As a ‘homeless stranger’ here, the Lord Jesus was dependent on the hospitality of others: “The foxes have holes and the birds of the heaven roosting–places, but the Son of man has not where he may lay his head” (Luke 9: 58). Even His tomb was borrowed (see Matt. 27: 60). Yet despite His straightened circumstances, He delighted in having others with Him: “And they said to him, Rabbi (which, being interpreted, signifies Teacher), where abidest thou? He says to them, Come and See. They went therefore, and saw where he abode; and they abode with him that day” (John 1: 38, 39). The Son of man was thus both hospitable and dependent on hospitality. In this He is a pattern for us.
When Paul and his company were ship–wrecked on Malta, the Spirit of God takes great care to record that Publius, the chief man of the island “received us and gave [us] hospitality three days in a very friendly way” (Acts 28: 7). Earlier, we read that “the barbarians shewed us no common kindness” (v2). Contrast the attitude of these Pagans with that of a supposedly enlightened Jew who though he invited the Lord into his house denied Him the most basic act of welcome (see Luke 7: 44). How sad that those with light should be put to shame by those walking in darkness! And yet there is worse to come. If we turn to the NT we find a recipient of the much greater light of Christianity (at least in an outward fashion) utterly out of keeping with what he professes: “and not content with these, neither does he himself receive the brethren; and those who would he prevents, and casts [them] out of the assembly” (3 John 10). Who were these ‘brethren’? Those who had gone forth “for the name” (v7), and who, though “strangers” (v5) ought to have been received “that we may be fellow–workers with the truth” (v8). Certainly this is an extreme case, but we must not delude ourselves that all is well in our day. Is everyone of our homes really open to whoever the Lord may send to us, whether poor or rich, believer or unbeliever? Is it not true that we often seem to prefer to pass by on the opposite side (comp. Luke 10: 31, 32) when confronted by a need, leaving ‘Good Samaritan’ work to those whose ‘line’ it is? And is it not the case that when we do display some ‘neighbourliness’ it often extends to only a chosen few—those we like, and those we admire? Christians ought to be the ‘nicest’ people in the world and yet we are often put to shame by the free–hearted kindness of those in the world around us.
Paul writes that an elder must be “irreproachable, husband of one wife, sober, discreet, decorous, hospitable…” (1 Tim. 3: 2; see also Titus 1: 8). Now this does not mean that the quality of being hospitable is seen only in the elders, but that as exemplary Christians they ought to display all the normal Christian qualities. Thus when Paul writes to the “brethren” in Rome (Rom. 12: 1) he desires that they be “given to hospitality” (v13). It is a normal Christian virtue, and to not display it is to be abnormal.
Hospitality surely comes under the heading of “kindness” (Gal. 5: 22) and as such is a vital part of the fruit of the Spirit. Yet how often do Christians seek to replicate in a legal way what can only come from God! If we view the Bible merely as a rule–book to be obeyed, then we may indeed exercise ‘hospitality’ because we feel we ought to, but this is hardly the divine intention. Peter tells the saints to be “hospitable one to another, without murmuring” (1 Pet. 4: 9). It must flow from the heart.
Hospitality is also, I believe, fundamental to the maintenance of healthy fellowship. It is only as we get our brethren into our homes that we really get to know them, and the links that we have together in Christ are strengthened. If the writer of Hebrews can say “Let brotherly love abide” it is closely linked to his next exhortation: “Be not forgetful of hospitality” (Heb. 13: 1). Companies that suffer from a lack of this expression of Christian kindness invariably have little depth in their fellowship, a fellowship which is often little better than mere ‘church attendance’.