How To Be A Good Guest

by Randy Ballard

As I grow older, some memories have started to fade.  Some of my strongest and earliest recollections, however, involve being in the homes of Church members.  My folks traveled quite a bit and attended every meeting possible.  Many times on these trips we stayed with friends of theirs who were fellow Christians.  Even more prominent are memories of sharing our home with others.  For years I guess every preacher who came to Houston (and lots of folks who weren’t preachers) stayed at my parents’ house.  I’ve sat for hours listening to my dad visit with some of the greatest minds in our brotherhood.  My precious mother has cared for untold numbers of saints, providing meals, tending to their laundry, driving them places.  My parents' home was always a blessing to others, but I suspect the hospitality they showed brought many blessings to them as well.  I know it was one of the best educational opportunities I ever had; to become acquainted with preachers of the gospel and other Church leaders and Christian friends, and to learn about sharing our blessings with others.  Later, after reaching adulthood and doing some traveling of my own, I’ve been privileged to enjoy lots of good meals and several longer stays with brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Bible has quite a lot to say about hospitality, of course.  In ancient times it was an important sacred duty, and it was common for a stranger to appear at one’s door toward evening rightly expecting a meal and a place to sleep.  While hospitality is still enjoined upon Christians today, guests are not without some rules of conduct as well. Believe it or not, the scriptures do tell us certain things about how to be a good RECIPIENT of hospitality.

For example, a passage from Prov. 25:6-7 says, "
Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of the prince." (RSV) Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and lawyers for seeking the chief seats and thinking of themselves more highly than they ought.  A general principle often taught in scripture is to think of others before yourself.  Any guest would be wise to be humble and gracious, not selfish and demanding.  This could manifest itself in any number of ways.  Is it your host’s responsibility to make up your bed in the morning? Should you expect to have a buffet style breakfast laid out by the time you roll out of bed? When a group of people is visiting in a living room and refreshments have been provided, what do you do with your drinking glass, plate, or trash?  Many just leave it on the table or couch and let someone else worry about picking it up (not very considerate).  If that happens, you could take the bull by the horns and pick up everyone else’s stuff and dispose of it properly.  I reckon some still think in Middle Eastern terms and feel a guest has no responsibility, but that’s not the picture we get from reading the New Testament.

It’s probably a good idea, too, not to overstay your welcome.  Christians are usually happy to help out anyone who has fallen on hard times, or even a traveler passing through, who needs a place to stay for awhile.  After a period of time, though, one might appear to be taking advantage of the situation.  Note the concept of Prov. 25:17 "
Withdraw thy foot from thy neighbour's house; lest he be weary of thee, and so hate thee."  Benjamin Franklin said "Fish and visitors smell in three days."  The idea is to be aware that keeping people in one’s home, while a Christian duty to be fulfilled without murmuring or complaining, can be something of a burden and the visitor should recognize this.  Accept your hosts' hospitality, understanding and appreciating the sacrifice they have made on your behalf.

Similar to overstaying your welcome is overindulging in the kindness and generosity of your hosts.  I like the wording of Prov. 23:1- 2 "
When you sit down to eat with a ruler, consider carefully what is before you; And put a knife to your throat if you are a man given to appetite." (NKJ) Gluttony is a topic for another writing, but please don’t feel compelled to gorge on every morsel of food found in the house.  I remember on one occasion several years ago a young man was traveling with me.  I will not identify this fellow to spare him any embarrassment, but will say he is a fine preacher of the gospel these days.  We stopped to visit a particular family who seemed very glad to see us.  They offered pie and said graciously that we should eat as much as we wanted. This young man proceeded to take them at their word and polished off the entire pie by himself.  After we left, I said to this young man, "When people say 'help yourself' or 'eat all you want,' they don’t really mean that!"  We would all (yes, me included) do well to remember and heed the words of Solomon; if you are given to appetite and are visiting someone, "Put a knife to your throat!!"  Know when to quit.  Don’t make your hosts want to put a knife to your throat.

Jesus had some interesting things to say to the 70 disciples he sent out to preach.   These were unusual circumstances, perhaps, but we can still gain a lesson from them.  First, he said in Luke 10:5, "
And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house."  Are we a blessing to those we stay with? Is it a privilege for our brothers and sisters to keep us, or are we just a burden? Jesus brought something special to all those honored with his presence.  He imparted great spiritual lessons and a measure of self worth to Mary when he visited in the home of her and Martha (Luke 10:38-42).  He remembered them later, of course, when their brother died, and came to comfort them and share in their grief.  In Luke 19, Jesus came into the home of a publican named Zacchaeus.  What an honor it was for this man of wealth and notoriety to have in his home the Son of God! Jesus said in verse nine, "This day is salvation come to this house."  Obviously, none of us can compare to Jesus as a houseguest, but we ought to bring blessings upon those who share their home with us.  This would include a proper show of gratitude.  Certainly, saying "thank you" for a meal or a place to sleep would be the minimum requirement.   A note of thanks sent through the mail or left in a conspicuous place would also be appropriate.  In most situations, some sort of gift or token would also be acceptable and desirable.  I’ve heard several people tell stories about Brother Don McCord leaving behind some sort of letter expressing his appreciation, and often sharing a meaningful poem or story, after staying with someone during a meeting.  I once received a letter from him myself, after he had stayed with mom and dad, telling what wonderful people they were and how much he appreciated them.  What a beautiful gesture this was!  How this endeared this man to my heart even more! I guarantee he is welcome in our home ANY TIME.  Some other thoughtful guests noticed that my wife decorated the bathroom with items of an Americana theme.  After returning home, they sent a cute little plaque that fit this theme and hangs perfectly in that room to this day.  Every time we see it we think of them and their thoughtfulness.  They, too, are welcome at any time.  I must admit, however, that even though we are compelled in scripture to be hospitable, there are some guests I would not be as excited to have back.

Note also what Jesus said to the 70 in verse 7, "
And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give. . ."  Would I be stretching at this point to advise we learn to receive with gratitude whatever is offered to us in the way of hospitality without being too difficult to please? Surely we all have our own personal preferences.  There are some foods we like better than others.  Maybe there are a few things we can’t stand or have an allergic reaction to.  I like the toilet paper to come off the TOP of the roll, while some think it should come off the bottom.  When we are in someone else’s home, though, it is always good to remember we are in someone else’s home.  I know that sounds redundant, but when we are guests we must accept the customs and rules of the home in which we are staying.   Paul Nichols and Jim Franklin have told interesting stories about some of the meals they were served in foreign countries.  In fact, I suspect every preacher or businessman or casual traveler who has ever been to visit another culture has found themselves in uncomfortable circumstances.  And believe me, there are some other cultures right here in the good old USA.  Can we put aside our personal tastes so as not to hurt the feelings of those who, in most cases, are offering us the very best they have?  Remember the story of the rich man who prepared a great feast, then wound up inviting guests from the highways and byways?  These guests were furnished with a special wedding garment to wear in honor of the occasion, but one guest refused.  He was tossed out due to this indefensible act.  Why refuse to consider and honor the rules of the house where we lodge? Do these people go to bed earlier than we are used to? Don’t stay up making noise half the night.  Do they get up earlier? Don’t expect them to wait breakfast on you.  Are they especially proud of their lawn? Don’t park on it.  Are they (like me) conservative in their viewpoint about appropriate clothing for a Christian? Don’t send your children to stay at their house equipped with the skimpiest things they own. Get the picture?

Now, considering the fact that we all have our own ways of doing things, it’s not unlikely that we’ll run across some very strange things in our travels. Everyone loves a good funny story, and most people who travel seem to have more than their share.   But, I want to pose this question in all seriousness.  Is it good to tell stories on our brethren who have opened their homes to us in such a way as to bring upon them shame or embarrassment? Yes you can have fun, but telling something on someone that degrades them, and identifying the person or family, seems totally opposed to the spirit of Christ, don’t you agree? Paul always seemed so complimentary to those who had helped him in any way.

Rom. 16:1-4  "
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea.  I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me.  Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus.   They risked their lives for me.  Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them." (NIV)    2 Tim 1:16-18  "May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me; he was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me eagerly and found me--may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day-- and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus" (RSV)

Can you imagine that Paul went around everywhere telling how dirty Phoebe’s kitchen was or that Priscilla was the lousiest cook he ever met? Did he love to tell embarrassing anecdotes that belittled any of these people? Are you wondering why in the world I’m mentioning this? Surely no one would do such a thing.  Yes, they would.  They have.  And they still are.  Please let kindness and love guide our actions more than the desire to make others laugh.

One other subject I’d like to mention is controlling children.  Several times I’ve heard folks say they’d never have certain people back to their house because their children were so poorly behaved.  I’m no expert on child rearing, but I know enough to say there are kids who don’t know how to act in someone else’s house.  Children should not be allowed to play on or with furniture, appliances, or exercise equipment unless the host or hostess suggests or initiates it.   Some kids can’t tell the difference between a recliner and a rocking horse.   People do not stock their homes with things such as this so your children will have something to do at their house.  Why not take along a bag of their favorite toys or games to keep them entertained in a harmless way during the visit? Children should not feel compelled or even free to browse through closets and drawers in other parts of the house.  You may not be able to police your children every moment, but please take notice quite often of where they are and what they are doing.  They are your responsibility, not your hosts’.  How many otherwise pleasant visits have been ruined for a host who has to constantly guard his home and property against untimely destruction by unruly children? And by the way, wouldn’t it be really wonderful if more children could learn responsibility and fess up when they break or ruin something that belongs to another? It’s never fun to find, after guests have departed, the broken pieces of a favorite figurine stashed behind a couch.  Or have you ever reached for something only to have it fall apart in your hand, then realize someone had carefully placed it in position to cover up the fact it had been broken? Again, no fun.

The whole attitude of a Christian is to seek the welfare of others first.  This must also be characteristic of our actions as a guest in someone else’s home.  If someone shows the kindness and hospitality to invite you and your family into their home, you should do everything possible to make it a pleasant experience for them, too.   After all, none of us would want to have a reputation as a horrible houseguest and not be invited to stay with others in the future.  No.  We want to leave our hosts knowing they feel like Lydia did in Acts 16:15, "
And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there.  And she constrained us."

Comments On This Article From Our Readers:

When visiting/staying in someone's home, don't take over the "remote control," and don't let your children (adults sometimes are guilty) "prowl" through everything.  People should not have to "child proof" their house so they can have you stay with them.

Good guests are very watchful of their children, they inform their children in advance that there will be no yelling, no running in the house they will be visiting (sad to say, I’ve seen children actually run into elderly people and hurt them).

Outside activities should occur "outside" (running, yelling, playing with balls, etc.), with attention to landscaping being considered.  Inside activities should be calm, quiet and more settled.

Good Guest = Good things happening!

Children should be taught to respect their elders and be polite.   If there is a food line, offer those who are older to go in front of them (what an impression that would make).  I’ve seen children and some adults actually push their way into line.

Do you (or do you allow your children to) place a wet glass directly on your host's favorite piece of antique furniture that has been in their family for several generations?

A good guest does not carve their initials into the host's buffet & >server.  I would rather have a different memorial than that one...or stick their gum under the furniture, rather than throwing it away.  I
appreciated this article very much.  Thank you.   
Mary Lou Chaney, North Area Church of Christ, Sacramento, CA

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