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Showing Love to Strangers and Guests: The Hospitality Mandate

August 2, 2013

In the session summarized in the last post, we talked about kindness.  We looked at some of the barriers we experience in expressing kindness, and we concluded by considering how we can best exercise kindness within our family contexts once those barriers are addressed.

This post will summarize the session we spent talking about how we can show kindness beyond the family context by practicing hospitality.  Our discussion was built around the questions below, but first I’ll give you the three passages of Scripture that we referred to in our time together:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

(Romans 12:9-13)

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.

(1 Peter 4:8,9)

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

(Hebrews 13:1,2)

What is hospitality?

If you Google the definition of hospitality, this is what you get:  “The friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.”  In the New Testament, the Greek word philoxenia is the word used for hospitality, and it is made up of the word philos, which means, “loving”, and the word xenos, which means, “a stranger or a guest”.    So the biblical definition of hospitality is showing love to strangers and guests.  Note that all three of our passages mention hospitality in the context of loving one another.  Biblical hospitality is concerned with more than a beautifully presented meal and engaging after-dinner entertainment.  It is concerned with seeking to love others by serving them.

Why should we show hospitality?

The short answer?  We should show hospitality because all Christians (not just women) are commanded to do so in the Scriptures.  It is one of our means of showing Christian love to believers and unbelievers alike.

A more in-depth answer?  We should show hospitality because we have been shown the ultimate act of hospitality by God.  While we were yet sinners – strangers to His holiness, alienated from Him because of our sin – He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, who died so that we might be invited into His family.  God opened His home to us and we did not deserve it!  It is only fitting that we, in turn, reflect this grace as we interact with others and exemplify the love of Christ to them. (For a good article on this, go to the Girltalk blog here.)

To whom should we show hospitality?

If we look at the three passages above, we can see that we are to be hospitable to one another as saints, but as has already been indicated, it does not say that we are to be hospitable only to people we know.  In these busy times, we often find it hard to show hospitality even to our closest friends and relatives, but we are called as Christians to do more than that – we are called to show hospitality to strangers – people we don’t know very well, if at all.  Does this bind us to extend a dinner invitation to every person we encounter in the course of our day?  Of course not.  That would not be possible, practical, wise, or necessary.  But it does mean that we should be open and intentional about being hospitable to the people we meet.  It means being willing to invite people over when they need a meal or a conversation, even if it’s not the most convenient time.  It means being ready to invite a visitor who is new to the church home for lunch with you.  It means thinking creatively about how you might be able to meet even a small need in someone else’s life in a way that is meaningful to them.  In the Bible, we see many examples of hospitality shown to fellow believers, unbelievers, widows, orphans, the poor and needy, missionaries, foreigners, and travelers.  We may not be presented with opportunities to show hospitality to people in every one of these categories, but we should be thinking about who we can serve.  Hospitality offers us a wonderful opportunity to show Christ’s love to a broken world.

How should we practice hospitality?

Without grumbling (see 1 Pet 4:9).  This may be the hardest part!  How often do we find ourselves struggling to serve others cheerfully?  The command to be hospitable is unconditional.  It does not say, “Show hospitality if you have time….or, if it is convenient….or, if you have a big enough house…or, if you have a complete set of matching dishes.”  We are called to be hospitable no matter who we are and no matter what our circumstances are, AND we are to do it without complaining.

Alexander Strauch speaks to this:

The opposite of complaining is gladness – the willingness to cheerfully accept the inconvenience, labor, and cost of hospitality.  Hospitality is a form of giving, and “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7 NASB).  So let us ask God to give us a cheerful spirit as we practice hospitality.

Certainly the ministry (and corresponding inconveniences) of hospitality can easily rattle our grumbling bones.  Hospitality demands old-fashioned work.  It may be costly and is often inconvenient.  It is time-consuming.  It places strain on the family.  Sometimes guests abuse their Christian brothers’ and sisters’ hospitality.  And during times of persecution, hospitality can even be dangerous.

Hospitality, therefore, is a concrete, down-to-earth test of our fervent love for God and His people.  Love can be an abstract, indistinct idea; hospitality is specific and tangible.  We seldom complain about loving others too much, but we do complain about the inconveniences of hospitality.  Hospitality is love in action.  Hospitality is the flesh and muscle on the bones of love.  Through caring acts of hospitality, the reality of our love is tested. (Strauch, p. 37-38)

In what ways can we show hospitality?

  • Preparing food (Gen 24:15-21; 1 Kings 17:9; Mat 14:15-21; Acts  2:46; 20:11)
  • Providing housing/lodging (2 Kings 4:8-17)
  • Giving physical protection or safety (Josh 2:1-15)
  • Sharing material possessions (Acts 2:44; Rom 12:13-20; James 2:15-16; 1 John 3:17)
  • Offering a place to rest (Gen 18:1-22; Mark 14:3-8; Luke 7:36-47; John 12:1-8)
  • Extending love and encouragement (Rom 12:10-13; 1 Thess 4:9-10)
  • Sharing the Gospel (Acts 10:24; 20:20; 3 John 7,8)
  • Giving spiritual teaching or encouragement (Rom 16:5; Col 4:15)

(Ennis & Tatlock, p.211)

I hope you are coming away from this post feeling convicted and encouraged to seek out more opportunities for hospitality in your own life.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed instead, fear not!  The next post will address some of the common difficulties that tend to prevent us from practicing hospitality, and some practical tips for overcoming those difficulties.


ESV Bible

Ennis & Tatlock, Becoming a Woman Who Pleases God, 2003

Alexander Strauch, The Hospitality Commands, 1993, 37-38

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