By Elizabeth Prata
Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. (1 Peter 4:9).
Hospitality in Bible times in Palestine was a serious matter. There were cultural expectations, protocols, and traditions. The word host or hospitable is from a Greek word philoxenia meaning “love of strangers”.
Hospitality generally means ‘the gracious treatment of guests in your home’. There are many examples of hospitality in the Bible: (Gen 14:18–24; 18; 19; 23:1–20; 24:10–49; 43:32; Josh 2:1–21; 6:22–25; Judg 4:19; 1 Sam 25:2–38; Neh 5:14–17). The following pattern can be seen:
• a greeting with bow or kiss (Gen 18:2; 19:1)
• a welcome for the guest to come in (Gen 24:31)
• an invitation to rest (Gen 18:4; Judg 4:19)
• an opportunity to wash (Gen 18:4; 19:2; 24:32)
• a provision of food and drink (Judg 4:19; 19:5)
• an invitation to converse (Gen 24:33)
• a provision of security (Gen 19:8)
Source- “Hospitality” from The Lexham Bible Dictionary
We read much in the Old Testament about hospitality. It was expected to offer shelter and grace to those sojourning among them, because back in the day the Israelites were sojourners themselves. It was considered almost a sacred duty! Lack of hospitality was condemned. (Numbers 20:14–21; Deuteronomy 23:3–4).
In the New Testament we read Jesus’ parables urging believers to be hospitable even outside the 4 walls of one’s home, with the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the Parable of the Midnight Visitor. Jesus was the recipient of much hospitality since He had no place to lay His head, and relied on the hospitality of others (such as Mary/Martha/Lazarus) when he lodged for a period of time.
Lydia was quite hospitable. A native Thyatiran, living in Philippi, the first thing she did after her conversion was to press upon the band to come lodge at her house.
A woman named Lydia was listening; she was a seller of purple fabrics from the city of Thyatira, and a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. 15 Now when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. (Acts 16:14-15).
The first New Testament missionaries would have had to rely on this Palestinian tradition of gracious lodging, made all the more sweet because of the message the missionaries carried.
As the first Christian churches were founded, the exercise of hospitality took on a new aspect, esp. after the breach with the Jews had begun. Not only did the traveling Christian look naturally to his brethren for hospitality, but the individual churches looked to the traveler for fostering the sense of the unity of the church throughout the world. Hospitality became a virtue indispensable to the well-being of the church—one reason for the emphasis laid on it (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2). As the organization of the churches became more perfected, the exercise of hospitality grew to be an official duty of the ministry and a reputation for hospitality was a prerequisite in some cases (1 Timothy 3:2; 5:10; Titus 1:8). Source- The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia.
That is why John’s words were shocking. In some cases, believers were instructed to DENY hospitality to another. It was a big, countercultural step. 1 Corinthians 5:11 instructs the believer thus:
But now I am writing to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is a sexually immoral person, or greedy, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one.
Believers were to DENY hospitality to anyone who teaches false doctrine. These false teachers were entering homes and abusing the graciousness of hosts to captivate weak women and lure them into the falsity. (2 Timothy 3:5).
Thy were also told to DENY hospitality to intentional deceivers:
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting, (2 John 1:10).
This is why John’s words (and Paul’s) were so shocking. You can imagine how this behavior would be so startling. It isn’t so shocking today, we don’t entertain strangers in our homes. We don’t go house to house in fellowship much anymore either. It isn’t shocking to deny entertaining so-and-so when they never even came to your house in the first place. But to close the door against someone in Bible times, with thousands of years of a deeply embedded tradition in hospitality, would be shocking.
Times nowadays have completely changed the notion of hospitality. We do not and should not entertain unknown traveling itinerants. We have hotels. Unannounced guests knocking on our door is rare and rather scary. We aren’t nomads anymore either. But in today’s times we do have TV, radio, podcasts, and streaming entering our home. Do you allow false teachers and deceivers into your home via technology? Are you ‘hosting’ them daily, or weekly? Do your children see you offering your time to these false teachers, by offering them money by purchasing their materials?
Hospitality has changed definitions since John’s day, but today we can still host gatherings of believers from church, craft a celebratory party or dinner for struggling folks, or practice hospitality one-on-one with those whom we know.
DENY these false teachers entry to your home. Do not expose them to your family or to your own soul. Even though such ‘hospitality’ in today’s times is second hand through a screen, still, do not entertain them. And when or if a person in your church is disciplined as per Matthew 18:17b, and reaches the last stage, “if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as the Gentile and the tax collector” are you strong enough to obey and DENY them hospitality?