Why Trinity? Why Hospitality?
I would propose that when the majority of good-Bible-believing-Christians hear the word “God,” they don’t also hear ‘Trinity’ in all its glorious unity, distinction and mystery. I would also assert the Christian “God” we conceive isn’t as vast or glorious in our fallen evangelical minds as he is in reality. Eastern Orthodox believers would say the Triune God is in a continual, perichoretic dance. While potentially blasphemous to a Baptist’s ears, this picture presents us with a bigger imaginative story, and bigger love within the imminent Trinity than we might have first conceived. Ultimately, I believe our small view of God impacts the way we view the gospel, ourselves, others, God’s mission and Biblical hospitality. While the explicit focus of this project will be slanted towards a deeper understanding of Christian hospitality, we will also explore the broader impacts of a more robust trinitarian theology in our lives. While the Greek word for hospitality ‘philoxenia’ (φιλοξενία), connotating a “generous and gracious treatment of guests,” only shows up seven times in the New Testament, its heartbeat spans both testaments. Simply put, the heart of hospitality is relationship, and ultimately the hospitality of God is Him giving us himself. Within Himself, God is the perfect community that perfectly models sacrificial and servant hearted love.
In Rosaria Butterfields profound book, ‘The Gospel Comes with a Housekey’, she recounts the profoundly simple way she was brought into the Kingdom as a former lesbian feminist through regular dinners at a pastor’s house. For Butterfield, “hospitality is the ground zero of the Christian faith,” and I heartily agree. Over a kitchen table filled with food, a person’s guard is softened as they experience a tangible filling of love. Some of my favorite times in life were when I, as a college student myself, had 25-40 people over for dinner on a Saturday night after a church service. The night represented a weekly open invite to anyone who desired to come. From nerds to jocks, a variety of people showed up (even international students) and everyone was welcome.
In the context of widespread persecution, the author of Heb. 13:2 reminds a fledgling church community to not stop showing hospitality. I believe now, maybe more than ever, hospitality is critical for those Christians living in the United States. Hospitality is more than just cooking, it’s a decision towards relational openness and vulnerability. In my church context I currently oversee the Greeting Team ministry and I’m always looking for ways to encourage my team’s willingness to serve, and I believe table fellowship could be the way forward. One day in the future I hope to return to some level of pastoral ministry in the church and I see hospitality as a primary way of community engagement. For now, my wife and I have witnessed firsthand the power of sharing food with neighbors and what this does for deeper conversations. In this project I hope to walk away with deeper hospitality convictions and application for Portland in 2021. In this project we will make observations of God within himself (in what theologians call the immanent trinity), God’s hospitality towards us and our hospitality towards others.
Hospitality and Service Within the Trinity
“God is Trinity primarily for himself and only secondarily for us.”
God exists in three distinct persons, yet there is only one God. Father, Son and Spirit being unique within themselves are in unending, triumphant relationship with each other. Each member seeks to serve without the need to first be served. Reeves writes that “The Triune God is the love behind all love, the life behind all life, the music behind all music, the beauty behind all beauty and the joy behind all joy.” Unlike pagan ANE gods, the God as revealed in the Bible is intrinsically love within himself. If there was no time, no universe, no creation, it would be of no matter. He would be loved. He wouldn’t be alone. Fred Sanders states that “Imagining God without the world is one way to highlight the freedom of God in creating.” God is fully complete within his own divine community of love. This is a most foundational truth for the Christian to grasp. As God is free of need, He can pursue others without need or agenda. In this Trinitarian community, all God ever needed is found within himself, freeing Him up from seeking affirmation somewhere outside of himself (Ps. 115:3). Humans often talk about ‘finding themselves’ to be made whole, when the God of the Bible is intrinsically ‘whole’. While we can mentally misplace or forget God’s particular provision to us over our lifetime, God the Holy Spirit searches and finds the deep things of God in perfect unity with his desires (1. Cor 2:10).
We can only know something of the ‘imminent’ life of God because he has chosen to reveal himself to us ‘economically’. Wayne Grudem writes that, “The only distinctions between the members of the Trinity are in the ways they relate to each other and to the creation.” We know from John 1:1 that the incarnate Son was with God before the foundation of the world in intimate relation with God the Father. Like a good Father, God glorified the Son with his very self in relationship to him (17:5). God the Father was loving God the Son with a perfect love (17:24) while sharing his glory with him (17:22). “The relationships of the Trinity are relationships of love. They are marked by devotion to the others.” Jesus affirmed that all he had was the Fathers and all the Father had was the Sons (17:10). Before creation, God, in his own presence, felt “an overwhelming sense of joy, fulfillment and pleasure,” as he served himself (Ps. 16:11). Prior to God creating humanity, God the Spirit was hovering over the darkness (Gen. 1:2), possibly imagining what could be as He Hovered over the deep void. The Father is spoken of in scripture as the ‘sender’ of the Son who in turn does all the Father commands him to do (John 14:31). “God the father is preeminently the one who plans and ordains and initiates the course of history and the events that take place.” All things have been graciously handed over to the Son from the Father while both are vibrantly living (Matt. 11:27). The son accomplishes what the Father had ordained. “We could say, for instance, that in the case of God, the happy land of the eternal Trinity is God's actual home, while the economy of salvation is his home away from home or the home he makes hospitably among his creatures. We could even call the imminent Trinity God’s family of origin.”
At the onset of Jesus’ ministry we see a most profound and beautifully relational Trinitarian moment in the words of Matt. 3:16–17: “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” We here see a Trinitarian type of gospel. Before Jesus ever accomplished anything in his earthly ministry, he was loved by God the Father and empowered by God the Spirit. His identity was secure in who He was, not what He did. “When we hear Father, Son, and Holy Spirit bear witness to each other in this manner, we are overhearing the doctrine of the Trinity from three privileged insiders, and learning about nothing less than the inner life of God.” Out of extravagant love, God speaks relational truth over his Son, the Son is obediently baptized and the Holy Spirit descends to empower him for earthly mission. “Here at one moment we have three members of the Trinity performing three distinct activities,” each sought to serve the other out of love. In a similar vein, while we were still sinners, before we had done anything remotely worthwhile, the Triune God loved us (Romans 5:8). Being loved, frees you to love others freely in the context of Christian service as we have witnessed within the Trinity (1 John 4:10). In Phil. 2:6-11 we’re told that Jesus’ ministry modeled servant-hearted hospitality and humility, and this leads us into our next section as God prepares a table for us (Psalm 23:5).
Trinitarian Hospitality Towards Us
“The gospel is that God is God for us, that he gives himself to be our salvation.”
In Genesis 18 a most curious interaction occurs between Abraham and the LORD (YHWH). As the singular YHWH approached his tent in the heat of the day, Abraham saw three men. In light of scripture, we can conclude that this was no mirage Abraham was encountering, or early onset of heat stroke, but an encounter with the Triune God. Abraham humbles himself in v.2 addressing the three with the singular title ‘Adonai’, before beckoning them to stay for rest and refreshment. In v.5 the three say in unison, “do as you have said.” Abraham then personally prepares dinner (while having over 300 men under his leadership) and presents the feast to his guests who then enquire about his wife. In v.10 the hosting ‘tables’ are turned, so to speak, as YHWH states that a child will be born in a year. The hospitality has shifted from Abraham to YHWH who takes charge of this afternoon scene. While inviting laughter from the aged Sarah who overheard the words of the LORD in v. 12, it nevertheless became true. The LORD would graciously provide for their deepest felt needs and hurts. As YHWH moved down the road towards Sodom, our picture of hospitality is expanded. Biblical hospitality doesn’t just mean provision of food but also protective shelter and covering. In Gen: 19:8, Lot offers protection to his angelic visitors by welcoming them out of the square and (horrifically) offering the substitution of his daughters for the lives of his guests. Like Abraham’s encounter, the ‘tables’ of hospitality are turned in v. 10 as the angels forcefully pull Lot into his own house and then provide the former host a safe exit for him and his family by blinding the mob v.11.
Throughout the OT, the Triune God is a God who is deeply concerned for the hurting and broken. Lack of hospitality from other nations angered the Lord and Israel wasn’t to be like them or repeat their mistakes (Deut. 23:3-4). When He spoke to Moses on Sinai, he advocated for the gracious treatment of orphans, widows, and sojourners. Long before the days of Safeway and Target, hospitality was a matter of life and death. Traveling across the desert and being refused hospitality (both food and shelter) could lead to your inevitable demise. YHWH presented hospitality in connection to the memory of their gross mistreatment in Egypt (Exod. 23:9). God hospitably led the Israelites out of Egypt before requiring anything of them; now he would expect them to follow suit loving the foreigner among them even if that foreigner couldn’t benefit them in any way (Lev. 19:33-34). For longer staying Israelite guests, they were invited to join the Hebrew rhythms of life and submit to their laws. God makes hospitable provisions for the poor, exhorting the landowner not to glean their fields all the way to the edges; in this way food would be available to the most vulnerable and susceptible to starvation (Lev. 23:22). For the Israelite who overlooked those most in need of hospitable grace, God would bring about justice on behalf of the poor (Deut. 10:18).
In the New Testament God presented us the supreme gift of relational hospitality with the gift of another miraculous child; Jesus. There could be no greater gift from the Trinitarian God than his very self. Jesus presents himself in continuity with the great shepherds of old, Abraham and Moses who provided for their people. Luke 19:1-9 presents an incredible interaction with a spiritually broken man named Zacchaeus. Jesus boldly invites himself over to his house where he’s simultaneously the guest and host, providing something far more lasting than a side dish; salvation. In John 10:27-29 Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” He hospitably provides them with truth worth following and eternal protection from death. This isn’t merely from the Son’s initiative but on behalf of the Father as well. In John 14:2-3 he compares the offer of divine hospitality to eternal lodging in a room which is part of his Father’s house. He will one day guide them to this safe haven so his people can be intimately invited into eternal lodgings (Psalm 16: 9-11). In John 17 Jesus prays for the safety of his disciples in his absence. While he was physically with them, he was able to protect those who were His, and keep them safe. In 17:15 his hospitable prayer includes asking for their protection in this lifetime from the evil one during his absence. The God we serve is not one who pledges to remove danger and hardship from our path but to lead us through it as a shepherd would a helpless sheep in a dark valley. As Jesus time of physically being on earth was coming to a close, he had no plan of leaving his own to their own devices as orphans (John 14:18).
In John 14 Jesus exhorts his disciples to show their love to him by keeping his commands. This wouldn’t be done in relational isolation from the 3rd person of the Trinity though. “The Holy Spirit applies the accomplishments of the Son to those who are united to the Son by faith.” Jesus asked God the Father to send God the Spirit, the forever helper to enable the believer to be brought into the generous life of God. “A gospel that rearranges the components of your life but does not put you personally in the presence of God is too small,” God desired nothing less for us than entering His very life. In this way the Father who sent the Son, asked for the Spirit to be sent. Each and every Trinitarian member had their part to play on inviting God’s people into their very own life. Jesus says it’s actually better for him to go away so that the Advocate can come, convicting the world of sin, judging the ‘prince of this world’ and guiding the believer in truth (16:7-11; 13). “Finally, when the Holy Spirit comes to believers, he comes as the Spirit who comes from the Father and the Son (John 15:26). Through his presence, the Father and the Son dwell in believers (14:23).”
Paul writes in Eph. 2:18 that through God the Son we have relational access through God the Spirit to God the Father. Beyond mere invitation into the house of God, we’re invited to share in the very life of the Trinitarian family with God as our Father (Gal. 4:6). The Spirit of the Son is now in the hearts of all who believe, enabling us to cry out “Abba” to our true Dad. Paul also writes in 1st Cor. 8:6 that creation was from the Father through the Son, they wanted a creation that could experience their love. With Jesus incarnation, he taught about how true hospitality goes beyond the borders of your team and tribe (Luke 10:25-37) and to give to those who couldn’t repay you (Luke 14:12-14). This is a radical reframing and shaping motivation for both then and now which leads us to our final section
Our Hospitality Towards Others
“God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All that we were made to be comes from knowing that. Our need for relationships, the importance of serving others, what it means to be sexual beings - all come into true light when seen in relation to our Trinitarian God.”
In Matt. 28:19 the resurrected Christ says to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” essentially inviting lost children into relationship with God the Father. But why would there ever be lost children? Sanders writes “By graciously giving his creatures the room to exist, the triune God allows them the freedom to turn away without himself being the author of evil.” This is where God’s adopted children shine forth. The heart of hospitality is relationship, and as God has sought relationship with all humanity, his children are uniquely positioned to invite those who are not yet His, into their Fathers house. As I stated earlier, many good-Bible-believing-Christians don’t automatically think ‘Trinity’ when they hear ‘God’. Sanders helps ground salvation into Trinitarian ways of thinking as full gospel adoption means encountering the Trinity. He helpfully reframes the Christians way of thinking about salvation in relational terms and Trinitarian community: “Getting saved = being adopted as sons by encountering the gospel Trinity. Knowing Jesus personally = the Spirit joining believers to the life of Jesus. Devotional Bible reading = hearing the Father's Word in the Spirit. Conversational prayer = the logic of meditation; prayer in the name of Jesus.”
Out of all the incomplete Godhead analogies, Trinitarian hospitality might be best represented by a healthy marriage and family. Husband and wife as covenant image bearers provide a fuller picture of Trinitarian relationship. In the beginning of a human relationship, a man and woman enter into a marriage relationship that says, ‘I will be with you until the end, til death do we part.’ From this profound covenantal love, a child enters in as a product of this sacred union. This marriage union wasn’t dependent on the child; the marriage was a complete and loving union prior to the child. Without this love between the man and the woman, the newborn baby wouldn’t exist. Through the completeness of the parents love a child is invited into something much bigger than themselves, a family. In a similar vein, we as adopted children of the Trinity desire to invite those into something bigger than themselves; something they were made for but never aware of. Out of the overflow of our hearts, our mouths speak (Luke 6:45; Psalm 23:5). I believe scripture would present those who have been forgiven much as loving much as well (Luke 7:47). When you know you’re loved by the Triune Father God of the universe, you’re freed to truly pour out hospitable love towards others (Matt. 6:19-21; 1 John 4:19). Allberry notes that in the West, greatness is measure by how many people are serving you, but Jesus used a different benchmark: “The son of man came to serve and not be served,” (Mark 10:45). For Jesus, greatness was measured by how many we served, not how many serve us. We’ve been wired for relationships and happiness is most profoundly felt when shared whereas suffering is compounded in isolation. Hospitality means entering the others story at the point of their brokenness and hurt.
When the church community was first inaugurated in Acts 2 by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, this community dedicated itself to the apostles teaching and to the regular breaking of bread. Since day one, table fellowship has been a critical element of the gospels proclamation and is an aspect that needs to be reinvigorated in the American Church. Days after Rosaria Butterfields home was broken into and all her earthly possessions were stolen, her and her husband had the neighborhood over for a meal as they sifted through the wreckage of their battered home. Hospitality goes beyond sharing openness when skies are blue, but is an embodied way of life (Heb. 13:2). All throughout the NT Christians are encouraged to show hospitality to all people (Rom. 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9) while being warned about extending hospitality to intentionally unrepentant believers (1 Cor. 5:11).
In Rev. 3:20 we see that divine salvific hospitality is open to all and couched within the setting of a meal; “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” From scripture we see that the Bible begins and ends with a meal. In Gen. 3, humans shared a small snack with the serpent; in Revelation 19:7-10 there will be a feast in heaven with King Jesus. We regularly anticipate this feast through the communion our Lord inaugurated on the night he was betrayed (Luke 22:14-22).
Practical Outworking for Ministry
In the last 18 months since moving to Portland, my wife and I have sought to live hospitable, generous lives by hosting travelers, students and our church community over for meals and/or lodging. We have both been the recipients of God’s (and humans) gracious hospitality towards us, and this is something that is deeply important to us. I was captivated by Rosaria’s conversion story which centered around her invitation into the life of a Christian family through table fellowship and gospel rhythms. While we aren’t officially in any pastoral roles at a church, we don’t miss opportunities to pastor and love those around us. Our hearts desire is to give folks a brief snapshot of heaven when they enter our home and lives. I’ve discovered over my life that gathering groups of people over meals or activities is the catalyst for relationships. One day when we re-enter ministry, I would systematically host families in leadership positions over at our home for a meal, modeling for them a potential way of serving others. If given the opportunity to teach, I would use each of the three sections: ‘Hospitality and Service Within the Trinity’, ‘Trinitarian Hospitality Towards Us’ and ‘Our Hospitality Towards Others’, as the basis of a month-long series to unpack the foundations of hospitality. One of the biggest issues I see today among people surrounds loneliness which causes a slew damage. What if we as a body, loved by God, were prepared to radically invite and love others into something bigger than themselves? I believe this act would have long ranging Gospel implications.
 Wilson, D. K. (2016). Hospitality. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
 Rosaria Butterfield, The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018).
 Kyle Donn’s creative visual rendition of Gerry Breshears lecture notes from 11/12/21
 Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, 2nd edition. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017), 83. Italics mine.
 Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith, Illustrated edition. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 62.
 Sanders, The Deep Things of God, 64.
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England : Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Academic, 1994), 250.
 Sam Allberry, Connected: Living in the Light of the Trinity (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2013), 88.
 “What Was God Doing before He Created the Universe?,” GotQuestions.Org, accessed November 18, 2021, https://www.gotquestions.org/God-doing.html.
 Vern S. Poythress, The Mystery of the Trinity: A Trinitarian Approach to the Attributes of God (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2020), 94.
 Sanders, The Deep Things of God, 132.
 Ibid., 81.
 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 230.
 Sanders, The Deep Things of God, 125. Italics Mine.
 Sanders, The Deep Things of God, 125.
 Ibid., 106.
 Poythress, The Mystery of the Trinity, 97.
 Allberry, Connected, 96.
 Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity, 58.
 Sanders, The Deep Things of God, 59.
 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 241.
 Allberry, Connected, 85.
 Ibid., 81.
 Butterfield, The Gospel Comes with a House Key.
 Wilson, D. K. (2016). Hospitality. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C.
Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Allberry, Sam. Connected: Living in the Light of the Trinity. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2013.
Butterfield, Rosaria. The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World. Wheaton: Crossway, 2018.
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England : Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Academic, 1994.
Poythress, Vern S. The Mystery of the Trinity: A Trinitarian Approach to the Attributes of God.
Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2020.
Reeves, Michael. Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith. Illustrated edition. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012.
Sanders, Fred. The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything. 2nd edition. Wheaton: Crossway, 2017.
“What Was God Doing before He Created the Universe?” GotQuestions.Org. Accessed November 18, 2021. https://www.gotquestions.org/God-doing.html.
Wilson, D. K. (2016). Hospitality. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
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