By Norman E. Fultz
Hospitality! Now there’s a word that has a ring to it. It means very simply “a lover of” or “friend of strangers.” Those who are recipients of genuine hospitality tend forever to think graciously of those who extended it.
Very much a Bible subject, the Bible is replete with instances of hospitality, spanning the time from the days of Abraham (Gen. 14:17-19; 18:1-8,16) to the apostolic admonition to be “given to hospitality” (Rom. 12:13) and the commendation of some who were (3 John 5-8). Different circumstances and varying conditions may have given it different modes of expression, but that it was practiced widely is evident. Sparse settlements connected by hot, dusty roads traveled by foot or on sweaty beasts of burden gave real significance to such hospitality as was practiced by a host who received both the travelers and their animals. In some instances the hospitality meant not only providing food, provender, and shelter for men and beasts, but protection and security from immoral inhabitants of the area as well (Gen. 19; Judg, 19:16ff).
Abraham invited passers-by to be refreshed, providing water to wash their feet, fresh meat from a calf which he personally selected from the herd, and bread freshly made by his wife Sarah and served with milk and butter (Gen. 18:1-8). When they departed, he went a short distance with them (v. 16), a practice still evident in New Testament days and in which the host very likely provided for his guests what was needed for the next leg of their journey (Acts 20:38; 21:5; Tit. 3:13; 3 Jn. 6, etc.). Lot entertained the same messengers and gave them protection from the immoral men of Sodom (Gen. 19). Rebekah and her family assured Abraham’s servant, who had been sent to secure a wife for Isaac, that they had “prepared the house and room for the camels” (Gen. 24:31-33). Reuel took in the fleeing Moses and got a son-in-law in the process (Exod. 2:15-22). An “old man” of Gibeah took in the Levite of Bethlehem-Judah lest he abide in the street and be molested by immoral men (Judg. 19:16ff). King Jeroboam offered hospitality to the young prophet who refused the offer (1 Kgs. 13:1-10) but who then accepted it from an old prophet and disobeyed God in so doing (1 Kgs. 13:11-19). The widow of Zarephath, a Gentile, showed kindness to God’s prophet Elijah (1 Kgs. 17:8).
The spirit of hospitality served as the basis of God’s instruction to the Israelites on the proper treatment of strangers in their midst. They were never to forget that they had been strangers in Egypt (Lev. 19:33-34; Deut. 10:17-19).
The gospels abound in instances of hospitality as Jesus and his disciples were received by loving friends (Matt. 8:14-17; Mk. 2:1-2,14-15; Lk. 20:38; Jn. 11:1; 12:2-3), and even by Pharisees (Lk. 7:36ff) or as a self-invited guest of Zaccheus (Lk. 19:5-10). The resurrected Christ was at day’s end invited into their home in Emmaus by those who walked along with him (Lk. 24:29-32). However, Jesus not only received expressions of hospitality, he both practiced it – miraculously feeding thousands on two different occasions (Matt. 14:15-21; 15:32-38) – and taught it in the parable of the good Samaritan – “go and do thou likewise” (Lk. 10:30-37).
How different the story of Christianity’s spread might have been were it not for the spirit of hospitality pervading the society of New Testament days! Hospitable souls were “fellow helpers to the truth” (3 Jn. 6) assisting the apostles, evangelists, and other saints who bore the glad tidings and who had gone forth “for the sake of the Name, taking nothing of the Gentiles” (3 Jn. 7). A blinded Saul of Tarsus abode at the house of one Judas, in which house also Ananias was received as he bore the good news to Saul (Acts 9:11-18). At Corinth Paul abode with Aquila and Priscilla who, after their arrival in Ephesus, then received Apollos whom they taught the way of the Lord more perfectly (Acts 18:2-3,26). Justus, “one what worshiped God,” also showed Paul kindness in Corinth (Acts 18:7). At Joppa, Peter lodged in the house of one Simon the tanner (Acts 9:43) and invited the three messengers of Cornelius to spend the night (Acts 10:23). Then when he and the six Jewish brethren arrived in Caesarea, they were joyfully received into the house of the Gentile Cornelius, where “many were come together” because he had “invited his kinsmen and near friends” (Acts 10:24,27). After his conversion, Cornelius sought to have Peter and those with him “tarry certain days” (Acts 10:5,6,48). The cases could be multiplied many times over. Especially commended is the hospitable Gaius whose charity had witness borne before the church (3 Jn. 5-8), and some in whose houses churches met (Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Phile. 2-7).
In New Testament times, in the face of possible persecution and ridicule from the heathen as well as from unbelieving Jews, saints away from home were in need of the joy derived from being with those of “like precious faith” and of “being refreshed” by them. It is with a view to the approaching “fiery trials” that Peter admonished, “Use hospitality one to another without grudging” (1 Pet. 4:9,12). Christians were enjoined to be “given to hospitality” (Rom. 12:13) and to “be not forgetful to entertain strangers” (Heb. 13:2). Those desiring the office of bishop were to be “lovers of” or “given to” hospitality (Tit. 1:8; 1 Tim. 3:2), and a “widow indeed” would have been one who, among other things, had “lodged strangers” and “washed the disciples feet” (1 Tim. 5:10).
We can easily appreciate the need for the widespread use of hospitality in such conditions as those in which the church was born and nourished in infancy. But have we perhaps forgotten the need and lost sight of the purpose that might be served by the use of hospitality? Assuredly our circumstances are very different from theirs. We travel by well-paved roads in comfort controlled automobiles which pass countless clean, comfortable motels and restaurants offering a wide array in their bill of fare that can be suited to the pocketbook of most. And those who come among us as visitors or newcomers are likely as not as well or better situated than ourselves. We might thus easily assume that there is no real need for us to “use hospitality.” However, as someone has said, “This need for hospitality has not been replaced by McDonalds and the Holiday Inn. Hospitality meets more needs in a congregation than the need for food and lodging.”
How May We Use Hospitality?
Of all that we have said to this juncture in our study, it was to arrive at this point — to learn that we may, with profit to the cause of Christ, use hospitality and to encourage us to do so. Consider with me some ways.
When newcomers arrive in our midst and are “looking us over” as they seek a place to “be identified” with fellow saints in gospel work and worship, they might be more quickly made to feel at home if some show them hospitality and perhaps invite a few other members over to get acquainted. Especially could new converts be helped to feel a “part of the family” by such actions of the members. How many babes in Christ are allowed to drift in loneliness and isolation for considerable time as they are kept on the perimeter instead of being made to feel loved and wanted? Far too often, the only contact they have with their new brothers and sisters in Christ is during the public assemblies or perhaps with someone who is studying with them to ground them in the faith.
Occasionally there are those who have special needs that might best be met in a hospitable home environment. It may chance to be one who has been “overtaken in a fault” and whom we’re trying to restore (Gal. 6:1). Or perhaps one is “fainthearted” or “weak” and needs encouragement or support (1 Thess 5:14). The practice, more often than not, is to go to the home of the person needing restoration or encouragement. But in some cases, the situation might be better served if the faithful invited such persons into their home to register the concern or seek to uplift.
There are many kinds of studies that might best be conducted in the warmth of some hospitable home. Studies with a deliberate evangelistic thrust in which Christians invite non-Christian friends could well accomplish much in our efforts at evangelizing instead of thinking that it all is to be done in the church building. Call them “cottage meetings,” “home Bible studies” or what have you. A Christian couple or perhaps two or more couples (or single persons) can determine they are going to take a night a week to study together and then invite their friends to study with them.
Or consider studies involving special subject matter for which there may not be time in the regular curriculum of the congregational Bible classes. This may include as it often does, ladies’ study groups, or young married couples who need study on marriage and family. There are occasionally problems or difficult questions that might better be studied in the amicable surroundings of a home rather than the formality of even a classroom of the meeting house.
Since Paul encouraged the saints at Thessalonica. to “know them which labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you” (1 Thess. 5:12), the Christian who feels that he “just doesn’t know the elders that well” might use his hospitality in order to rectify that deficit.
The provision of recreation is not the obligation of the collective body, but members should certainly be encouraged to provide good and wholesome social activities, especially for their youth. What better way for them to truly get to know other Christian young people? The parent who wants his child to be able to meet other Christian young folk should seriously consider the widespread opportunities. While we do not advocate everyone’s “playing cupid” for eligible singles, we do know where some “matches” have been made when some interested Christian arranged a “get together” at which those “eligibles” could meet.
When all is considered, hospitality is a tool that we have perhaps neglected using, and both we as individuals and the church as a whole are the poorer for it.
There are some deterrents. Some fail to see the need. There is the tendency to consider everything a “church function” as an emphasis on kitchens and “fellowship halls” has developed among many, a fact that has not left even conservative brethren untouched. Then there are those who consider it “somebody’s else’s” obligation – “Someone ought to have those folks over.” When too many so consider it, it just doesn’t get done. And yet another deterrent could be a grudging spirit or concern only for self, coupled with an unwillingness to be “bothered.” Peter’s admonition to use hospitality was followed by “without grudging.”
Certainly effort and some expense may be involved, but it should be expended joyfully as a service to the cause of Christ.
Brethren, hospitality is enjoined upon Christians. It can be “used” to great good – to encourage one another, to grow in love by better acquaintance, to assist in the faith, to help spread the word of truth. So, the next time you wonder, “what can I do?,” remember to “use hospitality” toward someone.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 14, pp. 432-433, 439
July 20, 1989