Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hospitality and the Harvest

Being a missionary can be an exciting adventure but it will challenge one to go beyond their comfort zone. In her book “Tramp for the Lord,” Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom wrote about traveling from place to place having to sleep in a different bed every night. This elderly Dutch woman was grateful for the many people who gave her places to stay so she could share God’s love throughout the world. I believe Corrie reaped a harvest of hospitality as a result of her family hiding Jews from the Nazis during World War II.

Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines hospitality as “the act or practice of receiving and entertaining strangers or guests without reward, or with kind and generous liberality.” There are numerous examples in Scripture of God’s people extending hospitality. In Genesis 19, Lot eagerly invited into his home two traveling strangers who turned out to be angels. Lot not only housed and fed his guests but also protected them from the Sodomites. In return, the angels warned Lot to get his family out of Sodom because of coming judgment.

Hospitality was more of a necessity in Bible times. The few inns that existed back then didn’t have the amenities like the Hiltons and Marriotts we have today. When Jesus was born into this world, His parents didn’t stay at an inn because there was no room for them. Later during His earthly ministry, Jesus and His disciples often stayed in people’s homes and received provision from their hosts. The Lord told His disciples in Luke 10:7, “And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house.”

When the Lord sends me somewhere to minister or receive ministry, I’m often provided with a room in somebody’s home. Until recently I questioned why God hadn’t provided finances for me to stay in hotels more frequently. Then while on a road trip to South Carolina, a fellow missionary pointed out 3 John 5-8 to me…

5 Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers,
6 who have borne witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well,
7 because they went forth for His name’s sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles.
8 We therefore ought to receive such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth.

Verse 5 in the New Living Translation says, “Dear friend, you are being faithful to God when you care for the traveling teachers who pass through, even though they are strangers to you.”

While I enjoy staying at a nice hotel now and then, the Biblical example for hospitality seems to be in people’s homes. The only incident in Scripture I’m aware of when the Lord commended someone for putting up another at an inn was in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Aside from lodging costs that can become rather expensive, one drawback to staying in a hotel is you don’t know what kind of people previously stayed in your room and what they were doing. That’s why I make sure to pray and anoint with oil every hotel room I stay in before settling into it.

Sadly, hospitality among the saints in Western nations has diminished due to selfishness and a growing distrust of strangers. It doesn’t help that some so-called Christians don’t tell the truth and try to take advantage of others. Once I talked to a woman in Florida who has a ministry of feeding the poor. She told me about another woman we knew who through manipulation stayed at this minister’s house against her husband’s wishes. This woman lied by claiming she had a job but didn’t. As a result, the minister lost $300 because she helped this woman get her own apartment and the rent never got paid.

Nevertheless, hospitality is something God expects from His people especially to those who want to be leaders in the church…

“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach” - 1 Timothy 3:2

“Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number, and not unless she has been the wife of one man, well reported for good works: if she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers (the Amplified Bible clarifies “of the brotherhood”), if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work.” - 1 Timothy 5:9-10

“For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled,” - Titus 1:7-8

Blessings will result when God’s people show hospitality to one another. In 2 Kings 4, the Shunammite woman went out of her way to build a spare room for the prophet Elisha. Later when Elisha wanted to bless the Shunammite woman in return, he found out from his servant Gehazi that she had no son. Elisha prophesied in verse 16, “About this time next year you shall embrace a son.” She gave birth a year later. Not long afterwards, the child died but Elisha raised him from the dead.

Sometimes I’ve turned down lodging offers because I didn’t have peace about staying in particular places. I’ve also been conscious about not “wearing out my welcome.” As Proverbs 25:17 says, "Seldom set foot in your neighbor's house, lest he become weary of you and hate you.” It should go without saying Christians must avoid abusing privileges given while being a guest in someone else’s home. At the same time, hosts must avoid enabling individuals who are purposely being lazy. As 2 Thessalonians 3:10 (NLT) says, “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.”

One thing people will be judged on when they stand before the Lord is how they treated the brethren that needed a place to stay. As Jesus said in Matthew 25, I was a stranger and you took Me in” (Verse 35) and “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” (Verse 40) It also says in 1 Peter 4:9, “Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.”

So if you have a spare room in your home, I encourage you to make it available to fellow believers and especially to ministers that travel through your town. That’s another way you can help fulfill the Great Commission.

“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.” - Hebrews 13:2

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