During the time when the New Testament was being written, it is simply a fact that many Christians and church leaders were very mobile. First, many became mobile because they had been evicted from their homes and had lost their property due to persecution. Second, the early believers were mobile because they were moving like a spreading flame throughout the entire Roman world, carrying the Gospel to those who sat in darkness.
Because the Early Church was constantly on the move, it became necessary for believers to adopt an “open-home” mentality In other words, they had to be willing to take in displaced Christians or missionaries who were passing through on their way to take the Gospel to a new region. This open-home mentality was so important that Paul included it in his list of requirements for church leaders. Paul wrote to Timothy that if a person wanted to be a leader, he had to be “… given to hospitality…” (1 Timothy 3:2).
In both Romans 12:13 and in First Timothy 3:2, Paul uses this phrase “given to hospitality.” The word “hospitality” in both references is the Greek word philoxenia. This word is a compound of the words philos, which means to love like a friend, and the word xenos, the Greek word for a stranger or foreigner. There is no doubt that the word xenos doesn’t refer to an acquaintance or associate; rather, it refers to one who is a complete stranger or a foreigner.
Therefore, when Paul tells the Early Church (and us) to be hospitable, he isn’t telling us to be kind, friendly, or openhearted with a known associate or a friend who is in need. He is telling us that we must show compassion and kindness to those we don’t know at all. It is easy to open our homes and show kindness to someone we know, but it is a different thing altogether to be hospitable to those we don’t know!
This would have been an especially important message to believers who lived in large metropolitan cities like Rome or Ephesus. Due to the size of their cities, people (including believers) were constantly arriving with a common need—finding a place to reside during their brief stay.
Modern-day Moscow fits this description quite well, and Denise and I do our best to be “given to hospitality.” This city is like a magnet for all of Russia. Just as was true in the ancient cities of Rome and Ephesus, believers are constantly coming to Moscow for business and ministry. Often they need our help to find a place to stay. They need us to be hospitable and to help meet their needs, even if we don’t know them.
For an early believer to be hospitable, he literally had to open his home to receive those Christians who had been displaced or who were traveling through the area. In that day, there were no hotels like there are in today’s world, so opening one’s home was the only way to show oneself hospitable.
In today’s world, you could still take a traveler into your home. But it is also possible to show yourself hospitable by renting a hotel room to help out a traveler for several nights. You and the Lord must determine how you show hospitality; the important thing is that you are hospitable.
The real idea of the word philoxenia (“hospitable”) is to be friendly or helpful to those who are strangers to you and to those who are in need. This word depicts that moment when you go outside your normal circle of friends and relationships to do something extra special for someone whom you do not know.
Romans 12:13 categorically states that we should be “given” to hospitality. The word “given” is from the Greek word dioko, which means to aggressively pursue something; to ardently follow after something; or to hotly pursue something until you finally catch it. In fact, the word dioko is so aggressive that it is usually translated in the New Testament as the word persecution.
It is significant that Paul used the word dioko in connection with becoming hospitable, because it tells us that we must aggressively set our hearts on attaining this goal. We must make the decision that we are going to develop this trait in our lives. Then we must put our whole hearts into learning how to be welcoming and helpful to believers in need—until finally we catch on to God’s idea of hospitality and become genuinely hospitable people.
Romans 12:13 could be taken to mean:
“Hotly pursue and never stop pursuing the goal of becoming hospitable until you have caught on to the idea of hospitality and have genuinely become a hospitable person.”
How long has it been since you opened the doors of your home to someone you didn’t know? Do you mainly minister to people you know and enjoy, or do you have a heart to help those you don’t know but who have legitimate needs in their lives? If you can’t open the doors of your home to them, what else can you do to show them a hospitable heart?
Is this kind of hospitality a token service that you perform out of duty? Or have you been doing everything in your power to become a genuinely hospitable person in the way that you live and treat others? Even more importantly—what are you going to do today to start showing kindness to fellow believers in need?
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Lord, I ask You to please forgive me for only seeing the needs of my own social circle. The fact is, there are so many people who are in serious need, and I could be doing something to help at least one of them. I am asking You to help me take my eyes off myself and my little circle of friends and to start seeing the needs that are all around me. I don’t want to be guilty of helping only those who bring a blessing to my life. I want to be a blessing even to those I don’t know and who will never be able to return the favor to me themselves.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that I am a blessing to fellow believers who are in need. My heart is open; my home is open; my pocketbook is open; and I am willing and ready for the Lord to use me to help others. I thank God that He can use me to make an impact in other people’s lives. I believe that He will bless me for stepping out of my limited little social circle to do a good deed for a fellow believer who really needs a helping hand. And I declare that I won’t casually carry out an occasional act of mercy. Instead, I will aggressively pursue the attitude of hospitality until I catch it and become a genuinely hospitable person.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Was there a time in your past when someone took you in and showed you real hospitality? If so, what was that event, and what impact did that person make on your life?
- Have you had an opportunity to be hospitable that you turned down because you didn’t know the person or were afraid to open your home to a stranger?
- How would you feel if you needed a place to stay and you couldn’t find a single Christian who would open his or her home to you? On the other hand, how would it make you feel if you were a displaced Christian in need, and someone showed love and compassion to you?