Several years ago I was preaching for a church in Mississippi and we had a visiting preacher come in to speak for several days as was quite common at the time. At the final gathering he was expressing his gratitude for the people and their friendliness to him when he said, “I thoroughly enjoyed being in many of your homes and the outstanding meals that you prepared. So many of the different foods were really outstanding but the thing I enjoyed the most was the ‘hos-pie.” He went on to explain that it was the hospitality that had meant the most to him of all that was done.
Hospitality is something everyone appreciates when they are receiving it, but seems to be less common today than in days past. As we prepare for Thanksgiving holidays it seems appropriate to take a closer look at the topic of hospitality. In Hebrews 13:1-3 it says, “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” When Peter was pointing to some major trial that was coming for the Christians in I Peter 4:7-10 one of the things he said they needed to be certain to continue doing was to “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
It is obvious that the church during its early days as described in the Book of Acts was really given to being hospitable. I think of Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke traveling to Philippi to preach the gospel. They didn’t know anyone there but God had spoken to Paul in a dream by having a man from Macedonia say to him, “Come over into Macedonia and help us.” They made the trip to Philippi and on a Sabbath morning went out beside the river to find someone worshiping God that they might be able to talk to them about Jesus. They found Lydia, a traveling sales person along with her companions. It was likely servants and fellow workers who were traveling with her. Paul spoke to them about Jesus and his mission in the world. God opened her heart to the gospel and she and her household were baptized that day. Immediately she pleaded with Paul and his friends to come and stay at her house, if they trusted her. They stayed in her house for the remainder of their time in that city.
Later Paul and his company were traveling to Jerusalem to carry a rather large financial gift from Gentile churches to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. When they entered the city of Caesarea they found Philip and his family. He was married and he and his wife had four unmarried daughters who were prophets also. They took Paul and his company into their home and had them stay there until they departed for Jerusalem.
Hospitality mattered deeply in the early church because the inn’s that were in the different places weren’t usually safe or clean places to stay. They were often places used more for prostitution than for motel accommodations. So, the evangelist and apostles who travelled about preaching Christ would most often stay in the homes of Christians. It is interesting that John would later write to the elect lady to warn her about taking in those who were false teachers and treating them with hospitality. He told her she was encouraging and bidding godspeed to these who were actually “Anti-Christ” in their teaching because they denied that Jesus actually came in the flesh or had a physical body.
Notice that hospitality was fundamentally about “Entertaining strangers.” It was certainly also tied to showing that care and acceptance for each other especially when the church was facing some difficult times in life as Peter described. But it is vital for Christians not to simply be hospitable to each other. The writer of Hebrews reminded the brethren of Abraham who had three visitors to show up at his tent and he showed them special care. They turned out to be angels and he didn’t know it. In reality it seems that one of these who came to his house was the Son of God in the way the story plays out. But the point the writer is making is that when we show hospitality to those we don’t know we may be serving ones sent from God, even angelic beings. Notice also that he immediately turns to the topic of caring for those in prison as though we were in prison with them. Now, I’m certain that some of those in prison were people who were there because of their service to Christ. But it is important to remember that Jesus in picturing the final judgment said that one thing that would come up in judgment would be the care for those in prison. He noted that when we cared for those in prison we cared for him.
Today, hospitality isn’t often needed because of the lack of motels in our area or that they aren’t fit for good people to stay there. But the bond of fellowship in a church will never be strong while hospitality is rare. For people to develop close relationships of love there must be times in one another’s homes, sharing food together and listening, talking and sharing life together. Such hospitality must reach beyond a few good friends that we have known for most of our lives. It must reach beyond those who are a lot like me. Hospitality will mean bringing people into our homes that don’t have as much or have much more. It means inviting people in that have different color skin and very different backgrounds. It means bringing people in that are different ages with different interest and different beliefs. So much of the division and hurt that goes on in the world could be solved if we spent more time around the table with others that see things differently from us.
Be hospitable! And by all means, don’t grumble about it or you destroy all the good that could have been done.