Which shall I do first, go upstairs and write that article that is due, or go out to the garden and pick lettuce and some roses before the frost spoils them?” I hesitated, wishing I could go in both directions at once. Just then the doorbell rang, and I chose a third direction, the steps down to the front door. “I’m sorry to bother you, but this is an emergency. Can we talk to you now?” My husband was talking to someone in the living room, so I led mother and daughter into the dining room to listen to the problem.

Weeping with those who weep takes time. Two hours later when my husband had come in to join us, I glanced at the clock and realized that everyone needed some food. Slipping out I put together the ingredients for an egg-nog milk shake and started it whizzing, then dipped out broth from bones on the stove and added chicken bouillon and chopped parsley to give more flavor, then cut pieces of homemade brown bread and topped them with cheese and bacon and tomato slices and slipped them into the oven. A nutritious meal was soon ready for me to carry in on individual trays, without breaking into the flow of the conversation. Not only was the food needed for energy by each of us, but the pleasantness was remembered afterwards, and the beauty of a simple meal treasured, even by someone whose mind was filled with recent disaster and whose eyes were blurred with tears.

What are the ingredients of hospitality? How can love and community come out of the realm of theory and become a part of our moment-by-moment lives? How can we in these areas begin to be “doers of the Word and not hearers only”?

In Romans 12 we are given specific notice of what things are to be a part of the Christian life. We are to share things we have with those in a variety of kinds of needs: “Distributing to the necessity of the saints; given to hospitality.… Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” (vv. 13, 15). Hospitality is not just giving a party. Sometimes it is to be combined with weeping.

Nor is hospitality just praying with a person and forgetting the physical need of the moment. James 2:15 and 16 is like a dash of ice water in our faces when we are tempted to push aside the help that would take more time or trouble when someone comes to us in need. “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?” There are times when we need to buy or make clothing for people, or share our own, and times when we need to provide food for a day or a week or a month for those who are without, before talking to them about spiritual things. Or a glass of orange juice, or a hot-water bottle and a blanket, may be needed before we pray with someone who is in need of comfort and counsel.

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Galatians 6:2 cautions us to bear one another’s burdens. Third John 5 commends Gaius: “Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers; which have borne witness of thy love before the church.” The practical act of bearing the burdens of others includes hospitality, which can be recognized as an expression of love. “Love one another” is not a command to have nice warm feelings. Just as faith is meant to show forth in acts based on faith, so love is meant to be observable in acts based on love.

First Timothy 3:2 gives some of the requirements of an elder in the church: “An elder then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach” (italics added). Titus 1:7–9 adds to the teaching of what makes up a Christian life, and especially the life of a Christian leader: “For an elder must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; but a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate, holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught …” (italics added).

First Peter 4:9 broadens this admonition to elders to include all of us: “Use hospitality one to another without grudging.” As this has come right after the admonition to “be sober and watch unto prayer,” it is a reminder that we are not free never to invite lonely people home for dinner after church, just so that we can have the afternoon free to pray. We are not to begrudge the time, energy, and privacy used for hospitality, any more than we are to begrudge the things we give away when we are cautioned that “God loveth a cheerful giver.”

In Hebrews 13:1 and 2 we are shown that this love to others in the church is to include strangers. “Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”—a beautiful possibility that can occur only when we open the door and set a place at the table for someone who is really a stranger. And in Luke 14:12 and 13 Jesus makes very clear the command to prepare special meals and not invite friends and neighbors at all: “But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.” This gives some categories of strangers we are meant to invite at times. When are we going to do it? What feast will we soon be preparing for poor people, or blind or crippled people?

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When Abraham in Genesis 18:2–5 saw three strangers who stood by him suddenly, his reaction was to have water brought for them to wash with, urge them to rest for a time under a tree, and bring bread for them to eat. Abraham’s hospitality was received by angels, and the Lord’s people since Abraham’s time have had that spontaneous hospitality as an example. We are given many ideas throughout the Bible as to what hospitality can include. We are to share our homes, our tents, our shady place under a tree, our food, our clothing, our time, our prayer, with others—those of our own family, the family of the church, brothers and sisters in Christ, strangers.

Come to Matthew 25:35–40 and find an underlying base for it all, a dimension that only God can add. “For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” May we indeed be doers of the Word, and not hearers only.

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