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(067) The Pillars of Community XIII: Hospitality

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The Pillars of Community XIII: Holy Hospitality

Romans 12:9-13

March 29, 2009


·         Notes and articles on Hospitality in antiquity

·         Read Scriptures  

·         “Reaching out” (003)

Scripture Reading: Romans 12:9-13


We continue our series on community (where we belong, grow, and serve) by talking about a vital building block: Hospitality, something that tells others they belong and helps us grow.

At the start, don’t think “that’s not my gift.” While some folks may be more natural at it than other, we will see that hospitality is actually a core discipline of the Christian life.

·         And it serves a vital role in community; it prevents the community from becoming a clique.

Today we’ll look at what the Bible says about hospitality, learn about it in the ancient world, what it means in our context, how God uses it in us and for other, and finally how to practice it.


A Biblical Mandate

Today’s scripture comes at a pivotal point in Roman, when it shifts from weighty theological exposition to how we are to live now. He starts with one command and then explains how to do it:

Romans 12:9-13  9 ¶ Love must be sincere.

Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 

10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.

Honor one another above yourselves. 

11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 

12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 

13 Share with God’s people who are in need.

Practice hospitality.

Love is one of the core components of God’s character and hence it is the underlying fabric of the faith. Paul commands that this love must be real, sincere, genuine, and one of the core ways to do that is practice (pursue, prosecute) hospitality.

·         It was so important role it was a requirement for elders:

1 Timothy 3:2-3   2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,  3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.

While the term “hospitality” itself is used 6-7 times, the concept is interwoven in the Bible, as we shall see by understanding its historical context.

Hospitality in antiquity

In the Ancient Neat East (ANE) culture and the ancient Greek culture, hospitality was one of the most cardinal virtues.

·         Homer divided the nations into barbarians who despised the law and the civilized who feared God and practiced hospitality.

In an age before hotels or legal protection for non-citizens, it provided a way for safety, if done right turned a stranger into a friend. They took this responsibility very seriously.  

·         The story of Lot offering his daughters to protect his guests (as repugnant as it is) demonstrates its importance to them.

Failure to provide proper hospitality would bring dishonor on both the family and town; it could even lead to war. The customs of the day set forth expectations for both host and guest.

·         There were four phases in hospitality: initial invitation, screening, provision and protection, and departure.

Hospitality in the OT & NT

In addition, God commanded that his people be hospitable with strangers as a response to their history.

Leviticus 19:33-34 ”When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”

Because they had been welcomed and accepted by God, they were to welcome and accept strangers. In fact, there are more direct commands to care for strangers than to care for neighbors.

·         In the Christmas story, the “inn” was probably a guest room, and hospitality was being shown as best as possible.

In the NT hospitality is still a response to God’s acceptance. But now it’s based on Gentiles begin accepted into God’s people.

Romans 15:7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

The idea is that God has been incredibly hospitable to us, we now are to be hospitable to each other.

Supporting the ministry

But in the NT, hospitality takes on a new function: supporting the spread of the Gospel. We are told that Jesus had no place to lay his head, which means he lived on the hospitality of others.

As the missionaries spread the Gospel, hospitality became a vital way of supporting the ministry: An apostle or teacher would come to town and the existing church would house them.

·         It’s especially important because hotels were disreputable.

Not surprisingly, this was open to abuse. Some folks worked the system (one Roman author made fun of Christians for this), but worse, false teachers would use Christian networks to spread heresy. So it became important to check credentials.

2 John 1:9-11   9 Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.  10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him.  11 Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.

So in antiquity, hospitality provided a way for strangers to travel in safety, for strangers to become friends, to welcome as God has welcomed them, and to support the spread of the Gospel.

Defining hospitality in modern America

Q   How does hospitality work in our modern context?

We may have plenty of restaurants and hotels these days, but there’s no lack of strangers, people in need of hospitality. If anything, the need is greater as we are such a mobile culture.

Q   So first, a vital point: Who do we show hospitality to?

The word for hospitality is philoxenia. Philo: Love (Philadelphia). Xenos: Stranger (xenophobia, xenophile). Hospitality is welcoming a stranger.

Hospitality and “entertaining” are different: Entertaining is having friends over, hospitality is having strangers over.

Luke 14:12-14  Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.  13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,  14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

·         In contrast to the Pharisees and Qumranic community, Jesus made hospitality more inclusive.

I don’t think Jesus is prohibiting having friends over. That is one of the joys of community (and the early church broke bread together), but calling us hospitality as well.

·         Notice that Jesus was speaking to the host (a “prominent Pharisee), who perhaps confused entertaining and hospitality.

Clique prevention

Do you understand how important this is? Being hospitable to people you don’t know (yet), is what will keep us from turning this community into a clique.

I believe that Satan hates to see us becoming a stronger, true community, where we are growing together, loving each other, and serving each other. But if he can’t stop it, then he will try to quarantine it by making us into a clique.

·         It’s not that hard, because all it requires is for us to do what we normally do – be comfortable.

Reaching out to people we don’t know is always harder than sticking with the people you do know.

Ä  Why? Fear and selfishness (not to put it too harshly):

For safety’s sake

By fear I mean fear of change and things that are different and make us uncomfortable. The fear of self-preservation is okay.

·         I know that the first objection is a concern for safety.

Don’t forget that “screening” was part of the ancient’s process for hospitality. Also remember that the early church required letters of recommendations and a theology test.

·         I am not asking you to put you or your family in jeopardy – I won’t do it and I don’t want you to.

I have been told I don’t love Jesus because I wouldn’t let some folks ask to stay at your house, but I remain convinced that they were charlatans.

·         One of the earliest post-NT books warned against those who “make traffic of the name of Christ.”

If you feel like you should show hospitality to a stranger, but don’t feel safe, then take them out to lunch. Homes are the best place for hospitality, but a restaurant works pretty well too.

Fear of change

The fear I am talking about is the fear of change and of leaving our comfort zone. This is not a good fear. It is one that steals joy from us and help from others.

·         In Europe, I spent too many nights in our camper. It was safe, and I read a lot of comic books, but I really missed out.

On Sunday, you have a choice: Play it safe and hang out with folks you know, or risk a little bit and get to know someone outside your circle, maybe a visitor or someone you haven’t met.

·         You don’t know what God might want to do through and for you.

It’s like your teacher told you when you excluded the foreign exchange student: Imagine how it must feel to be the outsider.

Think of the times that you have been the outsider, and what it means to have someone bring you in. In that same way, welcome others and bring them in.

·         Testimony?


The next thing that keeps us from inviting strangers in is selfishness. Think of it this way: For the space shuttle to break free of the pull of earth’s gravity, it takes 3.3 million pounds of thrust, 35 times more than a jumbo jet.

Likewise, there is a tremendous self-centered force pulling us to our own interest and concerns. It’s way more natural to focus on our own needs, concerns, and comfort than that of others.

·         Hospitality is a launching pad against self-centeredness.

·         Inviting others in pushes against our own stinginess.  

The most precious thing we have is our time and energy, add to that the costs. There is no doubt that it is a real sacrifice to give it to a stranger, who may never pay us back, as Jesus said.

·         With hospitality, we open hearts and become less self-focused.

A key Biblical principle that flows throughout Scripture is that God blesses us so that we can be a blessing to others.

Genesis 12:1-3  The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.  2 “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

·         “God prospers me not to raise my standard of living but standard of giving.” (Randy Alcorn)

Think of your house (no matter how big or small) as a gift that God has blessed you with. As Peter said last month, everything is his. So how will you use your blessing to bless others?

·         After we’d committed to our new house, I realized my time at my last church was ending, but we believed it was God’s plan.

·         We have used the house to have folks over and to host exchange students (a great way to show Biblical hospitality).   

That is not to say you need an ideal location to be hospitable, rather view what you have as God’s tool to bless others.

·         BTW: This is a great way to teach our kids unselfishness.

Ä  So, to sum this up, God calls all of us welcome strangers into our lives, inviting them into the community. Let’s close with practical ways to do that.

Strategic Hospitality

John Piper calls this “strategic hospitality,” which means intentionally thinking, how can I glorify God, advance the kingdom, and bring more people into community and a deeper relationship with God through hospitality?

There are two main ways: Inviting each other over and being good hosts on Sunday.

1. Invite each other over

This is simple to explain, harder to do: Throughout your day, and especially on Sunday mornings, look for an opportunity to invite someone over (or take out) for lunch or dinner.

·         Even better, be praying in advance for “divine appointments” – don’t force things, just see where God leads things.

You don’t need a perfect home or a great meal, just an open heart. And you don’t need some elaborate plan, just treat them like they are part of the family.

·         Invite them to help set the table! 

Spend your time learning about them, not talking about ourselves. It is a poor act of hospitality if you are just finding a new victim for your fishing stories!

2. Be a good host at your church “home”

Next, if this is your church, then view yourself as a host. Watch for folks who are new or newish, or at least that you don’t know. Look for those who seem to be distressed.

·         Don’t rush right for your familiar crowd.

Right after service make one do one “act of hospitality.” If you have to get the kids from CC, meet some folks in line.

Q & A


In worship, reflect on how God has welcomed you and brought you in, and how we would have you respond. And if you are here feeling like a stranger, I pray you feel God’s arms during worship and that we become those arms after church – but you have to stick around!


Not all of us our equally gifted, but all called.

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