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Sermon preached on 1 Timothy 3:1-7 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/04/2016 in Novato, CA.
1 Timothy 3:1-7
Today we consider the quality of hospitality. We see here in verse 2 that elders are to have the quality of being hospitable. So, what exactly is hospitality? Nowadays, when we use the word hospitality, we are usually referring to the hosting and/or entertaining of guests. This often is something done in our homes, though we can think of how we do it at church too. A lot of hospitality today involves serving food, which as someone who loves food, I find a wonderful thing. And so, biblically speaking, this kind of hospitality as we practice it today, is a good thing.
That being said, when we talk about hospitality in the Bible, it is important to notice that the Biblical notion is a little more focused. You see, our hospitality today tends to be shown a lot to people that we know. You might invite some close friends from church over to your house after church, and provide a meal. Your friends are guests in your home whom you receive and care for, and it is certainly a commendable form of hospitality. But the Bible’s most specific notion of hospitality is about the love and welcome you show, not to friends, but to strangers. Take for example the word for hospitable in verse 2. The Greek word there is philoxenia, literally “loving a stranger”. It’s basically a compound word, philo and xenia, philo meaning love, and xenia meaning alien or stranger. In contrast, you might have heard the word xenophobe before. That is someone who fears or hates a stranger or alien. But this word for hospitality here in verse 2, literally says we should show love to a stranger. Remember, that the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. And so, who is our neighbor that we should love them? Well, this word for hospitality tells us that such love applies to strangers and aliens as well. They too are our neighbors that we should love.
So then, today as we study this topic of hospitality, we’ll be focusing especially on the way we should show it to strangers and aliens. In other words, an elder should lead the church by example in how we welcome people we don’t know who come here. This is a Christian quality of godliness that we should look to grow in and show. So then, for today’s study, I’ll have us first consider some New Testament teachings on this subject. Second, I’ll have us see how this principle is seen in the Old Testament. Lastly, we’ll spend some time applying it to us in Christ.
Let’s begin then with the New Testament. First off, we see this commanded in the New Testament for Christians. In Romans 12:13, in a list of commands to Christians, Paul tells us to be given to hospitality. In other words, this is something all Christians should look to be showing. Similarly, in Hebrews 13:2, we see it again commanded that we should not neglect to show hospitality to strangers. There it goes on to give us a reason to motivate our hospitality. It says that some, by doing so, have entertained angels without realizing it! Wow! We again see this command in 1 Peter 4:9 where Peter says we are to show hospitality to one another without grumbling. There are a couple great things to notice about Peter’s statement there. When he says we should show hospitality to one another he affirms that we can show hospitality to not just the strangers, but also to our fellow church members who we know. Peter takes that concept of showing love to strangers and says do that same thing to each other. I love that point. The other thing Peter highlights is our attitude. He says we should do it without grumbling. As soon as we start talking about being commanded to show hospitality, we know that we’ll be tempted to grumble. It is easy to show hospitality when it is our idea for something we want to do. But as soon as we are commanded to do it, that makes it someone else’s idea. We can then feel guilted into showing hospitality. And if our heart is not in it, then grumbling and complaining is likely to follow. It can be a lot of work to open up your homes to guests or to go and make the effort to speak to the visitor who comes into church. But it is not an optional thing to do. It is a command by the Lord. And he wants us to do it with joy and not with a bad attitude.
That leads us then to the next thing to notice from the New Testament about hospitality. We should understand the spirit of hospitality and what it should be about. We have to make sure we don’t turn it into something it shouldn’t be. I have in mind now the story of Mary and Martha when they had Jesus over to their home. This is found starting in Luke 10:38. Jesus comes over to their home and Martha is very busy in the kitchen, distracted with much serving. Mary, on the other hand, is spending her time at Jesus’ feet, listening and learning. Martha got upset that Mary was not in the kitchen helping her. Jesus, however, corrected Martha that she had lost focus of what the whole thing was to be about. Martha, it seems, had made the act of hospitality an end in itself. She had lost focus that the purpose of hospitality is love and welcome guests. As Martha lost focus on what her hospitality should have been about, she began to grumble. Instead, she should have realized it was a time to honor Jesus. And so certainly we have to remember the spirit of the matter in our hospitality.
I see some a common pitfall here. Sometimes people won’t have people over to their homes because they think it will be too much work or cost too much. But that often is because the hosts think they have to make some elaborate production for the hospitality. Often it can turn into more about the host trying to show how good of a host they are, instead of simply remembering the spirit of the matter. It’s about showing love and welcome to your guests.
I’ll point to one more passage in the New Testament. I’ll point to Luke 10, the Parable of the Good Samaritan. There you have in the parable two religious leaders refusing to show love and aid to someone who is a stranger in need. But then, in surprising fashion, a Samaritan comes to the aid of that injured stranger. The Samaritan would have been even more a stranger and alien to this injured man. But he nonetheless helped the man in a gracious and generous way. Well, the parable is told by Jesus because someone asked him “Who is my neighbor?” The person who asked Jesus that was trying to get away from having to show love to everyone he should be loving. He was looking for an excuse to restrict his love to only certain people. Certainly, Samaritans were one group that Jews like that didn’t want to have to show love and welcome to. But Jesus turns the matter on its head, telling this parable where the religious leaders failed to show love to someone close to them, when the Samaritan outdid them in love, showing such abundant love to someone different than him.
I hope that parable can remind us in the church context to go out of your way to show hospitality even to the people you might not be inclined to show it to. Since we are commanded to show hospitality, there is no reason why you shouldn’t welcome the people who come and visit our church. Please make the effort to greet and love our visitors! I urge you to be on the lookout each and every Sunday for visitors and go up to them and say a few words of welcome to them. Show them love! Similarly, look around on Sundays for those people who are all alone during the fellowship time. Make a concerted effort to go them and welcome them and draw them into the church community. That is the biblical and godly thing to do.
Okay, so that is a little bit about hospitality from the New Testament. I’d like to look now at the Old Testament a little bit on this subject. When we do this, we see that there are some great examples of hospitality in the Old Testament. You have Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18 having the three men come and visit him. They stop what they are doing and welcome them, and care for them and feed them. Turns out one of them is the LORD God and promises that Sarah will have a son in her old age. Another example you could think of is in the book of Ruth. There Boaz greatly welcomes her and blesses her, when it seems others were not so quick to do that since Ruth was a foreigner. But Boaz even coordinated with his servants to make sure that Ruth was able to glean a lot of food from his field so she would not go hungry. Ruth, in Ruth 2:10 takes notice of this and bows to the ground and asks, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” She recognized his kindness and appreciated it. So, when we look at the Old Testament, we can see some great examples of hospitality.
That being said, when you look further at the Old Testament, particularly among the laws of Israel, we find some interesting teachings about how God’s people were to treat strangers and aliens. On the one hand, the Torah clearly sets apart the strangers and aliens from God’s people. In other words, the law sometimes treated them differently, in a lesser way. A few examples. Deuteronomy 14:21, an Israelite couldn’t eat anything that died naturally, but you could give it or sell it to a foreigner living among them to eat it. Deuteronomy 15:1, at the end of every seven years the Israelites were to forgive the financial debts of their fellow Israelites, but they didn’t have to forgive the debts of the foreigners living among them. Deuteronomy 17:15 said that if the Israelites wanted a king, they could appoint one, but he couldn’t be a foreigner. Deuteronomy 23:20, an Israelite couldn’t charge a fellow Israelite interest on a loan, but they could charge a foreigner interest.
So you have certain laws like this which make it very clear that foreigners are not on equal footing as the Israelites. Yet, in contrast, the Torah also had a number of provisions that said they had to show love and kindness to strangers and aliens. A few examples. Exodus 23:9 forbade Israel from oppressing strangers and the reason it gives is because they used to be strangers in Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:19 they are commanded to love the foreigner living among them. Deuteronomy 24:10 says that when you harvest your olive trees, you are only to go through one time. After that, they were to leave the rest for the foreigners living among them, along with the widows and orphans. That’s what Boaz essentially was doing for Ruth, by the way.
And so for Israel, they had this interesting tension in their law in terms of how they handled strangers and aliens among them. On the one hand, there was a distinction where it was clearly better to be one of God’s people. On the other hand, there was clearly love that was to be shown to these outsiders who had come into contact with God’s people. Why the difference? Why the tension here? Well, I believe it was ultimately to serve an evangelistic purpose. You see, you also have a passage like Deuteronomy 31:12. There Moses talks about what to do when you gather the people together for the reading of God’s law. He says you are to gather not only the men, women, and children. He also says you are to gather the foreigners living among them. They are all to come and hear the reading of God’s law. Similarly, later in 1 Kings 8, when King Solomon is dedicating the temple, he prays that the foreigners from afar will hear of God’s great name and God’s great power. Solomon prays that those foreigners will then come from afar to the temple and pray to the one true God. Solomon says, “So that all peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You, as do Your people Israel.”
Do you see the point? The laws in the Old Testament made a distinction between God’s people and the strangers and aliens. If you are an outsider, you should recognize that you are missing out on something. But ultimately, God had a desire to draw the outsiders to himself. Of course, we see in the New Testament that many Israelites got this wrong. Many made themselves better than a sojourner and looked down on Gentiles. And yet it is in the New Testament we see even more clearly the heart that God had under the Old Testament to reach out to the foreigners in love.
And that brings us then to our third and final point. I said I wanted to cover in this last point the application of this topic of hospitality to us in Christ. And it’s light of what I just said about the Old Testament and foreigners that brings the application to us. You see, how it is that we are here today as Gentiles, yet no longer as outsiders treated as second class citizens? How is it that we are now are part of the insiders and possessing all the benefits of the people of God? It is because of Christ. In Ephesians 2:11-12, Paul reminds us that we at one time were aliens and strangers from God’s people. He says that was the case when we were without Christ. But then he goes on to say how that has changed. The change is that now we are in Christ. In Christ, he made us a part of God’s people. Ephesians 2:19, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” Amen!
Brothers and sisters, this is the gospel. We used to be the outsiders, the strangers, and the aliens. Jesus loved us strangers and he did it to make us insiders! For those who have turned and put their faith in Christ and have been baptized into his church, we are now a part of God’s people. Praise God for his love and grace. But now he calls us to no longer act like guests but like the hosts that we are. This should be the motivation and foundation for our hospitality. Jesus has loved us who used to be strangers and made us no longer strangers. Now he calls us to love strangers. It’s called hospitality. And frankly we should especially love these strangers who come and visit us at church because we hope that God would turn them from outsiders into insiders as well.
I love how Jesus called us to such hospitality in Matthew 25:35. He spoke of those who showed such hospitality to strangers in this way. He said how in the future at the day of judgment they would be commended saying, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Jesus says they’ll then ask Jesus what he meant. And Jesus will say (Matthew 25:40), “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”
Yes, dear saints, we know on that day of judgment, we will have fallen short in all our works, including our hospitality. We know that we will ultimately stand by God’s grace that accepts us in Christ with all our imperfections. And yet that grace is not an excuse for us to not seek to live righteously right now. And since Christ has shown us the best sort of hospitality, we are called to show it to others.
Trinity Presbyterian Church, we need to welcome and love the visitors who come here. We need to show hospitality to those strangers in the best sense of the word. Some of us here do a great job in this. But I must humbly say that some of us don’t appear to make much effort at all in greeting and loving visitors. Yes, some people are more gifted at hospitality than others. But everyone is commanded to this. That is why our leaders need to have this quality, so they can lead the church by example in this area. Let us repent where we need to over the ways that we’ve neglected this. And let us see the joy in showing this kind of hospitality. It really is an important part of how God draws outsiders to himself. See how this is such an important support role in terms of evangelism. And let us pray that God would send us more and more visitors that we can practice being the kind of hosts we ought to be. And let us pray for that stranger-loving grace that Jesus has shown us, to be reflected in how we greet our visitors. Amen.
Copyright © 2016 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.