In our Sunday morning Bible study a few weeks ago, a discussion arose about the importance of spending time with each other outside of the assembly. To get to know one another. In that class, Romans 12:3 was read, which states, “contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.” My Bible has an alternate translation of practicing as pursuing. That got my brain going and thinking about what the Bible teaches about hospitality. I found that there is far more than what we have time for in just one lesson. So, what I want to do this morning is to do a survey of this Bible topic and offer a few practical applications for us all to pursue hospitality better.
What Is Hospitality?
The word hospitality in the New Testament comes from the Greek word philoxenia. Which means, quite literally, love (philo) strangers (xenia). It carries a fuller meaning of “the generous and gracious treatment of guests” (The Lexham Bible Dictionary). By looking at a few scripture passages, we can flush and fill out this definition a little better.
- Abraham invited the messengers of God into his tent, offered rest, water, and food (Genesis 18:2-8).
- Israelites were to love the stranger as themselves (Leviticus 19:33-34).
- Israelites were to invite their poor brethren into their homes and celebrate the feast with them (Leviticus 23:35).
- Christians are responsible for pursuing and practicing being generous and gracious to their brethren and strangers (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2).
Drawing then on what these passages show, we may say that to be hospitable, or to practice hospitality, is to:
- Be ready to share our blessings with others (Abraham).
- To love our fellow man as ourselves.
- To pursue opportunities in which we can be a blessing and a refreshment to others.
But why and how are Christians to be hospitable?
Rooted in Love:
We begin with love, specifically Christian love. Alexander Strauch, in his book “The Hospitality Commands,” notes that “The biblical injunctions to practice hospitality are nearly always found in the context of brotherly love” (Strauch 1993). Consider the context of various commands in the New Testament to practice hospitality.
- Romans 12:13 is one of many applications Paul makes from vv.9-10, “Let love be without hypocrisy… be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.”
- 1 Peter 4:8-9 “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint.”
- Hebrews 13:1-2 “Let love the brethren continue.” Or, as the New Century Version words it, “Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters.” “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
This love is itself first rooted in the love that God and Christ showed us. We love “because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). And God demonstrated “His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Paul put this point another way in Galatians 2:20 “… the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
It is precisely this love of God and Christ that should spur us on to love each other. Christ in John 13:34-35 says this, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you love one another. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love is the mark of the Christian, and Paul says that it does not matter if we have all knowledge or skill or understand everything; if we lack love, we are useless to Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 13). And Peter adds to this that “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).
The love that we are supposed to have for each other can be shown in many different ways, but hospitality is a concrete way to show our love for our brethren. To this point, Strauch says that “Hospitality, therefore, is a concrete, down-to-earth test of our fervent love for God and His people. Love can be an abstract, intrinsic idea; hospitality is specific and tangible” (Strauch 1993).
The New Testament Norm:
When we look at the New Testament, there is no shortage of examples of the first Christians practicing hospitality. This practice was deeply rooted in Christian love and the close ties of familial kinship which the early church felt for each other. Consider the many practical ways that the early church showed itself to be a close family:
- They greeted one another with a holy kiss (Romans 16:16). “Usually reserved for special reunions among family members or formal greetings, extending such a public kiss to an entire group was a practice unique to the early church that signified their mutual acceptance as a family” So, a modern-day equivalent would be a hug which families are often given after been apart for any length of time.
- They shared their material possessions (Acts 2:44-45; Romans 12:13).
- They opened their homes for the church (Romans 16:5).
- They ate together (Acts 2:46).
- They practiced hospitality (Acts 16:15; 21:8).
The early church was willing to and actively pursued every opportunity to comfort, take care of, and get to know their “family” members. They did so because they understood the great love shown to them, wanted to reflect that love to their fellow man and brethren and actively sought opportunities to do so tangibly.
Now that we have, at least, some idea about what the Bible teaches concerning hospitality, I want to spend the remainder of our time offering a few practical ways we can prepare to and actively pursue hospitality.
- I need to be first open to hospitality.
- I need to plan to be hospitable. Set aside a regular time each week or month to invite people into your home or to practice being hospitable in some way (Sunday afternoon is a natural candidate for such opportunities)
- Make a list of people who would be encouraged by your offer of hospitality. (A few suggestions to get you thinking):
- Single Christians.
- Widows and widowers.
- Those who don’t have family close by.
- Young families.
- Be interested in people’s lives. Ask how they became Christians if married, how they met, where they traveled, their interests, etc.
There is a reason why Paul said in Romans 12:13 to practice hospitality. There is always room for improvement. Hospitality offers many joys and blessings for both the host and the guest, and it is a vital work within the Lord’s church and a work we all can be a part of either by giving or being willing to receive it.