Given To Hospitality
Pursue Love Of Strangers

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 64b of 83


“Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality” (Romans 12:13).

[For 11 chapters the apostle Paul had expounded on the doctrine of our justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone without so much as a couple of applications. But now in the concluding chapters of this magnificent letter , Paul, as it were, opens the floodgate of imperatives to remind us of what redeemed saints will want to do out of hearts of love and gratitude to Christ. Our text is part of this torrent of instructions, which are given without much explication so that they serve like indices to all that the Scripture teaches us of what it means to be Christ-like. —JJL]

2.   Given to Hospitality

What is it to be given to hospitality? The Greek (τὴν φιλοξενίαν διώκοντες) is rather graphic and dramatic. We can literally translate what Paul is saying as: The love for strangers, pursue after.

The word rendered ‘hospitality’ literally means, ‘a love for strangers.’ What is a love for strangers? Well, Paul is certainly not saying we are to go out to the streets and invite everyone to stay in our homes.

He is speaking about our relationship with those who are strangers to us or who are unfamiliar to us—who come into the realm of our fellowship.

Now, since, Paul is writing to the church to encourage the church to grow in the bond of love, we know that he is mainly concerned about our relationship with those whom we come into contact with in the church. Thus, the English word ‘hospitality’ translates the word very well.

We must be hospitable to one another and to our visitors who come to us. What is it to be hospitable? It is to make someone feel welcomed.

Remember the example of Abraham? One day three men appeared before Abraham. We know from hindsight that one of them was the Lord Jesus, while the other two were angels. It is unlikely that Abraham knew or suspected anything. But Abraham immediately sought to make them feel welcome. He had his wife prepare a meal for them, and then he stood by to attend to their needs as they ate (Gen 18:2-8). Abraham was an example of hospitality.

And so was his nephew Lot. For when the two angels left Abraham, they went towards Sodom to look for Lot to rescue him out of the city—before God destroyed it.

When the angels arrived, they sat at the gate of the city. What did Lot do when saw them? Well, he knew how dangerous it was for any stranger to be out in the streets of Sodom at night, and so he pleaded with them to stay in his house for the night. When they finally agreed, he not only lodged them, but also prepared a feast for them (Gen 19:1-3).

It was because of what Abraham and Lot did, that the apostle to the Hebrews urges us: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb 13:2).

How to make our visitors feel welcome? By imitating Abraham and Lot! By giving them special attention as honoured guests!

Now, if visitors come to the church and they do not feel welcome, then it is very sad for the church. But how to make our visitors feel welcome?

Not merely by having the elders announce their names and having the deacons give them a welcome pack! No, no, if visitors are to feel welcome, all of us must play our part.

We must go up to the visitors to talk to them like as Aquila and Priscilla went up to talk to Apollos. We must seek to serve them like Abraham did.

Thus, for example, if lunch is catered in the church, then we must not make our visitor queue up for food like the rest of us. They are our guests! They have priority. Someone should cut the queue and get a plate of food for them while others fellowship with them.

Or if lunch is not catered in the church, then we should clamour to invite them to our homes for lunch. I know this is not a culture in Singapore because our busyness has made us somewhat individualistic. But those of us who have visited the churches overseas will know how much we appreciate it when the members of the church invite us over to their homes for a meal. Whether we took up the offer or not is not the point. But it makes us feel welcome.

Let us, dearly beloved, strive to be hospitable to our visitors. The church is our family. Our visitors are our guests at our family gathering. How can we leave them to fend for themselves?

It is sad when only the elders and deacons are willing to talk to our visitors, or to take the additional step of opening their homes to our visitors. Let us strive to be hospitable.

Remember that when Paul says “Given to hospitality,” the word rendered ‘given’ really means ‘pursue’! We must pursue after hospitality. We must go against our natural or cultural inclinations in order to be hospitable.

We must never excuse ourselves from being hospitable. One young man once told me that he does not want to talk to visitors because he find that if he does so,  he would be acting like a hypocrite. It goes against his nature to do so, he explained. But O child of God, we are not redeemed to live according to nature. We are redeemed from sin so that we can live according to grace. If you find it hard to be hospitable, all the more you should seek God’s grace to mortify the deeds of the flesh and to please God! You must never excuse yourself from duty by saying that it is against your nature!

But now, let us remember that hospitality is not only to be extended to visitors. It is to be extended to everyone in the church. Yes, hospitality means ‘love for strangers,’ but is it not true that unless we begin to be hospitable to one another, we will always remain strangers to one another? And so we will still have to fulfil the call to be given to hospitality even after we have been in the church together for many years!

Therefore, it is imperative for us to exercise hospitality towards one another. Thus the apostle Peter urges us to “use hospitality one to another without grudging” (1 Pet 4:9).

We are to use hospitality towards one another in the church. We must not take one another for granted. We must seek to make one another welcome! And notice the advice of Peter: “use hospitality one to another without grudging,” he says.

You know why he adds those words, don’t you? If you ever try to be hospitable in a church, it is very likely that you will be tempted at some point to feel a sense of disappointment. Is it worth it? Is it worth it for me to show hospitality to others when no one seems to reciprocate; and worse some of those I show hospitality to, do not seem to be very grateful for my hospitality.

How do I know they are not grateful? Well, they never initiate conversation with me. I have to go to them or to call them, but they would not do the same to me. And when I invite them to my home, they come late, or they do not turn up and do not even have the courtesy to tell me beforehand! This is real isn’t it?

It is hard to be hospitable in a climate where many are not hospitable. In such a circumstance, it is easy for those who make an attempt to show hospitality to others to be tempted to grumble and grudge.

O brother or sister in Christ, you may have been trying to be hospitable. I want to encourage you to press on. I know it involves a lot of sacrifices on your part. And I know that often it involve heartaches.

I want to assure you that God is not forgetful of your labour of love. And I want to encourage you by telling you that I am quite sure your efforts are bearing fruits. I fairly certain that many are grateful and spurred to follow your example. Do not give up, being hospitable, dear brother and sister.

But if you have not be trying, then may I urge you to learn to be hospitable. When was the last time you invite someone to your home for a meal? How about inviting our guests and new visitors? How about inviting over those who invited you to their homes? How about calling up and inviting someone who is relatively still a stranger to you in the church over for a meal?

Yes, the elders in the church must especially be given to hospitality. The apostle Paul speaks about that twice. Once in 1 Timothy 3:2 and again in Titus 1:8. Elders must lead by example. But they must not be the only ones given to hospitality. All members of the church must all be given to hospitality.

Let us pursue after hospitality. Every family in the church must strive to be like the family of Aquila and Priscilla. We must not be content to look and thank God for some Aquilas and Priscilla in the church.

For sake of the glory of Christ, let us put aside our natural inhibitions and practise hospitality. The Lord Jesus has been so kind towards us. Shall we not return in kind, by being kind to those He brings into our fellowship to seek after Him with us?

Conclusion

We spent so little time together with the brethren in the church. Many of us know our colleagues and classmates better than our brethren in the church for this reason. Some of us can tease our colleagues at work because we are so familiar with them, but we dare not tease our church mates because they are relatively strange to us. We may have been together for several years, but we are still strangers to one another. Why? Because the time we spent talking to one another is just too little. Think about it!

And yet, the Lord teaches us to love one another. He says:

34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (Jn 13:34-35).

We must love one another so that the world may know that we are the disciples of Christ. We must love one another so that Christ may be magnified by our love.

One of the most practical ways of doing so is to distribute to the necessity of saints and to practice hospitality!

Seek, therefore, dear Christian, to play your part to build the bond of love in the church by distributing to the necessity of saints; and by being given to hospitality.

Do not wait for others to take the first step. Seek to make Christ known by distributing to the necessity of saints and by being given to hospitality. Amen.

—JJ Lim