I don’t know why I was asked to write on this subject, except that it seems to be known that I have been blessed by a wife with a real gift for hospitality. Here is an area where Christian wives can be wonderfully used to the glory of God and the advancement of his kingdom.
The word translated hospitality occurs six times in the New Testament – less frequently than such words as faith, love and holy. We are not to conclude from the infrequent use of the word that hospitality is not important. Christian hospitality is vital to the body of Christ. It is one of the most basic graces of the Christian life. Nor are we to think that hospitality is an entirely New Testament practice. It is rooted in the Old Testament, as we shall observe.
The word is taken from two Greek words to make one word. They are the words philo meaning love and xenia meaning strangers. Hospitality in the one of the most crucial task that take place in the home. It is the act or service of welcoming, receiving, hosting or entertaining strangers. It is a love where there is strong emotion. It is having a feeling of affection and communicating that affection in word and deed.
Old Testament Teaching
Abraham, father of the faithful, was given to hospitality par excellence. Leaving the shade of his tent on a hot day, he welcomed three strangers and provided refreshment for them. Only later did he realize he had entertained the Lord himself (Genesis 18)! Referring to this incident, the writer to the Hebrews wrote,
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.
By precept as well as by example, God’s people were instructed in the exercise of hospitality. God commanded Israel that “the stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34). Isaiah, the prophet of the Lord crying out against the empty forms of fasting, declared “is this not the fast which I chose? … Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house” (Isaiah 58:6-7)? A mark of true religion as opposed to formal religion was the practice of hospitality. The foundation for hospitality was laid in God’s command: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).
New Testament Teaching
Christ is the perfect example and master teacher of hospitality. Though he had “nowhere to lay his head,” Christ found a way to provide hospitality. None was more generous or gracious than he. Moved with compassion for the multitudes that came to hear him he fed first five thousand, then four thousand hungry men together with women and children.
Observe our Lord as he makes preparation for the observance of Passover and the institution of the Lord’s Supper. He arranges for a guest room where he is to host his disciples (Luke 22:10-12). As a humble servant he washes the feet of the disciples and wipes them with a towel. He then invites them to partake of the elements of the Passover.
More than that, he spreads a spiritual feast before them – the emblems of his sacrifice for their salvation. He takes the bread saying, “This is my body which is given for you.” Taking the cup, he declares, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is shed on behalf of many for forgiveness of sins.” He then in loving and thoughtful concern for them seeks to prepare them for the days when he will no longer be with them in the flesh. “I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again… Abide in me and I in you.” Then he pours out his soul in prayer for them. What a gracious host, giving himself utterly to them. This is hospitality par excellence.
Our Lord taught that hospitality is not just nice, but necessary. It is not something above and beyond the call of duty. It is a command; not to be hospitable is a sin. This is taught in the beautiful and telling parable of the Good Samaritan. This parable was Christ’s answer to the lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” It was the Samaritan who had compassion, bandaged the wounds, poured on oil and wine, placed the man on his beast, took him to an inn and paid for his keep. Then turning to the lawyer, Christ commanded. “Go and do the same.”
Christ taught that hospitality is a mark of the genuineness of our Christian confession. On the judgment day Christ will say, “Come you who are blessed of my Father … For I was a stranger, and you invited me in” or “Depart from me, accursed ones … for I was a stranger, and you did not invite me in.” He then identified himself with those who believe in him:
To the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine … you did it to me.
A test of our love for Christ is our love for those that are his. One mark of this love for brethren is hospitality. What a rewarding thought that when we give ourselves in hospitality to each other, we give ourselves to Christ! What a privilege and joy. What a sin and a shame to withhold love from those that Christ loves.
Who are to be Hospitable – and to Whom?
Elders, both ruling and teaching, are held responsible for exercising hospitality. To qualify as an elder one must be hospitable – a lover of strangers (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8). Not to perform this function is a dereliction of duty. Elders are to be examples and teachers of hospitality to the flock.
But of course hospitality is the privilege and responsibility of all Christians. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome commending their “contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality” (Romans 12:13). Peter wrote to Christians scattered, “Be hospitable to one another without complaint” (1 Peter 4:9). Paul wrote to Timothy that the widow who was worthy of help was one who “has shown hospitality to strangers” (1 Timothy 5:10). Christian women excel in gifts for hospitality and are responsible for faithfully engaging in hospitality.
To whom is hospitality to be given? Our first responsibility is to fellow-believers. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples,” Jesus taught, “if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). When the Philippian jailer believed in Christ, he washed the wounds of Paul and Silas and “brought them into his house and set food before them” (Acts 16:33-34). Paul wrote to the Galatian Christians, “Let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
We are not to take one another for granted. We need one another’s loving concern in the midst of an indifferent and hostile world.
Strangers – those not of the household of faith – must also be given hospitality.
Remember the basic meaning of hospitality: love of strangers. Abraham provided hospitality to strangers. Christ was “a friend of publicans and sinners” – tax-gougers and immoral persons. He befriended them by eating and drinking with them.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan Christ taught that anyone in need – regardless of race, religion, color or class – is our neighbor. What about the poor, the troubled, the lonely and sin-enslaved souls around you? Have you ever opened your Christian home to them? What about the alcoholic or drug addict? Do we just withdraw ourselves – or extend the helping hand of hospitality?
Motivation for hospitality
Christian hospitality doesn’t come easy; it takes strong motivation. What is the proper motivation for being given to hospitality? God tells us in his Word,
The stranger who resides with you … you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
Israel’s hospitality to strangers was rooted in God’s hospitality to Israel. They were to remember his love to them when they were in bondage as strangers in a foreign country.
O Christian, remember God’s gracious hospitality to us “in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). His grace to us impels us to be gracious to others. The apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians that, “We were strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were formerly afar off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” We need to reflect more on God’s gracious hospitality to us when tempted to excuse ourselves from the responsibility of being hospitable to others.
Hospitality with a Purpose
If hospitality is to be the blessing to others that it should be, it must be purposeful. There is a two-fold purpose. The purpose of hospitality toward Christians is to provide fellowship in Christ. John wrote that Christ was given to us “that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with his son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). We are to share our knowledge of, faith in and love for Christ – and for each other in Christ.
We are to seek to know and to meet the spiritual and social needs of our fellow Christians.
The purpose of hospitality toward those that are not Christians must be evangelistic. After Christ fed the five thousand, he presented himself as the Bread of Life.
I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.
The ultimate purpose of hospitality to unbelievers is more than being friendly, though it is that first. We need to keep in view man’s deepest need, which is spiritual. How easy to cover land and sea in conversation and never talk of the Savior! We have failed in our giving of hospitality unless and until we introduce our guests to our Friend and Savior, Jesus Christ. This is hospitality at its truest and best.
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