Many examples of hospitality are recorded in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, both of His displaying and receiving it. Thus, there is no shortage of material, or of angles from which the subject could be approached. In this article, we will consider some ways in which He is exemplary for us in the area of hospitality.
The feeding of the five thousand was hospitality on a very large scale indeed! In their accounts of it, Matthew and Mark both speak of the Lord’s “compassion” for the people, but Matthew connects it to their physical needs and Mark to their spiritual needs: “Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick” (Mat 14:14); “Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things” (Mar 6:34). In providing abundant food to meet their hunger, He not only showed further evidence of His care for their physical needs, but He also provided a vivid illustration of Himself as the “bread of life,” the One who could meet their spiritual needs by giving them eternal life, as He explained in John chapter 6.
In this, as in everything else, He is the perfect example to us. We need so much more of His compassion for people, and having it would influence our decisions in extending hospitality. There are people who are in genuine material need and for whom an invitation to a meal in a home or efforts by an assembly to distribute food to the needy in their district will not only help to alleviate their circumstances but will show them the love of God in action. There are believers who initially came into contact with the gospel through the kindness of Christians who had a care for them when they were in straitened circumstances. The principle is also applicable in our hospitality toward fellow-believers. If, for example, there are visitors at the assembly, it is natural to invite to our homes those whom we already know or to whom we feel drawn personally, and that is not wrong in itself. However, let us not forget those who are not in our social circle, or who are poor, or lonely. It would be following the leading of the Lord Jesus, in His care and concern for the needs of others, to invite and welcome them.
Reading various cases in the Gospels where the Lord accepted the offer of hospitality, we observe the variety of people in whose company He was found. We see Him accepting hospitality not only from believers (specific examples will be seen as we proceed) but from unbelievers too. However, it was never with a view to “socializing” with them on their terms but for their spiritual blessing. Hence, when “the Samaritans … besought him that he would tarry with them,” He readily agreed (despite the longstanding hostility between Jews and Samaritans), and “he abode there two days.” The result was that many of them believed in Him (Joh 4:40,41). Similarly, when Matthew (Levi) followed Him, he hosted a gathering in his own house, at which many of his erstwhile colleagues and others of ill repute were present. The Lord was criticized for eating with them, but His response clearly showed that they were the “sick” and He was the “physician” who had come to “call … sinners to repentance” (Luk 5:27-32).
So we learn the need to interact with unbelievers, longing and praying for their salvation. For instance, many a believer has conversed about the gospel with an unbeliever over a meal in a restaurant, leading to that person’s being saved. However, a warning is needed, for what can begin with the motive of reaching the unsaved with the gospel can, if we are not careful, lead us into involvement in associations and activities that, contrary to being to the blessing of the unbeliever, turn out to be to the spiritual detriment of the believer. There was no possibility of the Lord Jesus being stumbled, but we are not immune. It is important that we would seek wisdom and guidance from God in this matter.
An important part of hospitality is the conversation that takes place during it. What was it that caused the two on the road to Emmaus to issue the invitation, “Abide with us,” to the “stranger” (as they thought Him to be) when they reached their destination? Doubtless it was the conversation that they had had with Him: “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luk 24:18,29,32). So blessed was their conversation that they wanted it to continue!
As we show and receive hospitality, is our conversation glorifying to Him and edifying to one another? How easy it is, even among fellow-believers, to converse about things that are worthless or even harmful. How good it would be to be more like Him, and speak of “the things concerning himself” (v27)!
Related to the previous point, the Lord Jesus used the opportunity provided by hospitality to instruct those in the company. Such a case is seen in His first recorded visit to the home of Martha and Mary (Luk 10:38-42), when, to the annoyance of Martha, who was over-wrought with her responsibilities, her sister was sitting and listening to the Lord. From this, the Lord brought out a big lesson: while serving Him is very important, to enjoy communion with Him and hear His Word is even more vital. The teaching arose out of what was taking place; it was not forced or contrived, and, being so relevant to the context, it would have been vividly remembered by all who heard.
Of course, the Lord was unique in His authority, and, being all-wise, He always knew perfectly what to say, and when, and how. We can tend to come across as indiscreet and critical, and we need discernment in these things. Nevertheless, hospitality often provides a means, in an informal and unthreatening setting, for God’s people to be of help and guidance to others for whom they have a spiritual care.
The Lord’s conduct would teach us how to behave ourselves appropriately, whether as host or guest. Simon the Pharisee (Luk 7:36-50) was an exceedingly discourteous host. Although he invited the Lord, he did not accord Him the courtesies normally shown to guests, and his criticism of the Savior for accepting the gratitude of the sinful woman is evidence that the purpose of the invitation was to find fault. Thus, we learn that we should show hospitality out of love and not with ulterior motives. If our guests are not truly welcome, it will be obvious to them, and much harm will be done.
In contrast, the Lord Jesus was a most courteous guest. When arriving in Emmaus on the day of His resurrection, He did not demand hospitality, but “made as though he would have gone further” (Luk 24:28). Although He accepted and appreciated hospitality, He did not presume upon it. Showing hospitality is a responsibility that Scripture enjoins upon us; however, receiving it is not something that we are to demand, as a right. When shown hospitality, we should be thankful and express gratitude to our hosts.
John was one of the two disciples whom the Lord sent to request the use of the upper room (Luk 22:8). A few years earlier, he was one of two who asked the Lord, “Where dwellest Thou?” then heard His welcoming words, “Come and see,” and he “came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day” (Joh 1:38,39). Thus, John would have been aware that the Lord who was accepting hospitality at the close of His public ministry had Himself shown it at its start. He was certainly not among those who expect to be shown hospitality by others but who have no interest in showing it themselves! How relevant are His words, “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Mat 7:12)!
In all likelihood, the place to which the Lord welcomed those two early disciples was very modest compared to the upper room. Yet it was not the building or the quality and quantity of the food that mattered, but who was there and what took place while they were together. We should not shrink from showing hospitality just because we cannot match what others can do. The financial, domestic, medical, etc. situations of believers vary. Indeed, for some dear saints, showing any amount of hospitality is extremely difficult or impossible. The Lord sympathizes with the situations of His people, and He does not lay upon us burdens that we cannot bear. On one occasion He was enjoying hospitality in the home of Simon the leper, and a woman came and anointed Him. Knowing that it was done out of devotion to Him and in appreciation of His impending death, His comment to those who criticized her was, “She hath done what she could” (Mar 14:3-9). It is so for us: we should do what we can for others, in love to Him who died for us. If that is our motivation, then however small it may seem to be, it is precious in His sight.
 All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.