By Aude McKee
Suppose you were asked to name three or four things that are a great deal less prevalent today than a quarter of a century ago, what would you list? I suspect that hospitality would be ~ named by most people. The oft used phrase, “What ever happened to . . . .?” could well be applied to hospitality and probably listed among the “lost arts.” When I was a boy you could hear, “Come and go home with us” all around as you left the building and people meant it.
As you think about it, the whole thing becomes sort of confusing. Why has it happened? Why are people less hospitable now? We have more in about every way to do with than people did years ago. More money, more time and labor saving devices, more foods that are prepared commercially and only need a few minutes in the microwave or need no preparation at all. But maybe this is our problem. When housewives had to have preparations made ahead of time, perhaps it was easier.
There have been other changes in society that have affected hospitality. During the depression years, people who were “down and out” knocking on your door was a common occurrence. I can’t recall my mother ever turning anyone away. And I can’t recall her ever saying, “I’ll have to call someone from your home town to determine if you are worthy.” We didn’t have the bums and frauds like we have now. Those people weren’t asking for a handout so they could drive their Hudson or Packard to the next city.
Let’s look at hospitality from the Bible viewpoint. The word is from a Greek word that means “love of strangers.” Elders, if qualified, are “given to hospitality” (1 Tim. 3:2), but it is also a responsibility of all Christians. In Romans 12, we learn ‘that a part of presenting our bodies a living sacrifice and being transformed by the renewing of our minds, is “distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality” (v. 13). To the Hebrew brethren, the writer said, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (13:2), and Peter pointed out that we should “use hospitality one to another without grudging” (I Pet. 4:9). From these passages we learn some vital truths.. Hospitality must be vital to the ongoing of the local church – men are not qualified to be elders unless they are hospitable, being hospitable is a part of being a faithful Christian. Great opportunities and blessings are missed when we fail to practice hospitality, and hospitality must be extended with the same attitude of heart that motivates us to lay by in store on the 1st day of the week (2 Cor. 9:7).
There are abundant examples of hospitality to help us understand what sort of activity is involved. Abraham entertained angels unaware of who they were in Genesis 18:1-8. In 1 Kings 17, a widow and her son took Elijah into their home and shared the little they had with him in his need. Elisha was the recipient of the hospitality of a Shunammite woman in 2 Kings 4:8-11. She and her husband prepared a place in their house with a stool, a table, a candlestick and a bed so he could stop and refresh himself. In Acts 2:44-45 and 4:34-35, the Judean Christians shared what they had with their brethren. Lydia, immediately after her conversion, “constrained” four gospel preachers to live in her house (Acts 16:14-15) – she literally begged them to make her house their headquarters. Onesiphorus had a “grip” on true hospitality. He helped Paul often, he was not ashamed of him even though he was a prisoner, and Paul didn’t have to look for Onesiphorus – he looked for Paul so he might minister to his needs (2 Tim. 1:16-18).
Hospitality is something extended when it is needed. Every example given suggests this fact. It is also seen in the qualifications given for a widow to be enrolled in 1 Timothy 5:10. She (according to this word used but once in the New Testament) had to be a person who “lodged .strangers” (KJV) or “showed hospitality to strangers” (NASV). We are not suggesting that Christians are to be together and enjoy each other’s company (as well as food), only when a need exists. The “breaking bread from house to house” (Acts 2:46) probably relates to the sort of thing we enjoy so much, but we doubt this really pinpoints the real meaning of hospitality. Let me give some examples without calling names. A family in the Northeast lived close to the building. Several other families had to drive many miles for the Lord’s Day assembly. The family near the building opened up their home so the other families would not have to make two long drives or else miss the evening worship. That is hospitality. During a meeting in another “mission area,” a day service was planned. Usually at such gatherings, everyone in attendance would go to a restaurant at noon, but the preacher and his wife knew that one family attending would lack the financial resources to “eat out” and so they fed the entire group to keep from embarrassing the one family. That is hospitality. In a congregation in Florida, the meal list was posted for the visiting preacher. A widow and her grandson, who had both just recently obeyed the gospel, were among the first to put their names on the list. Then they began to face up to their problems. They only had two chairs and two plates, etc. So they had to go to a second-hand store and buy the things they needed to feed the preacher. That’s hospitality – not because the preacher needed that particular meal, but they needed to do their part! True hospitality grows out of love and concern. In another meeting, many years ago before the barrier between the races were broken down, an old black sister – the only one among the whites, as I recall – took the preacher aside and asked him if he would mind eating in her home. That is hospitality.
We usually don’t need encouragement to visit with and eat with those who are near and dear, but what about those in the local congregation who are usually overlooked? Jesus taught along this line in Luke 14:12-14. We need to extend our hospitality to those in need. Occasionally there will be someone in physical need, but more often, in our experience, it is someone who is in need of spiritual assistance. There is hardly a congregation in the land but what has some neglected people in it. Stop and think of the ones in your local congregation who would benefit from your hospitality. Be sure they are included in the near future.
However, the hospitality Christians extent is not limited to those who are members of the body of Christ. “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men. . .” is the command of Galatians 6:10. The injunction of Hebrews 13:2, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers. . .” would certainly cause those not Christians to be the recipients of our hospitality, like a number of other responsibilities, is limited. First, we could not extend hospitality to false teachers. 2 John 9-11 makes it clear that to do so would make us a “partaker of his evil deeds.” Also, we could not extend hospitality to a person too lazy to work. This prohibition is also a command in 2 Thessalonaians 3:10.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 14, pp. 432-433
July 21, 1983