Peter J. Wilson
"Use Hospitality one to another without grudging" (I Pet. 4:9). "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (Heb. 13:2). These passages enjoin upon all Christians a fundamental responsibility that must be discharged faithfully if we are to be pleasing in the eyes of Jehovah. The New Century Dictionary defines the words "hospitable" and "hospitality" as follows: "giving or affording a generous welcome . . . to guests or strangers" and "the reception of guests or strangers with liberality and kindness." W. E. Vine defines "philoxenia" in Heb. 13:2 as "the love of strangers.)' This hospitality must be extended then to "strangers" and "one to another." That the proper use of hospitality can create an atmosphere in which individuals and congregations can effectively grow and in which the gospel can find free course is the point I want to stress in this article.
Hospitality-As It Relates to the Individual Christian
The Bible warns against a misuse of hospitality that I believe is common among brethren in Christ. The Apostle Peter commands that we "use hospitality one to another without grudging." Is our inviting people into our homes and showing hospitality toward them often entered into with the attitude "we owe them a meal," or "it is our turn," or "we will have to do it because no one else ever does?" If so, we have lost the spirit and meaning of true hospitality. If it is merely the payment of an obligation, if it is a thing done out of a grudging sense of duty, if the time, expense, and effort is complained about it is not true hospitality!
Then, too, hospitality that has as its motive some personal compensation or consideration is warned against. In Luke 14:12,13, Jesus said: "When thou makest a dinner or supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, nor thy kinsmen, nor rich neighbors; lest haply they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a feast bid the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind; and thou shalt be blessed . . ." In keeping with the Jewish mode of speech, Jesus here stresses one form of action (feeding the poor) by contrasting with another (entertaining those who can repay us). For example, in Jno. 6:27, "Work not for the food which perisheth, but for the food which abideth unto eternal life," the first clause is to be considered comparative and not prohibitive. So in Luke 14, to entertain friends and loved ones is not expressly prohibited but rather the emphasis is placed upon showing hospitality to those who need our association and help. In almost every congregation there are widows or widowers or handicapped people or others whose lives can be made brighter and whose burden can be made lighter by thoughtfulness and hospitality upon the part of faithful brethren.
The use of hospitality to encourage young people to develop friendships among Christians is another neglected field. We have taught long and well that it is not the function of the church to provide social and recreational activities and most of us are convinced that the majority of the facilities provided by the world are detrimental to the morals and well being of our young people. But what are we doing as individuals and as parents to provide the occasions for wholesome social contact with other Christians?
The use of hospitality to make contacts and develop friendships among non-Christians is still another neglected area. Naturally, we understand that social activities cannot be used as a "drawing card" to win people to Christ. Christ is the only "drawing" power (Jno. 12:32) and the gospel the only power to save (Rom. 1: 16). However, to gain the confidence and friendship of people we work with, or neighbors, or others by social contact and sincere hospitality can give us many opportunities to discuss the Bible, or arrange home studies, or extend invitations to the assemblies.
Hospitality As It Relates to the Congregation
Stress is also placed on how we treat strangers in our assemblies and the impression we leave on them (Jas. 2:1-5; I Cor. 14: 23-25; III Jno. 5-8). If the ordinary principles of hospitality in our homes involve making people feel welcome, making them comfortable, introducing them to those present, etc., why would not the same things show hospitality in our assemblies? If people are not greeted as they enter, if they have to walk around groups of joking brethren to get a seat, if no song book or Bible is handed them, if they are interrupted by excessive noise and distracted by the irreverent actions of members, if none encourages them to come back, will they be impressed with the hospitality ("love of strangers") manifested by Christians? Thoughtfulness and kindness extended to strangers in our midst can be an important factor in the impression left upon them as they come in contact with the Lord's church for the first time. Brethren, let us truly "Use hospitality"