During the summer many of us take advantage of the extra leisure time we have and the fact that, we in more northern climates, can actually eat outside, to invite friends and family over. It is a joy to be able to share conversation and have a few good laughs over a meal. Many of us use the time to firm up friendships that have been sorely neglected during busier times. Now, imagine doing this for strangers. It is what was once practiced in earlier cultures before the creation of the large scale hotel industry. If friends and family where traveling they would often stay with people they knew. This was also extended to strangers who needed a place to stay. We read of this in the Old Testament, where travelers would go to the town square in the hope a kind person would invite them home.
The Apostle Paul wrote of this being one of the characters of a good Christian:
Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (Romans 12 :13)
Even Peter encouraged:
Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. (1 Peter 4:9)
Paul even commended people because of their hospitality:
Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings. (Romans 16:23)
It is interesting that it is also to his friend Gaius that the Apostle John writes:
Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth. (3 John 1:5-8)
It was the practice in the first century church that preachers and teachers would go from town to town, visiting all the churches and sharing in the revelation of the Word. It was a good way to make sure that an excellent circulation of the Word was taking place in the Body, keeping testimonies fresh. These preachers and teachers would be fed and housed by various people in the church and it was for this that John was commending Gaius. He did this so well and so often that people were testifying of the love that he showed in his actions.
However, it is also in this context that we find evidence of the human nature rearing its ugly head. Hospitality is a natural thing from a heart possessed by God’s love just as jealousy and wall building is a natural thing from a heart possessed by self:
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. (3 John 1:9-10)
Perhaps this is the first sign of the mini-kingdom builders; those who try to use their church to build their own little kingdom, building walls and keeping other churches and leaders out. It may have been a small problem in John’s time but he recognized the ugliness of it and the danger. What was a small problem in John’s time is a big problem now as most churches have great traditions of wall building instead of bridge building.
Hospitality is only an outward expression of an inward attitude. It expresses openness, love, acceptance and the recognition that we belong to each other. In his explanation of the Body of Christ Paul wrote:
Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:4-5)
It is with this notion of one Body, one family, belong to each other, that hospitality becomes a natural thing. But we struggle with this notion of belonging to each other, of being one, of being family. We choose to see so many small things in each other before we are willing to see Jesus in each other. Often we are critical and judgmental, so much so that if anyone says or does anything on our personal list of laws we disassociate ourselves and misquote Scripture to validate our actions. John’s list contains one thing, denying Jesus. All John looked for in his brothers and sisters is the same love he found in Jesus. Now imagine what the Church would look like if we spent our time showing this love instead of inspecting for faults.
It is not difficult to turn this around. All we need to do is choose to love each other with the same depth of love that Jesus and our Father have loved us with. The desire to include and fellowship with our brothers and sisters would become a natural thing, and not just with those who return our love but also with those who are still immature and who struggle to return the love that we show them. Hospitality is still a must if we are to have a good circulation in the Body of Christ. So, I ask you, what’s for supper?