One of the marks of true Christian love is compassionate hospitality. Consider a few truths about it…
First, hospitality is a trait of God himself. In the Garden, God provided Adam and Eve with everything, including fellowship, food, and a home (Gen. 1:26-2:25). God showed his divine hospitality to Abraham by bringing him to the land he promised him (Gen. 12:1-3). God also provided for the Israelites in their wanderings, feeding them daily with manna (Ex. 16). Later, God lead them to the promise land, the land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:8; Joshua 5:6), and eventually established a holy city called Jerusalem.
In the OT, God welcomes, establishes, feeds, protects, nourishes, and instructs his people with gracious hospitality. In Leviticus 19:33–34, God says it is his hospitality that is the basis for our display of hospitality to others, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” God’s welcoming character is well described in Isaiah 55:1-3, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Jesus also gives the invitation “Come to me” (Matt. 11:28).
Additionally, Jesus shows us a picture of gracious hospitality in numerous ways. He eats with sinners (Mark 2:13-17; Luke 15:1-2). He receives children (Mark 9:37). He teaches us to invite the lowly to parties (Luke 14:12-14) and to welcome strangers (Matt. 25:35). He prepares a breakfast for his disciples (John 21), and eats with the Emmaus disciples after his resurrection (Luke 24:13-34). He tells us that he is going to “prepare a place for [us] …” (John 14:3). Jesus also institutes the Lord’s Supper, giving new meaning to the Passover meal, and tells us that he will drink it again with us when “the kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:18). Finally, God’s hospitality is on full display in the book of Revelation. Heaven is divine hospitality! We who deserved misery have received mercy, and have the holy joy of dwelling with our God forever! We read of the New Heavens, and New Earth, the Holy City, the great supper (Rev. 19:7). Most of all, we will be with Jesus, who brought us near by his blood, when we were formerly spiritual strangers (Eph. 2:11-13).
Second, hospitality is a common trait of the righteous, throughout the Bible. In Genesis 18, Abraham entertains three guests, one of whom is the Lord. Joseph welcomes and cares for his brothers, and others in a famine (Gen. 47). Righteous Job says that one of the acts he practiced was hospitality. He said, “(the sojourner has not lodged in the street; I have opened my doors to the traveler)” (31:32). Rahab demonstrates hospitality, as she offers protection and lodging to Israelite spies in Joshua 2, demonstrating her loyalty to the God of Israel (also James 2:25). In the book of Ruth, we see a “little redeemer” in Boaz, who feeds the hungry at his table (Ruth 2:14). Abigail also provides hospitality to David and his men in 1 Samuel 25. The widow of Zerephath provides for Elijah in 1 Kings 17, prompting God to provide for her. Nehemiah shows us a picture of the hospitality of a leader, as he provides for 150 men at his table, eating nice food prepared at his own expense.
When we get to the New Testament, God’s people are urged to continue this legacy of caring for strangers. When Jesus sent his twelve apostles out to minister in Matthew 10:9-11, hospitality to God’s messengers was built into the mission. He emphasizes its importance saying, “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me” (Matt. 10:40).
Interestingly, one of the qualifications for pastors is “hospitality” (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8). And passages like 1 Peter 4:9, and Romans 12:13, exhort all Christians to practice hospitality. Peter adds that we must do so “without grumbling.” The author of Hebrews says something amazing about hospitality, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13:2). Finally, James rebukes the church for not showing hospitality to the poor (James 2), calling into question the integrity of their faith.
This call to compassion and hospitality is clear. In the Bible, God is sometimes pictured as the host, and at other times he is pictured as the guest. Both realities provided the basis for our practice of hospitality. Because God is a host, who has welcomed us into the kingdom, we should imitate him and welcome others into our lives and homes. Because God is a guest, we should welcome others because to receive those in need is to receive Jesus himself.
What keeps us from displaying biblical hospitality? I can think of a few reasons. First, some Christians are ignorant to the Bible’s teaching on this subject. You can longer claim that one! Second, others are careless. They simply don’t plan to show hospitality. Third, many are greedy. Remember, it is more blessed to give than receive! Finally, some are fearful. You can use fear as an excuse not to do just about anything. We must fight fear with the promises of God, believing that God will take care of us, when we act on his Word by faith.