Note: This is Post # 11 in the series titled “The Transformed Life” based on Romans 12. Please click here for previous posts: POST # 1, POST # 2, POST # 3, POST # 4, POST # 5, POST # 6, POST # 7, POST # 8, POST # 9, POST # 10.
As we continue in the series of the transformed life, this post deals with sharing our material resources with other Christians in need drawn from the second part of Romans 12:13b, “Practice Hospitality.”
The word, “hospitality” is from 2 words that mean “love” and “strangers” or “foreigners.” Put together it means to “show love to strangers.” The word, “practice” can be better translated as “to follow after eagerly.” When we combine these two words, we get the idea of eagerly showing love to strangers—a love that’s frequently expressed by providing for their needs and offering protection to them by opening the doors to them. That, according to Paul, should be the lifestyle of the Christian who is being transformed by the Spirit to become more like Christ.
We have several examples of these in the Scriptures. Abraham invited angels who came in human form into his tent and offered food to them [Gen 18:1-8]. Lot did the same as well [Gen 19:1-11]. Job when defending his integrity to his friends said these words, “no stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler” [Job 31:32].
You see, showing hospitality was a command given by God way back in the Old Testament itself as God’s people were getting ready to enter the promised land, “you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” [Deut 10:19]. Why? Because God himself “loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing” [Deut 10:18].
When we come to the New Testament, we find the commands to pursue hospitality has not changed very much. We are to show love and care to strangers and foreigners. In fact, God takes it so seriously that in order to be a pastor or elder in the church, one of the qualities to be displayed is hospitality, “Now the overseer is to be…hospitable” [1 Tim 3:2, also Titus 1:8]. In other words, God wants this to start right at the top.
Even widows were to put on the list of support only if they displayed amongst other things hospitality, “showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds” [1 Tim 5:10]. The writer of Hebrews commands all believers to show hospitality even to strangers with these words: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” [Heb 13:2].
And in 1 Peter 4:9, this command to show hospitality extends to more than strangers and includes even known believers, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Especially in Peter’s time, this would have been a risky thing. As persecution was rising, those that were opening their homes to other believers would put themselves at risk. Yet, the command is to show hospitality and that too “without grumbling.” No complaining or murmuring when it comes to displaying hospitality.
A mother had some people visiting her and at the time of prayer before food asked her young daughter to pray. Seeing the daughter hesitating, she said, “Don’t be shy. Just pray like how I prayed earlier today during lunch time.” The girl immediately prayed, “Lord, why do these people have to come today?”
Kids catch on fast, don’t they? God desires us to be hospitable with a cheerful spirit!
Bottom line is this: Hospitality is not a gift only for some Christians to use. It is a command for all Christians to actively pursue and put into practice all their life. The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that all who profess to be Christ-followers must constantly display hospitality.
The early church took this very seriously. By the end of the first century, it was common for believers to open their homes to traveling missionaries and to support their work. The apostle John says these words in commending the believers he wrote to through these words, “5 Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. 6 They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God. 7 It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. 8 We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth” [3 John 1:5-8].
Now there is a danger when it comes to hospitality. We should not get so carried away that we open our homes in fellowship with just about everybody. The Bible clearly calls for restraint when it comes to certain folks. I can think of 2 kinds. The first kind would be false teachers [2 John 1:7-11; Tit 3:10-11; 2 Tim 3:5] and the second kind would be persistently unrepentant professing believers [1 Cor 5:11]. So, while we are to put this command of hospitality to practice, we must exercise discernment in keeping with these biblical commands as well.
Having seen a mini overview of what the Bible says about the subject of hospitality, let’s see how we can practically apply this command by looking at 2 aspects: I. Why are many Christians not very hospitable and II. How can Christians be more hospitable.
I. Why are many Christians not very hospitable. Here are 5 reasons.
1. Divided home. In such cases, do what you can outside of the home. Ask God to show how you can be a means of blessing without bringing them home. Meet people at a coffee shop and learn about how you can minister to them. Go visit them where possible and minister to their needs.
2. Fear. Some people are by nature fearful of having people home. Either it is outright fear or even being shy. They are introverts by nature. If you are one, seek God’s help to overcome these issues. Once you mingle with people and have them open their hearts to you, it will be a fantastic experience as you show them Christ’s love.
3. Pride. Some focus so much on how their homes look like and how visitors will perceive them based on their homes, they rarely have guests at home. The issue is not the size of the house though often that is used as an excuse. The real underlying reason is pride. There is too much focus on “How will I be perceived” based on the size or appearance of my home. That’s the issue.
There is a difference between entertaining and hospitality. Pride wants to entertain, Humility wants to be hospitable. The following differentiation between “hospitality” and “entertaining” was made by Karen Mains in Open Heart, Open Home (Elgin, Ill.: Cook, 1976):
Entertaining says, “I want to impress you with my home, my clever decorating, my cooking.” Hospitality, seeking to minister, says, “This home is a gift from my Master. I use it as He desires.” Hospitality aims to serve.
Entertaining puts things before people. “As soon as I get the house finished, the living room decorated, my housecleaning done—then I will start inviting people.” Hospitality puts people first. “No furniture—we’ll eat on the floor.” “The decorating may never get done—you come anyway.” “The house is a mess—but you are friends—come home with us.”
Entertaining subtly declares, “This home is mine, an expression of my personality. Look, please, and admire.” Hospitality whispers, “What is mine is yours.”
4. Prejudice. I will invite only my kind. That’s another common reason. Deep inside is a racist attitude. The Bible condemns it. Read Deuteronomy 10:18-20. Fear of the Lord should make us love and welcome the foreigner. God hates a racist attitude, and we must also fight against giving into such thinking. We are to love, pray and do good even to our enemies!
5. Laziness.Last, but certainly not the least, laziness. We just hate the work that goes with hospitality. As is, I have a busy life at work. I need my time to relax and not be bothered. Maybe next week, or next month and so time goes on. At the core, we only think about ourselves and our comforts. We don’t like being inconvenienced. That’s not Christ-like thinking. Even when we are discouraged, we fail to remember God has a way of bringing great encouragement to our hearts as we spend time focusing on encouraging others.
I’m sure many more can be added. But these are some that are more common which prevents many believers from putting the command to be hospitable on a regular basis. Let’s look at the solution. How can we be more hospitable?
II. How can Christians be more hospitable. Here are 5 Suggestions.
1. Keep it simple. Often we make the mistake of overdoing it when it comes to hospitality. What I mean is way too much time, and effort is taken when inviting someone. And this can easily tire a person. The result is shying away from inviting more often. My suggestion—keep it simple. That way, there can be more opportunities to invite and actually spend time with people and share their burdens.
Don’t fall victim to thinking, “We don’t have enough room. I’m not that good of a cook. I’m terrible at socializing.” Do the best with what you have. Be faithful in what’s given to you! At times, it can be just for coffee or dessert. Or one can buy pizzas. Doesn’t have to be elaborate. Key is getting together to encourage others. Keep it simple!
2. Keep it consistent. Often there is a challenge to put this command to practice consistently. Set a reasonable goal. At least one family to invite every 2 weeks to encourage them. Don’t keep inviting the same folks over and over again. This will not leave you with much time to invite others. Strike a balance. Makes sure you make it a habit to invite those who are lonely and even socially in the lower status in keeping with Jesus’s words in Luke 14:13-14, “13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
3. Keep it Christ-centered. If they are believers, try to encourage their spiritual walk. Take some time praying as well. Often, a great deal of time is spent on talking about so many issues and the only time spent in praying is before a meal. Try to set a few minutes to pray. It will be very encouraging. Also, if they are unbelievers, try to talk about Christ as God grants opportunities. Pray and ask the Lord to open a door.
4. Keep praying for opportunities. Unlike the early church where it was dangerous for people to stay in public places, it is much safer now. So, at times, we may find it hard to find people, let alone strangers to invite. Keep praying and keep looking for opportunities. Make friends at public places, be it the school where your kids go, your neighborhood, workplace. And invite them to your home. As you talk, you will find people warming up and sharing their burdens.
Over the years, we have found one way of ministering to newcomers to our city by hosting international students for special occasions like Thanksgiving or Christmas. This way, they won’t be too lonely since they are far away from family. Also, it gives us great opportunities to share the gospel with them plus offer help in other practical areas. Check what programs your local university or college may have for you to sign up to invite students.
5. Keep doing it by faith. At the end of the day, it takes faith to obey God’s commands. Believe that your hospitality has far-reaching consequences that you will not realize now, but only later.
A seminary student drove about thirty miles to church on Sunday mornings, and he would frequently pick up hitchhikers. One day he picked up a young man who noticed that he was wearing a suit and asked if he could go to church with him. The student said, “Of course you can.”
The stranger came to church and afterward was invited over to one of the members’ home for lunch and fellowship. While there, he received a hot bath, some clean clothes, and a hot meal. In conversation with the youth, his hosts found that he was a Christian, but he had been out of fellowship with the Lord. His home was in another state, and he was just passing through on his way back. Later in the evening, they bought him a bus ticket and sent him on his way.
A week later, the seminary student received a letter from the hitch-hiker. Enclosed with the letter was a newspaper clipping with headlines reading, “Man turns himself in for murder.” This young man had killed a teenage boy in an attempted robbery and had been running away from the law for some time. But the kindness and hospitality of Christians had convicted him. He wanted to be in fellowship with God, and he knew he needed to do the right thing about his crime.
Little did those Christians know that through their faithfulness to show hospitality they had influenced a man to do what was right in God’s eyes and thereby help restore him to fellowship with his Lord.
In faith, we need to pursue keeping all of God’s commands, including this command to pursue hospitality. At the end of the day, this is an important command. One that is so important that Jesus himself equated to be a characteristic of true faith [Matthew 25:35-46].
And the best motivation to put this command to practice? Jesus shed his blood on the cross and thus opened his home in heaven for sinners such as us. Can we not open our homes in the name of Jesus to others? After all, Christianity has been called “the religion of the open hand, open heart, and the open door.” Let these truths be evident in our lives as we are being transformed more into being like Christ.