Character Traits of the Spiritual Life: Hospitality

Character Traits of the Spiritual Life:



Richard Hollerman

Do people know that they can find a warm welcome in your house?  Have you freely opened your doors to feed your fellow-believers and others?  Have you even given a bed to the weary as an act of hospitality?  Have you hosted gatherings of saints in your home for worship and instruction?  Hospitality seems to be one of the most lacking of virtues in the Christian’s life, but it should be our common experience in God’s family.

We’ve noticed in the religious world that when a visiting preacher comes to town, they often rent a motel room for a week or two instead of opening their homes to his presence.  Whereas hospitality was even a common practice among non-Christians in the past, it has become increasingly rare today (even when the homes have become larger).

Our English word hospitality may be defined as “the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers.”[i][i]  The Greek term philoxenia means “love of strangers” (philos, “loving,” xenos, “a stranger”).[ii][ii]  This was especially important in the first century when the inns were notorious for their evil surroundings and Christians needed to travel from place to place.  Hospitality has been defined as “using what God has given to us to demonstrate His love for others.”[iii][iii]

Paul exhorts us to be “contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality” (Romans 12:13).  We may remember how Abraham and Sarah invited their three visitors (Yahweh and two angels) to eat (Genesis 18:1ff).  The Hebrew writer urges us to show hospitality, as Abraham did: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (13:2).  Do you remember how the Shunammite woman and her husband showed hospitality to Elisha by providing a little walled upper chamber, a table and chair and lampstand (2 Kings 4:8-10).  So important is the quality of hospitality that one of the qualifications for overseers (elders) is that they must be “hospitable” (1 Timothy 3:2; cf. Titus 1:8).

In our day, the closest that some people get to hospitality is to occasionally invite friends in for a dinner and a night of television or games.  In stark contrast, in the Christian context, hospitality is a way of life.  “Hospitality is a concern for the welfare of those who are need of food, clothing, or shelter.”[iv][iv]  James says, “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” (2:15-16; cf. 1 John 3:17-18).

You may remember the judgment scene described in Christ’s words at Matthew 25:31-46.  The righteous are those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and give lodging to the stranger (cf. v. 35).  Do we do this to our brothers and sisters in Christ—the “brothers” of Christ (v. 40)?

Believers must particularly be hospitable to fellow-Christians.  The early saints were “breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46).  There was extensive warmth and openness among these first believers, and this was demonstrated by the fact that they met in homes to worship and serve the Lord rather than in official “church” buildings (cf. Acts 12:12; Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 2).  Peter urges his readers, “Be hospitable to one another without complaint” (1 Peter 4:9).

We know that our hospitality is to be limited.  We are not to offer it to those living in sinful lifestyles (1 Corinthians 5:11), to those who promote false doctrines (2 John 10), to openly immoral and to an angry person (Ephesians 5:11-12; Proverbs 22:24), or a deceitful person (Psalm 101:7).[v][v] We also realize that there can be extenuating circumstances that prevent one from hospitality, such as lack of money, lack of a home, and lack of opportunity, but hospitality should be our desire, commitment, and goal.  Let us be hospitable for the Lord.

[The second photograph above doesn’t at all reflect a Christian family gathering. It does convey eating together, however.]


[i][i] Random House Webster’s College Dictionary.

[ii][ii] W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary.

[iii][iii] The Power of True Success, p. 110.

[iv][iv] Ibid.

[v][v] The Power of True Success, p. 111.

Comments are closed.