“Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
Practicing hospitality is an act of kindness. In Romans 12:13, Paul says: “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” How far is our hospitality to go?
The word “hospitality” used by Paul has the implicit meaning of “hospitality that costs”. Authentic hospitality calls for generous giving and even sacrifice, and this is not easy.
This, however, is what it means to be a disciple of Christ – to live according to His purpose and discipline ourselves in doing what many others may not view as easy.
In ancient times, once a traveller left the gates of his city, it would be difficult to return before nightfall. There were few guesthouses for travellers then and they would need to seek accommodation in strangers’ homes for a night, a few days, or even a week. Such accommodation did not come free – payment could be monetary or in the form of household chores or manual tasks carried out for the hosts. It was therefore common to find strangers and travellers staying in households, their length of stay determined by how hospitable their hosts were.
Of course, such customs of hospitality could be abused by the dishonourable who might overstay their welcome. An interesting find in an early 2nd-century Christian treatise, The Didache or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, was advice for disciples on the reception of travellers and how to guard against exploitation: “But receive everyone who comes in the name of the Lord, and prove and know him afterward; for you shall have understanding right and left. If he who comes is a wayfarer, assist him as far as you are able; but he shall not remain with you more than two or three days, if need be. But if he wants to stay with you, and is an artisan, let him work and eat. But if he has no trade, according to your understanding, see to it that, as a Christian, he shall not live with you idle. But if he wills not to do, he is a Christ-monger. Watch that you keep away from such.” (Chapter 12)
Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 25 that when the Son of Man comes in His glory, He will gather all the nations before Him. Those who are rewarded receive their inheritance because, to the Lord, whatever they did for one of the least of their brothers and sisters had been done for Him. Jesus said: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…”
Hence, showing hospitality to strangers, travellers, friends or associates is a mark of discipleship. We may even be surprised to find that we have “shown hospitality to angels without knowing it”. (Hebrews 13:2)
In conclusion, let us be mindful that we should show hospitality without expecting repayment from our guests. If we see it as something done for the Lord, this will keep us going, and Jesus offers encouragement that we will be repaid at the resurrection (Luke 14:14).
If we offer hospitality expecting appreciation and reward, we will be disappointed for people are generally forgetful. Therefore, consider it an extra blessing when you receive the guests’ gratitude and appreciation for your hospitality after their departure.
On our part, we must never forget to thank those who receive us as their guests and show us hospitality.
The Rev Dr Chong Chin Chung was re-elected President of the Chinese Annual Conference (CAC) in 2012 for the quadrennium. He has been a Methodist pastor for 30 years and has been a guest lecturer at Trinity Theological College since 1996.