Hospitality: The Forgotten Command

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Hospitality (Pict 1)In New Testament the home is often the unseen yet necessary setting for the gospel story and the history of the early church. Trying to live out the implications of the gospel without the centrality of the home is like trying to bake a cake without sugar. You end up with a dry, crusty substance no one wants to touch.

The role of the home in the expression of the gospel is something the modern church has little experience with. Personal interactions take place in public spaces, safely separated from where our real selves reside. There is little burden required to maintain the facilities for our communal meetings. A quick bill in the plate each Sunday keeps the lights on and the air-conditioners running. In the public space we are cleaned up, smiling, temporary travelers, who don’t have to reveal the grumpiness we carefully hide in our homes. It is time for the modern church to learn the meaning and application of the command to “show hospitality.”

I am not suggesting that we demolish church buildings, but we should consider how impersonal they can be. The expression of our faith is often limited to public spaces which are remote from our daily lives. Yet, the message of the gospel is about how Jesus came “in the flesh” and “dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The gospel is intensely personal. We can’t rightly experience it or pass it on to others without getting personal. There is no place where things are more intensely personal than in the home.

Unfortunately, modern definitions of “hospitality” are more about Super Bowl parties, holiday celebrations, and letting people see the beauty of our house. However, Biblical hospitality is driven by need. Sadly, we hold people with needs at a distance. Their lack makes us feel uncomfortable. Nonetheless, those driven by the gospel draw close to those in need. Jesus taught that when we have someone into our homes we shouldn’t just invite the people we like who can invite us back. Rather we are to invite those who have needs and who can’t pay us back (Luke 14:12-14).

Hospitality (Pict 3)Hospitality & Edification

Hospitably in the New Testament was primarily an expression of loving, Christian fellowship. It was especially practiced toward believers.

  • “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another … distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality” (Rom. 12:10,13).
  • “Above all things have fervent love for one another…be hospitable to one another without grumbling.” (1 Pet. 4:8-9).

In the early church it was impossible to think of a person who loved the Lord’s people who didn’t open their home to them. That is why hospitality was required for shepherds who lead and widows who were supported (1 Tim. 3:2; 5:9). It is in the home that loving, Christian fellowship is most intensely experienced.

Hospitality (Pict 2)Hospitality & Evangelism

In addition, in the New Testament the home was the base of operation for spreading the gospel message. It was Jesus who established the home as an essential element in evangelism. He sent out His disciples with the instruction of finding a home to support their work (Matt. 10:11-13; Luke 10:4-8), and great blessings came upon those homes who did (Matt. 10:41-42, “He who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward.” Also Matt 25:34-36, 40). If you took the home out of the book of Acts it would read more like a one scene play rather than a sweeping, worldwide travel log. Here’s a snapshot of how the home propelled the spread of the gospel.

  • The home is where genuine, Christian worship and testimony began (Acts 1:14; 2:2).
  • Simon the Tanner’s home was the base of operation for spreading the gospel in Joppa (Acts 9:43).
  • Tabitha used her home for good works which caused “many to believe on the Lord” (Acts 9:42)
  • Mary used her home as a place to pray for safety and success of evangelists (Acts 12:5-19).
  • Lydia’s home was a safe-haven for believers and evangelist in Philippi (Acts 16:15,40).
  • Philip opened his home to Paul and his friends in Caesarea (Acts 21:8).
  • Mnason of Cyprus used his home to care for Paul in a stressful time (Acts 21:16).
  • Paul asked Philemon to “prepare a guest room for him” (Philemon 22), and expected Philemon would happily open his home.
  • The unnamed “lady” in 2 John and Gaius in 3 John were in the habit of opening up their homes so the gospel could spread.

Oh yes, evangelism was done in public spaces, but there was substitute for “teaching from house to house” (Acts 20:20) and without the support of the home those public spaces would not have heard the melody of the gospel.

All of us have some private space that begs to be used for God’s glory. There are believers in physical, emotional and spiritual need who can be loved in our living room. There are teachers and shepherds who need to know we care. There are unbelievers who need to hear the sacrificial, personal message of the gospel in the place where we live.

Mike and Julia were spiritually weak. They slept through sermons and raced out the back door after worship. Then a spiritually minded family had them over for dinner. They talked about the Lord Jesus and the spiritual challenges the couple faced. Mike and Julia experienced the love of Jesus, who often ate with His disciples, and they saw “up close and personal” the difference Jesus makes in a home. They were changed. They became fruitful. God is glorified. Is there a “Mike and Julia” waiting for you to open your home?

It is time for the church to rediscover, or may I even say, obey the command to “show hospitality” (1 Pet 4:8-9).

Tim Jennings

“Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Cor. 16:14)

Extra Bit:

You might consider reading the fine, little book entitled, “The Hospitality Commands” by Alexander Strauch. It is a short (63 pages), Biblically based, and practical book on the subject of showing hospitality today. It is worth the read.

Here it is at amazon: Click Here.

Here is it is at Click Here.