the weblog of Alan Knox

Hospitality – vacancy or no vacancy?

Posted by on Apr 23, 2007 in fellowship, hospitality, scripture | 19 comments

A couple of weeks ago, some new friends came to visit from out of town. We wanted to be able to offer them a place to spend the night, that is, to offer them hospitality. Unfortunately, we currently do not have bed space for a couple (perhaps we should change this?). However, some friends of ours did open their homes in a true demonstration of hospitality. Because of this, I began to think about hospitality again. What is our responsibility to other believers? What is our responsibility to strangers? I thought that I would start with Scripture (that seems like a good place to start):

Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. (Romans 12:13 ESV)

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach… (1 Timothy 3:2 ESV)

Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. (1 Timothy 5:9-10 ESV)

For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. (Titus 1:7-8 ESV)

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Hebrews 13:2 ESV)

Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. (1 Peter 4:9 ESV)

These verses translate various words as “hospitality” or “show hospitality”:

1. φιλοξενία (philoxenia) – “hospitality” (noun)
2. φιλόξενος (philoxenos) – “hospitable” (adjective)
3. ξενοδοκέω (xenodokeo) – “show hospitality” (verb)

Also, I have previously discussed a different verb (προπέμπωpropempo) in a post called “Sending with hospitality…” This verb seems to denote sending someone on a journey with help that they may need on the journey. It can even mean accompanying them on their journey.

Etymologically, the words above for “hospitality” are built on roots meaning “loving strangers” or “thinking about strangers”. However, we know that etymology (looking at the source of words) does not always tell us the meaning of a word.

So, what do the Scriptures above tell us about hospitality? Well, for one thing, hospitality should be demonstrated toward those we know and toward those we do not know (strangers). Hospitality should be a characteristic of elders and widows (who would normally be older), but it should also be a characteristic of all believers. Attitude is important in showing hospitality – i.e., we should not complain (grumble) about showing hospitality to someone. Also, it seems that hospitality should normally cost us something.

When I look through this short list, without even actually answering the question “What is hospitality?”, I would have to say that I am not a very hospitable person. (This means, of course, that is 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are “qualification” for elders, then I’m not qualified. But, of course, everyone knew that when they saw the “qualification” of “blameless”.) In fact, I know very few hospitable people. I do not even know many hospitable Christians. Now, I’m sure that I know some, but I think this characteristic has been overlooked and relegated to insignificance for far too long.

I started thinking seriously about hospitality almost three years ago when my family went to Nicaragua for a week. We stayed with a family that would be considered very poor by American standards. Yet, this family gave us their best room to sleep in – with our own private bathroom. They also fed us at least two meals per day – three meals when we were in their home in the evening. They also waited for us to come home each evening in order to spend time talking with us. Now, this “talking” thing was very interesting, and they also showed hospitality in this. I know a little Spanish (I can say, “This is my pencil” and “Where is the bathroom?”) and they knew a little English. But, each night, they provided ways for us to communicate. Two evenings, they invited friends who spoke more English to come over. For the remaining evenings, they purchased a Spanish-English dictionary.

What did I learn from this experience? I learned that hospitality is costly, and that I do not practice hospitality. Has anyone else been the recipient of hospitality? If so, please tell us about it and tell us what you learned


19 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 4-23-2007

    Hey Alan,
    Thanks for the post. This has been something that the Lord’s been convicting Kristie and me of lately. Specifically, in relation to our unbelieving neighbors. We’ve lived in our current house for two years now, and although we’ve had several conversations with our neighbors, we’ve never invited them over. I wonder how closely hospitality is related to evangelism and missions. I think the most costly thing about hospitality for me would be my the time it takes to offer it continuously. Thanks for the post.

  2. 4-23-2007

    Alan, you may not have had a bed to offer, but you still took the time to find a place, and it all worked out beautifully.

    In other words, I think your hospitality was still quite fine, even if you didn’t have a bed yourself to offer. You were hospitable in so many ways, and we were so blessed. Thank you, brother!

    This post reminded me of time I spent in Ukraine. The group I was with spent a night in a small apartment with a large family. We were spread out on the floors of various rooms, etc. Quite an adventure.

    But the part that really got to me was that our hosts asked through our translator what we would want for breakfast the next morning. They provided several choices to us.

    One choice was “cream of wheat”, which we settled on as our choice.

    The next day, our translator told us that members of the family had gotten up early in the morning to stand in line for several hours at the store to get milk so they could make us cream of wheat.

    Needless to say, we would not have chosen that if we had known what it would entail for them, but the fact that they offered it, and then sacrificed (quite cheerily, I might add) to provide it was a huge blessing.

    I hope I would do the same for someone coming through.

  3. 4-23-2007

    This characteristic is something I desire greatly for my family. I already see it in my wife, and I’m praying that God would cultivate it in me. I think the biggest struggle for us has been that it’s easy to be hospitable to your friends and family, but so much harder to show hospitality to strangers and people who aren’t like me.

    Question: Could it be that hospitality is one of the ways that God wants his church to help the poor? In my mind they seem to be closely connected.

  4. 4-23-2007

    Alan-
    Years ago, we spent a week in a Dyak village in Borneo. Our missionary hosts, put us up in their guest room and fed us meals. Since they had invited us, that was “expected hospitality.”
    The tribal people showed us “unexpected hospitality.” In one village nearby, the people stayed home from their rice gardens that day to demonstrate tribal life to us. One man climbed a coconut tree to cut a fresh coconut for us. They invited us into their house for Indo coffee (hot, strong, 1/2 sweetened condensed milk) and rice cakes (tasting of kerosene). Another group showed us how they made long knives over a homemade forge.
    Back home in our friends’ village, one lady took us to see her collect rubber and others wove traditional baskets for us. Still another tribal (and church) leader sat down and told us, through an interpreter, his testimony of having come to trust Jesus as his savior and how his life was now new. (Good to hear–these people had been headhunters!)
    Those dear people showed Christ’s hospitality in a place where we really didn’t expect it.
    Kat

  5. 4-23-2007

    Alan-
    Years ago, we spent a week in a Dyak village in Borneo. Our missionary hosts, put us up in their guest room and fed us meals. Since they had invited us, that was “expected hospitality.”
    The tribal people showed us “unexpected hospitality.” In one village nearby, the people stayed home from their rice gardens that day to demonstrate tribal life to us. One man climbed a coconut tree to cut a fresh coconut for us. They invited us into their house for Indo coffee (hot, strong, 1/2 sweetened condensed milk) and rice cakes (tasting of kerosene). Another group showed us how they made long knives over a homemade forge.
    Back home in our friends’ village, one lady took us to see her collect rubber and others wove traditional baskets for us. Still another tribal (and church) leader sat down and told us, through an interpreter, his testimony of having come to trust Jesus as his savior and how his life was now new. (Good to hear–these people had been headhunters!)
    Those dear people showed Christ’s hospitality in a place where we really didn’t expect it.
    Kat

  6. 4-23-2007

    Alan-
    Years ago, we spent a week in a Dyak village in Borneo. Our missionary hosts, put us up in their guest room and fed us meals. Since they had invited us, that was “expected hospitality.”
    The tribal people showed us “unexpected hospitality.” In one village nearby, the people stayed home from their rice gardens that day to demonstrate tribal life to us. One man climbed a coconut tree to cut a fresh coconut for us. They invited us into their house for Indo coffee (hot, strong, 1/2 sweetened condensed milk) and rice cakes (tasting of kerosene). Another group showed us how they made long knives over a homemade forge.
    Back home in our friends’ village, one lady took us to see her collect rubber and others wove traditional baskets for us. Still another tribal (and church) leader sat down and told us, through an interpreter, his testimony of having come to trust Jesus as his savior and how his life was now new. (Good to hear–these people had been headhunters!)
    Those dear people showed Christ’s hospitality in a place where we really didn’t expect it.
    Kat

  7. 4-23-2007

    Alan-
    Years ago, we spent a week in a Dyak village in Borneo. Our missionary hosts, put us up in their guest room and fed us meals. Since they had invited us, that was “expected hospitality.”
    The tribal people showed us “unexpected hospitality.” In one village nearby, the people stayed home from their rice gardens that day to demonstrate tribal life to us. One man climbed a coconut tree to cut a fresh coconut for us. They invited us into their house for Indo coffee (hot, strong, 1/2 sweetened condensed milk) and rice cakes (tasting of kerosene). Another group showed us how they made long knives over a homemade forge.
    Back home in our friends’ village, one lady took us to see her collect rubber and others wove traditional baskets for us. Still another tribal (and church) leader sat down and told us, through an interpreter, his testimony of having come to trust Jesus as his savior and how his life was now new. (Good to hear–these people had been headhunters!)
    Those dear people showed Christ’s hospitality in a place where we really didn’t expect it.
    Kat

  8. 4-23-2007

    Alan-
    Years ago, we spent a week in a Dyak village in Borneo. Our missionary hosts, put us up in their guest room and fed us meals. Since they had invited us, that was “expected hospitality.”
    The tribal people showed us “unexpected hospitality.” In one village nearby, the people stayed home from their rice gardens that day to demonstrate tribal life to us. One man climbed a coconut tree to cut a fresh coconut for us. They invited us into their house for Indo coffee (hot, strong, 1/2 sweetened condensed milk) and rice cakes (tasting of kerosene). Another group showed us how they made long knives over a homemade forge.
    Back home in our friends’ village, one lady took us to see her collect rubber and others wove traditional baskets for us. Still another tribal (and church) leader sat down and told us, through an interpreter, his testimony of having come to trust Jesus as his savior and how his life was now new. (Good to hear–these people had been headhunters!)
    Those dear people showed Christ’s hospitality in a place where we really didn’t expect it.
    Kat

  9. 4-23-2007

    Alan-
    Years ago, we spent a week in a Dyak village in Borneo. Our missionary hosts, put us up in their guest room and fed us meals. Since they had invited us, that was “expected hospitality.”
    The tribal people showed us “unexpected hospitality.” In one village nearby, the people stayed home from their rice gardens that day to demonstrate tribal life to us. One man climbed a coconut tree to cut a fresh coconut for us. They invited us into their house for Indo coffee (hot, strong, 1/2 sweetened condensed milk) and rice cakes (tasting of kerosene). Another group showed us how they made long knives over a homemade forge.
    Back home in our friends’ village, one lady took us to see her collect rubber and others wove traditional baskets for us. Still another tribal (and church) leader sat down and told us, through an interpreter, his testimony of having come to trust Jesus as his savior and how his life was now new. (Good to hear–these people had been headhunters!)
    Those dear people showed Christ’s hospitality in a place where we really didn’t expect it.
    Kat

  10. 4-23-2007

    Alan-
    Years ago, we spent a week in a Dyak village in Borneo. Our missionary hosts, put us up in their guest room and fed us meals. Since they had invited us, that was “expected hospitality.”
    The tribal people showed us “unexpected hospitality.” In one village nearby, the people stayed home from their rice gardens that day to demonstrate tribal life to us. One man climbed a coconut tree to cut a fresh coconut for us. They invited us into their house for Indo coffee (hot, strong, 1/2 sweetened condensed milk) and rice cakes (tasting of kerosene). Another group showed us how they made long knives over a homemade forge.
    Back home in our friends’ village, one lady took us to see her collect rubber and others wove traditional baskets for us. Still another tribal (and church) leader sat down and told us, through an interpreter, his testimony of having come to trust Jesus as his savior and how his life was now new. (Good to hear–these people had been headhunters!)
    Those dear people showed Christ’s hospitality in a place where we really didn’t expect it.
    Kat

  11. 4-23-2007

    Alan-
    Years ago, we spent a week in a Dyak village in Borneo. Our missionary hosts, put us up in their guest room and fed us meals. Since they had invited us, that was “expected hospitality.”
    The tribal people showed us “unexpected hospitality.” In one village nearby, the people stayed home from their rice gardens that day to demonstrate tribal life to us. One man climbed a coconut tree to cut a fresh coconut for us. They invited us into their house for Indo coffee (hot, strong, 1/2 sweetened condensed milk) and rice cakes (tasting of kerosene). Another group showed us how they made long knives over a homemade forge.
    Back home in our friends’ village, one lady took us to see her collect rubber and others wove traditional baskets for us. Still another tribal (and church) leader sat down and told us, through an interpreter, his testimony of having come to trust Jesus as his savior and how his life was now new. (Good to hear–these people had been headhunters!)
    Those dear people showed Christ’s hospitality in a place where we really didn’t expect it.
    Kat

  12. 4-23-2007

    Alan,
    I did not grow up in a believing home, and my family didn’t spend a lot of quality time together at home. It was more comfortable to go over to a friend’s house than to have others over to mine. But, in 1998, I had the privilege of seeing my family come to Christ. I was 16 years old and, needless to say, it was a major turning point in our lives. Our home suddenly became a very welcoming place to be. Our youth group had outgrown our space in our church building, so we began meeting in all of the rooms of our house. We had a pool, and hosted many parties throughout the summer. Families from church would come by (even when we weren’t home) to use the pool and relax (with my parents permission, of course!). My parents kept the fridge in the garage packed with sodas. My brother’s friends (all from unbelieving households) practically lived at our house and called my mom their mom. My parents had a family live with them when they were without a home for 6 weeks – with a two year old and a newborn baby straight from the hospital. They have twice hosted new pastors to our church – once for 6 weeks and once for over 6 months. There were many other one night visitors with us. The hospitality exhibited in my home was a blessing to those who stayed, to my parents who hosted, and to my brother and I who saw their example. The fellowship and service that comes from hospitality is indispensible to the body of Christ. I know strive to follow my parents’ example in my own home, hoping that my husband and children will learn from that as well.

  13. 4-23-2007

    Everyone here has encouraged me and challenged me with their comments. I did not know what kind of response I would get from this post. It is not a hot topic at the moment. However, it is an important topic to me (which is why I posted this), so I’m glad that it is important to others as well.

    I invite you all to interact with each other. I would love to learn more about hospitality and its connection with evangelism, discipleship, and missions. I will also jump in, but as I said, I’m still learning in this area.

    -Alan

  14. 4-23-2007

    Leah-
    I can understand what you are saying. I did not come from a home that offered hospitality very often (if you were a family member, yes, and even that was sometimes questionable).
    As a result of this, I have gone the opposite way in my thinking. I tend be sure to make people feel welcome because it is a desire I have to provide a place for others to rest and be refreshed.
    There are times as well that it is difficult, but I believe that even when we do the things that are not always comfortable and do them with joy (anyway), we are opening ourselves up to so many experiences (that are orchestrated by God)that we would not have experienced if we closed ourselves off from others.

    Thank you for your hospitality…we were blessed in so many ways :)

  15. 4-23-2007

    Christy,

    You said: “We are opening ourselves up to so many experiences (that are orchestrated by God)that we would not have experienced if we closed ourselves off from others.” Amen!

    I know that this was written in the context of hospitality, but it is true on so many different levels. There is a reason that God places us in groups of other believers: we need each other!

    -Alan

  16. 4-24-2007

    I don’t mind opening up my home, but that Sensenig guy is a whole different story. j/k

  17. 4-24-2007

    The month before we left for England we had a family of 4 move into our home with us because they believed that a product used in the building of their home was causing respiratory illnesses. One of hte things God showed me from the experience was how my children loved it and enjoyed having new playmates/friends in the home; whereas, we adults had a more difficult time adjusting to being in close quarters together. (“Oh, they are in the kitchen right now, and I am in my pjs, should I go in?”) Anyway, I saw how I needed to have more of a child’s heart and how I needed to grow in my ability to live in community and share all that I have and am with others.

    We would all do well, in America, to remember that we often live in quarters 10X the size that families are accustomed to in other parts of the world. We may feel like we don’t have a bed to share, but all we’d have to do is give up our bed and go sleep on the floor (and if possible not tell the guest that!). Now, the problem then is that the guest may not be humble enough to accept such an offer! It does take two! But you knwo what I mean.

  18. 4-24-2007

    hehe, Ed…you’re a funny guy! ;)

    Now I really wish that I had gotten to meet you, because I think we would have gotten along quite nicely!

  19. 4-24-2007

    Bryan,

    You said: “We may feel like we don’t have a bed to share, but all we’d have to do is give up our bed and go sleep on the floor”. Thank you for saying this. Actually, my children said the same thing to me last night. So God used you and my children to convict me about this.

    -Alan