Vision 2014 6) Commitment to Hospitality

Commitment to Hospitality

Text: 3 John 1-8


I want to begin this morning by showing you a simple little graph. The first section shows the number of original members of our church. Westside started with approximately 35 confessing members. The second section shows how over the last 12 years we have doubled our membership, on top of our original 35 members we now have 35 more. Some of that growth has been internal as baptized members became confessing members, but most of that growth has come from outside our church. The third section shows the number of regular visitors we have coming along to church, which you guessed it, is around another 35 people. Our mission as a church is to transform people into fully devoted followers of Christ, and we would like to think that the original 35 people who started this church were already a fair way along that journey. But what about the new 35 members that we’ve picked up along the way, and what about the 35 regular visitors who come along? And that’s why we started looking at these critical factors that produce transformation. We want the people in our church to become more devoted to Jesus. We want new Christians to become mature Christians. So we realized that as a church community we had to become more devoted to prayer and service and evangelism and discipleship and raising up new leaders. But we felt there was one more aspect of church life that was critical if we are going to incorporate new people into our church community, Christian fellowship. We felt that as a church we needed to raise our commitment to hospitality. So this morning we’re going to explore the what, who, why and how of hospitality.


1) What is Hospitality?

So let’s start with what is hospitality? According to the Oxford dictionary hospitality is ‘The friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.’ At its most basic hospitality is just being friendly and showing it by how you talk to and serve others. But what does the Bible have to say about hospitality? The word that best captures this idea in the Bible is the word Philoxenia (x2), or philoxenos (x3). It’s actually made up of two words: philo, which means brotherly love; and Xenos, which refers to a stranger, or a foreigner. These words literally mean, to show love to strangers. We often think we’re being hospitable when we invite friends or family over for coffee, but real, biblical hospitality is when you invite complete strangers over for coffee. Jesus says, ‘46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? (Mt 5:46a,47a)’ According to Jesus just as real love extends even to our enemies, so real hospitality extends to complete strangers. Hospitality is all about how you show love to strangers.


2) Who should be Hospitable?

So now you’re probably wondering ‘am I expected to be hospitable? Is this for everyone or just for people who have the gift of hospitality?’ Who should be hospitable?

a) Those with the Gift of Hospitality

Well I think there are some people who do have the gift of hospitality. The Bible doesn’t actually refer to hospitality as a gift, but I think in the lives of some people the Holy Spirit works powerfully through hospitality. My mum is one of those people. I remember coming home from work one day to find 20 YWAM people scattered all through our house. She met them down the street and invited them to stay over for the night. 20 complete strangers sleeping in our bedrooms, our lounge, our dinning room and probably even in the kitchen. I grew up with someone coming over for lunch every Sunday after church. If you visited our church in Devonport, you came to our place for lunch and were filled to the eyeballs with coffee, Dutch apple cake and chicken soup. I have absolutely no qualms in saying, ‘If you’re going to Tassie for  a holiday my mum will put you up for a few nights.’ If you have the gift of hospitality, all I can do is quote the Apostle Peter, ‘10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others… (1 Pet 4:10a)’ If you’ve got it, use it.

b) Elders (1 Tim 3:2; Tit 1:8)

But who else should be hospitable? Secondly, the Bible talks about how elders need to be hospitable. Both times when Paul lists of the characteristics of an elder he includes hospitality. For example 1 Timothy 3:2, ‘2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable… (1 Tim 3:2)’ And he says the same in his letter to Titus (Tit 1:8). One of the marks of a leader in the church is that they practice hospitality, that they show love to strangers.

c) Widows (1 Tim 5:10)

Thirdly, the Bible talks about how widows ought to show hospitality. 1 Timothy 5:9 and 10 says, ‘9 No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, 10 and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, [and] showing hospitality… (1 Tim 5:9-10a)’ amongst other things. We can understand gifted people being hospitable, and leaders in the church being hospitable, but why widows?

d) All Christians (Rom 12:13; 1 Pet 4:9)

Well the answer to that is because everyone is meant to be hospitable. If you are a follower of Jesus, if you are a Christian, you should be hospitable. Paul keeps it pretty simple, ‘13 …Practice hospitality. (Rom 12:13b)’ He doesn’t even command it, it’s just what Christians should do. Our love for others includes loving strangers. Peter does the same thing. He says, ‘8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. (1 Pet 4:8-9)’ According to Peter hospitality isn’t a chore or a duty, it’s just what Christians do, it’s a privilege, it’s an opportunity, it’s an act of service.

Of course for some of us it will be harder than for others. God has wired us all differently. For extroverts this sounds like fun, come over for a party, who cares about the state of the house, or whether we’ve got enough food, or whether you have to work the next day. But for introverts this sounds horrible, ‘I have to be hospitable, but I hate people, especially people I don’t know!’ I’m overstating it, I know introverts don’t hate people, they just find people wear them out. All I can say is that is that if you’re an introvert, God will hopefully be merciful to you and he will send all the strangers to the extroverts and the people with the gift of hospitality. But if God does send you someone, don’t turn your back on the opportunity, rather step out in faith believing that God will bless your efforts. So if you’re a Christian be hospitable.


3) Examples of Hospitality

It might be helpful to look at some examples of hospitality in the Bible.

a) Old Testament Examples

Let’s start with some Old Testament examples. The classic example of hospitality in the Old Testament is Abraham. Genesis 18 tells how Abraham was just sitting at home when 3 men stopped by and ‘2 …he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. 3 He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. 4 Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. 5 Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way… (Gen 18:2b-5a)’ And that sounds crazy to us, it’s like he was waiting to welcome strangers, but treating strangers as honoured guests was pretty normal in ancient cultures. Job says, ‘32 …no stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler. (Job 31:32)’ Ruth was amazed at Boaz’ hospitality. She says, ‘10 …Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner? (Ruth 2:10b)’ God actually built hospitality into the Old Testament Law. He says, ‘9 Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt. (Ex 23:9)’ In fact, we read that God ‘18 …loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. (Dt 10:18b)’ Old Testament people showed love to strangers because God loves strangers. In fact, God tells his people that the kind of fasting that he desires is ‘7 …to provide the poor wanderer with shelter. (Isa 58:7b)’ Hospitality, showing love to strangers was huge in the Old Testament, it was part of their culture, it was part of God’s law.

b) New Testament Examples

And it was huge in the New Testament as well.

i) Martha

When you think of hospitable people in the New Testament you’ll probably think of Martha. Luke tells us that as Jesus and his disciples were travelling, ‘38 …he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. (Lk 10:38b)’ Martha opened her home to Jesus… and 12 disciples. She’s got my mum’s problem, one moment it’s just Mary and Martha, and the next there’s people everywhere. In fact, being hospitable was almost an idol for Martha. She was so caught up in playing the good host that she almost missed connecting with Jesus. Jesus scalded her for being ‘41 …worried and upset about many things (Lk 10:41b)’ instead of actually sitting down and being with him. You have to be careful with hospitality that you don’t let doing stuff get in the way of being with people.

ii) The Good Samaritan

Another example of hospitality is Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan. This guy was just minding his own business when he comes upon a complete stranger half dead on the side of the road. While everyone else ignores his plight Jesus says, ‘34 [The Samaritan] went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. (Lk 10:34)’ According to Jesus, loving your neighbour wasn’t about loving your fellow Jews, or your friends, but complete strangers.

iii) Gaius (Rom 16:23; 3 Jn 5-8)

But while these are all good examples of people who showed hospitality (and there are plenty of others) there is one guy in the Bible who is actually praised for his hospitality, Gaius. Now you’re probably thinking, ‘Who?’ There are actually three Gaius’ in the Bible, one who was born in Derbe and travelled with Paul (Acts 20:4) and was even arrested by a Mob in Ephesus (Acts 19:29), a second one who lived in Corinth and was baptized by Paul (1 Cor 1:14), and the one from our text. We don’t really know if they are the same guy or if they are three different guys, Gaius was a pretty common name back then. But I’d like to think that they were the same guy, because both Paul and John testify to the fact that Gaius was really hospitable. At the end of his letter to the Christians in Rome Paul writes, ‘23 Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings. (Rom 16:23)’ Scholars believe that Gaius opened up his house to Paul while he was staying in Corinth, and that Paul may even have written this letter to Rome while enjoying Gaius’ hospitality. And when John writes to Gaius, he says, ‘5 Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. (3 Jn 5)’ It seems Gaius was known for welcoming complete strangers into his home. Strangers who went back to John and reported ‘6 …about [Gaius’] love. (3 Jn 6a)’ Gaius didn’t just welcome them into his home he cared for them and helped them and sent them on their way encouraged. That’s what hospitable people do, they show Christ’s love to complete strangers.  


4) Why should we be hospitable?

So far we’ve looked at what hospitality is: showing love to strangers, how we are called to be hospitable, and some biblical examples of hospitality, but why should we be hospitable? What should motivate us to love complete strangers? The Bible gives us four reasons.

a) God showed us hospitality (Eph 2:12,19)

Firstly, we should be hospitable to others because God was hospitable to others. In Ephesians 2 Paul talks about how as Gentiles we were ‘12 …foreigners to the covenants of the promise… (Eph 2:12c)’ That word foreigner is the same word used elsewhere as stranger. At one time we were strangers to God. But Paul goes on to say that because of Jesus and his death on the cross, ‘19 …you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household. (Eph 2:19)’ Because of Jesus we are no longer strangers to God, instead we have become members of God’s family. The gospel is all about how people who were once estranged from God because of their sin have been reconciled with God through the blood of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is that God loves strangers. You were once strange, I mean you were once a stranger, but in Christ God showed his love for you. When we show hospitality to others we are imitating what God has done for us. The Bible says ‘36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Lk 6:36)’ In the same way we should be hospitable because our Heavenly Father loved us when we were strangers to him.

b) Because in showing hospitality to others we show hospitality to Jesus (Mt 25:35)

A second reason to be hospitable is because in showing hospitality to others we are showing hospitality to Jesus. In his parable of the sheep and the goats Jesus paints a scene of all humanity standing before him in glory and Jesus separates everyone into two groups. And he welcomes one group because, ‘35 …I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. (Mt 25:35)’ Jesus’ isn’t just exhorting us to show hospitality to strangers, rather he’s saying when you show hospitality to strangers you’re showing hospitality to me. It’s in showing love to strangers that we show our love for Jesus Christ. When you welcome someone into your home in the name of Jesus you are welcoming Jesus into your home. Can you imagine standing before Jesus and he says, ‘You welcomed me into your home, you showed hospitality to me!’?

c) We may be entertaining angels (Heb 13:2)

Thirdly, the Bible says that in showing hospitality to complete strangers we may in fact be entertaining angels. Hebrew 13:2, ‘2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. (Heb 13:2)’ That’s what happened to Abraham, those three strangers turned out to be angels. The point that the writer is trying to make is that it’s a good thing to show hospitality to strangers because you’ll never know what you might be a part of, you could be a part of something supernatural.

d) To further the gospel

Which leads us to the final reason for us to be hospitable, in order to further the gospel. In our text, John says ‘8 We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth. (3 Jn 8)’ Through his hospitality Gaius was supporting the spread of the gospel. When we show hospitality, particularly to our brothers and sisters in Christ, even if they’re complete strangers, we are participating in gospel work. That’s what my mum was doing when she put up those YWAMers, she was supporting them in their ministry. You might not be a missionary but you can welcome missionaries into your home. And the real point of all this is that they don’t even have to be in ministry. When you welcome people into your home, whoever they are, you have an opportunity to encourage them, and show Christ’s love to them, and be a blessing to them, or as our text says ‘6 …to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. (3 Jn 6b)’ Hospitality isn’t just about your role in people’s lives when they are in your home, but the role you play in their lives at that particular point on their journey in life. Hospitality is about the opportunity to minister to others.


5) How can we become more hospitable people?

So I want to finish this morning by looking at how we can become more hospitable people? This is where the rubber really hits the road. Let’s look at it in terms of our church, our Small Groups and our homes.

a) Hospitality in the Church

So let’s start with hospitality in the church.

i) Be passionate about coming

The first way we can become more hospitable as a church is to commit to coming. A friendly church is a church full of people who really want to be there. The Bible talks about how the first Christians ‘42 …devoted themselves to the fellowship… (Acts 2:42c)’ In fact, it says, ‘46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. (Acts 2:46a)’ These guys were passionate about spending time together. But in case your enthusiasm is beginning to wane the Bible says, ‘25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb 10:25)’ The point is that we will only be a hospitable church if you come along and make it one. Be passionate about fellowshipping together as God’s people.

ii) Be welcoming

A second way we can become more hospitable as a church is in how we greet one another, particularly how we greet visitors. Over and over we’re told to greet one another with a holy kiss (Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Pet 5:14). And don’t think I want you all to start kissing me every Sunday morning. But the point is we are to warmly welcome people into our church. Whether that’s asking how someone’s been, or giving someone a hug or a handshake, or just a good morning. How we greet people says a lot about how we regard people. If people matter, particularly strangers, then we make a point of showing it.

iii) Be Inviting

Thirdly, we need to be inviting. What I mean is that we need to create an environment where people feel comfortable. That doesn’t mean we water down the message of the Gospel, we want people to become uncomfortable about their sin, uncomfortable enough to be saved. Rather it means we don’t alienate people with religious jargon they don’t understand, or make it difficult to find a seat, or by glaring at them because they dress funny. And hopefully if we have an inviting environment you will feel more comfortable inviting people to come along. Be passionate about coming, welcome people warmly, help create an inviting atmosphere.

b) Hospitality in our Small Groups

Now let’s look at our Small Groups? Small Groups are a great place to connect with new people, but they can also be intimidating. I once went to a Small Group where someone absolutely roasted a first time visitor, it was pretty embarrassing. I just want to give three practical things we can do to make our Small Groups more hospitable.

i) Greet people when they arrive

Firstly, greet people when they arrive, especially if there are any new people. In fact, if someone new comes along chop your program in half and spend the first half of your night getting to know one another. Often we can make Small Groups about the program instead of about the people. We need to make space to make people feel welcomed.

ii) Create a warm, caring atmosphere

Secondly, create a warm, caring atmosphere. The key to hospitality is not meeting strangers, but loving strangers. Hospitality is all about showing people that you love them, that you care about what’s going on in their lives. It will mean asking them questions about what’s going in their life, it will mean listening to them, it will mean praying for them, it may even mean offering them practical help – mowing their lawns, or making a meal, or something else. Make space to make people feel loved.

iii) Share a meal

Thirdly, share a meal. There’s something about food that brings people together, and if you think this sounds like I’m thinking with my stomach rather than biblically, the Bible says that the early church, ‘46 …broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts. (Act 2:46b)’ One of the marks of hospitality is providing food. The first thing Abraham offered his guests was food and drink. That’s probably what Martha was busy doing. Even God fed strangers. Of course you can go overboard, if someone says they’re not hungry it’s not hospitable to shove it down their throat anyway. I encourage you to try these things in your Small Group, greet people when they arrive, create a warm caring atmosphere and share a meal together.

c) Hospitality in our Homes

Now what about in our homes? If you’re not part of a Small Group you could consider starting one in your house, but that’s probably up there a bit. Let’s start somewhere smaller. If it was up to me I’d either be at someone’s house every Sunday after church, or someone would be at our house. But Alice has informed me ‘that’s insane and it ain’t happening!’ So what we decided to do is plan when we would invite someone over to our house. At one stage we did it every month. We sat down together and said every third Sunday we’ll invite someone over. And we would talk about who to invite and give them a ring and book them in. You don’t have to do this stuff spontaneously, you can plan ahead. If people matter, you put them into your dairy. Depending on your level of social ability, you could do this weekly, like my mum did, or monthly, or quarterly, or you could even pick one day a year where you let someone else into your house (although that sounds a little lame). And if you don’t want to do Sunday lunch, you could invite someone over for a meal during the week, or you could invite them to the local park to play with the kids on Saturday morning, or you could do lattés. Whatever you do be intentional about committing to hospitality. And remember the point of hospitality is not just to get people into your home and tick off your list, rather it’s to love them, and ‘send them on their way in a manner worthy of God.’ Pray before people come, and if it feels right pray with them before they leave. Find some way to encourage them.


This morning I want to encourage you to commit to hospitality. Just as God reached out to you when you were a stranger to him, so we reach out to people with the love of Jesus Christ. If we are going to transform people’s lives it’s going to start with making them feel welcome in our church, it’s going to mean inviting people into our Small Groups, and even into our homes. I want to challenge you to pick a date and invite someone new over to your home, love them and send them on their way in a manner worthy of God, as we work together for the sake of the gospel. And you never know you may even be entertaining angels. Amen.

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