I have two questions for you. First: How many homes of people from this church have you been in? You got an invitation; you went over to their house; you spent some time there; you had lunch or dinner or snacks; you fellowshipped there. Is it one? Or two? Or five? Or ten? Or more?
Now, the second question: How many people from this church family have been in your home? People that you’ve had over for the evening; over for Sabbath lunch? One? Two? Ten? None?!
Do you realize that the Bible has something to say about such things? The truth is it has a lot to say about hospitality. We’re going to read a passage that was written to a church that was suffering persecution. Times were hard. The future was filled with uncertainty. The culture that surrounded them was against them. Furthermore, it was a church that believed that the coming of Jesus was likely just around the corner.
And then they receive a letter from the apostle Peter. He writes to them regarding how they are to deal with the difficulties they face, and how to live in light of what they believe to be the imminent advent of Christ. And I have to tell you, I’m a bit surprised by what he says.
Read 1 Peter 4:7–11. This passage begins with the statement “The end of all things is near” (4:7, NIV).1 The passage that follows, then, offers Peter’s assessment of how we are to live considering what he calls the imminent return of Christ. And what things does he call on that community of Christ followers to do? “Be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray” (v. 7b). That makes sense. He continues: “Love each other deeply because love covers over a multitude of sins” (v. 8). In other words, when you love people, you overlook all kinds of things that you wouldn’t overlook with others. He also says, “Use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (v. 10). He continues by telling them that if they speak, “do so as one who speaks the very words of God” (v. 11a). And then he adds that if they serve, “they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ” (v. 11b).
In the context of the world in which they live—a world in which Christ followers are being persecuted, and they expect Jesus to come soon—all those instructions make sense. But you may have noticed that we overlooked one directive that Peter proclaims, and it is the one found in verse 9. Here’s what it says: “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” It’s quite striking that, particularly in the context in which Peter writes—dealing with the second coming of Christ and the end of the world—that he would include something like this. Offer hospitality without grumbling. Seems strange, doesn’t it?
I mean, I know that it makes sense in the world in which Peter is writing. It’s a world where the message of the gospel is spreading, and it’s spreading because missionaries are carrying the message abroad. And they’re facing persecution for it. It’s a world where Hilton Hotels do not exist. In fact, the only places where people could find lodging were notoriously filthy, dangerous, not to mention often immoral, places to be. And so I can understand that Peter is concerned with telling the young church, “Open your doors! Invite people in!” But there is no indication that his directive is time-limited, any more so than any other directive in this passage. In other words, if we are to take his words “Love each other deeply” and “Be alert and sober so you can pray” as having enduring significance, then we have to take his words “Offer hospitality” just as seriously. After all, other Bible writers make the same kind of statement. In fact, Paul, in Romans 12:13, makes it very simple by just saying, “Practice hospitality.”
Members’ homes were central to the life and community of the early church. Max Lucado writes about the central role that hospitality played not only in the life and community of the early church, but even in the fulfillment of its mission:
Long before the church had pulpits and baptisteries, she had kitchens and dinner tables. Even a casual reading of the New Testament unveils the house as the primary tool of the church. The primary gathering place of the church was the home. Consider the genius of God’s plan. . . .
Not everyone can serve in a foreign land, lead a relief effort, or volunteer at the downtown soup kitchen. But who can’t be hospitable? Do you have a front door? A table? Chairs? Bread . . . ? Congratulations! You just qualified to serve in the most ancient of ministries: hospitality. . . . Hospitality opens the door to uncommon community. It’s no accident that hospitality and hospital come from the same Latin word, for they both lead to the same result: healing. When you open your door to someone, you are sending this message: “You matter to me and to God.”2
So Peter tells a congregation who is stressed under the reality of persecution, a congregation praying for the soon coming of Jesus, “Offer hospitality to one another.” But the truth is, that’s not the end of his directive. I wish it were the end of his directive, but it isn’t. Because what he actually says is to offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. What do you mean, Peter, without grumbling? I. Howard Marshall, writing about this verse, notes: “Showing hospitality is particularly demanding, and Christians needed to be reminded to show it to one another. But the accent lies on the last phrase, without grumbling. The arrival of guests can be inconvenient for many good reasons, and guests themselves can be awkward people. Therefore, Christians must give hospitality without . . . grumbling, whether secretly or openly.”3
Hospitality is not about the size of your house, but about the size of your heart. If your heart’s big enough, your apartment’s not too small. But if your heart’s too small, even the biggest house will always be too small. I think that’s what Peter’s saying. He writes about prayer and about loving each other deeply and about serving one another as God’s faithful stewards. In other words, he’s writing about matters of the heart. And it is in that context that he says, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
Today, I’m asking you to make a choice to move out of your comfort zone. I’m committed to doing the same in my own life. Listen to what James W. Cox says about this topic:
You and I tend to offer hospitality to only a limited number of people—persons whom we already know, mostly relatives and a few close friends. But, in [the ancient world], hospitality was extended to whomever needed it—strangers and acquaintances alike. In fact, in its original form, “hospitality” combines two separate words—one meaning friend and the other meaning stranger. So, from the beginning of its usage, hospitality has carried with it the idea of making friends out of strangers.4
So how do we do that—make friends out of strangers? Maybe one of the most important ways is to simply open the doors of our homes. What was it that Peter said? Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Open doors is not about the size of your house, but about the size of your heart. Are you ready to open your doors today?
1 All biblical quotations are from the NIV.
2 Max Lucado, Outlive Your Life (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 55.
3 I. Howard Marshall, “1 Peter 4:9,” in 1 Peter, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1991), Logos Bible Software.
4 James W. Cox, The Minister’s Manual (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008), 109.
Randy Roberts, DMin, LMFT, is the senior pastor of the Loma Linda University Church and vice president of Spiritual Life and Mission, Loma Linda University Health, Loma Linda, CA, USA.