“Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality” (Romans 12:13).
“And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. Use hospitality one to another without grudging. As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God”
(I Peter 4:8-10).
Both of these New Testament passages address the principle of Biblical hospitality. Today’s culture has a misconstrued concept of hospitality. This is true even among some Bible-believers. Some act as if it is compromise to be nice to someone in the world by going out to eat with him to share the gospel or befriending him to show the love of Christ. In other words, they relate hospitality to a lack of separation in the life of a believer. At the other extreme are those who utilize their hospitality as a “social gospel.” Certain churches are very active in feeding the poor and caring for the needy in the community, yet they make no effort to fulfill the Great Commission of “preaching the gospel.”
Neither extreme is correct. Biblical hospitality is not the Christian’s way to get the gospel out, nor is it somehow “worldly” for a believer to be hospitable. My purposes in this article are (1) to show that hospitality is required of all believers and (2) to prevent the compromise of our Christian testimony while fulfilling this Biblical duty.
A couple of Old Testament passages help formulate our understanding of hospitality. Let’s first consider the account of Abraham in Genesis 18.
“And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground, And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant: Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree: And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said. And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth. And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it. And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat” (Genesis 18:1-8).
Notice what Matthew Henry says about the following passage:
“How Abraham entertained those strangers, and how kindly his entertainment was accepted. The Holy Ghost takes particular notice of the very free and affectionate welcome Abraham gave to the strangers. 1. He was very complaisant and respectful to them. Forgetting his age and gravity, he ran to meet them in the most obliging manner, and with all due courtesy bowed himself towards the ground, though as yet he knew nothing of them but that they appeared graceful respectable men. Note, Religion does not destroy, but improve good manners, and teaches us to honor all men. 2. He was very earnest and importunate for their stay, and took it as a great favor. It becomes those whom God has blessed with plenty to be liberal and open-hearted in their entertainments, according to their ability, and (not in compliment, but cordially) to bid their friends welcome.”
You will notice that Abraham was anticipating the opportunity to “entertain strangers.” He sacrificed to host them. Hospitality always requires a special effort on our part, often including monetary expense. This does not mean that we should go broke to entertain someone, but we should not let the fact that effort and sacrifice are involved stop us from being hospitable. Abraham’s conduct toward strangers is a challenge to us.
Hebrews 13:2 refers to this account from the life of Abraham. One of the truths gleaned from this passage is the duty of believers to extend hospitality to strangers. American culture has a misguided belief that giving is only worthwhile with a guarantee of reciprocation. This can be seen in the charitable giving by businesses and large corporations. CEOs and financial bosses usually want the “public relations” aspect benefited through their charitable giving endeavors. The word stranger indicates someone unknown–even unexpected. This scenario makes it difficult to line up a “photo-op” or send out a press release. Christ was always looking for someone to help, whether that person was poor, halt, or blind. Because he is a representative of Christ, a Christian should make it a habit to extend a helping hand to any stranger in need.
The second part of Hebrews 13:2 is interesting because it describes a situation where angels are entertained. While there is much theological argument on this point, we are sure that in the case of Abraham, he did unknowingly serve angels. God sees and knows what we do. The Lord recognized Abraham when he served strangers out of a pure heart with pure intentions. He sees and knows what we do also. The Bible teaches that what is given in secret, including hospitality, will be rewarded openly.
“If I have withheld the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail; Or have eaten my morsel myself alone, and the fatherless hath not eaten thereof; The stranger did not lodge in the street: but I opened my doors to the traveller” (Job 31:16-17, 32).
In this passage, Job is defending himself to his three “friends.” They had sat for some time with him in mourning, but now they are bringing to Job a scathing rebuke. Job is later rebuked by Elihu who points out Job’s pride against God. In the midst of this exchange, various truths are nonetheless given. One of those truths is stated in the passage above. Job appeals to God for defense because, as a practice, he was hospitable to those in need. Most believe that Job’s life predated Abraham, so it is amazing to realize how much knowledge Job already had about the universe. Not only that, but Job understood how to maintain a right relationship with his fellow man.
This passage deals specifically with those less fortunate–the poor, the widow, and the fatherless–and the believer’s duty to help them. A good church will not adopt the social gospel model–substituting giving to the needy for soulwinning; however, providing help for those in need should not be ignored. Helping the poor, widows, and the fatherless is one way that Christ’s love is shown to this world.
Our understanding of hospitality is further developed in the New Testament. Consider the familiar account of the Good Samaritan in Luke:
“And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee”
This passage is filled with lessons in Biblical hospitality. The first lesson is that hospitality will sometimes change your schedule–it will be “inconvenient.” In this story, the Samaritan had other obligations, yet he stopped to take care of the unfortunate man. In this hectic, technologically advanced time in which we live, there are many schedules to be maintained–school, church, family, and business, to name a few. But there are some things that are not a part of any schedule. These include the instances when we “happen upon” a stranger in need who may have been waylaid by bad people or bad circumstances.
This account teaches us also that hospitality may cost us out of our own pocket. This good Samaritan paid his own money to ensure that this man’s needs were provided. The context does not indicate that he was expecting anything in return. No news articles proclaiming his great generosity were posted. The Samaritan was just burdened to meet this man’s needs and to help him get back on his feet.
The teaching on hospitality expands throughout the book of Acts, particularly among fellow believers. In Acts 2, the believers fellowshiped from house to house. The apostle Paul and other missionaries relied on the hospitality of fellow believers as they journeyed from city to city. In Acts 16, Paul meets Lydia, a merchant of purple cloth. She was moved by Paul’s preaching and insisted that he accept her offer of hospitality. She constrained Paul’s team to come into her house so that she could meet their needs. Her home became a center of faith.
Paul and Silas experienced a miraculous escape from the prison at Philippi. The jail keeper was saved from suicide by Paul’s quick action. This jailer responded by taking Paul and Silas into his own home where, in the middle of the night, he and his household provided the apostles food and medical attention. Remember Paul’s instruction to the churches of Galatia, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Our Christianity should be obvious to the unsaved world in the ways that we treat our fellow believers. Christ said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).
Finally, following Biblical guidelines will protect us from compromising our doctrine and testimony while practicing Biblical hospitality at the same time. Consider these verses and some principles that follow them:
“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them”
“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself”
1. Biblical hospitality does not eliminate the demand for discipline in the local church. There is a time and place to deal with someone who is causing division among the believers. The Word of God gives guidelines for dealing with someone who has strayed in doctrine and is attempting to get others to align themselves with him.
2. Biblical hospitality must be appropriate with regard to male/female relationships. Scripture gives clear distinction in the sexes, and we should take care that godly boundaries are maintained so that a person is not made to feel uncomfortable in fellowship.
3. Biblical hospitality is not a license to participate in sinful activities such as drinking, gambling, etc. Christians are always Christians and must never drop their testimony in order to “reach” the world. A Christian’s priority is first and foremost to please the Lord.
After considering the Bible’s teaching, ask yourself, “How is my hospitality at church? How is it in my personal life? Am I displaying the grace of God’s goodness in my life to others around me through hospitality?”
In closing, here are some ways we can be hospitable in our church, our community, and around the world:
1. Invite a fellow member over to your house for dinner and fellowship.
2. Visit a local nursing home with your family. Sing and talk with some of the residents.
3. Volunteer at a local shelter once a month or at a local food pantry to hand out food.
4. Find a missionary overseas and collect some goods to send them.
5. Befriend a guest to your church and take them out to eat or buy them a coffee at a local place.
6. Line up a time to have two or three families over to your house. Try to have a new believer and someone that has been saved for more than ten years together.
7. Take the opportunity at special holidays, especially those that are tied to Biblical days, to give cards or small gifts to those that you do business with.
8. Set aside some Sunday afternoons to take a church member or guest to lunch after the morning service.