“Be hospitable to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9)
I don’t know what you thought when you read the word entertaining in the name of this blog. You may have begun to put on your dancing shoes, pick up your harmonica, or dust off your old Reader’s digest book of jokes. That’s because we have lost the primary meaning of the word. Today, entertainment brings to mind “amusement.” The classic sense of the word, however, has more to do with the ministry of hospitality.
Paul uses an interesting word when he encourages the Roman Christians to be “given to hospitality” (Romans 12:13). Given is the word for “pursue.” It is an active, energetic idea. The Church father Origen wrote about Paul’s use of the word for “pursue” in this context:
“How finely does Paul sum up the generosity of the man who pursues hospitality in one word! For by saying that hospitality is to be pursued, he shows that we are not just to receive the stranger when he comes to us, but actually to inquire after, and look carefully for strangers, to pursue them and search them out everywhere.”
I like Paul’s phrase “given to hospitality.” It’s not something we force ourselves to do; we are driven by a passion for the welfare of others. We go above and beyond the required minimum and dedicate ourselves to meeting the needs of those who come into our midst.
When we are given to hospitality, we see beyond the road-ragged clothing and travel dust on our guests and recognize them as eternal creatures whom God loves and created in His own image. C. S. Lewis eloquently made this point in his famous observation from The Weight of Glory:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest, most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature to which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You never talk to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are all mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.
It’s an astonishing observation. How would we treat other people if we fully realized that we were “helping each other to one or the other of these destinations”? Would we offer more hospitality? Would be be a bit more patient with people in traffic? With coworkers? Family members? It’s not always easy, but Peter tells us to muster up a little humility and do it: “Be hospitable to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9).
You may feel that you stack up pretty well in this department. Most of us believe ourselves to be loving people. When I preach a “love one another” sermon, I never get the idea that people think I am stepping on their toes. The first generation of Christians in the early church probably felt the same way. Yet Paul challenged them to increase and perfect their love for one another. To the Philippians he wrote: “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more” (Philippians 1:9). He wrote a similar message to the Christ-followers of Thessalonica: “You yourselves are taught by God to love one another … But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more” (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10).
Alexander Maclaren, one of the great preachers of nineteenth-century England, described what happened when the followers of Jesus began to live out His commandment to love one another. Maclaren’s oft-quoted words have been called the most eloquent portrayal of Christian love found outside Scripture itself. He first described the terrible gulfs of language, nationality, gender, and philosophy that separated people in the ancient world. It was a world of unveiled hostility. Then Jesus came and told us to love one another:
“Barbarian, Scythian, bond and free, male and female, Jew and Greek, learned and ignorant clasped hands and sat down at one table, and felt themselves all one in Christ Jesus. They were ready to break all other bonds, and to yield to the uniting forces that steamed out from His Cross. There never had been anything like it. No wonder that the world began to babble about sorcery, and conspiracies, and complicity in unnameable vices. It was only that the disciples were obeying the new commandment, and a new thing had come into the world — a community held together by love and not by geographical accidents or linguistic affinities, or the iron fetters of the conqueror … The new commandment made a new thing, and the world wondered.”