Meditations in Hebrews 13: 54. And then to Hospitality
Heb 13:2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
A Climate for Hospitality: I suspect that eastern peoples of old knew more about hospitality than we do today and maybe it is because so many of them lived in inhospitable desert lands. When a stranger arrived, you took pity on him and welcomed him into your home where he could be refreshed and escape for a while at least from the harsh climate. A hospital is a place of recovery and hospitality has at its roots the same idea, that of recovery for the weary traveller in a harsh world. The fact that eastern peoples worked on hospitality because of the harshness of climate and countryside, should not make us think that this is not part of the life of the Christian in a different part of the world that may not appear so hostile. Modern life in the West is, I suggest hostile in other ways and the need for hospitality is just as great as in Middle Eastern countries in New Testament times. Indeed we may have to think even more about how we go about giving hospitality.
Strangers? Our verse from Hebrews 13 is intriguing: “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hospitality, it suggests, should be offered to strangers, not necessarily those you know well. Now I would suggest in passing that in many churches, in reality, many people are strangers. For example, take a random person you see in your church regularly. How much do you know of them? Do you know if they are a Christian? (don’t assume anything). Do you know when and how they came to the Lord, do you know their Christian experience, do you know their family structure, do you know what jobs they have or the roles they have in life, do you know their gifting or maybe even ministries? If you don’t know these things then I suggest to you that these people are strangers.
Angels? The second thing that verse says is that you may be entertaining angels. Abraham had (see Gen 18), as did Gideon (Jdg 6) and also Manoah (Jdg 13), each without realizing initially who they had in their home situation. This says to us, invite in people even without knowing fully who they are and you might end up being pleasantly surprised and blessed by them. (see Jesus’ words to his disciples when he sent them out about leaving a blessing o the home).
Wider Teaching: But does the New Testament say much about this subject or is this a rare teaching? The apostle Paul instructed the church at Rome to, “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” (Rom 12:13) This may challenge us about crossing social boundaries, reaching out to the poor, but then ‘the needy’ may cover far more than financial hardship. There may be those around us who have recently lost a loved one, or those who have been through trying circumstances, or those who have a sense of guilt or failure. Each of these need a recovery environment. How can we bless them?
Paul’s Teaching: Paul also spoke about, “Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy,” (Rom 16:23) In other words Gaius was known to bless all around him by practicing hospitality, opening his home to bless any in the church.
When Paul spoke of widows in the church who needed the support of the church, hospitality was one of the markers that indicated they were living good lives, worthy of support by the church: “No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality,” (1 Tim 5:9,10) There are two things to note about that. First, hospitality was one of the things the church expected the members of the church to be practicing. Second, a widow may often feel she has little to contribute to the life of the church but these verses suggest otherwise.
Peter’s Contribution: The apostle Peter saw hospitality as one of the expressions of love, as a means of expressing your gifting to bless others: “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)
John’s Contribution: The apostle John also made reference to providing hospitality for those serving the Church: “It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth.” (3 Jn 1:7,8) How can we bless one another at all levels of the church, taking no one for granted, thinking that a place of retreat is not what they need.
Practicalities: Whether it is just inviting someone (or a couple) round for coffee, or a meal, or having them to stay, remember the basic ideas that we have noted so far – a place for others to retreat from the harsh world out there, a place of recovery, a place to be blessed. The emphasis is on them, not on us. This means you don’t have to worry about producing food that is the best in the church, and if we care for our guests who may be coming for a meal, it is only courteous and wise to quietly ask them beforehand if there is any food they do not like or that disagrees with them. Your specialist dish may include garlic but if you served it to my wife, she would have a most violent stomach upset that evening and probably the next day. Check people out. If your guest(s) are in the ‘needy’ category that we referred to earlier on, treat them gently, care for them, love them, and bless them. They mayn’t want to talk about their circumstances so don’t force them. If they do share their lives, don’t be critical or judgmental and don’t think you have to have the answers to their difficulties.
Hospitality is about taking people into your home to bless them and provide a place of refreshment and possible restoration. How to do it? Start with prayer and ask the Lord for His wisdom as to how to go about it, how to be sensitive to them and their needs – and then do it and bless people.