The house by the road side
By Roger Carswell - Some stranger to Lord Shaftesbury went to meet him at a railway station. They asked how they were to know him. The answer was, “When you see a tall man getting off the train and helping somebody, that will be Lord Shaftesbury!” Sure enough as he alighted from the carriage he was carrying his suitcase in one hand and in the other, three bundles belonging to an elderly lady. What an example of simple kindness.
In his great theological letter, Paul writes about one aspect of Christian kindness. He says that believers should be ‘given to hospitality’ as they are ‘distributing to the needs of the saints’. (Romans 12:13). The home in which I grew up was such a home. My mother lavished hospitality on many guests who frequently joined us for evening meals. Intriguingly, when the guests had gone she would note down what food she gave them, (so that next time they would not be served the same food), and what things they were interested in (so she could ask them about these on their next visit).
Verna and Esther Wright could not have been more hospitable towards me. I was newly converted, very enthusiastic, irrepressible and fun-loving, yet week by week I was invited for meals, shown hospitality and patiently mentored in the things of the Lord. And course, working as a travelling evangelist, I have stayed in literally hundreds of homes, most of which have been very welcoming.
The benefit is clear
It is not always easy to be hospitable. Trying to make people feel at home, even when at times you wish they were, is a challenge! The Lord made Adam and Eve at home in His newly created world, and they wrecked it. There is a risk when people are invited into what belongs to you.
And yet it is the opportunity to invest in the lives of others, as they do the same for you. It is such a blessing for children to grow up hearing from others as to what the Lord is doing in and through them. There is the benefit of learning selfless living when all types are welcomed into what so easily becomes our ‘castle’. Love will open the door to all. The Puritan Thomas Fuller said, “Hospitality is threefold: for one’s family, this of necessity; for strangers, this of courtesy; for the poor, this is charity.”
I have seen spontaneous hospitality in some churches, where there are some who will always ensure they have extra food and places to be able to invite the lonely, visitors and newcomers for Sunday dinner. These homes then often demonstrate ‘fellowship around the sink’ as all gather to help clear and wash up.
We are not instructed to be given to entertaining, but to hospitality. Entertainment wants to impress; but hospitality serves. Entertainment puts things first; but hospitality puts people first. Entertainment communicates ‘this is my home’; but hospitality conveys, ‘this home is the Lord’s’. Eternally valuable work can be accomplished whilst giving hospitality – think of what was achieved in Zacchaeus’ home after Jesus invited Himself to be a guest!
The blessing is clearer
What a blessing it was for Lazarus, Mary and Martha to give hospitality to Jesus and His disciples, or for Lydia’s household to welcome Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke. Paul wrote of Phoebe that she was the ‘helper of many and of myself’ (Romans 16:2). I would have loved to have listened to their conversations. The Lord God would have been listening in on those times of fellowship for we read, ‘Those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them.’ (Malachi 3:16). In fact to entertain some people all one does is listen, and that can be so heart-warming.
In Northern Ireland, when arriving at a home, it is usual for the host to say, “You’re very welcome!” I cannot tell how reassuring that is. Amazingly, I have even been told, “I’m sorry you have to leave so soon.” But really the blessing is in being blessed. There are so many international students and migrants living in our localities, who would love to be blessed by hospitality. Some may never have yet been in a ‘typical’ British home, and they would never forget that kindness.
The Bible is clearest.
The model for genuine hospitality is not to be found in a women’s magazine, but in the Bible. True hospitality is built on true spirituality. It will be welcoming; there will be a godly atmosphere (which probably means the television will be off!), and a sense of calm. Giving hospitality is a godly virtue which can be cultivated. An open home results from an open heart.
Read again these familiar verses and ask whether you are obeying these commands, or is our hospitality limited just to family and trusted friends: ‘I was a stranger, and you invited me in…’ (Matthew 25:35); ‘Do not forget to entertain strangers for by doing so some have unwittingly entertained angels.’ (Hebrews 13:2); ‘Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers.’ (3 John 5), and ‘Be hospitable to one another, without grumbling.’ (1 Peter 4:9).
As someone who has been cared for in so many homes, I appreciate the description of the hospitality shown to Elisha . ‘One day Elisha went to Shunem. And a well-to-do woman was there, who urged him to stay for a meal. So whenever he came by, he stopped there to eat. She said to her husband, “I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God. Let’s make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him. Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us.” One day when Elisha came, he went up to his room and lay down there.’ (2 Kings 4:8-11). I would have enjoyed staying there!
According to 1 Timothy 3:2 & 5:10 and Titus 1:7, hospitality is a qualification for eldership, and of being a godly woman.
There is an African proverb that says the tortoise is the wisest – he carries his own home. But in the family of God that is not necessarily so. The wanderer can know the full meaning of home, where Christians are welcoming, sacrificially sharing and Christ-like. The host has the joy of serving, finding that it is always more blessed to give than to receive.
One day, through the amazing grace and goodness of God, He will welcome all believers to His home. Think of that … God is wanting to share His home with us! Talk of heaven has diminished in Christian circles recently, but let us not forget the words of Jesus, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so I would have told you. I go and prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:2&3). Peter wrote that there is an inheritance reserved in heaven for us. (1 Peter 1:4). To be welcomed and then to be with the Lord for all eternity, free from sin, suffering, sorrow and death is beyond my ability to imagine. Can you picture a place exuding the beauty of Jesus for ever, so that years do not diminish the fullness of all that will be ours in Christ? We are to be hospitable because it is reflecting the work of God to us. To whom can you reach out, or invite, welcome, or possibly take in?
Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911) wrote a charming five stanza poem based on Homer’s words, ‘He was a friend to man, and lived in a house by the side of the road.’ Here is the first verse:
There are hermit souls that live withdrawn
In the peace of their self-content;
There are souls, like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths
Where highways never ran; -
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
(image: Wikimedia Commons)