Summary: Hospitality--Biblical instruction, Biblical examples, and how this relates to us today.
“Entertaining Angels…and Other Strangers” -a sermon on hospitality
Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
We read in the Nativity story, “…there was no room for them at the inn.” Those are familiar words, but this is not a Christmas message. Life in the first century Roman Empire was far different from life today. Although inns existed, most people looked to private homes for hospitality.
Modern society has been labeled as impersonal and self-centered. With our abundance of hotels and motels, we’re less likely to bring people into our homes. When some people entertain, it is often for the purpose of personal gain, and not to share the love of God. For the most part, it seems we’ve taken their welcome mats inside.
In the dictionary, the word “hospitality” is wedged between “hospital”, a place of healing, and “hospice”, a place of shelter. The root of all 3 words is the Latin word translated “guests”. Our homes are meant to be places of shelter and healing, havens of rest. The Greek word for hospitality (philoxenia) in the New Testament means “a love of strangers”. In Bible days, strangers were synonymous with enemies. One way to destroy enemies is to kill them. Another way is to make them our friends. Hospitality does that.
This morning I’d like us to consider what the Bible says concerning hospitality. We’ll look first at Biblical instruction, then some Biblical examples, and then we’ll see how this relates to us today.
A. Biblical Instruction on Hospitality
Hospitality is a mark of discipleship. James points out (2:15-17), “Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say, ‘Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well’ –but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? Faith that doesn’t show itself by good deeds is no faith at all—it is dead and useless.”
In his letter to the Romans, Paul directs us to “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (12:13).
We’ve read John’s commendation to the church; I’d like to repeat it, in a modern translation, The Message: “Dear friend, when you extend hospitality to Christian brothers and sisters, even when they are strangers, you make the faith visible. They’ve made a full report back to the church here, a message about your love. It’s good work you’re doing, helping these travelers on their way, hospitality worthy of God Himself! They set out under the banner of the Name, and get no help from unbelievers. So they deserve any support we can give them. In providing meals and a bed, we become their companions in spreading the Truth.” The apostles Jesus sent out to proclaim the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire depended on the hospitality of others. John is referring to the needs of these early church missionaries.
Jesus expresses His gratitude, saying, “I was a stranger and you took Me in” (Mt 25:35). He also encourages hospitality towards others, saying, “If you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of My followers, you will surely be rewarded” (Mt 10:42).
Peter urges believers to “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling”. We should cheerfully open our homes to those in need. However, some people confuse hospitality with having a spotless home. We need to forsake pride and unrealistic standards when we have people over. To be truly hospitable, we need to show our true home…and make those visiting feel like they’re part of our family.
B. Biblical Examples of Hospitality
Hospitality is deeply rooted in the Scriptures. In Genesis 18, when Abraham saw three strangers approach his tents, he called for his wife and servants to prepare a meal for them, and watched over them as they rested in the shade of a tree.
Living in the desert, hospitality was a cultural necessity, with the understanding that the host might someday be a stranger in need. Believing in the providence of God, Abraham regarded these strangers as divinely sent. This was quite true, as they turned out to be angelic messengers from God. For his humble graciousness Abraham received a rich blessing. The author of Hebrews likely had Abraham in mind when he wrote that we should “show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it” (13:2).
Later on, Abraham sent a servant to search for a suitable wife for his son Isaac. When the servant arrived at the home of Rebeccah, he was cordially received into her home, and her family’s hospitality helped convince the servant that Rebeccah was God’s choice for Isaac’s bride.
In Bible times, it was customary for a host to wash the feet of a visitor; although usually this menial task was delegated to a servant. Christ modeled humility and hospitality by washing His disciples’ feet (John 13) and concluding His humble act of servanthood, He directed them to “wash one another’s feet”.