Open Heart, Open Home

Categories: Hospitality


One of the unifying themes of the book of 3 John is the subject of hospitality - a recurring subject from Genesis to Revelation. Sometimes the Bible describes God's hospitality to us and other times it is our hospitality to others. But it is a very important topic for healthy homes and healthy churches. In fact, Romans 12 implies that it is essential for a healthy individual. When Romans 12 lists out the characteristics that should be present in every believer's life, interestingly, one of those characteristics is, "given to hospitality." It is certainly a requirement for officers in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, but it is my belief that no stranger should be able to enter the doors of our churches without receiving a warm welcome and heart warming hospitality - not just from the elders, but from each member. 1 Peter 4:9 commands believers, "Be hospitable to one another without grumbling." Hebrews 13:2 says, "Do not forget to extend hospitality, for by so doing some have unwittingly extended hospitality to angels."

And before we dig into this marvelous book, let me define a Greek word that occured in each of those verses I read. The Greek word for “hospitality” is φιλοξενία. It’s made up of two Greek words: phileo, which is friendship love, and the word xenia, which is the word for stranger. That may seem like an oxymoron because the first word describes a comfortable relationship of very close friendship and the second word speaks of the opposite - a stranger - someone whom you do not know. But put together, φιλοξενία means hospitality. And it’s a shame that the NKJV translates it twice in the book of Hebrews as "to entertain." In my books, entertainment and hospitality are quite different. They both have their place, but they are quite different. The word φιλοξενία refers to making a stranger to your home no longer a stranger - he is welcomed in to see the real you.

Now, contrast that with entertainment. Entertainment is opening your home to somebody who is a stranger to your home and doesn’t know what the inside looks like on a day-to-day basis. So there is some similarity. He may get invited once a year on a very special occasion when you have had a chance to really plan for something special, but he’s really a stranger to what your home is normally like. And he remains a stranger. The only people who see the real home is your immediate family or maybe some of your closest friends. You could entertain a person several times and he might still be a stranger to your home - which contradicts the meaning of the word.

Let me try to paint a picture of at least some of the nuance differences between entertainment and the real meaning of this word - where the person sees the real you. In my mind, entertaining is putting on a big production that is exhausting. It might involve the fine china, cloth napkins, and food designed to impress, but which took you all day to prepare. The carpet got cleaned because you would be embarrassed for the guests to see how dirty it had become. And maybe you even bought some new furniture. And perhaps you have arranged to have the kids sent to a baby-sitter or to grandma’s house because you don’t want them to accidentally spill anything on the guests. Everything about the evening is designed to impress and show the stranger how you have everything together, and thus it is difficult to relax. And it’s an artificial environment; it’s not your real home. To the guests it is not a close-friend-relationship but rather a special-occasion-relationship. So that’s the first word picture - the picture of entertaining. You can’t afford to do that too often because it would wear you out.

But when you extend hospitality (φιλοξενία), a person who is a stranger to your home very quickly becomes a friend and at ease in your home. That’s the meaning of hospitality. This word implies that you are inviting people into your life, with all of its messiness. You might be leading the guests into your living room and have to kick some toys out of the way. But you are relaxed and focused on relationship. And the guest relaxes and he begins to feel like he is at home.

Now that’s not to say that there isn’t a place for entertaining and putting on a big spread on certain occasions. That’s great. We love doing that too. We love doing both. But the day-in and day-out hospitality that God calls all believers to be involved in is a much more down-to-earth and real experience. There are so many expectations of entertainment and so much pride at stake that it might happen once or twice a year. But the day-in and day-out hospitality that Scripture describes is inviting people into your ordinary life and schedule.

When you look at all that the Bible includes under the concept of hospitality, you see that it covers a broad range of things. In modern terms it could cover anything from sending a card to someone to cheer them up and make them feel wanted to having someone over for a meal. It could be as simple as making people feel at home when they come to church (that's a kind of hospitality), or it could be much more time consuming and costly in providing board and room. To one extent or another, every Christian is called to hospitality, though obviously some may be more gifted at it.

In verse 5 of 3 John Gaius is commended for his faithful hospitality to brethren and strangers alike. And I want to quickly go through three things involved in faithful hospitality. It must flow first from the heart; it must be self-giving; and it must be discerning.

Faithful hospitality flows first from the heart (vv. 1-4)

First, faithful hospitality flows from the heart. Too often Christians wait for other conditions to be fulfilled before they extend hospitality. They want to have more time, more money, more help, or better health, better furniture, better dishes, etc. They are always hoping to extend hospitality at some time in the future, but other things get in the way. One thing or another puts off the hospitality that they want to engage in. But the primary pre-requisite is a change in the inner man, not a change in our outer circumstances..

We can see this in Gaius' life in that he didn't have health or wealth

We can see this in Gaius' life in that he didn't have health or wealth. Verse 2 says, "Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers." The inference seems to be that Gaius had been in poor health and was not particularly wealthy. Yet he engaged in hospitality any way because of where his heart was healthy. His soul was prospering so much that it automatically overflowed in hospitality - despite lack of resources and lack of health.

Chuck Swindoll once quipped, "We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations." Gaius had several obstacles that could have discouraged opening his home. First, the elders didn't model it. Verse 9 says that they wouldn't even receive John. Second, there was an atmosphere in the church that was hostile to hospitality, and verse 10 makes that clear. It was an ingrown clique. Third, he didn't have much money. Fourth, his health was poor. But because his heart was already open to hospitality, he found ways of getting around those obstacles.

Now, John wisely sees these things as obstacles and prays that they may be removed. In fact, it seems that he felt that good health and prosperity would be such a boon to what Gaius was doing that he prays that Gaius may receive good health and prosper in all that he does in direct proportion to his spiritual prosperity. Actually, that could be a terrifying prayer for some people because their souls aren't prospering. If God answered that prayer for some, they would lose health and wealth. But when we have steward hearts that want to serve God and that want to serve His people, God loves to bless us with more. It is our hearts that are at the center of whether hospitality will occur or not.

I love Karen Maines book, *Open Heart, Open Home: The Hospitable way to Make Others Feel Welcome and Wanted." But the first part of that title captures the most important ingredient of Gaius' hospitality - Open Heart, Open Home. It's not till our hearts are wide open that our homes will even feel wide open when people visit.

But this very openness reveals why some people don't like to extend hospitality. True hospitality reveals the real you. If you are prideful, you may not want to reveal the real you. Pride wants to put up a facade and pretend that everything is perfect. In contrast, hospitality is willing to be open about our imperfections. In fact, it is precisely when we are secure in God's grace that it bothers us the least when others see the real us.

Faithful hospitality is self-sacrificing in its expression (vv. 5-10)

The second characteristic of faithful hospitality is that it is self-sacrificing in its expression. It's a giving of ourselves. And what is cool about that is that you can still extend hospitality even when you don't have any money. Anyway, we can see this characteristic in verse 5-10.

Not seeking anything in return

Verse 5 says, "Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do, for the brethren and for strangers."

The brothers that Gaius had extended hospitality to were not aquaintances of Gaius but missionaries that had been sent by John. He had probably never seen them before. Verse 9 says that a letter had been sent by John to introduce them to the church, but Diotrephes would have nothing to do with John and apparently destroyed or conveniently lost the letter. We are not certain exactly why Diotrophes did not accept them, but Gaius was extending hospitality to cast offs, and unknown at that. There was no thought of their returning the favor. When you find joy in the act of giving of yourself hospitably with no thought that they need to return the favor, you have caught the spirit. It's one of the signs that you may be doing it for the Lord and not for others.

Love (v.6)

Second, we can see that Gaius was motivated by love. Verse 6 says, "Who have borne witness of your love before the church." The word used for "love" there is ἀγάπῃ - self-sacrificing love. People will quickly sense when we are extending hospitality because it is expected versus when we do so out of love. The first is focused on the task and the latter is focused on the person. Both may have sacrifice, but when sacrifice flows from love, it is a sacrifice joyfully entered into because of God's grace. But again, it reinforces the first point - that it is a heart issue. So healthy hospitality that is self-giving is not driven by getting anything in return but is driven by love.

Worthy of God (v.6b).

A third subpoint is that it is God-centered. It is done as if you were doing it for God. Verse 6 goes on to say, "If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well, because they went forth for His name's sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles." Well, if we engaged in hospitality in a way that is worthy of God, that would really transform hospitality, wouldn't it? If Jesus came into your congregation, you would definitely want to talk with Him, right? Well, when you show the same interest in visitors to your church, you are treating them just like you would treat Jesus. And I actually like to think of myself as serving God when I give hospitality. Jesus said in Matthew 25, inasumuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me. Did what? Fed the hungry, gave drinks to the thirsty, took a stranger in, clothed the naked, visited the sick, visited those in prison. Those are all different kinds of hospitality, and Jesus says that when you give of yourself to people like that you are indeed doing those things for Jesus. When you are conscious of serving God in hospitality you are much more likely to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God.

But that too takes an inward perspective change, doesn't it? True hospitality is a giving of ourself because we have tasted so much of God's grace and seen that He is so good that we are overflowing. We give what we have. Years ago, when East Berlin was still part of the Iron Curtain, I clipped a story of an exchange that had taken place. It said,

East Berlin is communist controlled. West Berlin is free. Some people in East Berlin one day tooK a truckload of garbage and dumped it on the West Berlin side. The people of West Berlin could have done the same thing. But instead, they took a truckload of canned goods, bread, and milk...and neatly stacked it on the East Berlin side. On top of this stack they placed the sign:'EACH GIVES WHAT HE HAS'

I don't know if that is an apocryphal story or not, but it speaks truth - each gives what he has. When we extend hospitality to the Christians and non-Christians that we meet, we should do so in a way that is worthy of God - not half-heartedly, but joyfully. But that assumes that we have drunk so deeply of Christ's living waters that we are able to have rivers of living waters flowing out of us.

This was one of the great distinctives of the early church; something that made the heathen marvel. The historian, Henry Chadwick had this to say:

The practical application of charity was probably the most potent single cause of Christian success. The pagan comment 'See how these Christians love one another' (reported by Tertullian) was not irony. Christian charity expressed itself in care for the poor, for widows and orphans, in visits to brethren in prison or condemned to the living death of labour in the mines, and in social action in time of calamity like famine, earthquake, pestilence, or war..." (p.56)

We represent God to the world, and He is a God of hospitality and generosity. John in his gospel records how Christ came into the world as a stranger and how the world did not receive Him. Christ overcame the world and offered to the world a spiritual home, and spiritual food and drink. He welcomed sinners to come to Him. He is our great example of hospitality. Every time we celebrate the Lord's Supper we witness the fact that our God is a generous God of hospitality who invites us to eat with Him. We need to extend hospitality in a way that is worthy of that name; in a way that will not tarnish the family name - a name that has been characterized by hospitality for generations.

Work (v. 8)

It's self-giving character can also be seen in the fact that it is work - good old fashioned work. Verse 8 says, "We therefore ought to receive such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth."

Labor is involved, but Oh what a glorious labor it is because it is labor that will count for all eternity. I love that phrase, "fellow workers." By extending hospitality to these brothers that John had sent, Gaius shared in their labors. Matthew 10:41 says something similar. It says,

Matt. 10:41 He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. Matt. 10:42 And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.”

You know, one of the things that gets me excited about extending hospitality to missionaries and giving money to missionaries is that it enables me to share in their labors and thus share in their rewards. I don't have a body that can climb mountains and trek forever like one missionary that we support does, but by sharing in his ministry, I share in his rewards. I remember the incredible disappointment that one man had when I refused a gift that he was trying to give to me for one of my missions trips. I knew he was poor and I just didn't not want to receive that gift. But he would not take no for an answer. He was almost in tears, telling me that I was robbing him of sharing in my labors and sharing in my rewards. It just blew me out of the water and changed my life. Here was a poor man that hungered to share in as many people's labors as he could because it was his way of serving the Lord. And when I saw the disappointment on his face when I didn't want to receive that gift, I saw a whole new perspective on giving. It changed the way I give. I love to give. I used to be so stingy, but I now see all kinds of strategic ways to give to the Lord. I long to bless the Lord by giving to others. I love to work for others. I love to extend hospitality to others. Is it work? Yes it is. But because I am doing it for the Lord, its a totally different kind of work. It gives my wife and I great joy.

When you extend hospitality to each other, you share in other people's labors and receive of their rewards. Even the giving of a cup of cold water in His name will by no means lose its reward. Doing dishes, ministering to the sick, and stacking chairs after the worship service are all acts of service that God delights in and they are a sharing in the labors of others. And let me tell you - this work that often is extended day after day without thanks is something that God smiles with approval on. You can be sure that He doesn't forget. We are fellow workers for the truth. There is a purpose and a goal in what we do.

Negatively - Diotrephes

But Diotrephes didn't have that. He was a negative example of self-sacrificing hospitality. All he could think about was himself. Let me read what he did in verses 9-10.

3John 9 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. 3John 10 Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.

There have been many suggestions as to why Diotrephes would not submit to the authority of John. One is that Diotrephes, a rare name used only by aristrocratic families, was an aristrocrat who could not stand the idea of being under the authority of a peasant. Whatever the case, John treats the root of the problem as being sheer pride in verse 9. Pride led on to malicious slander, a refusal even to associate with those whom John had sent, and finally trying to fit everyone else into the same pattern he had set for himself. He didn't want to be alone in his sin. It is amazing how one person can have a negative influence on others. Scripture makes clear that "bad company corrupts good morals" (1 Cor. 15:3). We do influence each other for either good or bad by our examples. How much more so when the person is a person of influence or a leader in the church. People will excuse themselves from hospitality on the ground that the pastor or elders are not doing any better than they are.

So we have seen thus far that faithful hospitality flows from an open and ready heart more than it does from opportunity or from resources. When your heart is gripped by hospitality, you look for the opportunities. Secondly, it is characterized by self-sacrifice - a giving of your life for the building up of others. And lastly, it is discerning; it is not naive:

Faithful hospitality is discerning. (vv. llff)

In what it is patterned after

It is discerning first of all, in what it is patterned after. John was worried about the long term effects of Diotrephes on Gaius. He warns Gaius to be careful about whom he imitates.

Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God.

It is natural for us to imitate and follow those whom we look up to. But what do you do when leaders aren't hospitable? You don't wait for them. You be a leader in hospitality even if they are not. Even if you are not qualified to be an elder or a deacon, you can serve in more powerful ways than they might. But don't let the lack of hospitality in your church stop you from leading the way.

Of course leaders should lead in hospitality. We have made it a goal to try to encourage a culture of hospitality in all the churches of which we have been a part. And sometimes it starts by inviting people to your house over and over without getting any invites yourself. But it does eventually catch on. So it is discerning first of all in what it is patterned after.

In how it was ministered

Second, it was discerning in how it was ministered. In verse 12 John says,

Demetrius has a good testimony from all, and from the truth itself. And we also bear witness, and you know that our testimony is true. (v. 12)

It appears that Gaius may have wondered about the advisabilty of welcoming Demetrius. Perhaps he had been spoken evil of by Diotrephes and others had been spreading the false rumors about his character. John sets his mind at ease by bringing forward three witnesses in defence of Demetrius. John vouches for his good character, all men who knew Demetrius could vouch for his good character and the truth that was manifested in Demetrius' life was clear testimony to his godly character.

On the one hand it is good to realize that there are some people to whom we should not extend hospitality, and 2 John verse 10 is very clear that we are not permitted to extend hospitality to divisive people. Indeed Paul warns against leeches and says that they should not eat unless they work. We cannot presume upon someone else's hospitality. On the other hand we should not be too quick to judge who should be rejected from hospitality, especially not by following one man's opinion.


In conclusion, I would urge all of us to seek to improve our serve when it comes to hospitality. We may not all be able to extend it in the same way. If we do not have a home, we still have a church home and we can make people feel welcome to the house of God. Hospitality does not mean that we have to put on a big spread. In fact, some of the fondest memories I have of hospitality were occasions where I was served at the hands of poverty stricken Ethiopians and Indians. Most of the obstacles to extending hospitality are of our own making, and if there are genuine obstacles in the way, lets pray that those might be taken away. But I would urge all of us to imitate Gaius and be given to hospitality. Amen.

Open Heart, Open Home published on May 28, 2015

Categories: Hospitality

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