In the summer of 2022 Sweden briefly blew up the internet when the cultural habit of not feeding house guests (unless by prior arrangement) offended the rest of the world. In typical Swedish style, explanations of the practice were offered, with defenders of the tradition saying Swedes were just ‘not wanting to cause offence’ or perhaps had ‘not planned ahead’ to provide food for unexpected extras.
Over the years I’ve lived in Sweden (I was born in the UK) I’ve both heard from others and observed myself that Swedes have some particular challenges when it comes to displaying hospitality that is recognizable as such by people from other cultures. If it happens at all it looks very different here than almost everywhere else outside of the Nordics.
Now, if I was to ask you to describe a ‘gospel-centered home’ what would you say? What images come to mind? Perhaps one of the first things that comes to mind is of a family reading the Bible and praying together. And I’m not going to find fault with that. That should, (even though it isn’t) be taken as a given. Of course Christian parents should read the Bible and pray with their children and share their faith with them. As far as bars to clear go, that is not a particularly very high one.
But I didn’t say ‘family,’ I said ‘home.’
There’s more to it than having an apartment that looks like something from the IKEA catalogue but has Bible verses printed on the wall. There is nothing wrong with adorning a house with the words of scripture, and in fact Deuteronomy 6:9 encouraged the people of God to display the word of God upon their homes so again I am not finding fault. However, if no guests ever come into the walls of your home, then the beautiful words posted there will not serve as a witness in the way they might, were they placed instead on a door or gate.
There’s more to it than having an apartment that looks like something from the IKEA catalogue but has Bible verses printed on the wall.
This is important because the question I want to get at is how do we structure or center the lives we live in our homes around the gospel? Or what might distinguish the home of a Christian from the home of their secular or Muslim neighbour?
I want to suggest that Scripture may offers us much more when it comes to creating a gospel-shaped home than words on our walls. Gospel-shaped homes capable of being crafted as much by single people as by families, as much by students as by professionals, as much by children as by grandparents. Indeed, by paying closer attention to the images and symbols of our faith we can see a number of ways in which our homes can witness to the grace of God.
Firstly, consider how a simple invitation to your home can itself image the gospel. It can represent the opportunity to come to a place of peace, love, welcome and security. An invitation for a stranger to come and find rest from their burdens, safety from their enemies, healing for their wounds, satisfying food for their souls.
If the Messiah loves to come into people’s homes and eat with them and he does; if the Lord is able to come to the tents of his people to bring the promise of new life and he is; and if the Spirit has filled houses with the powerful awareness of his presence and he has, then isn’t it possible that in the homes of God’s people some of those same things might also happen?
Another way we may bear witness to God’s grace is around a table. It is around the table where bread is broken, cups are shared, blessings are given; where conversations take place that cause hearts to burn, eyes to open, and people to, perhaps for the first time, recognize Jesus for who he is.
If the Messiah loves to come into people’s homes and eat with them and he does (Luke 19:1–10, Rev. 3:20); if the Lord is able to come to the tents of his people to bring the promise of new life and he is (Gen. 18:1–14); and if the Spirit has filled houses with the powerful awareness of his presence and he has (Acts 4:31), then isn’t it possible that in the homes of God’s people some of those same things might also happen?
If guest rooms are to be made available for feasting or refreshing apostles, it is because final meals, first feasts, and visiting leaders are all part of the mission of God—in salvation, to Gentiles, and to the ends of the earth (Mark 14:13–16; Philem. 22; Acts 11). And I for one believe that Jesus himself has gone ahead to prepare a room for his people in his father’s house so that they will be welcomed and made not just feel at home but will, in fact, be home (John 14:1–4).
Places of learning
In Sweden it is illegal to homeschool, a fact that causes shock or dismay in many quarters. However, just because children cannot be schooled at home does not mean that they cannot learn at home. Indeed, the home has historically been (and still is!) the principal arena where values are taught and caught, and where people learn how to pray, to read scriptures, to listen, care, love, and share. These things are perhaps better done in the living room than the Sunday school class, and occasions to teach them happen more naturally and often in the kitchen than the auditorium.
Next, let’s consider the garden and the gospel. I know that not every home has one, but for those who do (or even have one nearby), think of the beauty and richness of this space—where we can walk in the cool of the day, where because of Jesus’ death and burial we no longer need to hide (Gen. 3:8; John 19:41). Indeed, Isaiah tells us that those who share their bread with the hungry and bring the homeless into their house, will themselves be like a well-watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters do not fail (Is. 58:9–11).
The multiplying grace of gospel hospitality
From the gate to the guest room, from the kitchen to the garden, from the home to the heart, the gospel shapes our homes. When we begin to see the gospel-potential of the various spaces we inhabit, the places over which we have stewardship, I believe our concept of “home” expands and multiplies. My name may be on the deed of only one physical house, but I have hundreds of homes because Christians ‘no longer count their things as their own’ (Mark 10:30; Acts 4:33). Even my physical body is not my own, but a place where the Holy Spirit dwells, a home for the Lord himself (1 Cor. 6:19–20).
From the gate to the guest room, from the kitchen to the garden, from the home to the heart, the gospel shapes our homes.
If there is to be a renewal of the church in the north it is unlikely to start in church buildings, where few secular Scandinavians even bother to enter. Renewal is far more likely to spread the way the early church did: in the marketplace and in the home. The home—where you lay your head at night—is perhaps the greatest tool you have to show, demonstrate, and share the gospel. The gospel does indeed come with a house key.