When you hear the word “hospitality” it is often in terms of a person having people over for dinner capped off with coffee and dessert. That’s a great thing to do, but biblical hospitality goes much deeper. Someone has well said:
Hospitality is not having someone into your perfect home; it is allowing someone into your imperfect heart.
The word translated “hospitable” is made up of two Greek words, philo and xenos. Philo means “love” and xenos means “strangers.” Biblical hospitality refers to a person who demonstrates acts of love to those who can’t pay them back. It is one-way giving.
In the Old Testament, God’s law instructed the Israelites to not harvest the corners of their fields so foreigners in need of food would have something to eat. God’s law instructed the Israelite to provide food to the hungry and clothing for the naked (Ezekiel 18:7).
In the New Testament, this characteristic of hospitality continues to be driven by one’s love for God and it takes on a very practical purpose.
The first practical purpose of hospitality was persecution. Christians were being captured and killed. Some were forced from their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Others were forced to run for their lives. Those fleeing had no money so they couldn’t stay at the inns. Even if they had money the inns and taverns were immoral places populated by hardened, drunken men. Not a place you wanted to take your wife and children.
Therefore, it was critical for Christians to take in the persecuted and provide a room, food, clothing and needed staples to help them continue their journey to safety. Hospitality was a sacrificial and costly endeavor, and it was dangerous.
In 209 A.D. there was persecution under the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus. A Christian priest was being pursued and was running for his life. For some reason, the priest was given shelter by a soldier in the Roman Army named Alban. In the next few days, the two talked at length and Alban became a Christian. When the officers were tipped off as to the location of the priest, Alban came to the door dressed in the priest’s clothes while the priest escaped. Alban became the first Martyr in Britain when he refused to renounce his newfound faith and was beheaded.
Another reason that hospitality was so important in the New Testament church was mission work. As Paul and others traveled around starting churches and sharing the Gospel they needed a place to stay. Again the inns of the day were out of the question, so Christ-followers housed traveling evangelists.
When the Apostle John was sending out missionaries to either start or support churches in Asia he learned of a certain man in one church who was wreaking havoc. He addressed this issue in 3 John and then praised Gaius for his kindness and support of the traveling preacher. Now certainly the kindness of hospitality can be abused. One early Christian writing—the Didache—says that the traveling preacher should stay one day, two days at most; and if he asked for money you knew he was a fraud.
Certainly, biblical hospitality can be costly and inconvenient. That’s why Peter reminds us to be hospitable without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9). The writer to the Hebrews says that the strangers to whom we show hospitality may even be angels in disguise (Hebrews 13:2).
Here are a few ways to demonstrate biblical hospitality.
- Work with a local church or pregnancy resource center to house a pregnant girl who has no place to go.
- Give clothes to a local mission. I bet your closet is full of clothes you seldom wear.
- Prayerfully consider foster care or adoption.
- Get involved in prison ministry.
- Get involved in mentoring children from single-parent families.
- Volunteer at a local homeless shelter.
- Get involved with international ministries committed to helping the needy.