…using hospitality one to another without murmuring (1 Peter 4:9).
The art of showing hospitality to others is in danger of becoming yet another casualty of the major societal changes we see in our world. Families are becoming more insular; people are busy with all sorts of activities; and online social media interaction is often used to replace real life meetings. As a result, Christians are not spending as much time in each other’s homes. Many look to the church itself to expedite and facilitate such opportunities, even though God never thus burdened the church. We do well to consider what hospitality is and why it is so important for Christians to remain hospitable toward one another as well as toward all.
Hospitality is defined by Webster as “the act or practice of receiving and entertaining strangers or guests without reward, or with kind and generous liberality.” The Greek word which is often defined as hospitality is philoxenos, which literally refers to love of a stranger or foreigner. According to the New Testament, elders are to be hospitable (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8), and all Christians are to show hospitality toward fellow Christians without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9).
Hospitality was taken quite seriously in the ancient world. The ancient world did not feature any hotel chains spread across the known world; if one had to travel, one was at the mercy of the hospitality of the people of whom they would encounter on the way. Across the ancient world, the showing of hospitality was a sacred trust among all peoples: if you received a guest, you would treat him well, make sure sufficient food and room were provided for both the guest and his animals, and would do all you could in order to preserve the safety and integrity of your guest. We see this sacred trust graphically illustrated in the lengths to which Lot and the unnamed man of Ephraim went in order to preserve their guests from the violation of the locals in Genesis 19:1-11 and Judges 19:16-26. To this day hospitality is taken quite seriously in many cultures. Guests are shown great honor; a family will often present a feast to a visitor that is far beyond what they would normally be consuming for a meal. American culture continues to honor this custom with the practice of formal dinners in order to welcome dignitaries, honor special guests, or to commemorate major events.
While hospitality is a way by which we honor others, it need not be very extravagant or formal. The goal of hospitality is not to show others how well we can entertain; hospitality is the means by which we open up our homes and/or our lives to other people so as to establish and/or maintain the relationships with each other that God intends for us to have. We are to love one another (1 Peter 4:8), bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), and show great honor toward one another (Romans 12:10). We do not automatically accomplish these expectations merely by showing hospitality; by showing hospitality, we show others that we do care for them and wish to share in life with them, and in so doing we can help establish the relationships in which we can then accomplish what God expects of us.
We should want to share in life with our fellow Christians; therefore, hospitality should not be considered a great burden (1 Peter 4:9). We may not feel that our house is big enough, clean enough, or good enough to have other Christians in our homes; these concerns should not hinder us from fulfilling the Lord’s commandment. Early Christians had far smaller, dirtier, and poorer accommodations, and yet they went from house to house sharing meals and encouraging one another (Acts 2:46-47). If nothing else we can show hospitality by taking fellow Christians out to share a meal at a restaurant.
Hospitality is an essential aspect of Christianity. How can we say we love one another and care for one another if we do not show hospitality toward each other? As God has received us to Himself and shown us great generosity and liberality, so let us show hospitality toward one another!
Ethan R. Longhenry