John Campbell, Perth
A careful examination will show that the word for ‘hospitality’ in Romans chapter 12 verse 13 is the same word translated as ‘entertaining strangers’, Heb. 13. 2. W. E. Vine states that hospitality means the love of strangers. This point will become very important as we pursue our study.
We normally show hospitality toward those who can reciprocate it toward us. This is missing the mark completely as the teaching of the Lord shows, ‘When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind and thou shalt be blessed, for they cannot recompense thee’, Luke 14. 12-14. Job could rejoice because ‘the stranger did not lodge in the street, but I opened my doors to the traveller’, Job 31. 32. The Lord taught his disciples ‘I was hungry, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger and ye took me in’, Matt. 25. 35. Do we fully understand how many lonely and needy people there are around who would appreciate hospitality? Students struggling on a budget! People who have lost their partner and are tired of their own company! New converts who come from a family where the precious name of the Lord Jesus is blasphemed!
There is an interesting verse in Matthew chapter 10 verse 41 that we seldom hear in ministry, ‘He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward’. You may feel so inferior to someone who is a great servant of the Lord. You may feel that your reward will be so much less than theirs. But this verse is teaching that if you show hospitality to that servant, in the capacity of a servant of the Lord, you will receive the same rewardas he does. That is ‘receiving a prophet’s reward’!
Sadly, the practice of Christian hospitality is diminishing in many parts of the world. Many of the Lord’s people find it easier and more appealing to pay a visit to a local restaurant, even on a Lord’s Day. Almost all centres of population today can offer a wide range of cuisine to appeal to our individual palate. We can choose from Chinese, Japanese, Italian, French, American, and, maybe, even British. Some of us even come over as experts in reading the exotic menus on offer! The cost does not appear to be a major hurdle either.
Personally, I feel we are going down the wrong route entirely. Try to imagine the early New Testament believers in an atmosphere like this. Listen to Paul, ‘Have ye not houses to eat and to drink in’, 1 Cor. 11. 22. I am well aware of the context in which he says these words but it does show that the apostle believed that our homes should be the focal point for Christian fellowship.
In Romans chapter 12 verse 9, we are encouraged ‘to let love be without dissimulation’. Paul wants our love to God to be without hypocrisy. In verses 9-13 he lists nine different ways in which we can test the sincerity of our love to God. The final test is mentioned in verse 13, ‘given to hospitality’. Isn’t it surprising to find that God places hospitality on such a high level? ‘Given’ is an interesting word which is very often translated ‘pursue or follow after’, cp. Phil. 3. 12, 14; 1 Tim. 6. 11; and Heb. 12. 14. So, when we are told to follow after or pursue opportunities to show hospitality, it means more than just a casual invite. We should not look on hospitality as a duty or a routine that we are called to fulfil because it is expected of us. We should count it a privilege to pursue and look out for opportunities to show hospitality, as a test and proof of the sincerity of our love to God.
The New Testament highlights certain areas where hospitality should be shown:
Paul lists the features that should mark overseers, Titus 1. 6-9. One of the criteria is ‘a lover of hospitality’, v. 8. Again, in 1 Timothy chapter 3, he tells us things which ‘must’ be true of overseers, ‘given to hospitality, apt to teach’, v. 2. These two phrases juxtaposed indicate the reason why overseers should have an open home. It is not to impress by the standard of food but rather to have an opportunity to provide spiritual nourishment. The teaching referred to in these verses is not necessarily public teaching in the assembly gatherings but something much more relaxed in the privacy of the overseer’s home. Some of us will be eternally grateful for overseers who used their homes in this way to encourage younger believers. These men were not publicly gifted but they were ‘apt to teach’.
There is just one word of warning. In Acts chapter 20 verse 20, Paul taught both ‘publicly and from house to house’. But what Paul taught publicly was the very same as what he taught from house to house. Sadly, this is not always the case today. Can I appeal to our overseeing brethren to rise to the challenge of opening their homes, not for small talk or to criticise others but to teach the word of God?
Sisters who are described as ‘widows indeed’, 1 Tim. 5. 5
In verse 10 we read of such as those who ‘have lodged strangers’ and have ‘washed the saints’ feet’. This, of course, is referring not to a literal washing of the saints’ feet but to the spiritual refreshment provided by these sisters who have an open home in which they showed hospitality. What a contrast with the women mentioned in verse 13 who are described as’ idlers’, ‘tattlers’, and ‘busybodies’! In a sense, the homes we live in are not our own. We have them on trust from the Lord and they should be used in His service.
All believers, Heb. 13. 2
‘Be not forgetful to entertain strangers’ is a call to every child of God. The Hebrew writer goes on to tell us that ‘thereby some have entertained angels unawares’. This provides the clue that the writer is thinking of the experiences of Abraham and Lot in Genesis chapters 18 and 19. But notice the difference between the two stories:
In Chapter 18 verses 4 and 5, Abraham offered the strangers that he would ‘fetch a little water and a morsel of bread’, but, by the time we get to verse 8, it is more like a sumptuous feast.
In Chapter 19 verse 3, Lot offered the strangers a ‘feast’, but it turned out to be pretty plain fare of ‘unleavened bread’.
In Chapter 18 verse 5, when Abraham offered his hospitality, the angels accepted gladly, and said ‘so do as thou hast said’.
In Chapter 19 verse 2, when Lot offered his hospitality, the angels were reluctant to accept. They said, ‘Nay, but we will abide in the street all night’. The lesson for us is that we must earn the moral right to ‘entertain strangers’ in our homes.
There is a great recompense when we open our homes to provide hospitality. That was the time when Abraham received the promise of Isaac’s birth, Gen. 18. 9, 10. It was also the time when Abraham received the revelation of God’s plans for Sodom, Gen. 18. 23-33. Think of how Rahab was rewarded for inviting the strangers into her home in Jericho, Josh. 6. 25. Think of the two who received the ‘stranger’ into their home in Emmaus, Luke 24. 13-32.
So the message comes to us loud and clear – it is most rewarding to have an open home. If you are one of those who have stopped showing hospitality for a long time or someone who has never done it, let me encourage you to get involved with this noble service.
Peter adds his testimony, ‘use hospitality, one to another without grudging’, 1 Pet. 4. 9. Is Peter writing these words from personal experience? Think of the house in Capernaum, Mark 1. 21-33, and what measure of resentment there might have been when Peter saw ‘all the city gathered at the door’, v. 33! There would have been considerable inconvenience on that occasion!
In Mark chapter 2 verses 1-12, there is another home scene in Capernaum. We don’t know whose home it was but the roof was torn up to allow a sick man to get in front of the Lord. Sometimes we get a little irritated when the carpets get damaged or someone spills coffee over the chairs! However, Peter says, ‘Use hospitality one to another without grudging’, 1 Pet. 4. 9. ‘Without grudging’ suddenly takes on a new meaning!