the weblog of Alan Knox

Hospitality – vacancy or no vacancy?

Posted by on Apr 24, 2009 in discipleship, fellowship, hospitality, scripture | 4 comments

Two years ago, I wrote a post called “Hospitality – vacancy or no vacancy?” God was just beginning to teach our family about the importance of hospitality. In many ways, he is still teaching, and we are just beginning to learn. Hospitality is not natural for us. But, I’ve found that as we open our home to others – in spite of our natural inclinations – God begins to change our heart.


Hospitality – vacancy or no vacancy?

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.


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

  1. 4-25-2009

    Hi Alan,

    Great post. I have never been the recipient of hospitality (overnight stay). I seem to be the one always giving the hospitality (semi permanent). But here is where my tension lies…I have 2.5 (.5 is a 2 yr old child) tenants right now. Both were non believers upon their arrival; one has since become a believer and the other…well…that’s another story. I am having a few problems living with the nonbeliever. I’m on the verge of asking her to leave, but I’m not sure how to handle it. On the one hand I keep asking for patience. On the other hand, there are some issues here that are beyond my control, and I don’t know that I want to deal with those.

    When I search the scriptures to see how I should handle this, they seem to infer that this kind of hospitality is binding between believers.

    So, I’m in a place of tension with this topic right now. I covet your prayers…

  2. 4-25-2009


    Thanks for your example. While I know you have a difficult decision to make, I think our communities would be better off if we were all in the same situation as you – meaning that we were hosting people in our homes.


  3. 4-30-2009

    Alan (and anyone else who may be reading),

    I now have a solution to my problem. Thanks to the prayers and encouragement of the saints, God has taught me that hospitality toward believers/nonbelievers is initiated by Him. Philippians 2:13 says, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” You see, I was hastily approaching the scriptures for a scapegoat to justify my frustration and my own agenda. There is no scripture that directly deals with hospitality toward nonbelievers, but there is guidance from the Holy Spirit if we are humble enough to submit. For some, He may say don’t do it. For others He may say do it for a specific time. And still, for some He may say do it until further notice. But if we are proud and trying to do our own thing, we won’t hear Him say anything.

    Well, that’s what I’ve learned. I hope this helps someone in the future 🙂

  4. 4-30-2009


    I think what you said is very important: “there is guidance from the Holy Spirit if we are humble enough to submit”. Amen.