During a recent radio interview on The 21st Century Homekeeper Radio Program, a few of Sylvia’s listeners said they would like to know where a Christian should stand on providing for others when things have gone bad. This is something I have touched on before, so I was familiar with the scriptures, and gave an answer based on my understanding of them. After the interview something was gnawing at me about the questions and my answer, so I did a bit more digging and realized what I had failed to do. I failed to take the scriptures into the context of the time and culture in which they were written. I’ve said before that context is king. It can completely change the meaning of any ancient text.
I don’t know that I would say my answer in the interview was wrong, but maybe just not as good as it should have been. In researching the context to get a better understanding of the scriptures, I had my mind changed, if only slightly, so I thought I would share with you my discovery.
The word hospitality in modern times, to me at least, makes one think of someone who welcomes you to their home and puts on a nice meal, then thanks you for coming as you leave that evening. But in ancient times people had a different understanding of the word. I found a book called “Entertaining Angels: Early Christian Hospitality in its Mediterranean Setting”. I didn’t read the book, but was able to find large sections available on the university website where the author teaches, as well as some critiques of it.
In one section on hospitality in the times of the New Testament the author says:
“Today we think of hospitality as the custom of feeding family, friends, and neighbors in our homes or hosting these people for a night or two. The writers of the New Testament, however, were working with a significantly different definition of hospitality or xenia. The ancient custom of hospitality revolved around the practice of welcoming strangers or travelers into one’s home while promising to provide them with provisions and protection. Hospitality in the first century could be a very risky venture, just as taking strangers into one’s home is a dangerous decision in many corners of the world today. Nevertheless, in the books of Luke and Acts we see an appeal for Jesus’ disciples to practice hospitality in their lives and ministries.”
In one critique I read, we are given a better idea of what hospitality looked like in Greco-Roman, Jewish and early Christian cultures. The other two are worth reading as they did have influence on the early Christian church. I don’t want to copy and paste it all, so here is the Christian section:
“Because all the first Christians were Jews, and the next round primarily Greeks or Romans, it causes no surprise to see most of the elements surveyed already recurring in early Christianity. Particularly important was the practice of extending hospitality to traveling missionaries– a boon to the recipients in a world without consistently safe, wholesome forms of public lodging but potentially a drain on the church’s resources, especially when itinerants overstayed their welcome. Without this background, it remains harder to understand Paul’s recurring requests for hospitality for himself and his representative or to make sense of Didache’s criterion of length of stay by a visitor for determining if he or she was a true or false prophet! A rereading of John 4 on the assumption that Jesus was asking for hospitality from the Samaritan woman discloses several new insights not regularly rehearsed in the standard expositions. The same may be said on a smaller scale of 2 John, while Matt 10:14 and 42, like Matt 25:31-46, make more sense once it is recognized that “the host’s extension of hospitality to a traveling teacher was an indication that the host accepted or agreed with the teaching of the traveling teacher” (123). By the third century, however, Christian practice underwent a dramatic shift as hospitality was placed under the authority of bishops and hospitality “morphed” into a charitable service performed by entire congregations and supported by treasuries of funds to which they donated.”
Hospitality amongst Christians has always been a way for us to share Christ’s love, but over the centuries, how we show hospitality has changed. At least in the USA hospitality is often similar to how is was practiced in the third century. Tithes and offerings are used to launch and support ministries and missionaries abroad.
There are far more scriptures on hospitality than I can list and expect you to read this entire article, so I will post a few that I think are relevant. A point to keep in mind is that these scriptures were meant to be lived by every day. They aren’t instructions for what is acceptable to Christ when faced with prolonged hardship.
1 Peter 4:9
“Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
“Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
“She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.”
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.”
“Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it”
“5 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity[a] he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.”
I must say that I have a lot to learn in terms of hospitality. If you come yelling and knocking on my door in the middle of the night, you’ll find yourself on the business end of Christopher. But I digress. This verse isn’t really about hospitality; Jesus had just delivered the Lord’s Prayer, and is showing the Disciples how to pray and seek our loving Father. I list it as I think this is one verse where, taken out of context, someone could say we should do whatever is necessary to be hospitable.
One of the resources I used lists many scriptures on hospitality , from both the Old and New Testaments. I found there are four main types of verses on hospitality; hospitality to complete strangers, hospitality to people in need, hospitality as a character trait and hospitality to brothers and sisters in the faith. The most common type I found is hospitality toward others in the faith.
Does this then mean that we do not need to show generosity or hospitality when times are hard? No, not at all! There are, after all, verses on helping those in need. In my mind that is both for the every day and for when times are hard.
Because the Bible doesn’t speak on how to act in a survival situation we have to look at other scriptures and see if we can draw any conclusions. Of course the scriptures on how to act every day still apply, but what other wisdom on the subject can we glean from the Word of God?
1 Timothy 5:8 says: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
That verse goes for everyone, so does Proverbs 27:12, which states:
“A prudent person foresees the danger ahead and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.”
I bring these two verses up because we tend to see one side of the coin. We see that if we don’t want to be seen as worse than an unbeliever, we must meet our family’s needs. We see that if we want to be wise, we must prepare to mitigate dangers. We, however, might not give a lot of thought to those who don’t meet their family’s needs, or who didn’t see danger because they either weren’t looking, or saw it and decided not to do anything.
Let’s think about those people for a minute. Do you think God is following them around with a pillow to protect them from hitting the hard ground? I don’t! I think God makes it perfectly clear that there are rewards and consequences. Those individuals weren’t motivated by prudence for meeting their family’s needs in good and bad times. The consequences are clear to me.
I think modern American Christianity has gone too far building “our buddy Jesus”, and forgotten that, while He is loving, He is also fierce and to be feared. There are more examples than I can count in the Bible of God giving people a choice. When they chose to not follow His way, being turned to a pillar of salt, being forced to wander the desert for another forty years, being conquered by other nations and being led into slavery.
Some might say that all of those are Old Testament references. While true, they are no less relevant. Also, before Christ was born human, the only way to have sins redeemed was through human actions; by following God’s Law, and by making sacrifices. After Jesus dies on the cross, the gift of salvation is available to anyone; choose it and you will be rewarded with eternity in His presence. If you opt out of salvation, it puts you outside of His presence, paying for your sins for eternity.
When the question is asked if we’ll help those in need after it has hit the fan, I have seen many Prepper’s answer that they would help where they can but that they will not help those who come with their hand out and are not willing to help. In light of my current research, what do I think about that type of response? I think for the most part it’s a perfectly fine answer for a Christian to give.
Some might call me selfish for such an answer. To them I say this: I am prepared to meet the needs of my family and will help where I am led and am able. To me it sounds more selfish for someone who didn’t prepare to meet the needs of their family showing up uninvited, with their hand out, expecting to be fed, clothed and protected, all for the sheer act of drawing breath.
However, if you are someone who feels you must prepare to take care of others in times of great need, I have a solution! God only asks we give Him ten percent. I do not believe He would ask us to give to others more than He asks for Himself. So set aside ten percent of your preparations for others. This doesn’t have to be expensive food. It can be made up of staples; rice, beans, popcorn seeds, sugar and on and on. This would mean that if you have a year’s food stored for your family, you would either have another (roughly) month and a half stored to give away, or give away a month and a half leaving your family with ten and a half months’ worth of food.
John 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Christ commanded us to love one another. Hospitality is one way to do this. We are also called to be the light of the world, which I covered in Why Should Christians, Specifically, Be Preparing?. We are also to help those in need, to be His hands and feet. We, however, are not called to be someone’s emergency parachute. Their lack of planning does not constitute your emergency.
I think this is one area that each of us must ask our loving Father for wisdom and guidance in how to act and how to prepare to be His hands and Feet.
I said I had my mind changed, if only slightly. Currently Trudee and I support a few different ministries. We feel blessed that God has allowed us the ability to help others in need; to be His hands and feet. Before, I would have said that if things “hit the fan”, we would help others if/when we felt led. After my research on hospitality, I say that if we feel blessed to be His hands and feet now, there will be so many more opportunities when “it hits the fan”. We will still help if/when we are led, but I see it more of an opportunity to be used by God, than a Christian duty.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel like we need to help everyone, especially those who might take advantage. This goes for friends and family as well as strangers.
God is loving and, at times, meets the needs of someone in an emergency. He also loves us enough to give us free will and to let us face difficult consequences for poor choices, so that we may learn from them. We should follow His example, as we are made in His image.
I want to close with an excerpt from “Entertaining Angels: Early Christian Hospitality in its Mediterranean Setting”
“These Lukan hospitality texts remain relevant for Christians today. Even more than in the ancient world, we encounter travelers and strangers from vastly different regions and cultures. Some are traveling by choice (e.g., students and immigrants), while others travel by necessity (e.g., evacuees from natural disasters and refugees from war-torn regions). In Luke’s writings, we hear a call to extend hospitality to these strangers in creative ways.
With the early Christians we should take wise steps to guard against those who might abuse generous hosts (Didache 11-12), but we may not neglect the Christian ministry of hospitality. As Jesus’ disciples, we should proactively seek to extend protection and provisions to strangers. As we do this, we may encounter God’s presence in the midst of our hospitality. We may well “entertain angels without knowing it.”
If you liked this article please think about sharing it on the social media listed below, thanks!