Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the multifaceted grace of God (1 Peter 4:8-10).
Hospitality seems to be forgotten or neglected in today’s hectic lifestyles. Few people host dinner guests, preferring instead to eat out, or they allow busyness to keep them from doing anything at all.
Being hospitable is different from social entertaining, which focuses on the hosts. Such entertaining requires the hosts be relaxed and good-natured, the house spotless, the food tasty and abundant. Some may entertain, expecting a return invitation.
Hospitality, on the other hand, focuses on the guests and their needs. It involves warmth, friendliness, and generosity, and can take place in a messy house with a bowl of soup. We don’t need an immaculate home and an elaborate menu that’s taken hours to prepare.
Sometimes we’re unwilling to offer hospitality because we’re tired. Maybe our budget is tight or we don’t think our home is good enough. But Peter speaks of hospitality as a strong expression of love and of a generous and uncomplaining spirit.
Acts 2:46 describes the early church meeting in homes and sharing their meals: “Day by day continuing in one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.”
Travelers in Peter’s day depended on fellow believers to give them a place to stay. The first churches were house churches, so church meetings were impossible without a willingness of people to open their homes.
Times of worship often centered around a meal. In that case, the burden of hospitality went beyond providing a room, even though many travelers carried provisions with them. Hospitality drew people together and allowed them to get to know one another. The young churches Peter wrote to needed that interdependence, especially in a culture hostile to faith.
Showing hospitality can be particularly demanding, so Peter adds the phrase “without complaint.” Guests eat up our food, our emotional energy, and our time. Especially unexpected guests can be inconvenient for many reasons. They may even be awkward, picky, or demanding people.
Still, Peter emphasizes that Christians must give hospitality without grudging and grumbling, whether secretly or openly. We don’t have the option of picking and choosing to serve only those who are charming or have the same interests.
While living in Africa, and later in Alaska, I identified personally with this verse from 1 Peter. In remote mission stations and in Eskimo villages where we lived, there was no alternative to having houseguests, since no hotel or restaurant existed. We were it. I learned the importance of offering hospitality in love, without grumbling, convenient or not, whether I felt up to it, and whether we were prepared or not. With both believers and non-believers in our home, I realized my testimony for the Lord was on the line.
Many food supplies were unavailable locally, so they had to be shipped in. Fresh foods were a luxury in Alaska. During our first year there, I wore out two can openers. We had to plan carefully to make sure we didn’t run out of essentials. At first we refused to accept any sort of reimbursement for lodging and supplies, but we soon discovered that our budget needed a boost from frequent flyers. I learned to keep on hand a collection of tried-and-true recipes that I could quickly whip together. Baking large batches of bread was an important part of my schedule.
Meal preparation could be quite involved, since all our drinking and cooking water had to be boiled and filtered — a time-consuming process. One had to plan several hours in advance. This was true both in Africa and Bush Alaska.
I had often been told that my gift was hospitality, but after entertaining some of our visitors, I began to doubt that. Guests ranged from the delightful to demanding to downright disreputable.
Not all visitors were clean. Nor did overnight guests keep their rooms clean. Clothing strewn over every surface, dirty bathrooms, and huge amounts of clutter invaded my comfort zone.
One of our houseguests had four legs. When we lived in a small apartment in Brussels, Belgium, during language study prior to leaving for Africa, a missionary couple asked if we’d keep their poodle for a few days. The poodle turned out to be a full-sized canine, and the owners were gone for two weeks.
Our boys were delighted, but I was exhausted trying to keep peace with our landlord, who exploded at the thought of such a monster in the apartment. I heard words I didn’t think I needed to add to my missionary vocabulary.
During our first year in Africa, six European missionaries arrived at our mission station during the dry season. This posed a problem, since our water supply came from barrels of water saved during the rainy season. We carefully rationed it because any additional water had to be carried up a steep hill in five-gallon buckets.
Most guests were thoughtful regarding water usage. However, one fellow decided it was time to wash his Land Rover. I gasped to see him lavishly splashing water over his dirty vehicle, especially since he had driven up from the lake area the previous day where he had ample water. Being hospitable without grumbling challenged my resolve.
When we lived in Kampala, Uganda, things were less complicated as far as getting supplies and doing laundry for guests. We tried to be welcoming to all who came, including a half dozen Peace Corps workers. They definitely seemed ill at ease when we insisted they join the evening vesper time with other missionaries in our home.
However, they hummed along when we sang, and they listened politely to the devotional. When bedtime arrived, we weren’t sure who normally slept with whom, though it was obvious they were used to sharing rooms and bed partners. But we gave them little choice: “Gals, this is your room. Guys, you’re down the hall!” The next morning was a flurry of warm hugs and thanks. We trusted God would use our hospitality in their lives.
Our two years in the city was a wonderful time of exercising the gift of hospitality. Although there were hotels and restaurants, most missionaries lived on tight budgets, especially those supported by faith missions. It soon became known that the welcome mat was out at our home. Out of curiosity, I once kept a log of the number of meals served. During a two-week period, we set ninety-four extra places at the table. Some were repeat boarders, but still, work and planning were involved.
The admonition to offer hospitality without complaining was vividly conveyed during our Kampala stay. A missionary couple in their early seventies was in the city for six weeks and needed lodging. Their son and his family lived nearby, but the daughter-in-law was adamant that their stay was to be brief. So we invited the older couple to our home. What a delight.
They blessed us far more than we could ever have blessed them. I thought it was sad that their daughter-in-law missed such a unique opportunity to have her children spend time with their grandparents. Her negative, complaining spirit bruised a relationship. On the other hand, our lives were enriched by those dear people who had spent over fifty years in African villages. Their stories of God’s faithfulness and provision, and the impact of the gospel in tiny communities where the name of Christ was unknown, encouraged our own desire to serve.
We loved having people in our home and considered it a gratifying ministry. I often said we held an open house for forty years. When we came back from Africa and built a new home in Oregon, we designed a guest room with an outside entrance and called it our “prophet’s chamber,” as with Elijah in 2 Kings 4:10. Missionaries still make it their home away from home.
Practicing hospitality can open doors for sharing the gospel. In the relaxed atmosphere of our homes, conversation can easily turn to God. Yes, it can be difficult and inconvenient, but the rewards are incomparable.