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Thoughts on Hospitality

All Bible references are to the Anglicised New International Version (NIV-UK). Where not quoted, click on the link to read the text.

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above  yourselves. . . . Share with God’s people who are in need.

Practise hospitality.

― Romans 12: 10, 14 ―


SPREAD A LITTLE HAPPINESS! This worthy exhortation was first highlighted in the song by Vivian Ellis,[fn1] when it was featured in his 1929 musical, ‘Mr. Cinders’. It reached number 16 on the pop charts after British musician, Sting (Gordon Sumner), recorded it for the soundtrack of the 1982 film, ‘Brimstone and Treacle’, and it has remained popular ever since.


The principle is sound. Greeted with a broad smile and welcoming words, most of us find it almost impossible not to respond in like manner. Smiles are contagious. A smile can linger on the face for some time after a pleasant encounter and indicates a genuine lifting of the spirits. Laughter as an expression of joy, mirth or amusement, is a linked feature of human interaction, and few can remain glum in the midst of much hilarity.


The Early Christians

Were the first missionaries always sober in manner, serious custodians of the Gospel, set somewhat apart from the cut and thrust of common life? Not at all! Like their Lord, who had kept company with many so-called ‘sinners’, they sought to carry His blessings to all who would listen. Ordinary men and women, sharing the common life of labour and stress, aware from personal experience of the fears and frailties of human nature, were inspired to share their joy in the Saviour with any who had an ear to hear. And they did it with a smile, with a cheering word for the elderly and infirm, and with good humour and laughter within the family circle.


While the broader ministry was undertaken by those able to devote time and talents to carry the Gospel far and wide, every faithful believer was encouraged to pass on to friends and strangers the good news that the promised Saviour had come. The open door would signal a heartfelt welcome, confirmed by a cheerful greeting, and sometimes strangers would for a while share the family home, receiving the generous hospitality of their host and hostess, who gave willingly of their time and attention to the physical, mental and spiritual needs of their guests, at whatever cost to themselves.


In Biblical times the practice of entertaining strangers was very necessary, as there was often little other provision for lodging travellers. Job, mourning his afflictions, protested his observance of righteous living, including consideration for the wayfarer: ‘no stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveller’ (Job 31: 32). The need is somewhat diminished in modern society, but the exhortation of Hebrews 13: 2 is still relevant: ‘Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.’


Hospitality Today – What About the Risks?


In an increasingly godless society it might be foolish to invite into the family circle any whose behaviour is evidently corrupt. But kindness is still a proper attitude, and pity for the victims of addiction, abuse or neglect may still find a response. They are not likely to listen to a Christian witness, but kind words, a hot meal or other practical help may be a more effective demonstration of Christ’s love. Jesus Himself did not limit His ministry to those likely to become followers, and many who were healed of their infirmities went away rejoicing, but did not become disciples.

There may be others, not of evident disrepute, whose need for human kindness is often overlooked. What about the asylum seekers, the immigrants legal or otherwise? Some are hoping for refuge in what was once a ‘land of hope and glory, mother of the free’, but are often viewed with coldness, if not positive hostility. They belong to the common stock of humanity and are as varied in character as are all mankind and as deserving of kind consideration as the native breed.

Were we not all once aliens from the promises of God, excluded from the household of faith? As the Apostle Paul reminded the Gentiles, ‘you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world’ (Ephesians 2: 12).

The Lord’s People Today

Perhaps it hardly needs to be said that the offering of hospitality to our brothers and sisters is a vital part of our Christian service. Yet the

Apostles found it wise to remind the believers of that duty. Among the qualifications for elders Paul specifies hospitality (1 Timothy 3: 2), and under his general exhortations to Christians he lists ‘practise hospitality’ (Romans 12: 13). Peter, perhaps pointing at a little reluctance here and there, says bluntly:‘ Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling’ (1 Peter 4: 9).

It must be said that the burden of catering for guests cooking, cleaning, laundering, and sometimes conversation, falls most heavily on the woman. Many a minister’s wife finds that her home is not her own, as the door is ever open to all comers. It is perhaps still woman’s lot to be like Martha cumbered with much serving (Luke 10: 40), but often the thoughtful guest will make the burden light by offering a helping hand or voicing a warm appreciation of the service rendered.

Some personal sacrifices may be required of the willing host and hostess and of their family. The comfortable routine of life may be disturbed. Preferences may have to be set aside. Energy in meeting others’ needs must be exercised. Privacy is forgotten for the time being, and all is done in the spirit of loving-kindness.

True hospitality is more than a provision of food and lodging. If we really entertain others we do more than put a meal before our guests. They have our love and attention. We do our utmost to make them welcome and to make them feel at home. Conversation with honoured guests is the very spirit of Christian hospitality and bonds can be established which may last a lifetime, for the blessing of both giver and receiver. What a glorious reward when we consider that a lifetime by God’s mercy and love will be eternal!

The supreme act of hospitality was performed by our Heavenly Father, who welcomed us into the bosom of His family on the basis of faith in His Son as our Saviour. He is never weary of our conversation. His door is never closed. ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him’ (Psalm 34: 8).



So ― Shall We ‘Spread a Little Happiness’?

We can all do it, because hospitality need not be confined to our homes. But in our gatherings, when the formal worship is complete, when closing prayers are done, we need not silently leave our place of worship, feeling that we have done all the Lord requires of us. Was there somebody present who seemed sad, anxious, troubled? Are some returning to their solitary existence? Do others carry a heavy burden? A touch of the hand, a hearing ear, a sympathetic concern can brighten the day for another. A smile, a little laughter maybe, can work wonders, and we may be sure that the Lord in Heaven will be smiling too.


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 Vivian Ellis (1904-1996) was a British author of light classical music. His composition, ‘Coronation Scot’, evocative of that famous train, was used as the theme music for the popular BBC radio series, Paul Temple.

Copyright July 2009

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