Be Hospitable to All

In Near Eastern culture there is the concept of hospitality, where you treat and take care of visitors to your home. So what we see in Abraham’s example is easily explainable as part of the culture of his day:

And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on— since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.  – Genesis 18:1-8, ESV

The one thing to note is Abraham likely knew who the visitors were since he referred to one as Lord and called himself a servant. However, Abraham’s response would not be seen as out of character for they way folks were expected to treat visitors. Therefore, his commands to Sarah to prepare some cakes and for the young man to prepare a calf, and his own efforts in culling all the food together were not out of place. He was a welcoming host. He opened the door for his visitors and he treated them well. He didn’t give them leftovers. He didn’t rush them out the door. He didn’t give them the cold shoulder. Even if it wasn’t God, Abraham would likely have still done all the things he did for the three men. He would have extended great hospitality towards his visitors. We know this because we see other cases in Scripture where hospitality is extended and the guest isn’t God. We also seen cases where hospitality is refused and the there are repercussions for those slights.

Now let’s apply this to ourselves, especially in the West. I’ll be the first to admit that being outgoing is hard. It doesn’t come naturally for me. But here’s the question that haunts me when I’m feeling my typical, severely introverted self, “If I don’t show I care about them, then why would they believe me when I tell them my God cares about them?” Hebrews 13:2 tells us to be hospitable to strangers, because we might just be entertaining angels. That’s true. But it isn’t just about what’s in it for me. Paul commands that overseers/elders are to be hospitable (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8). That’s one of the qualities you expect of an elder, a leader in the church. If it’s one of the qualities we expect of leaders in the church, should it not be a quality that we expect of the entire Church? Absolutely, and both Paul and Peter call us on this (Romans 12:13, 1 Peter 4:9). In other words, God is making it clear we don’t have an excuse. I don’t have an excuse. I must overcome my introverted nature and be hospitable. We all must.

So we have a New Testament reinforcement of an Old Testament principle. Therefore, let’s look at Abraham’s example to get some information on what the expectations are. First, note that Abraham humbled himself. He didn’t treat his guests as if they were imposing on him. Rather, he treated them with the utmost of respect and honor. Second, note that he considered it a privilege to be able to wait on them. Words like, “if I have found favor,” remind us that we should treat guests as the blessings they are. Third, note that he gave them the best he had to offer. Cakes made with fine flour and a calf, tender and good, is what he ordered prepared. He didn’t make do with day old bread and the left-over pot roast. Fourth, and finally, he didn’t pass on the responsibility to someone else. Yes, he asked for help to prepare refreshment for these men. But note that it was Abraham that gathered everything together and presented it to them. Take those four points and compare how guests and visitors are treated when they attend our worship services, outreach events, or Bible studies. Does the experience they get match up with what Abraham delivered? Convicted yet? I am.

We’ve got to do a better job of showing the people we come into contact with that they matter and that we care. If we don’t demonstrate this in real, visible ways then there is no reason they should believe us when we share with them about a God who cares about them and loves them. A God like that should have a people like that. If we are Christ-ians, little Christs, then we are supposed to be Christ-like. And if our Christ cares so much that He even knows the number of hairs on our heads, then we must demonstrate a similar concern and love for people, even complete strangers. Yes, it’s not normal. But we don’t serve a normal God. Yes, it’s risky. But then, so was the Cross. And yes, it means that we have to think less of ourselves and more of someone we don’t even know. But again, isn’t this the point of the Cross? Let us be hospitable to all in a way that clearly demonstrates our Savior’s love for the people around us.

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