take hold of our common humanity, how much more appealing will be our message of hope and salvation?
But, for Paul, they are emphatically not the basis for our individual or communal identity, our moral reasoning and behavior, or the corporate constitution of our churches. Thus to privilege men over women, or married over single, or one ethnicity over another in the church is to fail to heed the social significance of Christ’s welcome and friendship as the ground of the church’s identity. (Jipp, 72)
And, when you least expect it, you find yourselves entertaining angels unawares. Just before Ps David and Jenny left our home, he showed us five places in his photo album for 2021 where we featured in his memories for the year. Ah, the friendship way…