Spanish speaking people have a saying: “Mi casa, su casa,” which is to say, “My house is your house.” It‘s an expression of hospitality. In English we might say to guests, “Make yourself at home.” In any case, it‘s a great thing to be warmly welcomed into someone else‘s home. Of all people, Christians should be the most hospitable.
While some cultures are naturally more inclined to hospitality, knowing what to do and how to do it can be difficult for new believers or for people coming from backgrounds where family puts a premium on privacy. For the blessing of the assembly, here is an area where elders can be setting an example.
Examples from the Bible
Numerous examples of open homes are sprinkled through the pages of Scripture, both brief visits and extended stays. The emphasis is nearly always on sharing with, rather than impressing, others. One thinks of Abraham welcoming visitors to his home, the Shunnamite woman preparing a room for Elisha, the visits by our Lord to the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany, and the many homes opened to Paul along the way as he journeyed toward Rome.
One of my personal favorites is the account in Luke 24 of the two disciples who met the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus and without knowing who He was, “constrained” Him not to go further that night but to come in and “abide” with them. Of course this offer included the warmth of fellowship around the dinner table where He chose to reveal Himself to them to their great delight. Weary hosts suddenly became energetic servants!
What is involved?
The word “hospitality” in the NT really means “loving strangers.” In Bible days, travel was more difficult, inns were often dangerous, so receiving travelers into the home was one way Christians could show practical love to one another. Nevertheless, Peter‘s exhortation to extend hospitality “to one another” (1 Peter 4:9 NKJV) widens the scope to all believers.
Perhaps the most pointed references on this subject of the open home are found right in the list of characteristics of elders in I Tim. 3 and Titus 1. “An overseer must be . . . given to hospitality.” (I Tim. 3:2). By placing the word alongside other requirements such as “the husband of one wife,” and “sensible,” Paul gives us to understand that this is not a minor detail of elder work, something optional if convenient, but something close to the heart of what it means to lead God‘s people.
A related word, “visit” or “visitation,” should be noted. Not only ought we to open our homes to others, but when possible, we ought to visit them in their homes. Interestingly, the most frequently used Greek word translated as “visit” is closely related to the word “episkopos” or overseer as used to describe church elders (Acts 20:28, Phil 1:1, etc.) God visits people both in blessing (Luke 1:68) and in judgment (Luke 19:44; 1 Peter 2:12). Twice in His teaching about His intimate relationship with His people in Matthew 25, the Lord includes visiting suffering saints in the list of acts of love shown toward Himself. James makes visitation of the fatherless and widows one test of “true religion.” (James 1:27).
As for the question of how these virtues should be exercised, little need be said. A love for people and the freedom to be flexible will open the way for innumerable blessings. Creativity is the believer‘s reflection of the Creator!
Benefits and Blessings
This could be a very long list, as potential blessings are huge. I‘ll mention just a few. It is important for sheep to see their shepherds close up. For some, coming into a Christian home can be a new experience. Things older believers take for granted can be a revelation to young believers. Over the years working with college students, my wife and I have been amused at some of the exclamations: “You wait for one another before you start the meal?” “You pray over the food,?” “There‘s no TV blasting so we talk to each other……”
Seeing how Christian couples relate, how the home is furnished and decorated, even small things like a Bible or some Christian literature on the coffee table, is all part of healthy discipleship. In our efforts to equip and train young believers, we must constantly stand against the idea that Christians have a “public life” and a very different “private life.”
There are also rich benefits that come from visiting people in their own homes. People are more comfortable on familiar ground. They will “open up” in a safe environment, while they may not at “church.” Sensitive shepherds will gather a wealth of insight from seeing people in their own homes. Are there obvious needs for help or financial assistance? Are there special problems such as hurting relationships within the family or elderly parent(s) being cared for? What Bible passages or doctrines addressed in the Bible hour might shed light and bring freedom from some of the “grave clothes” of the past life? What are the next growth steps in the life of each person in the assembly? How much better we can pray for them when our knowledge moves beyond the superficial!
Of course all of this includes hospitality and visits among mature saints as well. Those who travel to Christian conferences regularly enjoy the wonderful fellowship and encouragement of sitting down around the table in the homes of God‘s people. Once in a while, God uses an open home in a way that goes far beyond what we might have expected. Our present assembly (Waterbury Christian Fellowship) began in an inner city home by no means palatial but which became known for the warmth of fellowship and loving acceptance of all who came to a small Bible study that began with 2 couples. Now, years later, that home is still open to the Lord‘s people, and it brings much joy to hear someone say on occasion: “That‘s where I came to know the Lord….”
Given such a delightful subject, it seems almost out of place to add a list of disclaimers, but in a difficult day, it‘s wise to observe a few precautions. Normally elders should visit in plurality. Or it can be helpful for an older brother to invite a younger man to go along. A husband-wife team working together can be very effective in visitations or extending hospitality to others. Discretion should be used when there is contact between the genders in private settings.
One important use for visitation is in dealing with the sick. James lays down a principle when he advises those who are sick to “call for the elders of the church.” (James 5:14). Whether at home or in a hospital, those who are laid aside should be helped to understand that they are responsible to take the initiative.
As stated at the beginning, Christians should be the most hospitable of all people. After all, we have something of infinite worth to share with others! If the elders of the church have open homes and open hearts, and if they will seek to visit the saints as opportunity allows, it won‘t be long until the practice is taken up by others in the assembly.
Observe the similarity between the words “hospitality” and “hospital”—a place of caring and healing. Many have discovered to their joy that as a group becomes known for a healing and caring spirit through the Word of God and love for people, others come in and remain, and the work grows. It is clear from the 6th chapter of Acts that this was the experience of the earliest church.