Strange Love # 1

Seven times the New Testament mentions hospitality (Acts 28:7, Rom. 12:13, 1 Tim. 3:2; 5:10, Titus 1:8; Heb. 13:2, 1 Peter 4:9). On one occasion there is an example of hospitality (Acts 28:7), twice hospitality is mentioned as a necessary characteristic of church leaders (1 Tim. 3:2, Titus 1:8), and on almost every other occasion the Bible implores the church to seek to show hospitality. While the word is used seven times the Bible never really elaborates on the concept. This being the case we could deduce two ideas about the word. One is that hospitality was so common to first century readers that a brief mention would be sufficient to convey the idea. Secondly, the word defines itself. It is the combination of two words that literally mean “love strangers.” Often in language when words are meshed together they give birth to other words vibrant in meaning (I will cover this idea tomorrow). Such is the case with the word hospitality.

In the first century context Christianity was always moving. It was a missionary movement. With only a small amount of resource funding, the relative homelessness of its foremost leaders (i.e. Jesus), and the intrinsic danger of 1st century travel, without hospitality the Christian missionary movement would not have survived. Your home was ever on ready. When the travelling apostle, deacon, or pastor arrived (most often unexpected) you did what you could to meet the needs (Luke 9:1-6). Hospitality was an attitude amongst the people of God rooted early on in Israel. Hospitality creates the beautiful tension found in the story of the widow in 1 Kings 17 as it is necessary for her to feed the prophet her last meal.

Christianity was a persecuted movement. In the first century Roman prison there was no guarantee of three meals, decent lodging, and some form of entertainment. The burden of feeding a prisoner was left to his friends and family. For Christians this was especially dangerous because those who fed the imprisoned were tagged as sympathizers and their arrest may be imminent (Hebrews 10:34). When a Christian was arrested they may also disappear. It was difficult to track them. The imprisoned Christians in your locale may not have been family, but unless they became family they would not survive.

In the modern context Christian persecution often results in orphans. The children of the persecuted are abandoned when their parents are arrested. The governing authorities make it illegal to feed, clothe, or house the orphaned children of Christians. Again, without hospitality these children would not survive. In many cases these orphaned children are secretly supported by the Christian community. These stories are triumphant. In the event that hospitality is impossible or not extended the resultant stories are horrific.

In each of these cases there would be a natural reluctance to offer hospitality. This is why in almost every context in which hospitality is mentioned it is done so as an imperative, with urgency, and in the sense that it is a necessity. There is no urgency in the American church when it comes to hospitality. The American church has adopted the cultural norm, “to each his own.” We worship in the same room, bolt to our cars, and go our separate ways only to meet again next week. This movement of the modern church will slowly be its death. American Christianity is isolated and private. We go to church together, but very few of us have ever viewed the inside of one another’s home, or sat together at the meal table. There is not a pervading sense of family within most congregations. There is a sense of “friendly”, but this is far different than a sense of “family.” We have coined the malady the “challenge of assimilation”, but if we were honest the problem is a lack of hospitality. We are not intentional about adopting strangers into our family. By nature Christianity moves. Without hospitality it stagnates quickly. Without hospitality we will not survive. (To be continued)


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