Our Lord knew the value of table conversation. He knew people were more relaxed and open to receive spiritual food as they ate physical food.
Perhaps one of the most neglected ministries within the church and among the lost is hospitality. Some believers decline to use their homes in ministry because they do not believe they have the ability to do so. Others set their expectations so high that they feel inadequate. Yet there is nothing in Scripture that suggests that hospitality is a specific spiritual gift or that there is some standard to which we must comply.
Thus, Peter exhorts his audience “to use hospitality one to another without grudging” (1 Pet. 4:9). Every believer should be given to hospitality. The home is a lovely setting to console the grieving, refresh the weary, exhort the erring, and reach the unregenerate with the gospel.
Our English word “hospitality” is translated from the Greek noun philoxenos or verb philonexia, which together only occur five times in the New Testament. Hospitality literally means to be “fond of strangers (guests).” Paul, John, and Peter urge their audiences to engage in hospitality and also identify hospitality as an act of genuine love towards others. The apostles provide five reasons for engaging in hospitality.
To serve the saints
“Love without hypocrisy…given to hospitality” (Rom. 12:9-13). We are not to be respecters of persons, but attempt to have profitable relationships with those believers with whom we are associated. Thankfully, God’s love towards us is not partial; He has intimates, but no favorites (Acts 10:34). Consequently, James warns “if you show partiality, you commit sin” (Jas. 2:9). Hospitality is a means for enhancing Christian fellowship, especially with those with whom you might feel uncomfortable or with whom you are not prone to interact. Perhaps there are believers in your home assembly or in your local community that you do not know well. Why not invite them over for a meal? If it’s awkward to meet with them alone, invite others as well.
To reach the lost
“Let brotherly love continue…entertain strangers” (Heb. 13:1-2). Gaius was praised because he entertained both brethren and strangers in his home (3 Jn. 5). Peter preached the gospel in the home of Cornelius and then remained there many days to disciple those who put their trust in Christ (Acts 10). The home is a non-threatening location to visit with the lost about spiritual things. Often the unregenerate have nagging questions, but will not initiate a public conversation to get their inquiries answered. A home in which Christ is Lord demonstrates the validity of the gospel message. As your guests observe your family life, they might be prompted to ask questions. Our family recently provided overnight accommodations to a man we met in visitation work. Afterwards, he wrote us this note:
I would like to thank you and your family for welcoming me into your home, I’ve never been around a family like yours that is so nice and respectful. I felt like I was at home at your house. Your wife is a very good cook; I really appreciated your hospitality. Your children were very respectful and did not judge me…I could see you’re a very tight family. Again I thank you for opening up your home to me, when you really don’t even know me. I hope we are able to keep in touch and become good friends no matter what happens in our lives.
Over the years, we have witnessed the Lord save individuals at our kitchen table after enjoying a meal together. Think of it, dear believer: your home could be the birthing place of heaven!
To restore fellowship
“Have fervent love among yourselves for love shall cover the multitude of sins. Use hospitality one to another without grudging” (1 Pet. 4:8-9). Peter indicates that hospitality is a tool of love by which broken or strained relationships can be repaired. If someone has offended you, do not send them a text message or an email; rather, the Lord said that you should personally and privately meet with them to address the matter (Mt. 18:15). What must be communicated to others for restoration to occur cannot be adequately accomplished through written words; the tone and inflection of our voice, our demeanor, and our willingness to touch are important expressions of sincerity. To invite someone who has offended you to your home for refreshments tells them you love them and you value your relationship with them. The informal setting of a home is a great place to strengthen, repair, and restore relationships.
To refresh and assist the Lord’s servants
“Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers, who have borne witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well, because they went forth for His name’s sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles” (3 Jn. 5-7). As full-time workers, we have often benefitted from the saints’ hospitality as we travel. Sometimes we stay with believers we have never met before, yet, after a few days together, a bond for life is formed. We have found the Lord’s words in Matthew 19:29 to be true: for each one who rejects us because of Christ, there are another hundred believers who are ready to confirm the love of God.
Personally speaking, I enjoy hospitality the most when the host creates a relaxed atmosphere. That means we can enjoy Christian fellowship without the undue stress of unnecessary extras. Examples: a simple meal vs. a fourteen-course extravaganza; regular tableware vs. the best china, fancy napkins and placemats, and more silverware than one knows what to do with; the freedom to get what I need vs. being asked a hundred questions as to what I want. In other words, you can give your guests your best, without displaying your best. The tension of having someone in your home is reduced for both you and your guests by keeping hospitality simple, but adequate.
To shepherd the flock
Although all saints should practice hospitality, those in spiritual leadership must “be given to hospitality” (1 Tim. 3:2). Church elders are the ones held accountable for the proper functioning of the local assembly (Heb. 13:17). Elders are raised up from among the sheep (Acts 20:28) and are to remain among the sheep (1 Pet. 5:2-3). This availability enhances two important aspects of shepherding work. First, it allows the shepherd to observe the attitudes and the behavior of believers and to provide timely exhortation, encouragement, and, as necessary, reproof. Second, this transparent relationship allows the sheep to observe the elder’s godly character, selfless motives, and ability to properly teach the Scripture. Hospitality provides an excellent opportunity to shepherd God’s people; accordingly, elders must “be given to hospitality.”
The following practical guidelines will assist shepherds in exercising hospitality, which ought to be as follows.
- often, but not strictly scheduled, lest the sheep assume they are just lined up in a chute for examination.
- not just exhortative, otherwise hospitality will be interpreted as the dreaded “elders’ visit.”
- not mechanical: hospitality has no fixed agenda or form to be applied to everyone.
- not a respecter of persons; include everyone to prevent the damaging effect of perceived favorites.
It is suggested that the elders connect regularly with their sheep in the informality of a home; the shepherding benefits are immense. It is much easier to promote fire prevention than to be constantly responding to smoke. A proactive leadership given to hospitality will alleviate many difficulties in the local assembly before the problems are ever realized.
Hospitality demonstrates Christian love to others in your home. Whether ministering, restoring, refreshing, or shepherding the Lord’s people, or serving strangers unawares, hospitality is a huge blessing. As all believers are to be given to hospitality, what biblical reason do we have for neglecting this important ministry?