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 werent
preachers) stayed at my parents house. Ive 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, Ive 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 ones
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 hosts 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 elses stuff and dispose of it properly. I
reckon some still think in Middle Eastern terms and feel a guest has no responsibility,
but thats not the picture we get from reading the New Testament.
Its 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
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 ones 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 dont 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 dont 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.
Dont 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. Ive 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 cant
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
elses home, though, it is always good to remember we are in someone elses
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? Dont stay up making
noise half the night. Do they get up earlier? Dont expect them to wait
breakfast on you. Are they especially proud of their lawn? Dont park on
it. Are they (like me) conservative in their viewpoint about appropriate clothing
for a Christian? Dont 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, its not
unlikely that well 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, dont 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 Phoebes 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 Im
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 Id like to mention is controlling children. Several times
Ive heard folks say theyd never have certain people back to their house
because their children were so poorly behaved. Im no expert on child rearing,
but I know enough to say there are kids who dont know how to act in someone
elses 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 cant 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, wouldnt it be really wonderful if
more children could learn responsibility and fess up when they break or ruin something
that belongs to another? Its 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 elses 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."