How To Be A Good Host/Hostess

by Terry Baze

Having had our home considered to be Grand Central Station for many years, we suppose we are somewhat qualified to discuss the subject of hospitality.   One of the privileges of being a gospel preacher is to be able to meet and become acquainted with many wonderful brethren.  Having been the recipient of much kindness and having seen God’s grace given to many hospitable people, we have learned through their example how to extend hospitality to others.  Becky and I were both raised in two of the most hospitable homes in the brotherhood. Much that we will say on the subject is due to the things our parents taught us.  It is with reluctance that we accept this assignment, however, for we are sure there are many who are more hospitable than we.

In Romans 12:13, Paul exhorts his readers to be "contributing to the need of the saints, practicing hospitality."   Paul makes a similar statement as he writes to the churches of Galatia saying, "So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith."  The hospitality envisioned by the apostle in these passages is to be offered to both our brother in Christ as well as the unbeliever.

The word "contributing" is a derivative of the common Greek term for fellowship (koinonia).  The word means to share with others, to communicate, distribute, or be a partaker with another. One of the most vital aspects of the Christian faith is the precious fellowship we share together.  Besides the abundant and glorious fellowship we enjoy through the spiritual blessings in Christ, our communion also demands our interest in the physical welfare of our brother.  The New Testament is replete with examples of Christians sharing with one another (Acts 2:42-46; 4:32-37; 2Cor. 8-9).

Paul also uses the term philoxenia, which means love to strangers, and is translated hospitality both here and in Hebrews 13:2, which says, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it."  This undoubtedly is a reference to the stories of Abraham and Lot (Gen. 18:1-8; 19:1-2). Peter uses a form of this word in 1 Peter 4:9, and makes the application to Christians, rather than strangers or unbelievers. He writes, "Be hospitable to one another without complaint."  The quality of being hospitable is given as a prerequisite for one being ordained an elder (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8), and for a widow to be supported by the church (1 Tim. 5:10).

The King James Version translates the last phrase of Romans 12:13, "given to hospitality." Both the NIV and the NASV render the phrase "practice hospitality."  The word "given" or "practice" actually means to seek or pursue.  The verb indicates not only that hospitality is to be furnished when sought, but that Christians are to seek opportunities of exercising it.  We are to actively look for opportunities to invite people into our homes.  This was an important command in the first century church, for many Christians were banished and persecuted.  Hospitality is a very important part of the work of building and strengthening a congregation.   Hospitality shown to brethren within the congregation is conducive to peace, unity, and harmony.  Hospitality often helps to create intimacy whereby brethren can develop lasting relationships.

The word hospitality is often defined as being fond of guests.  Perhaps that’s why some need the admonition to "Be hospitable to one another without complaint." (1 Pet. 4:9)   Our hospitality should convey our love and compassion for one another.   It’s simply a matter of doing to others as you would hope they would do to you.  It is the principle of loving others as you love yourself. Proverbs 23:6 says, "Do not eat the bread of a selfish man, or desire his delicacies."   Hospitality is not a virtue when accompanied with complaint and selfishness.

One of Becky’s most vivid memories as a child was that her home was full of people so much of the time.  It was not uncommon to get in the car after services on Sunday and hear Johnette ask Miles, "So how many are we having for lunch today?"  Johnette was such a wonderful example, for if she was ever upset about not knowing how many people to prepare for, she never let it show.  The norm in the King household was to rise early on Sunday morning, straighten up the house (notice, "straighten," not clean), and help cook plenty of lunch, for they knew there would always be guests.  This practice has been carried down to our home.  Becky almost feels cheated if we don’t have anyone over for lunch on Sundays.  Admittedly, I don’t mind an occasional Sunday afternoon of solitude. Obviously, it’s not necessary to have guests for lunch every Sunday to be hospitable; however, there may be members of the congregation who drive a long distance to attend services and may not return for evening worship simply because they have no place to go and spend the day.  Other times there are occasional visitors from out of town who might truly appreciate a lunch invitation. I remember that in John 12:1-2 Martha fixed supper for Jesus when He arrived in Bethany before the Passover.  The point is that we should always be prepared to show hospitality and one way of doing so is to invite people for a meal.

God especially remembered how Israel was treated while in Egypt and reminded His people, "And you shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you {also} were strangers in the land of Egypt."  (Ex. 23:9) He didn’t want them to treat strangers any different than they would treat one another, "There shall be one standard for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native, for I am the LORD your God." (Lev. 24:22)

There are great rewards to the hospitable. One of the greatest stories in God’s word is the hospitality shown to Elijah by the widow of Zarephath in I Kings 17:10-24.  God abundantly blesses those who are unselfish and willing to extend hospitality to others.  The Shunammite woman is another great example of hospitality as she provided for Elisha.

Another fond memory we both share is when we kept the preacher and his family during gospel meeting time.  Every Christian family should get to experience the blessing of getting to keep the preacher. There were times when keeping a family for an entire week or ten days was tough on the budget, but our parents wouldn’t hear of putting them in a motel. Somehow, there was always plenty of provisions, and it was well worth it to make an occasional sacrifice. You don’t need a large house with a pantry full of food in order to be hospitable. Soon after we were married, Becky was fretting to her mom about not having money to provide sufficient refreshments after a Bible study.  Johnette told her that tea bags and popcorn would go a long way, and there have been many occasions when she’s been proven to be right about that.

One of the most important aspects of hospitality is granting it to those who labor in preaching the gospel. In the early church, preachers were for the most part poor.  Many received no fixed salary, traveling from place to place, and therefore, for support they were dependent on the kindness of those who loved the Lord Jesus Christ. This hospitality toward preachers was particularly intended by our Lord’s instructions in Matthew 10:11-13, 40-42.   There are many examples of showing hospitality to preachers in the New Testament: Lydia to Paul and Silas - Acts 16:15 "And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.’ And she prevailed upon us.";  Phoebe to Paul - Romans 16:1-2 "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you;  for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.";  Onesiphorus to Paul - 2 Timothy 1:16 "The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chains."

The great apostle John wrote to the beloved Gaius: "Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially {when they are} strangers; and they bear witness to your love before the church; and you will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God.  For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles.  Therefore we ought to support such men, that we may be fellow workers with the truth."

Primitive Christians considered that a principal part of their duty consisted in showing hospitality to strangers.  They were so ready to discharge this duty that the pagans admired them for it.  They were hospitable to all strangers, but especially to those who were of the household of faith.  Believers rarely traveled without letters from their home congregation, which testified of the purity of their faith and procured for them a favorable reception wherever the name of Jesus Christ was known.  It is likely that second and third John may have been such letters of recommendation and communion.

2 Corinthians 3:1 says, "Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you?"

The duty of hospitality is binding on Christians today.  The customs of society have certainly changed, yet we are a more mobile people than ever.  Even though hotels and motels abound, we should readily seek opportunities to entertain strangers, especially those who are our brethren.   Hospitality shows the proper love we should have toward our fellow man; it shows there is a feeling of brotherhood and kindness toward others. It unites us and creates bonds of interest and affection.  To what extent one should be hospitable is left to each man’s conscience and opportunity.  No rule can be given on the subject. Many do not have the means to be extensively hospitable, and many are not placed in situations that require it.  No rules can be given that would apply to all cases, and therefore, the Bible has simply furnished examples where it was exercised, has commanded it to be exercised, and then has left each individual to act on the rule, and thus answer to God.

A lot of housing space and an over abundance of food may be nice, but these aren’t necessary for hospitality.   Provisions, in and of themselves, do not make a guest comfortable.  Regardless of what you have to offer, here are a few practical tips we’ve learned over the years to help make your home the home of others while they are away from theirs.  Just because we’re sharing these little tips, don’t come to expect them every time you come see us.

First, extend a warm welcome.   Some guests are a little nervous as to what reception they’re going to get, especially if you don’t know them well.  If you are genuinely excited about their arrival and visit, let it show!

Secondly, please have their living quarters clean.  It makes us all uncomfortable when they’re not. If you can’t clean the whole house, at least get their room and bathroom.  Also, try out the bed you’re putting people in.  If you can’t sleep in it because it’s so uncomfortable your back aches, don’t put visitors on it.   Don’t forget the clean sheets and pillowcases either, as Becky did one time after we first married and Carl Johnson came to stay with us.  We were so excited to have Carl stay with us.  It was our first time to keep the preacher in our home.   We worked and scrubbed and mowed.  We went grocery shopping and had everything ready, or so we thought.  We stayed up late visiting and finally called it a night.   Becky and I had been in bed for just a moment when Carl knocked on the door asking if we had any sheets for his bed.  They were clean alright, but the problem was they were still in the dryer.  After hopping up and dressing the bed, we’d gotten back in bed only to have another knock on the door by Carl, asking if he might have a pillow.  The only extra one we had at the time was a great big one for decoration that gave him a stiff neck the next morning.  We’re sorry, Carl.

It’s also a good idea to clear out some closet space for your guests.  A pitcher of water and some glasses is a nice touch.  You might think of cutting a bouquet of fresh flowers or buying an inexpensive "spray" of flowers from your grocer’s floral department.   Here in Tyler, you can get a dozen roses on the street corner for a dollar and a half.  During the winter, you might light a candle in their room to give it a nice fragrance and a cozy atmosphere.

Finally, do whatever you can so that your guests will feel at home.  We typically give guests a tour of the kitchen and encourage them to help themselves.  Let them know when meals will be served and show them where the drinks and snacks are.

We have taken in a multitude of guests over the years and even given a few people a place to live for awhile.   We’ve seen Miles and Johnette do the same, as well as others in the church.   We’ve seen people’s lives change for the better and watched them grow closer to the Lord by having been in the environment of a Christian home and experiencing the blessing of true hospitality.  You can make a difference in people’s lives.

Comments On This Article From Our Readers:

I just read Terry Baze's comments on hospitality on the website.  We were both also raised in homes where guests stayed often, preachers included.  I think there is nothing more rewarding and no better lessons for children than such an environment.   Good comments, Terry!     Pat St. John  ~ Church of Christ at Covina, CA  

I, myself, haven't been very hospitable to those that have come to visit.  And, I am very grateful for this article, and for the information given.  My parents also hosted many dinners and sleepovers during meetings.  Thank you so much for this work,  Grace to you and yours.
Mary Lou Chaney, North Area Church of Christ, Sacramento, CA


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