The Principle of Hospitality
“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Rom 12:13).
There are many commands in the Scriptures. The Old Testament is filled to the brim with rules for proper living; there were rules on how to be ritually clean, rules on how to worship, rules on how to treat strangers – there were even rules on how to keep a beard. Enter Jesus. He brings us a new covenant. The law, which only brought death, is brought to completion and Jesus offers life. We are purified, no longer slaves to the law but free to righteousness. It is in this new life that we are given the command to be hospitable. Though this directive is perhaps not central to the gospel (as, say, the call to make disciples and baptize), it is one practical and biblical means of fulfilling the gospel.
This principle of hospitality is tied very closely to another core principle seen throughout the Scriptures, namely, generosity. In the New Testament alone we are clearly called to be generous (Rom 12:8; 2Co 9:13; 1Ti 6:18).
Furthermore, we see generosity at work in the lives of the saints. When the Tabernacle was being built, the people gave so much they had to be restrained (Exo 35). People gave to the priests to support the ongoing work of God. The saints supported each other in Acts, sacrificing their own resources for those in need. The widow gave all she had, her two copper coins, to God (Mar 12:42). We can be generous as this widow in Mark 12, giving money to God in proportion to what we have, but we can also give in a different way, through hospitality.
Ultimately, generosity is seen in its perfect apotheosis as God the Father gave Jesus to us as our Savior. Jesus didn’t have a house in which to host people, but He was still hospitable; He gave Himself to the people, both in His life and in His death. Are we not also called to offer our lives as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable?
In writing to the Roman believers, Paul says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1). This is the sacrifice God deserves from His people. It is a full, complete and total giving of oneself to God. When we first give ourselves to God, it will not be difficult to expend on others by showing hospitality. It is just another aspect of our spiritual worship.
The believers in Macedonia gave graciously to the poor saints in Jerusalem. Interestingly, Paul says, “They gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us” (2Co 8:5). We give to whom or to what we love!
Yet the truth remains that we only have so much to give. God in His infiniteness can give and keep on giving – His grace, love, mercy, etc. are in endless supply. Yet, as we know all too well, we are not God, and our resources are limited. We only have so much money, so much time, so much energy. Thus, we need to be careful with how we spend these resources. We all know that spiritual disciplines like loving well, joyful living, pursuing peace, etc. do not come to us when we are passive; we need to be actively cultivating habits and practices if we want to be more like Jesus. Similarly, if we want to be hospitable, we must be active about it. We need to create space in our lives for hospitality. We need to intentionally set aside money, time and energy for this purpose. This money could come from our regular set-aside amount, or it could be extra. It’s so important because, if we don’t, when the time comes to show hospitality we might not be able. If all our time and money are sectioned away for work, school, family time, etc., when the opportunity to be hospitable comes along we won’t be able to make the best of it.
Hospitality can be divided into two categories: hospitality to unbelievers and hospitality to the saints. When we are hospitable to unbelievers, we are living out the great commission – being evangelizers. Though our evangelism might not always be explicit in these situations, the way we live, talk and act should show Jesus’ gentleness and love. When we are being hospitable to other Christians, we are also showing Christ’s love. “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1Th 5:14). Typically, these states of being (idle, fainthearted, weak) are not permanent, but rather may be seasons that believers experience. When we are able to encourage others through hospitality during these times, we can accept their help when we ourselves are in these circumstances; this is the body working as God intended.
The Love of Money
Hebrews 13 highlights the importance of hospitality by saying, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (v2). Just a few verses down it says, “Keep your life free from love of money” (v5).
Money has a way of getting into our hearts and taking control of our lives. We need to guard against this because it will greatly affect our ability to show hospitality effectively. If we disproportionately love money or the things money can buy, one of two things could happen. First, we will not have the time or energy to be hospitable because we are so busy pursuing wealth, or, second, we will show hospitality with a grudging spirit because we do not want to part with our riches.
God has given us the ability to make money for the furtherance of the gospel. “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Eph 4:28).
So the goal of earning money is to have enough to share with others in need. God wants us to open our homes and our hearts to those around us, unbelievers and believers alike. As we save money and create space in our lives for hospitality, we are able to reflect the generous nature of our God and bring Him much glory.
 All Scripture quotations in this article are from the ESV.