Meditations in Romans, Ch.12: 13: Practice Hospitality
Rom 12:13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
In this next block of what I have called mini-exhortations about how we respond to other people, we first considered sharing with those in need. Some link that with the next of these, “Practice hospitality” but I think this second one is bigger and more specific than simply providing for those who are needy.
Hospitality is usually simply defined as ‘the act, practice, or quality of being hospitable; providing solicitous entertainment of guests.’ Being hospitable was one of the required criteria for an elder or overseer: “Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable.” (1 Tim 3:2) and “he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” (Titus 1:9) Thus it was considered a virtue to be exampled by those in leadership in the church.
The origins of the word suggest one who is ‘a friend of strangers’, as we see in Heb 13:2 – “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” The apostle Peter wrote, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Pet 4:8-10) We have shown the context here because it appears to come as an expression of love and care, using the resources you have to bless others.
The Biblical context for providing hospitality was usually in respect of providing for travelers. Unlike today where we can get on the internet and book a room in a hotel, in Biblical times providing overnight lodging was more difficult, as we note every Christmas when we think of Joseph and Mary who found there was no room at the inn. The earliest Biblical example of providing hospitality is probably Abram when the Lord, in the guise of three travelers, arrived where Abram had his tent set up: “The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way–now that you have come to your servant.” (Gen 18:1-5) There ‘hospitality’ comprises providing washing facilities, opportunity to rest, and provision of food (and drink).
In the example of Moses, the absence of the offer of hospitality was noted by Reuel: “Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father’s flock. Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock. When the girls returned to Reuel their father, he asked them, “Why have you returned so early today?” They answered, “An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered the flock.” “And where is he?” he asked his daughters. “Why did you leave him? Invite him to have something to eat.” (Ex 2:16-20) He considered them very remiss for not having invited Moses in. Such was the Eastern custom.
When Moses was spelling out the Law, his condemnation of the Ammonites and Moabites was not only because they had hired a seer against them, but because they had not practiced hospitality in respect of them: “No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation. For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you.” (Deut 23:3,4)
In the New Testament, Jesus expected hospitality would be provided for his disciples when he sent them out: “Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave.” (Mt 10:11) When Jesus rebuked Simon the Pharisee, it was in respect of his absence of hospitality: “Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.” (Lk 7:44-46) Three expressions of good hospitality: provision for refreshing, a warm welcome and general blessing.
Providing hospitality for others, not only provides for their natural needs, it also generates care in such a way that fellowship flows and security ensues. Through providing hospitality we make others feel good and that builds relationships and makes the body stronger. Providing hospitality is not keeping up with the Jones’ by providing bigger and better food, but is about providing a warm and caring and loving environment for your guests, whereby they feel loved, cared for and blessed. The illustration of Mary and Martha (Lk 10:38-42) shows this clearly. One sister was concerned with appearing good by the quality of her provision, while the other made personal contact with Jesus the priority. Hospitality is more than providing food; it is also providing you.