“Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.”—1 PET. 4:9.
1. What conditions did first-century Christians face?
SOMETIME between the years 62 and 64 C.E., the apostle Peter wrote to “the temporary residents scattered about in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” (1 Pet. 1:1) These culturally diverse congregations in Asia Minor needed encouragement and guidance. They were suffering opposition and were subjected to abusive speech. They faced “fiery trials.” And they lived at a critical time. “The end of all things has drawn close,” wrote Peter. Yes, the violent end of the Jewish system of things would come in less than a decade. What could help Christians everywhere to get through those stressful times?—1 Pet. 4:4, 7, 12.
2, 3. Why did Peter urge his brothers to show hospitality? (See opening picture.)
2 Among other things, Peter urged his brothers: “Be hospitable to one another.” (1 Pet. 4:9) The word “hospitality” in Greek literally means “fondness for, or kindness to, strangers.” Note, however, that Peter urged his Christian brothers and sisters to be hospitable “to one another,” to those whom they already knew and associated with. How would being hospitable help them?
3 It would draw them together. Consider your own experience. Have you had the pleasure of being invited to someone’s home? Did that occasion not leave you with warm memories? When you entertained some from your congregation, was your friendship not deepened? By extending hospitality, we get to know our brothers and sisters in a more personal way than we can in other settings. Christians in Peter’s day needed to draw ever closer as conditions grew worse. The same is true for Christians in these “last days.”—2 Tim. 3:1.
4. What questions will we consider in this article?
4 What opportunities do we have for extending hospitality “to one another”? How can we overcome barriers that may hinder us from being hospitable? What can help us be good guests?
OPPORTUNITIES TO SHOW HOSPITALITY
5. How can we be hospitable at our Christian meetings?
5 At meetings: We welcome all who attend our Christian meetings as fellow guests at a spiritual meal. Jehovah and his organization are our hosts. (Rom. 15:7) When new ones attend, we become cohosts, as it were. Why not take the initiative to welcome these new ones, no matter how they may be dressed or groomed? (Jas. 2:1-4) If a visitor is not already being cared for, could you invite him to sit with you? He might appreciate help to follow the program and perhaps to find scriptures being read. This would be a fine way to “follow the course of hospitality.”—Rom. 12:13.
6. Who should be among the primary guests in our homes?
6 For refreshments or a meal: In Bible times, hospitality normally included inviting someone to one’s home for a meal. (Gen. 18:1-8; Judg. 13:15; Luke 24:28-30) An invitation to share food was an invitation to friendship and peace. Who should be among our primary guests? Those who are a regular part of our lives, the brothers and sisters in our congregation. When hard times come, will we not depend on one another? We need loyal friendships and peace with all of them. Interestingly, in 2011 the Governing Body changed the time of the Watchtower Study for the United States Bethel family from 6:45 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. Why? The announcement stated that more will likely be inclined to show and accept hospitality with fellow Bethelites when the meeting ends earlier. Other branch offices followed suit. This arrangement has drawn Bethel families closer than ever.
7, 8. How can we provide hospitality to visiting representatives of Jehovah’s organization?
7 Visits of public speakers from other congregations, as well as visits of circuit overseers and, at times, representatives from the local branch office, provide opportunities for us to extend hospitality. (Read 3 John 5-8.) Providing refreshments or a meal is one fine way of doing this. Could you assist?
8 A sister in the United States remembers: “Over the years, my husband and I have had the opportunity to provide hospitality in our home for many speakers and their wives. Every experience has been a delight—fun and, most of all, spiritually edifying. We have never regretted it.”
9, 10. (a) Who may need long-term hospitality? (b) Can even those who have modest dwellings assist? Illustrate.
9 Long-term guests: In ancient times, hospitality often included providing lodging for trustworthy visitors. (Job 31:32; Philem. 22) In our day, too, such a need arises. Circuit overseers often need lodging when they visit the congregations. Students at theocratic schools may need places to stay, as may construction volunteers. Natural disasters may leave some families homeless and in need of lodging until relief efforts can restore their dwellings. We should not assume that only those who have very comfortable homes are in a position to help; they may already have done so many times. Could you share in offering accommodations even if your circumstances are modest?
10 A brother in South Korea fondly remembers that he provided accommodations for students attending theocratic schools. He writes: “I hesitated initially because we were newly married and living in a small house. But having students stay with us was truly a joyous experience. As newlyweds, we were able to see how happy a couple can be when they serve Jehovah and pursue spiritual goals together.”
11. Why may those who are new to your congregation need hospitality?
11 New to the congregation: Individuals and families may move to your area. Some may come to serve where the need is greater. Pioneers may be sent to assist in your congregation. All of them are initially out of their element to some extent—in a new community, new congregation, perhaps even a new language or culture. Inviting them for refreshments, a meal, or an outing will help them to make new friends and adjust to their changed circumstances.
12. What experience shows that hospitality need not be elaborate?
12 Hospitality need not be elaborate. (Read Luke 10:41, 42.) In recounting the early days of his service as a missionary, a brother says: “We were young, inexperienced, and homesick. One evening my wife was particularly homesick, and my efforts to help were not working. Then, about 7:30 p.m., we heard a knock on the door. There stood a Bible student who brought us three oranges. She had come to welcome the new missionaries. We invited her in and gave her a glass of water. Then we made tea and hot chocolate. We didn’t know Swahili yet, and she didn’t know English. But that incident began our greatest delight in forging friendships with the local brothers.”
OVERCOMING BARRIERS TO HOSPITALITY
13. What benefits come from being hospitable?
13 Have you held back from offering hospitality? If so, you may have missed out on opportunities for delightful company and for forming lasting friendships. Hospitality is one of the finest antidotes to loneliness. But you may wonder, ‘Why would anyone hold back?’ There could be a number of reasons.
14. What might we do if having little time and energy limits our accepting or extending hospitality?
14 Time and energy: Jehovah’s servants are very busy and often have multiple commitments. Some may feel that they simply do not have the time or energy to show hospitality. If that is your situation, it may be that you need to examine your current schedule of activities. Could you make some adjustments so that you will have time and energy to accept or offer hospitality? The Scriptures urge Christians to extend hospitality. (Heb. 13:2) It is not wrong to make time for this; actually, it is the right thing to do. You may, of course, need to be willing to limit some optional activities.
15. What anxieties about extending hospitality might some have?
15 Your feelings about yourself: Have you ever wanted to be hospitable but felt inadequate? Some are shy and fear that conversation would lag or that guests might not feel entertained. Others have limited income and believe that they could never offer what other members of the congregation could. Remember, of prime importance about a home is, not that it is fancy, but that it is orderly, clean, and inviting.
16, 17. What may alleviate worries about having guests?
16 If you feel anxious about having guests, you are not alone. An elder in Britain admits: “There can be a measure of nervousness in preparing for guests. But as with anything in relation to serving Jehovah, the benefits and satisfaction that result far outweigh any anxiety. I have enjoyed simply sitting down with guests over coffee and talking.” Remember that showing personal interest in guests is always helpful. (Phil. 2:4) Nearly everyone enjoys sharing his experiences in life. Social occasions may be the only times others ask to hear about our experiences. Another elder writes: “Having friends from the congregation to my home helps me to understand them better and gives me time to get to know them, especially how they came into the truth.” Loving interest can make any occasion a delight.
17 A pioneer sister who hosted students attending various theocratic schools admitted: “Initially I was concerned because my accommodations are very modest, and I have secondhand furniture. The wife of one of the instructors really put me at ease. She said that when she and her husband are serving in the traveling work, their best weeks are those spent staying with a spiritual person who may not have much materially but who has the same focus as they have—serving Jehovah and keeping life simple. This reminded me of what my mum used to say to us as children: ‘Better a dish of vegetables where there’s love.’” (Prov. 15:17) Let love motivate your hospitality, and you need not worry.
18, 19. How can being hospitable help us overcome negative feelings about others?
18 Your feelings about others: Is there someone in your congregation who rubs you the wrong way? Your initial feelings about that person may be negative and can become long-lasting if nothing is done to improve them. Personality differences may neutralize your good intentions to extend hospitality. Or someone may have hurt you in the past, and you find it hard to forget.
19 To improve relationships, even with enemies, the Bible recommends hospitality. (Read Proverbs 25:21, 22.) Extending hospitality to someone can reduce friction and soften hard feelings. It can bring to the surface lovable aspects of our guest’s personality, aspects that Jehovah saw when he drew that one to the truth. (John 6:44) If extended with love, an unexpected invitation can be the start of a completely changed relationship. How can you make sure that love is your honest motive? One way is by following the encouragement given at Philippians 2:3: “With humility consider others superior to you.” Finding ways that our brothers or sisters are superior to us—be it their faith, endurance, fearlessness, or some other Christian quality—will deepen our love for them and open the way for genuine and healing hospitality.
BEING A GOOD GUEST
20. Why and how should we honor an invitation we have accepted?
20 The psalmist David asked: “O Jehovah, who may be a guest in your tent?” (Ps. 15:1) He followed that question with a discussion of spiritual qualities that God looks for in his guests. One quality is being true to our word: “He does not go back on his promise, even when it is bad for him.” (Ps. 15:4) If we accept an invitation, we should not cancel frivolously. Our host may well have made preparations, and all his effort may be for nothing if we cancel. (Matt. 5:37) Some have at times canceled a previous invitation in order to accept a seemingly better one. Would that be loving and respectful? Rather, we should accept hospitality with genuine appreciation for whatever our hosts have to offer. (Luke 10:7) And if truly unavoidable circumstances force us to cancel, it would be loving and considerate to let our hosts know as soon as possible.
21. How can respecting local customs contribute to our being good guests?
21 It is also important to respect local customs. In some cultures, unexpected guests are welcome; in others, prior arrangements are preferred. In some places, hosts honor guests with the finest they have to offer, letting family take second place; in others, everyone shares alike. In some areas, guests normally bring something to contribute to the occasion; in others, hosts are happier when their guests feel no such obligation. And in some cultures, it is expected that guests politely decline the first invitation or two; in others, to decline comes across as unappreciative. Let us do our utmost to make our hosts happy that they invited us.
22. Why is it so important to “be hospitable to one another”?
22 In a broader sense than ever, “the end of all things has drawn close.” (1 Pet. 4:7) We face the greatest tribulation the world has ever seen. As pressures mount, we will need the deepest of love between us and our brothers and sisters. As never before, Peter’s counsel to Christians applies: “Be hospitable to one another,” a delightful and needed course that will have no end.—1 Pet. 4:9.