Several scriptures from God’s Word, the Bible, show us God expects the characteristic of hospitality to be part of the heart of His children. We read in 1 Peter 4:9 that we are to “be hospitable to one another without grumbling.” Titus 1:8 and 1 Timothy 3:2 list hospitality as part of the work and function of a minister. In Romans 12:13 Paul wrote we are to be “distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.”
Paul also wrote in 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.” And in 2 Thessalonians 3:12: “We command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.”
In the heart is where the concept of hospitality must reside. This is then reflected in the words and deeds of each person.
Clearly we can see the concept of hospitality has two sides: offering it and receiving it. Hospitality is defined as “being kind to strangers, and being welcoming and generous toward guests.” A responsibility also lies with any guest not to take advantage of the hospitality that is offered.
Proverbs 23:1-2 admonishes a guest to “put a knife to your throat” when dining as a guest. Do not overeat and thus abuse the hospitality. Luke 14:10 cites Jesus’ words when He said: “When you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’” Thus, we see that a guest has a strong responsibility to use the gift carefully—always allowing the host to set the pace.
Helping those in need
When I was a boy, many family members as well as strangers were in need of help. This was right after the war and people were fleeing war-torn Europe and striving to get a fresh start. Our home welcomed family members who had only the pack they could carry. I recall three families who stayed with us. All three found jobs right away and as soon as they could, they found their own place to live.
The hospitality of my parents placed a heavy load on the family finances, but it was never regretted because of the wonderful attitudes of those we were able to help. I recall young men who also came and could hardly speak the language. My father would help them find work and feed them until they were settled. This help was never abused. A godly person cannot simply walk past someone who has an obvious need. James 2:16 tells us that.
Other sides to the story of hospitality abound as well. I recall a day many years ago when my wife and I served in the ministry in Europe. We were given several churches to serve and early in our visits we were strongly urged by one particular family to visit and stay overnight with them. The meal they served was sumptuous and the bed we slept in was very comfortable. Only the next day did I realize the parents had bedded down on the living room floor and given us their bed. The meal was one that was never served when guests were not there—and their children could only eat what was left.
When no guests were present, the food was meager and the cupboards bare. I learned much later the children resented this “visit” from the clergy and the whole family suffered. We determined to stay in a hotel if at all possible after that time. We were not in need or desperate, so this kind of hospitality may have come from the heart, but was wrongly directed and executed. The motive for this sort of deed was wrong. True hospitality comes from the heart and is not the same for every person.
In my case, I grew up in a very close family of eight, and family was important. When a need was obvious, it was filled. Furthermore, my parents and their siblings were refugees in the past and their need had been filled by others. The motivation to help was correct and from the heart. Nevertheless, anyone who abused the help would not have been very welcome.
In Jesus’ day, welcoming strangers into a home was common practice. Yet, the Bible tells us there is a time when this is not to be done. In 2 John 7, 10-11 it speaks strongly against welcoming a false teacher into your home. Churches were beginning to drift from the truth that Jesus Christ taught. Hospitality was being abused. We are expected by God to use our minds and not to foolishly extend a hand to those who would abuse our gift.
Lessons from Martha
God inspired a wonderful story to be included in the Bible. Luke 10:38-42 gives us a short story about Jesus’ stay at the home of Mary and Martha. It was not only Jesus who would stay. He was accompanied on His travels by the disciples and some women. They would have bedded down in the garden, on the roof and other places, and Martha felt the need to serve this group.
Needless to say it was a huge task and she was in “perpetual motion” trying to get everything done. Finally, out of frustration Martha approached Jesus and said: “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?” ( Luke 10:40). Martha had grown frustrated—perhaps exhausted by the huge task before her—and she saw that her sister simply sat and listened. It was too much for Martha, but it was also in her mind that certain things needed to be done. Those offering to host others sometimes work themselves into a lather trying to put out the very best they have. The end result is they determine never to be a host again.
Jesus would never have abused the hospitality offered. In fact, He was a very close family friend. The entire group had the responsibility to know many hands make the work easy, and after Jesus’ talk, in all likelihood all would have pitched in to help. Martha learned certain lessons and we too can learn from this story.
Hospitality begins in the heart
Not everyone is able to show hospitality in exactly the same way. Sometimes past experiences or present needs prevent a person from doing what needs to be done. In that case there may be another way, or another person might be able to do the task. People do have differing gifts and abilities. In the heart is where the concept of hospitality must reside. This is then reflected in the words and deeds of each person.
A beautiful story about one who had the right heart, but not the means, is found in 1 Kings 17:8-16. God sent His servant Elijah to a woman who had nothing. In 1 Kings 17:10-11 we can see what she could give, she did. It was only a cup of water. But, because her attitude was so good, God made it possible for her to feed Elijah as well as herself and her son. Her heart was right in this matter and God made it possible for her to act.
It makes me wonder sometimes how my father, who had six mouths to feed on a coal miner’s salary, could also support and feed so many more who had need. The small amount we had was always just enough.
To conclude, it is clear we must all have hospitality in our hearts. We need to understand what hospitality means. The Bible indicates that we ought to use judgment and discernment in our actions and make sure our hearts are not hardened. And when we have the means and the opportunities to do so, we will be blessed indeed if we extend loving hospitality.