Is hospitality something that God requires of the Christian, or is it simply something nice to do for those you love or those that you enjoy entertaining? Is it an activity performed by only those who are gifted to cook great meals and able to afford luxuries such as expensive food and decorations? Not only is the service of hospitality mentioned in scripture often, it is given as a command. First, hospitality was commanded to the Hebrews in the Old Testament. Second, hospitality is commanded to Christians in the New Testament. And third, hospitality is commanded in the New Testament as a requirement for Elders and their wives, as well as for widows “indeed.”
First, hospitality is commanded and taught in the Old Testament. God reminds His people of their personal discomfort while being travelers and strangers in strange lands. They knew what it was like to be at the mercy of others, and likewise, He expected His people to show mercy to others. Exodus 23:9 says, “You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt. This is also seen in Leviticus 19:33-34: “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.”
God also used this idea of being strangers to remind the Israelites of the needs of others who had no home or means of food; including widows and orphans. In Leviticus 19:9-10 God commands them to remember those in need: “Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the Lord your God.” Another example is found in Deuteronomy 10:18-19 “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” In Deuteronomy 26:12 God requires, “When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.”
Second, hospitality is commanded and taught in the New Testament. As with many other commandments in the OT that Jesus expects His followers to obey in even more meaningful ways for His kingdom, hospitality is both encouraged and commanded even more strongly in the NT than previously taught. Jesus teaches that just claiming Christ as Lord is not enough. He teaches that in order to truly be a follower of Christ and to be accepted by Him, we must show our love towards His children outwardly. In Matthew 25:34-46, Jesus very clearly says that unless we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, take in the stranger, cloth the poor, visit the sick of heart and spirit, etc, we will not inherit eternal life.
Jesus emphasizes exactly who is in need of true hospitality in Luke 14:12-14, “And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’”
Not only did Jesus command this, but God chose to include many more examples in the NT of hospitality. In Romans we are told to be devoted to one another in brotherly love and in chapter 12:13 it concludes these commandments with, “contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.” Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Also, 1 Peter 4:9 says, “Be hospitable to one another without complaint.” The Apostle John encourages hospitality in 3 John 5, “Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers;”
Third, hospitality is commanded as a requirement for certain positions or rewards. Paul clearly teaches that without being hospitable, a man is not qualified to be an elder. First Timothy 3:2 states, “An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife… hospitable.” Likewise, a woman who loses her husband through death cannot be “put on the list” to be served and taken care of by the church if she did not practice hospitality in her lifetime. 1 Timothy 2:9-10 explains, “A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old…if she has shown hospitality to strangers.”
We clearly see that enjoying the company of those that you enjoy being around is not the only way to show hospitality. Furthermore, the Israelites of the OT were required to show hospitality. NT Christians are commanded by Jesus and His Word to practice hospitality if we want our Father in heaven to accept us on our Day of Judgment. Hospitality is even a requirement for one to be an elder, for wives of elders and for widows to be taken care of by the church! Our Lord takes hospitality very seriously and every follower of Christ must practice showing their love for others and for Him by obeying this commandment.
By Laura Warnes
Laura Warnes and her husband Jon serve with the Miller Street church of Christ in Arvada, CO. Jon is the Director of Alumni Relations for the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver. Laura is a homeschooling mom to their seven children still at home, (two have flown the coup) and is also a proud grandma to two beautiful granddaughters and a handsome grandson.