“Follow the Course of Hospitality”
“Share with the holy ones according to their needs. Follow the course of hospitality.”—ROMANS 12:13.
1. What is a basic human need, and how is it manifested?
TO WALK down a lonely street in a strange neighborhood late at night can be a harrowing experience nowadays. But it can be just as stressful to be in a crowd and not know anyone or be recognized. Indeed, an integral part of human nature is the need to be cared for, wanted, and loved. No one likes to be treated as a stranger or an outsider.
2. How has Jehovah provided for our need of companionship?
2 Jehovah God, the Maker and Creator of all things, well knows the human need for companionship. As the Designer of his human creation, right from the beginning God knew that it was “not good for the man to continue by himself,” and he did something about it. (Genesis 2:18, 21, 22) The Bible record is filled with examples of acts of kindness expressed toward humans by Jehovah and by his servants. This enables us to learn how to “follow the course of hospitality,” to the joy and delight of others and to our own satisfaction.—Romans 12:13.
Fondness of Strangers
3. Explain the basic meaning of hospitality.
3 The word “hospitality” as used in the Bible is translated from the Greek word phi·lo·xe·niʹa, which is made up of two root words meaning “love” and “stranger.” Thus, hospitality essentially means “love of strangers.” However, this is not just a formality or a point of courtesy. It involves one’s feelings and affections. The verb phi·leʹo, according to James Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, means “to be a friend to (fond of [an individual or an object]), i.e. have affection for (denoting personal attachment, as a matter of sentiment or feeling).” Hence, hospitality goes beyond love based on principle, perhaps out of a sense of duty or obligation. It usually is an expression of genuine fondness, affection, and friendship.
4. Toward whom should hospitality be expressed?
4 The receiver of this fondness and affection is the “stranger” (Greek, xeʹnos). Who might this be? Again, Strong’s Concordance defines the word xeʹnos as ‘foreign (literally alien, or figuratively novel); by implication a guest or (vice-versa) a stranger.’ So hospitality, as exemplified in the Bible, can reflect kindness expressed toward someone we are fond of, or it can be extended even toward a complete stranger. Jesus explained: “If you love those loving you, what reward do you have? Are not also the tax collectors doing the same thing? And if you greet your brothers only, what extraordinary thing are you doing? Are not also the people of the nations doing the same thing?” (Matthew 5:46, 47) Genuine hospitality transcends the division and discrimination imposed by prejudice and fear.
Jehovah, the Perfect Host
5, 6. (a) What did Jesus have in mind when he said, “Your heavenly Father is perfect”? (b) How is Jehovah’s generosity seen?
5 After pointing out the deficiencies of the love expressed by humans toward one another, as cited above, Jesus added this remark: “You must accordingly be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Of course, Jehovah is perfect in every respect. (Deuteronomy 32:4) Jesus, however, was highlighting one particular aspect of Jehovah’s perfection, as he said earlier: “[God] makes his sun rise upon wicked people and good and makes it rain upon righteous people and unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45) When it comes to showing kindness, Jehovah knows no partiality.
6 As the Creator, Jehovah is the owner of everything. “To me belongs every wild animal of the forest, the beasts upon a thousand mountains. I well know every winged creature of the mountains, and the animal throngs of the open field are with me,” says Jehovah. (Psalm 50:10, 11) Yet, he does not selfishly hoard anything. In his generosity, he provides for all his creatures. The psalmist said of Jehovah: “You are opening your hand and satisfying the desire of every living thing.”—Psalm 145:16.
7. What can we learn from the way in which Jehovah treats strangers and those in need?
7 Jehovah gives people what they need—even people who do not know him, who are strangers to him. Paul and Barnabas reminded the idol worshipers in the city of Lystra that Jehovah “did not leave himself without witness in that he did good, giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts to the full with food and good cheer.” (Acts 14:17) Especially toward those in need, Jehovah is kind and generous. (Deuteronomy 10:17, 18) There is much that we can learn from Jehovah in showing kindness and generosity—being hospitable—to others.
8. How has Jehovah shown his generosity in caring for our spiritual needs?
8 In addition to providing abundantly for the material needs of his creatures, Jehovah cares for their needs in a spiritual way. Jehovah acted in the most magnanimous way for our spiritual welfare, even before any of us realized that we were in a desperate state spiritually. We read at Romans 5:8, 10: “God recommends his own love to us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. . . . When we were enemies, we became reconciled to God through the death of his Son.” That provision makes it possible for sinful humans to come into a happy family relationship with our heavenly Father. (Romans 8:20, 21) Jehovah also saw to it that we are provided with proper guidance and direction so that we can make a success of life in spite of our sinful and imperfect state.—Psalm 119:105; 2 Timothy 3:16.
9, 10. (a) Why can we say that Jehovah is the perfect host? (b) How should true worshipers imitate Jehovah in this respect?
9 In view of this, we can say that Jehovah is truly the perfect host in so many ways. He does not overlook the needy, the humble, and the lowly. He shows genuine interest in and concern for strangers, even his enemies, and he does not look for any material return. In all of this, is he not the ultimate example of a perfect host?
10 As a God of such loving-kindness and generosity, Jehovah wants his worshipers to imitate him. All through the Bible, we see outstanding examples of this kindly quality. The Encyclopaedia Judaica observes that “in ancient Israel, hospitality was not merely a question of good manners, but a moral institution . . . The biblical customs of welcoming the weary traveler and of receiving the stranger in one’s midst was the matrix out of which hospitality and all its tributary aspects developed into a highly esteemed virtue in Jewish tradition.” More than being a trademark of any particular nationality or ethnic group, hospitality should be a characteristic of all true worshipers of Jehovah.
A Host to Angels
11 One of the best-known Bible accounts of the display of hospitality is that of Abraham and Sarah when they were camping among the big trees of Mamre, near Hebron. (Genesis 18:1-10; 23:19) The apostle Paul no doubt had this event in mind when he provided this admonition: “Do not forget hospitality, for through it some, unknown to themselves, entertained angels.” (Hebrews 13:2) A study of this account will help us to see that hospitality is not simply a matter of custom or upbringing. Rather, it is a godly quality that brings marvelous blessings.
12. How did Abraham demonstrate his love of strangers?
12 Genesis 18:1, 2 indicates that the visitors were unknown to and unexpected by Abraham, as much as to say just three strangers passing through. The custom among the Orientals, according to some commentators, was that a traveler in a strange land had the right to expect hospitality even if he did not know anyone there. But Abraham did not wait for the strangers to exercise their prerogative; he took the initiative. He “began running” to meet these strangers who were some distance from him—all of this in “the heat of the day,” and Abraham was 99 years of age! Does this not show why Paul alluded to Abraham as a model for us to imitate? That is what hospitality is all about, the fondness or love of strangers, the concern for their needs. It is a positive quality.
13. Why did Abraham “bow down” to the visitors?
13 The account also tells us that after meeting the strangers, Abraham “proceeded to bow down to the earth.” Bowing to perfect strangers? Well, a bow, as performed by Abraham, was a way of greeting an honored guest or someone of high position, not to be confused with an act of worship, which is reserved only for God. (Compare Acts 10:25, 26; Revelation 19:10.) By bowing, not just a tipping of the head but a bowing “down to the earth,” Abraham accorded these strangers the honor of being important. He was the head of a large, prosperous patriarchal family, yet he regarded these strangers as worthy of greater honor than himself. How different this is from the customary suspicion of strangers, the wait-and-see attitude! Abraham truly demonstrated the meaning of the statement: “In showing honor to one another take the lead.”—Romans 12:10.
14. What effort and sacrifice were involved in Abraham’s showing hospitality to the strangers?
14 The rest of the account shows that Abraham’s feelings were genuine. The meal itself was extraordinary. Even in a large household having much livestock, “a tender and good young bull” is not everyday fare. Regarding the prevalent customs of the area, John Kitto’s Daily Bible Illustrations notes: “Luxuries are never indulged in except on some festivals, or on the arrival of a stranger; and it is only on such occasions that animal food is ever eaten, even by the possessors of numerous flocks and herds.” The warm climate did not permit any perishable food to be stored, so to serve up such a meal, everything had to be done on the spot. It is no wonder that in this short account, the word “hurry” or “hurrying” occurs three times, and Abraham literally “ran” to get the meal ready!—Genesis 18:6-8.
15. What is the proper view of material provisions in showing hospitality, as exemplified by Abraham?
15 The purpose, however, is not just to come up with a big feast to impress someone. Even though Abraham and Sarah went to all that effort to prepare and present the meal, note how Abraham earlier referred to it: “Let a little water be taken, please, and you must have your feet washed. Then recline under the tree. And let me get a piece of bread, and refresh your hearts. Following that, you can pass on, because that is why you have passed this way to your servant.” (Genesis 18:4, 5) That “piece of bread” turned out to be a banquet of fattened calf along with round cakes of fine flour, butter, and milk—a feast fit for a king. What is the point? When hospitality is shown, the important thing, or what is to be emphasized, is not how sumptuous the food and drinks will be, or what elaborate entertainment will be provided, and so on. Hospitality does not depend on whether one can afford expensive things. Rather, it is based on a genuine concern for the welfare of others and on a desire to do good to others to the extent that one can. “Better is a dish of vegetables where there is love than a manger-fed bull and hatred along with it,” says a Bible proverb, and therein lies the key to genuine hospitality.—Proverbs 15:17.
16. How did Abraham show appreciation for spiritual things in what he did for the visitors?
16 We must note, however, that there was also a spiritual overtone to the entire event. Abraham somehow discerned that these visitors were messengers from Jehovah. This is indicated by his addressing them with the words: “Jehovah, if, now, I have found favor in your eyes, please do not pass by your servant.”* (Genesis 18:3; compare Exodus 33:20.) Abraham did not know beforehand if they had a message for him or if they were just passing through. Regardless, he appreciated that an outworking of Jehovah’s purpose was taking place. These individuals were engaged in some mission from Jehovah. If he could do something to contribute to that, it would be his pleasure. He realized that Jehovah’s servants deserve the best, and he would provide the best under the circumstances. By doing so, there would be a spiritual blessing, whether for himself or for someone else. As it turned out, Abraham and Sarah were greatly blessed for their sincere hospitality.—Genesis 18:9-15; 21:1, 2.
A Hospitable People
17. What did Jehovah require of the Israelites regarding strangers and needy ones among them?
17 The outstanding example of Abraham was not to be forgotten by the nation that came forth from him. The Law that Jehovah gave the Israelites included provisions for showing hospitality to the strangers among them. “The alien resident who resides as an alien with you should become to you like a native of yours; and you must love him as yourself, for you became alien residents in the land of Egypt. I am Jehovah your God.” (Leviticus 19:34) The people were to give special consideration to those in need of material support and not to dismiss them lightly. When Jehovah blessed them with abundant harvests, when they rejoiced in their festivals, when they rested from their labors during Sabbath years, and on other occasions, the people were to remember those less fortunate—the widows, the fatherless boys, and the alien residents.—Deuteronomy 16:9-14; 24:19-21; 26:12, 13.
18. How important is hospitality in relation to receiving Jehovah’s favor and blessing?
18 The importance of kindness, generosity, and hospitality toward others, especially toward those in need, can be seen in the way Jehovah dealt with the Israelites when they neglected to exercise these qualities. Jehovah made it clear that kindness and generosity toward strangers and needy ones are among the requirements for his people to receive his continued blessings. (Psalm 82:2, 3; Isaiah 1:17; Jeremiah 7:5-7; Ezekiel 22:7; Zechariah 7:9-11) When the nation was diligent in carrying out these and other requirements, they prospered and enjoyed material and spiritual abundance. When they became wrapped up in their selfish personal pursuits and neglected to show these kindly qualities to those in need, they received Jehovah’s condemnation, and eventually adverse judgment was meted out to them.—Deuteronomy 27:19; 28:15, 45.
19. What must we further consider?
19 How important it is, then, for us to examine ourselves and see if we are living up to Jehovah’s expectations in this regard! This is especially so today in view of the selfish and divisive spirit in the world. How can we show Christian hospitality in a divided world? That is the subject discussed in the next article.
For a fuller discussion of this point, see the article “Has Anyone Seen God?” in The Watchtower of May 15, 1988, pages 21-3.
Do You Remember?
□ What is the meaning of the Bible word translated “hospitality”?
□ In what ways is Jehovah the perfect example in showing hospitality?
□ To what length did Abraham go to be hospitable?
□ Why must all true worshipers “follow the course of hospitality”?