The Hospitality Commands. By Alexander Strauch. Littleton, CO: Lewis and Roth Publishers, 1993. 64 pp. Paper, $6.99.
What kinds of spiritual practices should Christians emphasize? In this short, but powerful, booklet, Alexander Strauch explores what the NT says about hospitality. Unlike popular spiritual disciplines that do not have clear Scriptural bases, Strauch shows that hospitality is an important NT theme.
In the first chapter, Strauch surveys some of the extra-Biblical evidence showing that hospitality made Christians distinct. He quotes Gustav Stahlin as saying, “One of the most prominent features in the picture of early Christianity, which is so rich in good works, is undoubtedly its hospitality” (p. 7).
The second chapter shows that hospitality is rooted in NT teaching about brotherly love. First, Strauch shows the Christian community is frequently described using the language of the family. “The terms brethren, brother, or sister occur some 250 times throughout the New Testament, particularly in Paul’s letters,” Strauch notes (p. 10). Appropriate to familial relationships, the early Christians “greeted one another with a holy kiss,” “shared material possessions,” “met in homes,” “ate together,” “cared for their widows,” and, most important for this booklet, “showed hospitality” (p. 11). The Christians were not only called by family names. They acted like a family. Second, Strauch shows the NT also emphasizes the importance of love, where the word group for love “appears approximately 320 times in the New Testament” (p. 13). He goes on to say, “Christianity’s teaching on love is unparalleled in the history of religion” (p. 14). How did early Christians encourage love and brotherhood? Hospitality. “I don’t think most Christians today understand how essential hospitality is to fanning the flames of love and strengthening the Christian family” (p. 17). Hence, Strauch believes Christians should be practicing hospitality and inviting others into their homes. “We cannot know or grow close to our brothers and sisters by meeting for an hour and fifteen minutes a week with a large group in a church sanctuary. The home is the ideal place in which to build relationships and closeness” (p. 17).
In the third chapter, Strauch argues that the home can be a launching pad for the gospel in two ways: the home was a place to do ministry to others; it was a means for helping traveling evangelists and teachers, then sending them on their way (p. 21). He quotes Michael Green as writing, “One of the most important methods of spreading the gospel in antiquity was by the use of homes” (p. 21). Strauch points out the different times that Jesus accepted someone’s hospitality and then proceeded to do ministry in their homes. Strauch recommends that Christians begin using their homes for ministry. For example, you can reach out and minister to the lonely: “Lonely people within all our neighborhoods need to be reached with Christ’s love…Hospitality could be a means of pointing these people toward the Savior’s love” (p. 25).
The fourth chapter treats the specific NT commands to practice hospitality, such as Rom 12:13; 1 Pet 4:9; Heb 13:2; 3 John 8; 1 Tim 3:2; and 1 Tim 5:10. Christians should not be passive about hospitality. We should pursue it. “We are to think about it, plan for it, prepare for it, pray about it, and seek opportunities to do it” (p. 35). Strauch warns against the sin of selfishness, which may discourage us from practicing hospitality (p. 38). Of special interest to me was the section pointing out that showing hospitality is a requirement for being an elder (as per 1 Tim 3:1-2 and Titus 1:7-8). “Many Christians are unaware that spiritual leaders are, according to Scripture, required to be hospitable” (p. 43). I was aware of it, but I did not realize how important hospitality is and how it ties together several different aspects of ministry, such as exercising church discipline. The form that discipline takes is often in a refusal to show hospitality (e.g., 1 Cor 5:11).
The fifth chapter makes suggestions of how to practice hospitality, such as making cheap and simple meals, organizing a church hospitality program, or remembering to invite people to your home, especially during holiday seasons.
The book ends with a Study Guide containing questions suitable for a small group.
I was very challenged and edified by this book, and I highly recommend it for Bible-believing Christians who are seeking to focus their time and energies on spiritual practices that God’s Word emphasizes.
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society