Understanding biblical hospitality requires thorough reading and understanding of the New Testament. The project's research identified three essential principles that helped lay the foundation for the thesis of biblical hospitality as a strategy for making disciples who make disciples.
First, hospitality is a recurring event in Jesus’ three years of public ministry. The Gospel narratives give an intimate perspective on the reality of hospitality in the earthly ministry of Jesus.
The public ministry of Jesus lasted approximately three years. During this time, Jesus participates in biblical hospitality and calls his followers to a higher standard of hospitality. Numerous New Testament passages reveal Jesus entering a house and participating in hospitality (Mark 1:29; 5:40; 7:17,24; 9:28; Luke 7:36; 8:51; Mt. 8:14; 9:28; 13:36). The ministry of Jesus and the practice of hospitality was not isolated; it was normative. Jesus amplifies the principle and practice of hospitality through his ministry and teaching. Luke 14 is an example, Jesus urges those in attendance to practice hospitality with the least of these, not expecting anything in return,
He also said to the one who had invited him, When you give a lunch or a dinner, don't invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors, because they might invite you back, and you would be repaid. On the contrary, when you host a banquet, invite those who are poor, maimed, lame, or blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. (Lk 14:12–14, CSB)
Hospitality is demonstrated in Luke 5:29 at the house of Levi, Matthew 8:14-15 at Peter's mother-in-law, Matthew 26:6-7 as Jesus is anointed in Bethany, Luke 10:38 in the home of Mary and Martha, Luke 19:5-7 at the house of Zacchaeus, and Luke 24:29 on the road to Emmaus. These selected examples communicate the seemingly standard practice of Jesus and his disciples regularly engaging in hospitality. The biblical record of hospitality shown by Christ in his public ministry is overwhelming, leaving us to conclude that if hospitality was a significant part of the earthly ministry of Christ, it should be a significant part of the current ministry of his church.
Second, hospitality is an ethic of the early church. Ample evidence exists suggesting the moral importance of practicing hospitality.
The New Testament reveals the significant role hospitality plays in shaping the ethical values of the early church. Hospitality was a virtue and a practice expected for the church and particularly crucial for church leaders. The apostle Paul makes two significant mentions of hospitality that support the influence hospitality played in forming the early church.
First, in Romans 12:13, Paul uses hospitality as a defining mark of a Christian when he writes, "Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality" (Rom. 12:13, CSB). Here the project director would like to bring awareness to the most common interpretation concerning Romans 12:13. A literal translation of "pursue hospitality" as "open your homes to strangers" may be grossly misinterpreted. Barclay Newman and Eugene Nida suggest a more satisfactory equivalent could be "welcome into your homes Christians who are strangers" or "welcome into your homes as guests those who are traveling."  John Stott shares the commentary from Origen highlighting the intentional pursuit Paul calls for in Romans 12:13, "We are not just to receive the stranger when he comes to us, but actually to enquire after, and look carefully for, strangers, to pursue them and search them out everywhere, lest perchance somewhere they may sit in the streets or lie without a roof over their heads."  Robert Jewett and David Kotansky provide a historical picture concerning the need for hospitality, "With a large number of Jewish Christian and other leaders returning to Rome after the lapse of the Edict of Claudius, evoking conflicts and hostilities, there was a concrete need for the kind of hospitality that marked the Jesus movement and subsequent Christianity."  This commentary mentioned above is considering the persecuted Christian community of the day. Paul's exhortation for hospitality in Romans 12:13 called the early church to pursue Christian strangers who found themselves in need.
Second, in Titus 1:8 and 1 Timothy 3:2, hospitality is a qualification of an elder in a local church: "An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, able to teach," (1 Timothy 3:2, CSB); "but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, righteous, holy, self-controlled," (Titus 1:8) Considering the high calling of an elder, the ethic of hospitality must carry significant weight in the life of the Christian. Paul encourages believers when identifying pastor leaders in the church that they must give evidence of hospitality to be considered qualified. Hospitality had an enormous impact on shaping the practices and establishing leaders in the early church. The incarnation of divine hospitality and the tradition of the early church were powerfully connected.
Third, hospitality is a catalyst for the advancement of the gospel. The early church explodes through the practice of hospitality.
The connection between hospitality and the advance of the early church is unmistakable. Historically, the gospel message proliferated from Jerusalem, through the region, and ultimately the corners of the known world. Garwood Anderson highlights this connection when he writes, "The practices of hospitality have both practical and symbolic functions. Pragmatically, hospitality enabled early Christians, like others in the ancient world, to travel when commercial options were limited and unsafe. For Christians, this was especially important for propagating the Christian message and weaving a network of relationships among local church bodies".
Hospitality and mission intersect throughout the New Testament. The Greek root word Oikos, which translates "home, house, or household," is used over 180 times in the New Testament with much of its usage in early church hospitality. The early church did not function in mega buildings and structures. The primary locations for worship, study, and fellowship involved opening their homes and practicing hospitality. Christian hospitality became a unique identification for the early church. Mark Husbands and Jeffrey Greenman communicate the cultural oddity of Christian hospitality in Ancient Faith for the Church's Future:
Hospitality had a central role in the early church as believers forged a new identity in a hostile culture. As Christians shared meals and resources, and as they opened their lives and homes to strangers, they formed communities that transcended and changed conventional understandings of households and expressed new understandings of social relations and political identities. The outside world noticed and wondered about this odd assortment of people who claimed to be—and acted as if they were—family.
There are numerous New Testament passages where Paul and his companions were welcomed in their missionary efforts. The gospel advanced in the home of Lydia (Acts 16:15), at the house of the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:34), with Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth (Acts 18:2-3), at the house of Philip in Caesarea (Acts 21:8), on the island of Malta in the home of Publius (Acts 28:7), with Gaius (Rom. 16:23), and as a guest of Philemon (Philem. 22). Derick Brown and Tod Twist connect the rapid progress of the church and the practice of hospitality, "Graeco-Roman customs of hospitality seem to have fueled the growth of the early church, as missionaries and believers found lodging and provision when they traveled for the sake of the gospel."  Early church missionaries were dependent on the hospitality of people in the regions they traveled. The biblical account of hospitality in the New Testament reveals the catalytic relationship between the spread of the gospel and hospitality in the early church.
Dr. George Ross is Assistant Professor of Church Planting and Evangelism, Occupying the Cecil B. Day Chair of Church Planting. This blog originally appeared at www.georgeross.net/blog in a series exploring biblical hospitality practices as a missional strategy.
. Barclay Moon Newman and Eugene Albert Nida, A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Romans, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1973), 240.
. John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 332.
. Robert Jewett and Roy David Kotansky, Romans: A Commentary, ed. Eldon Jay Epp, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006), 765.
. Garwood P. Anderson, “Hospitality,” ed. Douglas Mangum et al., Lexham Theological Wordbook, Lexham Bible Reference Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).
. Mark Husbands and Jeffrey P. Greenman, Ancient Faith for the Church’s Future (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 153-154.
. Derek R. Brown and E. Tod Twist, Lexham Bible Guide: Romans, ed. Douglas Mangum (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014), Ro 12:1–21.