I’ve invited several people to write “guest blog posts” for this blog. There are several reasons for this: 1) To offer different perspectives. 2) To generate even more discussion and conversation between blogs. 3) To introduce other bloggers to my readers.
(If you are interested in writing a guest blog post, please contact me at aknox[at]sebts[dot]com.)
Hospitality and the life of the NT churches
We live in a culture that is highly individualistic. We like our privacy, and we manage to keep our friends at a distance by compartmentalizing them. We have friends at work, friends at the gym, friends among our neighbors, friends in sports, and friends at the stores we frequent. Typically, they each stay in their domain: we rarely cross connect friends and we rarely see them outside the area of our relationship. For the most part, we do this with our “church friends,” too. But is this OK for Christians?
The unique thing about the church is that we are all made one—“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28); there is “neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” (Col 3:11)
Hospitality opens up our lives and our life spaces to others; it also encroaches on our “me” time and our “private space” (whether you are the visitor or the visitee). Largely, this highly relational aspect of Christian life and service was folded and stored away in the closet of the cathedral church centuries ago, and remains presently set aside in favor of our cultural comfort zones. Still, hospitality is meant to be a normative function among the saints.
Hospitality is one of the key functional ways the church interacts and one of the ways it demonstrates this new unity to the lonely, isolated society around us. (In doing so, we confront our culture with something strange; for all the focus lately on “cultural relevance,” the church always has substantial elements that run against the grain of any culture where we live). Two of the key areas where hospitality plays a major role include:
- Providing for the hosting of the church in our homes (for example, Priscilla and Acquilla, Rom 16:5, I Cor 16:19; Nymphas, Col 4:15, Philemon, Philemon v.2; Gaius, Rom 16:23)
- Providing an intimate context to be together and serve one another day to day (see acts 2:42; Rom 12:13; I Pet 4:8-10)
Anyone who has regularly opened their homes for the church at large and for brothers and sisters daily knows how exhausting and intrusive that can be for we North Americans. It’s hard to have people traipsing in and out of your house at all hours (as well as delightful). They also know the joy of deep relationships and connectedness, and the positive impact on our growth and intimacy with the Lord and with each other. But, the full biblical employment of hospitality is fairly rare today.
Besides these two purposes that are meant to deepen relationships and enhance the impact we have on each other as it provides for mutual service in the local church, there is even a more obscure function of hospitality: enabling and amplifying the work of itinerants.
Imagine, for a moment, that itinerants were a normative function in the life of the churches. Imagine, too, that typically elders were especially to be given (addicted) to hospitality. As in so many areas elders were to be teachers by example to the saints in the way they lived and functioned, and so in this too, for all the saints hospitality was the common practice in the daily life of the church. In that light, let’s look at this described in the NT:
I Tim 5:10 (widows) “lodged strangers”
Titus 1:8 (elders) “lover of” strangers
I Tim 3:2 (elders) “given to hospitality” (Young’s Literal “a friend of strangers”)
Heb 13:2 (all) “don’t forget” to entertain strangers
II John v. 10 If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine (of Christ), receive him not into your house, neither bid him Godspeed…” (conversely, if they do, receive them).
Imagine these itinerants living in the homes of the church for weeks and months on the road, not lounging at Holiday Inns. Remember, a major source of impact of itinerants (as well as of elders and saints on each other) is in demonstrating/manifesting the life and power of God in us—teaching by example. By the itinerants living in homes of the churches they were working with (and they usually traveled in teams, so several homes would be involved), the opportunities to “teach by example” were greatly multiplied by the living arrangements of becoming “room-mates.”
In regards to their work described in II Tim 2:2 and Titus 1:5 (what I think of as the “traveling seminary”), and the fact that elders were to be “addicted” to hospitality, it is likely that some of the itinerants would be staying with recognized or emerging elders (see again Rom 16:23), thus amplifying the development of elders as servants to the church.
Our Lord used hospitality as an enabler in His own ministry (for example, see Luke 10:1,5,7,8; Luke 10:38). John, Peter and Paul also utilized and recommended hospitality to further itinerant movement:
Acts 9:32,38,43 Peter at Lyda/Joppa, Simon the tanner
Acts 10:22,48 Peter to Caesarea, Cornelius the centurion
Acts 16:14,15 And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.
Acts 21:8 And the next day we that were of Paul’s company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him.
Acts 21:16 There went with us also certain of the disciples of Caesarea, and brought with them one Mnason of Cyprus, an old disciple, with whom we should lodge.
Rom 16:23 Gaius mine host, and of the whole church, saluteth you. (I Cor 1:14)
Philemon 1:22 But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you.
III Jn 5-8, “Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers; Which have born witness of thy charity before the church: whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well: Because that for his names sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles. We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellowhelpers to the truth.
III Jn:9-11 I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church. Beloved, follow not that which is evil,
It is likely the following passages represent Paul requesting not only acceptance of his coworkers in ministry, but also their lodging:
II Cor 8:23,24 “Whether any do enquire of Titus, he is my partner and fellowhelper concerning you: or our brethren be enquired of, they are the messengers of the churches, and the glory of Christ. Wherefore shew ye to them, and before the churches, the proof of your love, and of our boasting on your behalf.”
Phil 2:19-30 Sending men to the Philippians: receive them…
Col 4:7-10 sending men: receive them…
Hospitality is vital to the life and mutual ministry of the local church, and hospitality is vital to the work and functioning of itinerants among the churches.
- What are some ways you can begin to use hospitality in your current circumstances?
- I know of several people who offered to have their homes open for getting together on the same day every week. No one showed up. Why do you think that is? How can this be overcome?
- Would you consider having an itinerant (who may be with wife and family) stay in your home for say, three weeks? Can you see yourself traveling in that way?