54. And then to Hospitality

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.

13. Practice Hospitality

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.

12. More on Relationships

Meditations in Romans, Ch.12: 12:  More on Relationships

Rom 12:13  Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another

We move on to the next block of what I have called mini-exhortations because each one s short and pithy, and there are a lot of them. As with verses 9 and 10, these are verses about how we respond to other people, and there is so much here. Each one is a mine of truth waiting to be explored, a variety of facets for Christian living.

Paul starts this block with Share with God’s people who are in need.” (v.13a) In the sixth of this series we noted the following but it is worth repeating: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 Jn 3:17) Jesus used meeting material needs as an indication of spiritual life and relationship: “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, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Mt 25:35,36)  So there we have the New Testament Church teaching first from the apostle John and then from Jesus. We are a body and members of the body care for one another but Jesus took it further to imply that we care for all who cross our path and are needy – the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the poor, the sick and the prisoner. Today, in the UK at least, institutional society meets all these needs, yet there is still room for the Christians to bless others.

Yet Paul’s focus here is specifically on the Christian Church – “God’s people” – where if we see needs we meet them as we are able.  It was a mark of the early church that they cared for one another: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 2:44,45)  As they grew in numbers and they set up ‘programs’ to meet the needs of the needy among them, they had difficulties: “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” (Acts 6:1) and thus they had to organize more carefully (Acts 6:3-6).

Sometimes we can get institutional in our thinking and we need freeing from that. I once had a lady in the church come to me as its main leader and share her concern for another lady who did outreach lunches from her home and who was short of tea towels. Couldn’t the church buy some for her, was the question asked of me. Of course, I replied, but what a lovely opportunity for you to bless her personally by getting them for her. ‘Need’ can be a very varied thing and a person ‘in need’ may simply be someone who doesn’t have the resources you do and doesn’t feel able to spend on a particular thing in their life. Over the years I am aware that I have given money to someone who need to go to Agricultural college, money to someone to have a holiday, someone money to go on a Bible retreat. None of those things are ‘basics’ of life but they were things that became ‘needs’ in the light of the will of God for that person, what He wanted to do to bless their life. Yes, as a church we gave to people with more basic needs, on one occasion we took a young man to a supermarket when he was out of work and told him to totally fill up the trolley with food for his family. Needs can be many and varied and our means of meeting them equally so.

On one occasion, as a church we were planning to take the church away for a weekend retreat but we knew that we had many people living on state benefits who just could not afford the cost of such a weekend. As we prayed about what to do, the Lord gave us the wisdom. We went to the church and told them in two month’s time we would take a one-off free-will offering. All we asked them to do was, in that two months, ask the Lord how much He wanted them each to put it. It could be nothing, it could be one pound, five pounds, fifty pounds or whatever He said. When the day come, without any fanfare or winding people up, we simply took the offering in the middle of the Sunday morning service. It came to twice as much as we actually needed to cover every man, woman and child in the church – including a couple of unsaved husbands who had trouble believing it.  The extra we put away for the next retreat. The needs of ‘the poor’ were met.

In this day of state benefits and institutional caring, it is so easy to dismiss this exhortation and we say, “We don’t have the needy with us any longer,” but that is so untrue and especially so in days of financial difficulty in this second decade of the twenty first century.  Needy people mean anyone who is struggling to make ends meet and whose lives are restricted because of it. If we have more resources than they do, this word comes to us.

But the key issue is what does God the Holy Spirit say to us? It is also so easy to become guilt-ridden because of these things and He doesn’t want that. Why not enter into a new faith dimension where you ask the Lord to put on your heart people He wants you to bless in this way – and then how He wants you to bless them. Sometimes it is right to give anonymously but sometimes it is right to give face to face to bless the person and build your relationship with them. It’s who HE wants to bless and HOW He wants you to bless. Why not ask Him now.

53. Light

Meditations in 1 Peter : 53 : Light to the World

1 Pet 4:8-10 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.

In today’s jaded world, people look for what is real and what is good but, often, with no hope of finding it. Now that is sad because Jesus said to the Christian community, You are the salt of the earth ….You are the light of the world …. let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:13-16) i.e. display God’s goodness in such a way that the world sees and knows that you are His and it is His power, His strength, His grace shining through you.

Peter started off this chapter with, “Christ … arm yourselves also with the same attitude…live the rest of his earthly life …. for the will of God.” (v.1,2) He digressed to speak about our past lives and how the world lives, but now he is speaking out the will of God for our lives, how the Lord wants us to live as His children, being salt and displaying His light. He has just said “be clear minded and self controlled” and we noted this was all about how we think and then how we act. So now he lists various ways that we can express our Christian lives – love, offer hospitality and serve. Let’s examine each of these three things he places before us.

He starts out, “Above all.” i.e. THE most important thing is that we love one another deeply. Because some of these words are so familiar, it is perhaps wise to seek to put content to them. Love might be defined as warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings for others or, as the Bible portrays it, selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards all others. Now Peter says we are to make this the number one expression of our Christian lives and to do it ‘deeply’!

But he also gives us a reason or motivating force to encourage us to live like this: “because love covers a multitude of sins.” That is a phrase that has found its way into common usage because it is so apt. This recognises that each one of us is imperfect and the truth is that we will get it wrong. Now as far as God is concerned that is covered: My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1) That is about how Jesus responds when we fail and then come back to him in repentance. Today’s verse covers how we are to cope with, or deal with, one another when one or other of us blows it.  Love!  Love still hangs on in there for that other person.  Our love means we forgive them, we seek to understand them, accept them and feel for them and not condemn them for ‘love covers a multitude of sins’!

But then he gives another way that we can build fellowship, build the church and reveal the love of God: Offer hospitality to one another.” Hospitality is about opening our home to care for and bless others. Hospitality builds relationships, builds friendships and provides opportunity for coming closer and for sharing and caring.  But, says Peter, do it without grumbling.  Why might we grumble over giving hospitality?  We may grumble because we see it as a duty and not as an expression of our grace.  The apostle Paul taught, “Share with God’s people who are in need.  Practice hospitality.” (Rom 12:13)  Hospitality, in his mind at least, was closely linked with helping and blessing those who were not as well off as you.

Then, as he lets his mind drift on past this, Peter adds, Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others.” Now whether we think of ‘gift’ as a spiritual gift or simply some ability, the message is the same: use it to bless others. Come with the attitude of a servant whose desire is to bless others. If we do this we will be faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. i.e. we will be using the grace that God provides for us – in whatever form it comes – to bless others, build the church, and reach out with the love of God.

These are all very positive, outward looking instructions. They take our minds off ourselves and focus on bringing blessing to other people. When Peter had said, “The end of all things is near,” (v.7) we might think that this is a time for focusing on our own lives and our own well-being, but the apostle doesn’t allow that. No, in whatever days we have left, be outward looking, seek to love others, offer hospitality, use what you have to serve and bless others, take whatever grace gives you – and pass it on! There is no space here for self indulgence. No, this is all about using the time and using the resources God gives you to bless others and reveal the Father. May it be like that!

23. Mary & Martha

People who met Jesus : 23 :  Mary & Martha

Lk 10:38-42 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I sometimes think if we could watch frequent videos of ourselves, we would probably be very different people. This little episode before us today seems like a sort of short afternoon quarter-hour play on TV. It is very simple and very graphic.

We have two sons and although there are similarities, there are also great differences between them. That is often how it is with children. Our daughter has two children and, again, they are very different from each other. The good part of this is that we are each unique. Even identical twins, who are perhaps the most alike, nevertheless are unique and that uniqueness is added to by their own life experiences. So here we have an account of two very different sisters. They have a brother but he doesn’t figure in this little cameo. The only other reference to this little family is found in John 11. Mary and Martha appear as alike as chalk and cheese. Let’s see what happens.

Jesus arrives at a village which, John tells us, was Bethany. This isn’t a story about healing, as in the recent meditations; this is about hospitality and about priorities. Jesus arrives in Bethany, and the word has no doubt gone out about him, and people are out in the road to see him arrive. Martha is one of those and she invites Jesus into her home to rest. Now of course how I have described it is purely speculation because Jesus could have invited himself in and she simply graciously welcomed him in, for all we are told is “Martha opened her home to him.” That conveys a beautiful picture of hospitality. Not everyone would be comfortable in having Jesus come into their home. Do you envisage Jesus coming into your home? Would he feel comfortable and at ease there? Would he find peace, order and blessing there, a place where it is easy to rest?

Now unfortunately there is a down side to this hospitality thing. We’ve had a few ‘big names’ stay in our home and my wife on each occasion thoroughly cleaned throughout and made sure everything was just right. That was Martha, except she could only start doing it once Jesus had arrived because she had had no warning that he would come. So now she is in hyper-hospitality-mode, clearing up, getting food ready and so on. She is going to be a great hostess. I’m put in mind of weddings here, Christian weddings. I’ve been to quite a few and I think they resemble what went on here. Great preparations, lots of scurrying around to make sure everything is just right, but unfortunately it’s not.

One of our preachers in our church recently spoke about our “upside down God”, God whose values are often so different from ours. Whether it be straight forward hospitality, preparing for a party, or preparing for a wedding, our priorities are to make sure the place is clean, the food is perfect and there are enough drinks and we’ve created just the right environment for people’s enjoyment. We do all that – and leave Jesus out. Thus it becomes a godless or semi-godless occasion, and we miss out.

I can say all this in the light of the different reactions from the two sisters to Jesus coming into their home. Martha, we see, is into ‘hostess-of-the-year’ mode, which we’ve just been considering, and many of us are identifying and empathising with her. But now look at Mary, the other sister. Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to all he had to say. Martha is stressed by this and asks Jesus to scold her and get her to come and help. When you ask Jesus to do things for you, you always have to be prepared for him to point out a better course. Look; Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Wow! Look what he is saying. There’s only one thing needed here, and Mary has gone for it!

Let me take what might appear to be a slight diversion. Suppose you had such a thing as a time machine and could travel anywhere you liked in history – but you can only visit one person. Which of these would you go and visit: Einstein, Solomon, Gandhi, Jesus, or Florence Nightingale? Any answer other than Jesus shows you haven’t understood who he is yet!

For Mary, having Jesus in her home was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, an opportunity that rarely comes and so when it does it must be grabbed. In years to come she would be able to tell of the words she had heard come from the very mouth of the Son of God in her own home. Martha would remain silent.

This is a story of hospitality versus opportunity. Hospitality is good; grabbing the opportunity is better. This, I suspect, applies to many circumstances in our lives. How often to we miss opportunities to encounter the Lord because we are too busy, too tired or whatever. I think of the times of worship or prayer etc. in our church that I have been in when the Lord has turned up, and I have grieved for those who were too busy or too tired to have got there and who, subsequently, missed out on meeting Him. We only have one life and we need to grab every opportunity that the Lord gives us. May it be so!