Where no toddlers visit, the carpet is clean, but many opportunities to speak of spiritual things come from meeting their parents. Where no teenagers are, the freezer stays full, but opportunities to point them to Christ often come from feeding them.
I’m sure you can think of your own version of how the principle of Proverbs 14:4 (“Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox”) could be applied to hospitality and evangelism. The Lord has entrusted us with many things – property, transport, money, food, time – and we know the Lord expects them to be used in the furtherance of His work (Luk 16:9). So while it is tempting to keep them in pristine condition, it is challenging to remember that the Lord is expecting a spiritual return from entrusting them to us (Mat 25:16).
I have sometimes wondered who repaired the roof that the man came through in Mark 2:4. Likewise, how did the lad in John 6:9 answer if someone asked if he ate all his lunch? However, the Scriptures do not answer these trivialities so that we would focus on the blessing that can come when our earthly assets are available for the Lord to use and the potential with Him when we are willing to share.
It is good to remember that before conversion we were described as strangers and foreigners, and it was then that divine love was shown in its fulness to us (Eph 2:4,19). To show hospitality as part of reaching the lost, we are merely being asked to demonstrate the principle from which we have already benefited. I remember a man, initially the worse for wear from alcohol, who had been abandoned by his travel companions at the airport where we are privileged to serve as chaplains. After feeding him, seeing him sober up and helping him on his way, he said, “I feel a fool and don’t deserve how you have treated me. Why did you do it?” It was straightforward to explain one understood how he felt and relate it to the gospel. It goes to the heart of our Saviour’s fundamental teaching to “love our enemies” (Mat 5:44) to at least show love to strangers.
Patience in the Work
As is common in the Lord’s work, the results may not be instant (1Co 3:6; 4:5). It will perhaps be years later that the kindness done will be used by the Lord as part of speaking to an individual, and it is possible that we may not know about it this side of heaven. I recently heard of a believer’s testimony where their earliest memory of the Lord’s working in their life was through being welcomed into the Christian home of a school friend and the giving of thanks for food at mealtime, which was a new experience for them.
There are times when providing hospitality to the saints is a witness to a watching world in a way that is consistent with John 13:35. In my own experience both as a student and in employment, there have been conversations with incredulous colleagues who have been impressed by the kindness shown to me by believers I had not previously met. It is also possible that hospitality enables the spread of the gospel, such as in the case of newly converted Lydia in Acts 16. This appears to be what John had in mind when writing to Gaius when he spoke of showing hospitality and thereby being fellow workers for the truth (3Jn 8).
The question of refugees will often be politically sensitive, but for the believer it presents an outreach opportunity. As in some cosmopolitan areas in the NT, obeying the instruction to “go out into all the world” doesn’t always need a long journey. Several years ago, I met a man reading a Bible in a port in Malta. In conversation, it transpired he had crossed the Mediterranean from North Africa some years before in a dinghy. He had been shown kindness by Christians, been converted by the gospel, and was now splitting his time between gainful employment and evangelising.
We don’t know the extent to which David formed a friendship with Mephibosheth, but it is clear that his hospitality was both generous and gracious, and led to one who had no ability of their own being raised to sit at the same table. The motive was clear – love for Jonathan. So likewise we should be motivated. While we no doubt have a desire for assemblies to grow and indeed for souls to be saved, our first motive in both hospitality and evangelism goes beyond love for others to love for Christ Himself.
If undertaken wisely, it may be appropriate to receive hospitality as a means of being able to speak about spiritual things. This must not be done out of a sense of self benefit, but for some people, they will be more comfortable in their own home, and in the case of those who are lonely, a kindness is being done in the visit itself. Although we never read that He received a drink, the Lord Jesus masterfully used His request for kindness from a stranger to open a conversation that led to conversion in John 4. Likewise, a visit to Zacchaeus’ house in Luke 19 was instrumental in his salvation.
Any work being done for the Lord requires wisdom that channels (without suppressing) zeal. The following illustrate some of the considerations in the work of hospitality in evangelism.
Our home is a God-given haven that should provide a safe and, normal domestic situations notwithstanding, tranquil oasis for our family, with time and space for the nurture of those God has committed to our care. In airport chaplaincy it is very common to be helping strangers who have no accommodation – from the local homeless, to those whose travel plans have changed. On several occasions it has been very tempting to bring strangers home, and yet wisdom prevails. Even in more general Christian service, there may be times when it is more appropriate, and no less caring, to pay for a stranger we have only just met to stay in a hotel, whether due to not knowing their background or prioritising family life. The good Samaritan (Luk 10:34-35) illustrates that hospitality is not restricted to using our own home.
There are also a variety of contexts (such as reducing travel distance or for prudence) where a coffee shop or restaurant may be a more appropriate place to meet someone than our home. Likewise, the warning given in 2 John illustrates that the Lord expects us to be thinking about the level of kindness (in the sense of facilitation) we give to those who are intentionally spreading error. Where food is being provided, sensible hygiene precautions for the context should be observed, and in a formal setting or when accessible to the public, there may be food safety legislation to consider.
Hospitality should not be used to create some kind of interpersonal debt of conscience. We are called to love freely and show kindness generously, irrespective of the reaction of those around us. We are representing an infinitely gracious God who causes the sun and wind to bless the righteous and unrighteous (Mat 5:45), and being kind merely to those who will respond favourably was strongly condemned by the Saviour in the following verses. It may well not be the Lord’s desire that we speak to the one we showed kindness to. Many occasions I have found myself wondering if I missed an opportunity, only for someone else to approach and say, “I’ve watched what you have done…” The commission of Matthew 28 is clear, so that it would be wrong to focus only on kindness and never explain the gospel. Conversely, it is not accurately portraying the character of our God to reserve our hospitality merely for a form of “evangelistic blackmail” where it carries a strict expectation that an individual must tolerate a certain level of being preached at as a condition of our kindness. The Lord Jesus made it clear in John 6:26 that He well understood that many of those whom He fed were merely interested in their stomachs and not their souls.
The Sense of Limitations
Most of us can speculate on how we think we would serve the Lord if we had a bigger house, more money or greater human advantage. However, the Lord invariably calls us to serve Him with limitations and less-than-perfect circumstances, and our responsibility is first of all to faithfully do the best we can with what the Lord has given. The servant given two talents was responsible for how he used two talents, and no doubt much ingenuity and effort was expended in producing a 100% return – but it was the Lord who gave the five talents to another. The apostle Paul was able to be hospitable even within the restrictions of Acts 28:30 and in his dealings with Onesimus to significant effect.
In many places today, our love for a stranger may be shown in helping them hotspot to our phone, allowing a neighbour to use our Wi-Fi or fixing a puncture. The simple instruction of Scripture remains that we should be marked by hospitality, and we need to find ways to practise this command. It needs to be done with wisdom and with a right motive out of love for the Lord and a desire to manifest His character. However, we should be encouraged to keep sowing with the good seed and, where possible, be sowing into hearts that have been well ploughed by kindness.
 All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.