New Testament writers Paul, Peter, John and the author of Hebrews make hospitality a Scriptural command, in fact, a duty. Why was this considered so important? What does it have to do with Christianity? The first Christians viewed themselves as part of a worldwide brotherhood and they knew they were a persecuted minority in a hostile world. "Little pockets of early Christians survived," writes C.S. Lewis, "because they cared exclusively for the love of the brethren and stopped their ears to the opinion of the Pagan society all round them."
Hospitality, therefore, became one of the most significant, practical expressions of this worldwide family of brothers and sisters, and thus became one of the birthmarks of early Christianity.
In the rush of today's modern lifestyle, hospitality is often one of the last things on our list of priorities. To offer hospitality means sacrificing time, family, possessions, home, finances and our privacy. The rewards though are lasting and far reaching. The simple act of hospitality can offer friendship, acceptance, fellowship, refreshment, comfort and love in one of the richest and deepest ways possible for humans to understand.Unless we open our homes to one another, the reality of the local church as a close-knit family of loving brothers and sisters is only a theory.
Could it be that our churches today often feel cold and uncaring because hospitality is a dying art? How long do folk attend a church before they get invited over for a meal, or even a cup of tea? Could it be that we are losing that distinctive, the one that so ably characterized the early Church? How are we as Christians different from the pagan, cold and hostile world? Two hours of fellowship on a Sunday morning is hardly enough to grow in friendship and brotherly love. We need to get into one another's homes to build relationships and accountability. For new Christians, the home can be a launching pad for discipleship. What can create a more comfortable and secure environment after a morning of instruction at Church than the warm fellowship around a meal afterwards? What a perfect time for questions to be answered and new faith to be strengthened.
We were not created to live alone. Since the dawn of time and throughout history, the value of friendship has been constant. Friends can either provoke others to holiness or encourage in wickedness. It is usually one or the other. How important then, for a new Christian to be surrounded by believers in a relaxing and accepting home environment. The more we grow as Christians, the more we desire holy companionship.
The Commands of Hospitality could include the following passages:
Hospitality then, is love in action. It is not to be left to chance, but should be planned and pursued. It should not be perceived as a dread or burden but as a privilege and as part of service in His kingdom. Remember that you may be entertaining angels unawares. The benefits for our children are immense as well. If our children grow up in a home where guests are frequent, they will in turn learn to serve and give of themselves as well. Their horizons will be stretched in ways that few other things can. Especially when hospitality is offered to people from other cultures, like visiting missionaries.
In today's world, a kind deed performed for a stranger is seen as a rarity, and even written about in the newspaper. Not too long ago these acts were considered part of civilized society. This is a symptom of cultural disintegration, and if we as Christians fail to understand and apply the commands of hospitality in the covenant community, our churches, like our culture will eventually die.
If you are feeling convicted in this area, remember that giving hospitality does not need to be a threatening situation. It is not just for gourmet cooks, folk with perfect homes, and perfect children. To be hospitable refers to our reception and treatment of others, and has little to do with our culinary skills. If our general disposition is one of self-absorption, irritability, disinterest and complaining then our inclination to invite others into our home will be nonexistent. Inviting someone for a meal after church for example can be as simple as a picnic in the back garden, a relaxing braai or enjoying a delicious stew that was prepared the day before.
The good news is that hospitality is an art that can be developed over time. Start by inviting friends or neighbors you have known for years, and then move on to inviting strangers and new Christians.
To become more hospitable then, we should start with prayer. We must ask God to help us focus on others and on relationships and not so much on tasks. May we be willing to give God our homes and our time. Let us ask God to use us in this fading art of hospitality. The rewards will be rich, lasting, deep, and will strengthen our church community in ways not thought possible.
"Do not forget to entertain strangers for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it." Hebrews 13:2
Lenora Hammond is a homeschooling mother of four children. She was born and brought up in Europe, the daughter of missionary parents.
Resources used and Recommended Further Reading:
Face to Face; meditations on friendship and hospitality by Steve Wilkins, Canon Press, Moscow, Idaho
The Hospitality Command, by Alexander Strauch
The Hidden art of Homemaking, by Edith Schaeffer