One of the greatest demonstrations of love and sacred duty in the near eastern world was and still is hospitality. When you invited someone into your home, you offered them almost every privilege of family including food, protection, and help; the story of Lot and the angels in the city of Sodom illustrates it. In the first century Christian world it continued to be an important Christian moral duty. Hebrews 13:2 teaches, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” The Greek work literally means “love of strangers”, but it applied to more than strangers like itinerant preacher, prophets, or apostles showed up in town; it also applied to times when the church needed a place to meet (Romans 12:13).
But in modern times the teaching about hospitality seems to have been moved to the back row of the Christian virtues. It is probably because we live busy lives, usually have two income families, and find it a lot of work. So, are we, therefore, excused from hospitality? By no means! What we need to do, instead of finding reasons why we should be excused, is find ways to be cheerfully obedient. May I humbly offer a few helps toward that goal?
It must be conceded that hospitality can be a lot of work, but consider who we’re offering it to — the Lord. Remember the passage that tells us about the Judgement? Jesus tells us,“Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink?…’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” (Matt. 25:37-40). Remember, it’s not the Smiths that you’re really entertaining; it’s the Lord. Who wouldn’t be anxious to do that, no matter how much work?
Second, remember in the midst of all the work you may be doing, the brethren came to your house not to inspect your house and critique your meal, but to see you. Sometimes we get all caught up in the folly of the world and think we need to present a perfect house, meal, etc. While we needn’t take the other extreme, we do need to realize that we’re family and that we’re all going to appreciate whatever effort was possible. Wasn’t that a great deal of Martha’s problem? She missed the joy and opportunity of hospitality to Jesus and the apostles as she tried to be the perfect hostess.
Even beyond these things, however, hospitality gives you the chance to be a good steward. We occasionally mistake the definition of stewardship to mean preservation of what we have. The parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14ff) tells us what the difference between good stewardship and bad stewardship is. The two good stewards in this story were those who used the master’s money to invest and increase their master’s assets; the bad steward was the one who just preserved the master’s money. In other words, it is the proper use (by the Lord’s definition) of what we’ve been blessed with that makes us good stewards; but the Lord specifically defined poor stewardship in this parable as non-use. Now we can safely add deliberate abuse to that definition of poor stewardship, but you get the idea. And if we understand blessings like our homes (apartments), our energy, and our food as a stewardship (as they certainly are), then use of them in a God-commanded way like hospitality is a perfect use and stewardship of them, and the perfect way to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:23).
Lastly, it gives us the chance to be better connected, have better fellowship with one another — a huge priority in the church. The introduction of the TV into the family living room began an antisocial trend in our culture that has only deepened over the decades. Rather than seeking community socialization, we began to be content to stay at home and be entertained. It got worse with computers and grew worse still with mobile phones and their always-on electronic anonymous social networks (there’s a real oxymoron there) and text messages — isolating us more and more. On the other hand, hospitality is to the church what the dinner table is to the family; it is the place to reconnect with a real person with a real voice, real tears, real laughter, real concerns, and real encouragement.
So, yes, hospitality is work, just like washing feet; but it can and should be cheerfully and joyfully obeyed. When we do, we gain so much