Hospitality to Steward a Discipleship Community: Analyzing God’s Provision in the Garden of Eden

Edited by Drew Friesen

By Anderson Hultgren

Published November 1st, 2020

            In my travels, I have attended a variety of churches. The discomfort that I have felt in each congregation has varied, yet I wish to tell you of one experience. I will not name the church or location, but I have found it a somewhat typical experience: 
            Entering the church doors, I was greeted with concerned looks. This small town church was not used to outsiders like myself. Attempting an approachable smile, I greet, “Good morning,” searching for the sanctuary doors. After entering, I felt a little aimless, but I found a seat that was somewhat out of the way. My concern was that I would take someone’s usual seat. Several minutes later, the service opened up. It was a lovely service. Although I can’t remember which hymns were sung nor the Pastor’s topic, I do remember being encouraged. That is, until the service was over. After the benediction, I left as I came in, attempting that approachable smile. 
            It can be a lonely thing entering a new church. Current church services tend to focus on the sermon and the worship rather than the people who make up the Church. Biblically, it is not the building that makes the Church but the people. When making disciples, we must hospitably engage with those around us. New goals need to be pursued by leaders and members. How can we restore the wholeness of the church body? 
            One plan of action is to strive for holiness. If we are to “be holy” as “God is holy” (1 Pet. 1:16 ESV), we can learn how to steward disciples by studying God’s strategy. Attending to the church environment, this article will analyze God’s hospitality in the Garden of Eden. In turn, it will suggest a similar strategy for church leaders and disciplemakers. In this article, I will argue that church leaders and members should strive to provide responsibility, food, and community

Responsibility

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth … Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”[1]
- Genesis 1:1, 26a, 27-28 ESV

            Above, God plans for, creates, and blesses humanity. The very first blessing God spoke over humanity was a multifaceted purpose. Counter intuitively, God gives humanity responsibility before offering anything else. Why? Because it is like an old professor of mine used to say, “To deny someone their responsibility is to deny them their dignity.”[2] God’s hospitality provided us firstly with dignity through a good responsibility. 
            Such hospitality is needed in the church today. It is not a secret that less and less young people attend our churches. The rise of new media is so influential, that both sermon and worship can be accessed from home. Although, something is surely missing in their faith. I posit that if they were to take on purpose and responsibility, they would receive dignity. Church attendance would surely increase with a reward not found elsewhere. 
            In practice, offering responsibility is a thoughtful task for church leaders. Many of the tasks the church offers have either been filled or are menial tasks. The goal is to give a godly and good responsibility, one that allows dignity and a sense of itself. Each responsibility should be, as the apostle Paul communicates, tailored to gifting,

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function … Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” 
- Rom. 12:4, 6-8 

            Such tailoring requires wise counsel. For in the responsibilities given in Eden, God also gave a responsibility of abstinence, “ … of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gen. 2:17). Using command and warning, God gives responsibility in the negative. Likewise, we ought to guide good responsibilities to our congregants, offering them dignity. When offering purpose, responsibility, or guidance, the hospitality of the action will be recognized, and the disciple will be cared for. 

Food

And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” 
- Genesis 2:9 

            The second hospitality God provided was through good food. Food is a necessity for life, both surviving and thriving.[3] However, many have reduced food to a commodity, an inconvenience, or “a bundle of nutrients that we simply need to get in the right quantities, variety, and proportion.”[4] Theologian Norman Wirzba found that, “Food is God’s love made nutritious and delicious, given for the good of each other.”[5] 
        Offering food is a hospitality that has been practiced from the faithful of the New and Old Testaments. The Proverbs speak, “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it” (Prov. 15:17). The Psalms instruct, “He [God] who food to all flesh, for His steadfast love endures forever” (Ps. 136:25). God would commemorate His faithfulness through feasts like the Feast of Harvest (Ex. 23:16), Passover  (Lev. 23:4-8), or even Communion (1 Cor. 11:17-34). God reminds us that He loves us through food, and the feasting and sharing of food is participating in such a remembrance. 
        In practice, the Church ought to congregate together regularly (even weekly, if possible) to commune with food. If funds are low, ask for a potluck. Implore your church community to gather together and remember that God loves them. Such a hospitality of food invites and builds up disciples together in the remembrance of God’s unifying love.

Community

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.” 
- Genesis 2:19-20 

            This passage has been long used for marriage and all of the beauties that come with marriage. While gender and marriage should not be ignored, God offers something more. Though Adam had walked with God, having food and responsibility, it was not good that man should be alone. The communal and non-romantic element must be noticed. 
            God provided for Adam’s need for community. This community was defined as a “helper.”[6] A helper is not lesser or greater in any way. Looking to Christ, our exemplar (Jn. 13:15), we are to be a “servant of all” (Mk. 9:35). These two roles are one in the same. The community we ought to strive for is one that helps the other. 
            While I provided the practical ramifications for the other two divisions, I will lead you to Marcus McClain’s article “On the Foundation of Love and Relationship, Christ Jesus Himself Being the Cornerstone.” I believe that he dives deeper and articulates communal practice within a discipleship community further than I am able to in this article. 
            Continuing and in closing. By looking at how God hospitably provided for us, we found that we can be hospitable through responsibility, food, and community. I hope this lends a hand for the church when looking to provide a church environment suited for all generations and peoples. I challenge you, my dear reader, to do two things. 
            Firstly, look how you can help your local church. Gaze upon the people that enter the church doors (friend or foe) and ask what they are missing. Do they look aimless or confused? Provide them with a good responsibility, even if that responsibility is a greeting and conversation. Do they look hungry? Provide them with food. Do they look alone? Provide them with community. Each church has intricate social differences. Allow guidance and stability for the newcomer and the church-goer. 
            Secondly, ask how can you be helped from your local church? Look to responsibility, food, and community, and see what you are lacking. For if you are lacking, surely others are as well. Possibly, your church offers such services or has yet to be able to offer them. If you find such hunger, speak with your church leaders, and, with what you have, offer to help. Notice your hunger (both spiritually and physically) and take action, be filled. When participating in responsibility, food, or community, remember that these were given by God because He loves you. As the apostle Paul so eloquently wrote, 

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
-Romans 8:38-39

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Footnotes:

            [1] Emphasis added. 
            [2] Dr. John Clark of Moody Bible Institute
            [3] Note: Though Life has often been reduced to simple earthly survival, This reduction has been overdone. Life is not only life on earth, but life eternal. Furthermore, life is not only surviving but thriving. Some have called thriving “human flourishing.” Life is known by fruit growing on a tree (Lk. 8:14), the growth of a child, or the character we gain. For the Father not only "raises the dead," but "gives them life" (Jn. 5:21). If you can excuse the phrasing, there is more to life than being alive. Needs attend the nature of survival. As Jesus once said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Duet. 8:3, Mt. 4:4, Lk. 4:4). See, Anderson Hultgren, “Theology of Comfort: Comfort of the Biblical and the Secular” (essay, Moody Bible Institute, 2020),  3; See Miroslav Volf, Tony Blair, Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World (New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Press, 2016) 
            [4] Norman Wirzba, Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating Second Edition (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2019, Kindle), Loc. 183. 
            [5] Ibid., Loc. 168
            [6] See Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis Chapters 1-17 in The New International Commentary of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990, digital), I. B. 5:15, “God is not only evaluator; he is also rectifier. He is not long on analysis but short on solution. His remedy is to provide a helper suitable for him (i.e., for the man). The last part of v. 18 reads literally, “I will make him for him a helper as in front of him (or according to what is in front of him).” This last phrase, “as in front of him (or according to what is in front of him)” (k ene dô), occurs only here and in v. 20. It suggests that what God creates for Adam will correspond to him. Thus the new creation will be neither a superior nor an inferior, but an equal. The creation of this helper will form one-half of a polarity, and will be to man as the south pole is to the north pole.”

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