Hospitality the Biblical Way|
Noah Webster defines the word "Hospitality" as "The act or practice of receiving and entertaining strangers or guests without reward"… (American Dictionary of the English Language, Webster, 1830).
The Greek word for hospitality is philoxenia. This word is comprised of "xenos" or stranger, and "phileo" or to love or show affection. So the word literally means "to love strangers."
Not Entertaining Church Friends?
Many church members think that a person at church has the gift of hospitality because they give a lot of great dinner parties. Although the act of cooking nice dinners for church friends is a lovely and gracious thing to do, it is not an example of biblical hospitality.
The biblical concept of hospitality involves strangers. Jesus says,
"When you give a lunch or a dinner, don't invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, or your rich neighbors, because they might invite you back, and you would be repaid. On the contrary, when you host a banquet, invite those who are poor, maimed, lame, or blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you - for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous" (Luke 14:12-14, HCSB).
For Weary Travelers
The Bible is consistent from beginning to end. Zondervan's Encyclopedia tells us that "Hospitality in the ancient Near East played a distinctly important role in tribal and domestic life. Existence in the desert made it a necessity, and among the nomads it became a highly esteemed virtue. By it the stranger or weary traveler found rest, food and shelter, and asylum" (pg. 214).
He Fed the Multitudes
Jesus practiced hospitality when he fed the multitudes (Mark 6:30-44). He accepted hospitality from Simon the Pharisee and a Pharisee ruler (Luke 10:38-42, Matt. 26:6-13). He enlisted Zacchaeus and the Emmaus hosts as well (Luke 19:5, Luke 24:29).
Martha Stewart Dinners
Peter said, "Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God" (1 Peter 4:9-10).
Paul said, "Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality" (Romans 12:13).
Fancy Dinner Parties?
Did Peter and Paul mean to say that we should give lovely dinner parties to friends at church?
No. Not necessarily. Peter and Paul were referring to a custom of providing for the needs and welfare of strangers and aliens. They wanted us to provide for each other in this customary manner.
Biblical hospitality primarily relates to two classes of people: the traveler and the resident alien. "Strangers" were those who do not belong to your particular community or group. Other words for "strangers" are "foreigner," "alien," "sojourner," "wayfarer," or "gentile."
In Israel the law protected the resident alien. While he could not own land he could participate in communal activities. However, the traveler was vulnerable to hostile forces in the area. Only the practice of hospitality protected him against thieves or marauders. His need for food and water was a matter of life or death.
Abraham's 3 Visitors
In the example of Genesis 18:1-8, Abraham welcomed three strangers into his home. His lavish welcome was typical of Oriental hospitality. He gave them water, washed their dusty feet, fed them and gave them a place to rest. As we know the visitors turned out to be important messengers from the Lord!
Hebrews Entertaining Angels Unaware
Because of this Hebrews 13:2 reminds us, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it" (NASB).
We are Aliens&Strangers
God received into His family we who were "separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12, ESV).
Members of God's Household
Yet, God reassures us that "you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God" (Eph. 2:19, ESV).
So if God has made us - we who are Christians - a "family," surely we can extend hospitality to those who are strangers to us.
Biblical Hospitality Today?
What would "biblical hospitality" look like in today's world?
Your local rescue mission: feeding strangers and the poor, providing food and clothing, holiday dinners and inspirational, uplifting messages for the homeless.
Battered Women's Shelters
Your local battered women's shelter: Giving emotional support to traumatized women and giving comforting toys to their children. Providing books, magazines, or DVDs for stranded women and children. Making sure battered women and their children are fed and given decent clothing and supplies.
A Church Welcoming Committee
Your welcoming committee at church: Enlisting friendly, smiling people to greet strangers at your church. Providing free literature or phone numbers for strangers to contact.
Welcoming New Neighbors
Your local real estate or "hospitality" package for new neighbors. Delivering cookies and important phone numbers for new residents.
Church Holiday Celebrations for Singles or Widows
Providing holiday dinners and celebrations at church for those without families. This includes visitors who are widowed, divorced, single or without families for any reason.
Home Youth Ministry
Inviting neighborhood kids to a youth activity, or entertaining Christian film, or a tasteful Christian rock concert at church is a great outreach for strangers in your midst.
We encourage you and your church to make your own list of truly biblical hospitable behaviors. It is a widely misunderstood area of church ministry.
Dinner parties are nice. But, true biblical hospitality is what God asks of us. Teach others to remember the strangers, aliens, unloved and unsaved in your culture. This is what Yeshua would do in your community, and it is probably what He would ask you to do.
Bratcher, Dennis. Travelers and strangers: Hospitality in the Biblical world. Available from: http://www.crivoice.org/travelers.html.
Holman Dictionary&Concordance of the Holy Bible. 2006. Nashville, TN: Holman.
MacArthur, John. 1991. The master's plan for the church. Chicago: Moody.
Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 3. 1975. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
What is Biblical hospitality? Safe Families. Available from: http://www.lydiahome.org.
Authors Ken Emilio holds an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Louisiana Baptist University. Valorie received her M.A. in History from UCLA having specialized in early church history.