The two shortest letters in the New Testament were both written by John, the apostle near the end of the first century. In many ways, they both deal with the same topics. They are about hospitality and sound teaching. The first letter was to the elect lady, which many believe was a local church, but seems more likely to be a godly lady who was a prominent member of the church. Her home had been a place of hospitality. The traveling preachers and prophets who traveled about preaching God’s word needed to be taken in by Christians and given a safe and clean place to stay. She had done exceptionally well in offering such good work. But she hadn’t always shown discrimination about who she took in. Many false teachers were going about who refused to stay in the teaching of Jesus. They kept going on in their messages long past what Jesus said or led them to say. Those who go on and refuse to abide in the teaching of Christ, John said, did not have God and those who did stay in his doctrines had both the Father and the Son. John warned the elect lady that by taking in these false teachers and showing them the same hospitality, she did to the ones who were faithful to Jesus she was encouraging them and giving them validity.
In Third John, he wrote to Gaius, another leader in the church. Gaius was a good man who was also very hospitable and took in those preachers and teachers who traveled in their area. But there was another leader in the church named Diotrephes, who had a very different spirit. He refused the teachers who passed through the area and would even cast them out of the church. John declared that the reason he acted as he did was that he was proud, longing to have first place in the church. His arrogance led to him spreading ungodly rumors about John and his work as an apostle of Christ. It is interesting that John doesn’t tell Gaius to deal with Diotrephes but says, instead of that he will deal with him when he comes that way. He challenged Gaius to follow the lead of Demetrius who is a good man and had a good reputation among all the people.
Have you ever wondered why the New Testament says so much about being hospitable? The word literally means to entertain strangers. In Hebrews 13:1 the church was commanded to show hospitality to strangers because some by doing so had entertained angels without knowing it. But in both these letters, it is clear that being hospitable had to do with those Christian teachers who traveled that way. They needed a place to stay because the inns that were available were usually not clean, lice-infested and homes of prostitution and crime. More often the need to take others to ones home and treat them with love and respect had to do with being evangelistic in trying to reach others with the gospel of Christ.
The truth is that hospitality and reaching others for the Lord go hand in hand. If Christians really desire to bring their friends, neighbors, and associates to Jesus, it is vital they offer them love and acceptance in their home, around their table. Peter encouraged the Christians he wrote to show hospitality without grumbling. If we bring others into our homes and grumble about it the whole time, it isn’t going to have any influence either in winning them to the Lord or encouraging them to live closer to the Lord. When Paul wrote both Timothy and Titus about the qualities to look for in appointing men as elders, he said they had to show hospitality to be good shepherds.
It should be a concern for us all the time as to how we can best show such love and care for other people that they feel accepted and cared for in our presence. That opens the hearts of others to the great news of Jesus.