Vol. 3, No. 8
According to Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary the word hospitality means
": hospitable treatment, reception, or disposition." The word hospitable means "1 a : given to generous and cordial reception of guests, b : promising or suggesting generous and cordial welcome, c : offering a pleasant or sustaining environment. 2 : readily receptive : open (hospitable to new ideas)."1
When we look at the various Greek helps to determine the definition for hospitality in biblical times, we find the word means basically the same thing. Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words and Enhanced Strong's Lexicon give the following definition for hospitality: "Lover of strangers,"2 "generous to guests."3 A look at some examples of biblical hospitality and some of the customs of the Bible times enlightens us to the full scope of hospitality. Please note the following quote from The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times:
Entertaining others to eat and to stay was important for the people of the Bible; the urge to give hospitality seems to have been rooted in their experience of nomadic life. Nomadic people are conscious of the loneliness of the desert and that the provision of food is often a matter of life and death. Because Esau was too weak to prepare a meal for himself after he had been hunting, his brother, Jacob, was able to extract the birthright from him (Genesis 25:29-34). Even an enemy could not be allowed to die of hunger. Paul wrote, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him" (Romans 12:20), and he was repeating what was always done among nomadic people.4
The following is an observation from Kittel:
Strangeness produces mutual tension between natives and foreigners, but hospitality overcomes the tension and makes of the alien a friend. Historically foreigners are primarily enemies or outlaws who should be killed. It is then found, however, that hospitality is a better way to deal with strangers, and they thus become the wards of law and religion.5
Job, Abraham, the Shunammite woman and Martha are just a few of the Bible characters who showed hospitality. Under the old law, the minimum care for a guest was to offer bread and water (Deuteronomy 23:4) although many times the host would offer much more. The provisions offered many times included the best food, water to wash the dust from the guest's feet and overnight accommodations. It is true that during that timeframe hotels and restaurants were not readily available. The care of a traveler was dependent upon his fellow man. Yes, times have changed! When traveling from point A to point B, multiple restaurants of varying types and hotel accommodations are readily available. We are not dependent on fellow man to provide a meal or a place to stay. However, that does not remove our responsibility to show our love and concern for others through hospitality. I can think of no better way to make a person feel at ease among strangers than to openly make him feel welcome as an honored guest in your home.
Many times we feel we are being hospitable when we invite our friends and family members over for a meal. True biblical hospitality requires more. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains gives the following definition for hospitality.
to receive and show hospitality to a stranger, that is, someone who is not regarded as a member of the extended family or a close friend -- 'to show hospitality, to receive a stranger as a guest, hospitality.'6
As in every aspect of our service to God, we must have a proper attitude toward hospitality. It must be done in a kind, loving manner, but neither grudgingly nor done with a sense of duty or obligation. We should never grumble at the trouble or expense of showing hospitality toward others. Remember all that we have comes from God and we need to use our abundant resources and blessings to the glory of God, Matthew 6:25-34.
Making someone feel needed and welcome in our homes goes a long way to telling a lost soul, "I care about you and I want to teach you of God's love and concern for your soul." Making someone feel needed and welcome in our homes goes a long way to truly getting to know our brothers and sisters in Christ. Taking someone out to eat in a restaurant does not convey the same care and concern.
My prayer is that these few comments will inspire you to fulfill the God-given command that all show hospitality to one another (Romans 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9). One of the qualifications of an elder is that he show hospitality (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8). I encourage each of you to make use of the modern conveniences available to each of us and open your home to others. Whether you prepare an elaborate meal, purchase sandwiches and cookies from a local sandwich shop or just offer a cup of coffee or a glass of water is not what will be remembered. What people will remember is that you took the time to think of them and invited them to your home. While there, you made them feel welcome and wanted. You made them feel at home. You became better acquainted with them and they with you.
(For a further study of hospitality you are invited to attend the Third Annual Ladies' Day at the Southern Hills church of Christ, Saturday October 6, 2001.)
1 Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, (Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, Incorporated) 1993.
2 W. E., Vines Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell) 1981.
3 Enhanced Strong's Lexicon, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1995.
4 Gowers, Ralph, The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times, (Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago) 1987.
5 Gerhard, and Friedrich, Gerhard, Editors, The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in One Volume, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company) 1985.
6 Johannes P. and Nida, Eugene A., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains, (New York: United Bible Societies) 1988, 1989.