“Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13).
Many people associate the word hospitality with the industry that includes hotels, resorts and restaurants. And that is one of the modern-day uses of it. But I’ve discovered that hospitality can have a much richer meaning.
In fact, the whole idea of welcoming travelers and providing for their needs during a stay is a practice that goes back to ancient times. And God has called His people to go further, using hospitality as a way to minister every day.
What Is Hospitality, According to the Bible?
The official dictionary definition of hospitality reads, “the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers. The quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.”
This idea had a very practical application centuries ago, because travelling was often dangerous. People on the road were very vulnerable to weather, thieves, or even wild animal attacks. Knowing they could count on a safe place to stop made leaving home more manageable.
Many writers in both the Old and New Testament encourage God’s people to go beyond simply opening our doors, though. Leviticus 19:34 says, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself…”
According to Scriptural teaching, hospitality is one of the characteristics that God’s people need to cultivate as part of a holy lifestyle.
“Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined” (Titus 1:8).
“...and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds” (1 Timothy 5:10).
So hospitality, ideally, is a practical expression of God’s love that reflects God’s character into the world and brings Him glory.
Bible Verses about Hospitality
The Old Testament contains many instructions for God’s people to be hospitable to those who are on the road, or otherwise in need of a place to stay.
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).
“Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9).
Scripture also connects hospitality with giving to the needy in our midst. It tells us that God is pleased when we take from our own supply and provide for those around us who are suffering.
“‘Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them…’” (Isaiah 58:6-7).
“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Hebrews 13:16).
“Then Jesus said to his host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous’” (Luke 14:12-14).
To read more Bible verses about hospitality, click here.
Some Examples of Hospitality in the Bible
When a group of strangers appeared at his tent one day, Abraham received them with deference, respect, and concern.
“Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. He said, ‘If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant’” (Genesis 18:3-5).
A woman who appreciated the work of the prophet Elisha went the extra measure to help him feel welcomed in her home.
“One day Elisha went to Shunem. And a well-to-do woman was there, who urged him to stay for a meal. So whenever he came by, he stopped there to eat. She said to her husband, ‘I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God. Let’s make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him. Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us’” (2 Kings 4:8-10).
As he travelled through Bethsaida, Jesus found respite with a generous family of siblings who attended to His needs.
“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him” (Luke 10:38).
When Paul and Silas were in Philippi, they were warmly ministered to by one of the women they had just taught.
“We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us” (Acts 16:13-15).
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Yurii Yarema
Is Hospitality a Spiritual Gift?
The Apostle Paul wrote about various gifts that come from the Holy Spirit.
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully” (Romans 12:6-8).
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” (Ephesians 4:11-12).
Hospitality is not named specifically in his lists. But, in the act of showing hospitality, some of the traits that Paul mentions are naturally unleashed.
How Can We Bless Others through Hospitality?
Providing visitors from out of town with a meal or a place to stay is a more traditional way to show hospitality. But if we look at it more broadly, we can find all sorts of opportunities to show this to our brothers and sisters in Christ on a regular basis.
For instance, I've been to and hosted gatherings like Bible studies, prayer meetings or just informal social times. And those moments are wonderful times to show mercy and care to one another. To be consistently effective in this, we need to be sensitive to and keep a mindset of readiness to take advantage of chances that arise.
Why Is It So Important to Be Hospitable?
Making hospitality a priority is part of God’s plan for believers. It trains us to live out some of His commands, such as seeking the good of others, unselfishly sharing what we have, and showing His love.
Like many things God calls us to do, practicing hospitality may not always be convenient or easy. But, if we are determined, He will help us work through any obstacles. Remember, God knows your heart, and will show you how to obey His call.
Often, finding success can be as simple as changing our expectations or attitude. Here are a couple of ways we doubt ourselves, and a little reality check for each:
1. My home is too small
I’ve been invited to tiny apartments and spacious houses, and lots in between. And when I felt welcomed in and comfortable, the amount of room didn’t matter to me at all.
You can’t change the amount of space you have. So figure out how many you can reasonably fit in, even if it ends up being only one other person at one time. Then focus on creating an environment that will bless whoever comes.
2. I can’t cook
I know people who love making appetizers or even full meals for guests from scratch. Others are happy to lay out their favorite store-bought goodies. And honestly, I enjoyed my time with them equally.
Not everyone loves to spend time in the kitchen. (Mary’s sister Martha preferred sitting at Jesus’ feet to cooking.) Decide how much time and energy you have to prepare food, and respect that. Concentrate more on the fellowship that will happen than what you’ll be eating.
3. I’m not outgoing enough
I used to think that I had to be super-social in order to host any kind of get-together. But after my first try, I realized that aspect usually took care of itself as people started to mingle and catch-up.
The most important job you have is asking people over, and then literally opening your door when they arrive. Those who are naturally comfortable starting conversations will usually get things rolling. Then you can let yourself relax, caring for and getting to know others better.
Showing hospitality, like so many things God asks us to do, brings blessings to both the receiver and giver. We will grow in love, our days will contain more joy, and we will have more impact for the Lord. And the more we practice this habit, the more we look like Jesus.
“Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you” (3 John 1:5).
Photo credit: Unsplash/Aaron Burden
Heather Adams is an author, speaker, and singer living in Connecticut. Heather’s passion is to equip and encourage believers to seek more of God’s truth and to experience more of His joy each day. Her book, Bow Down: The Heart of a True Worshipper is a practical, 30-day devotional about worship based on the writings of King David. Heather's blog, Worship Walk Ministries, offers weekly Scripture passages and insights to ponder. A native New Englander, Heather is settling into her home in the South, trying out local foods and watching for the alligators that live nearby! You can connect with her on her website: heatheradamsworshipwalk.com