LIVING STONES THEOLOGY:

THE GIFT OF HOSPITALITY

I Peter 4:7-11

(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg


I Peter 4:7-11 NIV

The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. In anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praise through Jesus Christ. To him be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

As we have started looking at the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the past number of months, you may have at times been slightly confused. Confusion comes from an apparent confusion in our confessions and in the scripture. For example:  We are all called to be prophets, but there is a gift of prophecy. We are all called to be witnesses, but there is a gift of evangelism. We are all called to serve, but there is a gift of helping others. We are all called to give to the work of the kingdom, yet there is the gift of contribution. On one level we are called to practice these different aspects of being a Christian, on another level some of us are especially gifted at these tasks.

That is a fundamental distinction we all have to learn. Though there are many things that we have to practice, there are some things that we will be especially gifted at in the kingdom of God, our "specialization" so to speak. In our area of giftedness, we will find a special measure of joy in service, a fulfillment in doing the work, a greater effectiveness in ministry. It doesn't mean that we can forget about the other practices.  We will still need to practice them, work at them, grow at them, out of an obedience to Christ,  We will find that as we invest the small amount we have, the Lord will return it to us many times over.

In the area of hospitality, this is especially true. The Lord repeatedly instructs us to practice hospitality, infact one of the repeatedly mentioned qualities required to be an elder is the faithful practice of hospitality (Titus 1:8, I Tim 3:2). So to, the passage which we read this morning tells us to be faithful in the practice of hospitality.

Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.

It tells us to do that whether we are gifted or not, it tells us to do that with a healthy attitude rather than doing it like a chore that we hate. Infact, there is no passage that tells us that hospitality is a Spiritual gift, except the context of this passage which we read suggests to us that it is a gift just like the gifts of speaking or serving. Listen again closely to our passage:

Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. In anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praise through Jesus Christ.

Based on this passage, many commentators on the gifts of the Holy Spirit suggest that Hospitality should be included as one of the spiritual gifts.  This spiritual gift, like the others is intended for the upbuilding of the body of Christ.

Let me very quickly make a few comments about the history of the practice of hospitality in the Christian church. The root meaning of hospitality is the Latin word "hospes" which literally means "guests." In the time that of the New Testament, there were no such things as hotels or motels. The only "hotels" around were brothels. So one of the first practices that the early church set up was the practice of hospitality so that those in the Christian community who traveled, whether for business or for the purpose of preaching and spreading the gospel Christians would have safe places to go to. By the time of the crusades, the church as an institution set up official hospices - places where officials of the church could stay a night. When the crusades happened, many of these were transformed into care centers for the wounded, sick and injured. After the crusades, people discovered that they could make a living giving travelors a place to rest , so the hotel was born.  These many hospices that were set up became places where the church took care of the poor, sick, aged and crippled. Thus the concept of the hospital was born. Sometimes I here a lot of criticism for the evils that the church institution has done in history.  We to easily forget some of the blessings it has brought, namely what we all take for granted today, the gift of hospitals.

Today though of course the times are different.  When people travel, they much more often take a hotel, they are safe, and they don't inconvenience others. Still the scriptures repeatedly tell us to practice hospitality to one another. This morning we want to spend just a few more minutes looking at the definition of hospitality and then look at the two characteristics of gifted hospitality.

Hospitality is:  The divine enablement to share with others our home, our lives, our personal space and resources without communicating a need for performance or an expectation of return.

Let me comment about that.

That hospitality includes sharing our home, lives, personal space and resources such as a bed, or food or time, that should be obvious. But one of the first characteristics of good hospitality is that it does not communicate a need for performance. By that is meant that the person we welcome into our home does not have to be a great guest, a great conversationalist, the life of a party. Some times we invite people over because they can perform socially very well. They have class. They have good character. They are intelligent. They are attractive. But if we invite people over with the subtle motivations of socializing in an upwardly mobile way, or for the purposes of personal entertainment and gain, we are expecting from them some performance. Good hospitality accepts people into our home no matter what their social skills are, no matter what their conversational skills are. Regardless of their performance, they are still very welcome.

Secondly, the good practice of hospitality does not include an expectation of return. To be hospitable does not include expecting to get invited back to their place, their party, supper at their house. Rather hospitality, like all acts of true love, are gifts that are given without an expectation of return.

Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.

Now everyone of us is called to practice this form of Christian giving or loving of others. But each one of us knows that their are some people who are much more gifted at being hospitable than others. What are some of the characteristics of a person who is gifted with hospitality?  I will suggest two this morning, you may be able to think of more...

The Two Characteristics of Gifted Hospitality

1. A person with the gift of hospitality is a person who has a special ability to focus his or her attention on a guest.

For some of us that is quite difficult. We tend to be preoccupied with our own needs, worries, tensions, interests which prevent us from giving our full attention to others. The Wounded Healer p. 89) Yet we all know very well, especially when we have had the opportunity to be in the home of someone we do not know very well, we felt far more welcomed if they do not focus on their own issues, but with a natural welcoming ability, they focused their interest on our lives. Gifted hospitality is the gifted ability to focus our attention on others.  I suspect that Timothy in the scriptures had just such a gift. Listen to Paul's words about him in Philippians 2:19f

"I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I received news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel."

2. The second quality of a person who is gifted with hospitality is that they demonstrate a deep value for community.  They communicate that it is their privilege to have you in their home. They love to have you there with them.  They love to be with you, hearing your story, hearing your issues. Yet at the same time, they don't try fix you, solve your problems. This is not first of all a picture of intentional ministry. It just seems that their lives have space for others, a place where you can belong, and be a significant part. Those who are gifted with hospitality communicate that they simply value the presence of others in their lives  and they often do this without words, they often do it by actions alone. A person gifted with hospitality demonstrates a deep value for community.

Let me conclude with a few comments about The Importance of Hospitality.

After the Spirit and the Word, hospitality is the most important church builder. By the practice and gift of hospitality, guests find that there is room in the church for them, especially in the lives of the members of the church for them.  When people through the gift of hospitality exercised find a place in the church for them, they come to be part of the church, with new relationships, friendships, and new places to serve. It is in the context of hospitality that discipling happens best.  In a hospitable place guests can get a taste of what a Christian family is all about. It is in the context of hospitality that visitors can come to appreciate the unconditional love of God for them in Jesus Christ, modeled through us by sharing our lives, homes, personal space and resources without a demand for performance or expectation of return. People gifted with hospitality can leave an indelible mark in the lives of others whom God brings at just the right time. One time Judy and I were people who recieved in truly remarkable fashion the gift of hospitality.

We were students at Dordt College. We had gone home for Christmas break and we were returning to Dordt College, Souix Center Iowa in early January. Our Volkswagen van broke down in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.  After spending a good amount of time trying to get it going properly one evening, and the bulk of the next morning, we struggled our way to Regina, a trip that normally takes less than an hour took us 4 hours with no heat in 35 below weather. We called up the pastor of the Christian Reformed Church in Regina.  His name was Rev. Peter Plug.  He came with his car to lead us to his home.  There,  we were immediately welcomed in by his wife.  The meal she seemed to have already prepared was certainly far more than the two of them needed, and being as hungry and cold as I was, I still remember it as one of the best meals I have ever had.   I had become hypothermic trying to fix the van in that cold cold weather.   All I could do after supper was sit on a couch and shiver.   But while I shivered, Rev. Plug called one of the members of his congregation, the Fritz DeLeo family.  They came pick up the van, they ripped out the engine. The next day, while we rested and visited, they got the engine rebuilt.  By supper time, they  had  re-installed it.  Right after supper we were back on the road. The repair cost us hardly more than parts. We will never forget their gifts of hospitality and service.  It told us that for all the failings the church had, it was a place where we belong.

Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.


(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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