Why Be Hospitable?
“NO STRANGER ever had to sleep outside, my door was always open to the traveller.” (Job 31:32, Jerusalem Bible) This kind of hospitality shown by faithful Job was an identifying mark of God’s devoted servants in ancient times.
Extending hospitality was really a loving response to a stranger’s need for refreshment and shelter. Many centuries ago travelers would commonly stop at a village or city and there go to the public square. This gave the inhabitants an opportunity to invite the stranger to lodge with them for the night.
The Bible account about a Levite in the period of the judges in Israel illustrates this. On his way from Bethlehem, he, his attendant and his concubine turned aside at Gibeah of Benjamin to stay overnight. We read: “They proceeded to go in and sit down in the public square of the city, and there was nobody taking them on into the house to stay overnight.”—Judg. 19:1, 2, 14, 15.
Such an inhospitable attitude was most unusual for an Israelite city. The Levite had especially avoided a non-Israelite city, feeling that he would be treated better by Israelites. (Judg. 19:11, 12) Finally, however, an old man not of the tribe of Benjamin extended hospitality, saying: “May you have peace! Just let any lack of yours be upon me. Only do not stay overnight in the public square.”—Judg. 19:16-20.
The unwillingness of the people of Gibeah to show hospitality to strangers was an evidence of a serious moral flaw. They selfishly went about their own business, refusing to seize the opportunity to show kindness.
The depth of their selfishness became even more apparent after the old man received the travelers into his home. A mob of men surrounded the house, demanding that the Levite be turned over to them for immoral purposes. The old man, however, did not yield to their demands. Nevertheless, circumstances developed in such a way that the Levite’s concubine was delivered into their hands. They abused her all night to such a degree that she died.—Judg. 19:22-28.
Centuries earlier a like inhospitable spirit prevailed in Sodom. One evening two handsome strangers entered Sodom. Catching sight of them, Lot invited them to his home, and urged them not to spend the night in the public square. The strangers accepted, but before they could retire, a mob surrounded Lot’s house, “from boy to old man.” They cried out to Lot that he turn over his guests for immoral purposes, but he firmly refused. (Gen. 19:1-11) This was an evidence of the righteousness that contributed to Lot’s escaping the destruction that Jehovah brought upon Sodom and three other nearby cities.—Deut. 29:23; 2 Pet. 2:6-9.
Unknown to himself, Lot had entertained angels in his home. His and like examples of hospitality are pointed to at Hebrews 13:2 as an encouragement to Christians. We read: “Do not forget hospitality, for through it some, unknown to themselves, entertained angels.”
Truly, the spirit of kindness and generosity prompting genuine hospitality is a valuable possession. Its absence, as illustrated in the case of the inhabitants of Gibeah and Sodom, can give rise to acts of extreme selfishness. This is so because true love for fellowmen moves one to work in their interests and restrains one from violating their rights. The apostle Paul pointed this out when he said: “He that loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. For the law code, ‘You must not commit adultery, You must not murder, You must not steal, You must not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there is, is summed up in this word, namely, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does not work evil to one’s neighbor.”—Rom. 13:8-10.
Only if we cultivate and maintain the spirit of love that prompts genuine expressions of hospitality can we gain God’s approval. This is so because love for God and fellowmen is the very foundation of true worship. Jesus Christ said: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.”—John 13:35.
As in ancient times, among God’s people today there are many opportunities to take the initiative in extending hospitality. There are times when natural disasters, persecutions, sickness or the like result in plunging fellow believers into need. How fine it is when their spiritual brothers and sisters do what they can to help! Then, too, there may be occasions for extending hospitality to visiting or traveling elders, providing meals and/or lodging for them or in some way assisting them with expenses. Also, right within the congregation there are ever so many opportunities to share meals, companionship and the like with fellow believers. Such showing of hospitality can result in mutual encouragement and upbuilding.
Should you be extended hospitality, what should you keep in mind? There is wisdom in being careful not to come under any accusation of taking advantage of anyone, becoming a sort of ‘social parasite.’ The apostle Paul and his fellow workers set a fine example in this regard. The apostle reminded the elders of the Ephesus congregation: “You yourselves know that these hands have attended to the needs of me and of those with me.” (Acts 20:34) This does not mean that Paul and his companions turned down all offers of hospitality. That they accepted genuine hospitality is evident from what happened at Philippi. In that city Lydia and her household embraced Christianity. Thereafter she entreated Paul and his associates: “If you men have judged me to be faithful to Jehovah, enter into my house and stay.” Such open-hearted hospitality simply could not be refused. The writer of Acts, Luke the physician, adds: “She just made us come.”—Acts 16:14, 15.
Once a person accepts the hospitality of another he comes under obligation to conduct himself as an appreciative guest. Jesus Christ called attention to this when he told his disciples: “Stay in that house, eating and drinking the things they provide . . . Do not be transferring from house to house.” (Luke 10:7) In saying what he did, Jesus was making it clear that his disciples should not unappreciatively leave the home of one who extended hospitality to go to another place where the householder could provide more comfort and better food. Applying the principle of Jesus’ admonition, we can see that it would be unkind to cancel an invitation simply because later something better in a material way was offered to us.
In view of what the Bible says, we should all want to be hospitable because of deep love for Jehovah and fellow humans. Even if we have little, we are not deprived of showing the spirit of hospitality—genuine concern for others’ welfare. And when true hospitality is extended to us, we should accept this appreciatively as an expression of love.