Hospitality for the Saints
1 Peter 4:7-11
In keeping with the theme of hospitality in our prayer week series, today I want to talk about hospitality for the saints. How and why do we give of ourselves? Let me begin with a couple of short stories:
A Catholic Priest (or Mennonite Pastor) visited a church from another denomination, and he was impressed by the friendliness of the members toward each other. When he returned to his parish, he announced to the congregation his intention to introduce the practice of greeting each other in an attempt of warming up the congregational climate. The practice was to become a regular part of the service, beginning the following Sunday. At the end of the service, a gentleman turned around and offered a greeting handshake to an older lady. She snapped back and him and said, “Just hold it mister. This friendliness stuff doesn’t start till next Sunday.”
And this story entitled, A PARTY FOR COATS from Stories For The Journey, by William R. White "You must hurry," friends cried to the Teacher as he rushed home from the fields. "The banquet at the home of Halil has already begun. You are late." "They are right," the Teacher thought. "If I take time to change clothes, I could miss the entire dinner." Instead of returning to his home he proceeded in his work clothes to the home of Halil, the rich man.
When he arrived, the servants at the door refused to allow him to enter because he was not dressed properly. Though he protested, the servants stood firm. Finally, the Teacher walked to the home of a friend who lived nearby. He borrowed a nice coat and quickly returned to the party. He was immediately welcomed and was seated at the banquet table. When the food was served, the Teacher began to put it on his coat. He smeared his jacket with vegetables and poured the appetizer in his pocket. All the time he said loudly, "Eat, dear dinner jacket. I hope you enjoy the meal." All the guests focused their attention on the Teacher’s strange behavior. Finally, Halil asked, "Why are you telling your jacket to enjoy the meal?" "When I arrived in my work clothes," the Teacher explained, "I was refused entrance. It was only when I was accompanied by this fine coat that I was allowed to sit at the table. Naturally I assume that it was the jacket, not me, that was invited to your banquet."
When we show hospitality to others, what do we focus on? In 1Peter 4:7-11 the writer speaks with a sense of urgency as he encourages the church to practice mutual love and hospitality ungrudgingly. Let’s read the passage,
7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love
covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Periodically a new book or publication about the end times comes on the market. Amazingly many of these publications become bestsellers with millions of copies sold. What’s even more unbelievable is that many people bet their lives on the predicted date. Many sell their goods and move to the hills to await the rapture.
Throughout history, people have tried to predict the end of the world and have tried to prepare for Christ’s return. However, the Bible doesn’t tell us when the event will take place. Matthew 24:42-44 warns us: 42 "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready,
because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
The Bible simply encourages us to be on our watch. We are encouraged to prepare for Christ’s return, not by fleeing into the mountains, but by offering love and hospitality to one another, and by using our gifts according to the strength that God gives us.
The certainty of Christ’s return adds an element of urgency to the activities of a Christian. Our faith in Christ’s return influences our attitudes, our actions and our relationships. When a person realizes the nearness of Jesus Christ, that person is bound to commit him/herself to a certain kind of life.
The apostle Peter says: Therefore be clear minded. The word translated means to be sober minded, to be in one's right mind, to exercise self control, to put a moderate estimate upon one's self, to think of one's self soberly; or to curb one's passions.
We are encouraged to look at life in a proper perspective, to distinguish between things which are important and those that are not. It is only when we see our life on earth in the light of eternity that we have the proper proportions.
Acting soberly does not mean that we walk around in a gloomy joylessness, but that we approach life with
a sense of responsibility. To take things seriously is to be aware of what is really important in life, and to be ever mindful of the consequences of our actions in time and eternity. It is an understanding that we are answerable for our attitudes and actions.
Such an attitude of earnest commitment to the life in Christ is pleasing to God. And when we seek God in prayer we must come with an honest desire to discover God’s will for ourselves, and to submit our wishes and desires to God’s divine will.
The clear-minded and self-controlled Christian life is also characterized by deep love for one another. Our love must be the love that never fails. Our love must be energetic, not an easy, sentimental reaction. Christian love means loving the unlovable; it means loving in spite of insult and injury; it means loving even when love is not returned.
Such a love, that defies explanation, covers a “multitude of sins.” It is the opposite of judgment, which exposes and demands justice for sin (an eye for an eye). When we love a person, it is easier to forgive. It is not that we become blind to the sin, but rather that we love the person regardless of what he/she does. Just as God’s love and grace covers the multitude of our sins, so we too must love and forgive one another. The wonder of God’s grace is
that He loved us and sent His son even though we are sinners. A sober understanding of who we are in relationship to God gives us the incentive to share our love and our gifts with one another. We are the redeemed of the Lord. The royal priesthood. Children of God. Bought from the slavery of sin with the price of Christ’s blood.
The apostle Peter’s mind in this section is dominated by the idea that Christ’s coming is near. And it is interesting to note that he does not use this conviction to urge Christians to hide in the mountains and alienate themselves from the world. Rather he urges us to go into the world and serve others for the glory of Christ.
Peter urges upon God’s people the duty of hospitality (Gastfreundschaft). Without hospitality the early church could not have survived. Traveling missionaries who spread the Good News of the Gospel had to find somewhere to stay and there was no place for them to stay except in the homes of Christians.
To stay at an inn was not even a consideration for the following reasons: 1) they were very expensive, and traveling missionaries didn’t have that kind of money, 2) they were very filthy, and 3) they were notorious for their immorality. Many people in the early church made Christian missionary work
possible by opening their homes and hearts to these preachers.
Another aspect to consider is that for two hundred years the church had no building where the faithful could gather for worship. The church was compelled to meet in houses of those who had bigger rooms, and were willing to lend them for services to the congregation. So we read of the church at the house of Aquila and Pricilla, and at the house of Philemon, for example.
The early church depended upon the open hearts of the members to perform the ministry to which God has called the church. Therefore it is not surprising to find repeated words of encouragement and admonition to hospitality.
The follower of Jesus Christ is to be given to hospitality. And not only the hospitality of his/her home, but also of each gift that God has entrusted to them. All gifts are received from God, and they must be placed ungrudgingly at the service of the community. The Apostle Paul speaks about this concept in detail in 1 Corinthians 12 and in Romans 12.
The church needs every gift that a person has. It may be a gift of speaking, of music, or of visiting people. It may be a craft or a skill that can be used in
the practical service of the church. It may be a house that a person possesses (maybe you heard about the person who donated a finished house to Habitat for Humanity just before Christmas). It may be money that a person has as a gift from God. Every gift can be placed in the service of Christ.
Perhaps you cannot give much. But as He did with the widow's mite, God notices and rewards, whether what you give is large or small. Our Lord could take five loaves and two fishes and feed 5,000 people. I read about a church member in Boston who said to himself, "I cannot speak in prayer meetings. I cannot do many other things in Christian service, but I can put two extra plates on my dinner table every Sunday and invite two young people who are away from home to eat with me." He did that for many years. He led many to Christ that way. When he died, he was to be buried in another city. Because he was a well-known Christian, a special bus was chartered to convey the funeral party. It was made known that any young people who had becomes Christians through his influence would be welcomed. They had to charter extra buses, because 150 persons came to honor the man who gave his gift by means of the extra dinner plate.
As Christians we must see ourselves as stewards of God’s gifts and graces. We know well that non of the things over which we exercise control belong to us;
they belong to our Master, and we will give an account of what we did with our entrusted talents. Therefore, we must use our gifts and talents with God’s interests in mind before our own.
What God asks of us is nothing less than a heart that is open to giving back to God everything that we have received. Hospitality is an attitude of the heart, that testifies to the Goodness and Care of God for all people. God’s will can only be done on earth, if those of us who have a vision of heaven, are willing to offer ourselves to the full extent that God enables us to.
Hospitality means a lot more than just inviting people over for dinner and making sure the house is clean, the food is plenty, the children are well behaved, and the jokes are appropriate to the guests. Hospitality means dishing up our very lives, and allowing God’s Spirit to satisfy the hunger for relationship, love and acceptance. Hospitality means letting God do His work of salvation through us.
How is that for a New Year’s resolution? And remember, God gives us the strength and the courage to use our gifts to His glory and honor. May the Lord, who opened His heavenly home to us, enable us to live our lives for Him, and to give ourselves to one another.