Keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint (1 Peter 4:8-9).
The word “hospitality” is philoxenia, from the roots “love” and “outsider.” Hospitality is to extend to someone outside the family the same treatment that would be shown to someone inside the family.
The Bible says that hospitality is to flow naturally from a Christian sense of love. “Fervent” is ekteino, found only here and in 1 Peter 1:22, and literally meaning “stretched out.” Imagine a person engaged in strenuous effort, like an athlete. Clearly, one is going to have to put himself out to demonstrate hospitality. Paul chimes in:
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality (Romans 12:9-13).
Often, an opportunity to show hospitality comes unexpectedly. A brother in Christ happens to stop by while he is in the neighborhood, and the owner of the home invites him to come on in and have lunch. Maybe the missionaries from the local Mormon church knock on the door, and the owner of the home invites them into the air conditioning for a discussion. Or it is announced that a family has suffered the loss of a home in a fire, and another brother offers to put him up for a while, until he gets another place to live. Possibly the greatest example of unexpected hospitality is recorded in Genesis 18:1-16, when
Abraham hastened to feed and lodge the messengers of God—in a moment, he went from sitting at the door in the heat of the day to preparing the fattened calf. Most people believe that this is the event in mind when the author of Hebrews warns, “do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).
Whether our guests are angels or not, Jesus is watching. Jesus praised the good sheep on His right, saying, “I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in” (Matthew 25:35). Of course, it helps to have a few things on hand to be able to show this kind of unexpected hospitality. And always remember to be safe and smart (Matthew 10:16).
In many cases, in New Testament times, hospitality had to do with helping traveling preachers. Lydia offered her house to Paul as a base of operations in Philippi (Acts 16:15). Paul urged the brethren in Rome to help Phoebe of Cenchrea, “in whatever matter she may have need of you” (Rom. 16:1-2). John praised his brethren for “supporting” itinerant workers for the truth “especially when they are strangers … sending them on their way in a manner worthy of God” (3 John 5-8). Jesus received that kind of hospitality from Mary and Martha and Lazarus; He would spend the night in Bethany and work in Jerusalem (John 12:1-2, cf. Matt 21:17, 26:6).
Often, hospitality is planned. A family makes a point to invite another family from church over for dinner, or out to a restaurant. Or, a family invites a whole group of Christians to come over. In the early days, families opened up their homes to the church, for worship services, on a weekly basis (like Gaius in Rom. 16:23). Priscilla and Aquila hosted a weekly worship service in their home! A couple must be thoroughly devoted to hospitality to view this constant intrusion as a blessing. And the endurance to keep it up “without complaint.”
We should make an effort to extend hospitality to people we don’t usually get to see. It’s one thing to invite over our friends for a movie or games. But it’s another to host a group meeting, or to deliberately invite over for dinner people who are outside our natural circle of common interests. Jesus said, 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 (Luke 14:12-14).
Hospitality is the opposite of privacy and convenience, two things we Americans tend to guard jealously. Hospitality takes time and effort that few are willing to devote wholeheartedly. Yet, if we are serious about our relationship with our brethren, and if we are thankful for the service God has rendered to us, we will learn to abound in hospitality.