Hospitality is one the central expressions of the Christian gospel, holiness, and the glory of God. Hospitality is an essential way we are commanded to love one another, and we love because God loved us first in Christ. And this is one of the central ways God has determined to proclaim to the world that the Father has sent the Son and draw the world to Himself (Jn. 17:23).
“And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. Use hospitality one to another without grudging” (1 Pet. 4:8-9).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Peter is encouraging Christians facing significant persecution and preparing them to face even more, and even in that context he encourages them that at the top of their list of things to do needs to be fervent, constant, earnest love for one another (1 Pet. 4:8). And the reason he gives is that love covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8). This “covering love” both builds true unity, but it also ministers real holiness. And the particular application is to practice hospitality with one another without grudging, without complaining, without bitterness (1 Pet. 4:9).
WHAT IS HOSPITALITY?
The word translated “hospitality” is literally “love of strangers,” but given the context here and elsewhere, it clearly includes anyone you might come in contact with, especially fellow Christians in the church. Romans says something similar: “Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality” (Rom. 12:13). This is an expression of giving yourself as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1), humility — thinking highly of others first (Rom. 12:3), kindly affection, brotherly love, honoring one another (Rom. 12:10). All of this goes back to the second greatest commandment given in Leviticus 19, explicitly extended to strangers: “But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 19:34, cf. Dt. 10:19). Christian hospitality is the natural response to God’s hospitality.
Elders must be men who are “given to hospitality” (1 Tim. 3:2, Tit. 1:8). Scripture associates “strangers” with orphans and widows, the more vulnerable and needy (Ps. 94:6, 146:9). And immediately following the high call to worship God as a consuming fire, it says, “Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13:1-2). Think of Abraham, Lot, and Rahab as examples. But Jesus says that the sheep who enter the kingdom will have received Jesus into their homes, when they welcomed strangers in (Mt. 25:35-45). All Gentiles were strangers from the covenants of promise, but are now fellowcitizens with the saints and of the household of God (Eph. 2:12, 19).
So here is a list of scattershot principles and encouragements:
- Begin with those closest to you; practice small and grow. Remember that many things get easier with practice and routines. God has put people in your home, and it is hospitality to love them and care for their needs well. A man who does not provide for his own family is worse than an unbeliever, and don’t use hospitality to others as a way to avoid loving the people right in front of you. So make sure you’re on the same page as a family. Related, do not give what you don’t have (e.g. fellowship, time, money). We are called to give generously and sacrificially, but we are never called to give beyond our means (2 Cor. 8:12). But sometimes God uses needs to show you that you have more than you thought.
- Christian hospitality requires joy and fervency. In fact, the word Paul uses in Romans 12 he uses elsewhere to describe how he “persecuted” the church of God (e.g. Acts 22:4). When you pursue something with fervency and joy, you barely notice the obstacles and inconveniences. When you love a sport, or a vacation, or someone really important or dear to you, you are happy to endure the challenges for the sake of the gift. It should be considered a high privilege to provide food, friendship, encouragement, and hope our homes to those who bear God’s image, those for whom Christ died. Christian hospitality is always an invitation to Christ. May our congregation be known for our joyful pursuit of hospitality.
- The warning against grudging and complaining and bitterness is there for a reason. Hospitality takes work: being thoughtful, preparing, conversations, cleanup, dishes, and on top of it all, people can be challenging, rude, thoughtless, or just different. And this is why it says love covers a multitude of sins. Serious sin must be confronted in love, but lots of thoughtless or careless sin must be simply covered in love (and forgotten). This love also delights in and laughs at all of our cultural differences and quirks. Put away all envy, vain glory, and fleshly competitions.
Jesus is the friend of sinners, and He came eating and drinking with sinners in order to bring us home to the Father. We live in a world that claims to celebrate love, but it is an empty, hypocritical, self-serving, and conditional love. Christ has come and given Himself for us freely, and He invites us to His table every week in order to knit us together with Him in true fellowship, in order to draw the whole world to Himself.