I Peter 4:9: Use hospitality one to another without grudging.

Hospitality can be defined as “the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.”  For the Biblical view, we examine:

  • Historical Context:  Written between A.D. 60 and 65, 1 Peter 1:1 identifies the author of the Book of 1 Peter as the apostle Peter.  1 Peter is a letter from Peter to the believers who had been dispersed throughout the ancient world and were under intense persecution. If anyone understood persecution, it was Peter. He was beaten, threatened, punished and jailed for preaching the Word of God. He knew what it took to endure without bitterness, without losing hope and in great faith living an obedient, victorious life. This knowledge of living hope in Jesus was the message and Christ’s example was the one to follow. 
  • Grammatical Usage: “hospitality” in the Greek is “Philoxenos” meaning, “loving; serving; faithfully administrating”; “one to another” is “Allelon” meaning, “reciprocally, mutually”; “grudging” or “Goggusmos” means, “murmuring in the sense of a secret displeasure.”
  • Literal Application:  You must love by serving one another without grumbling or secret displeasure.
  • Contextual Interpretation:  Hospitality is a virtue which is both commanded and commended throughout Scripture.  To gain the correct insight, it is essential that we understand V. 8: And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. Here is a noble rule in Christianity. Christians ought to love one another, which implies an affection to their persons, a desire of their welfare and a hearty endeavor to promote it. This mutual affection must not be cold, but fervent, that is, sincere, strong, and lasting. This sort of earnest affection is recommended above all things, which shows the importance of it.  Why?  Because its effect is that it will cover a multitude of sins.  Three basic points are underscored:

(1.) There ought to be in all Christians a more fervent charity towards one another than towards other men: Have charity among yourselves. He does not say for pagans, for idolaters, or for apostates, but among yourselves. Let brotherly love continue, Hebrews 13:1. There is a special relation between all sincere Christians, and a particular amiableness and good in them, which requires special affection;

(2.) It is not enough for Christians not to bear malice, nor to have common respect for one another, they must intensely and fervently love each other;

(3.) It is the property of true charity to cover a multitude of sins. It inclines people to forgive and forget offences against themselves, to cover (or forgive) and conceal (not gossip about) the sins of others, rather than aggravate them and spread them within and without the fellowship.  It teaches us to love those who are but weak, and who have been guilty of many evil things before their conversion; and it prepares for mercy at the hand of God, who hath promised to forgive those that forgive others (Matthew 6:14).  

Hospitality is frequently commanded in the New Testament; but in the context of the book and v. 9, with the looming persecution and the disorders that would inevitably flow out of it, the grace of hospitality would not only be especially commendable but absolutely necessary to the survival of some.  Hospitality that is extended in a grudging or complaining manner would not fulfill the apostolic desire expressed. 

  • Comparison: In the Old Testament, it was specifically commanded by God: “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33-34, emphasis added).
    During His public ministry, Jesus and His disciples depended entirely on the hospitality of others as they ministered from town to town (Matthew 10:9-10). Likewise, the early Christians also depended on and received hospitality from others (Acts 2:44-45; 28:7). In fact, travelers in ancient times depended heavily on the hospitality of strangers as traveling could be dangerous and there were very few inns, and poor Christians could not afford to stay at them anyway. This generous provision to strangers also included opening one’s home for church services. Hospitality was indeed a highly regarded virtue in ancient times, especially for Christian leaders (Titus 1:8; 1 Timothy 3:2).
    The writer of Hebrews reminds us not to forget to “entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). Positioned at the end of the book of Hebrews, this verse has perked many folks attention.  It is in a list of commands that draw the “exhortation” of the writer to a close.  The point of the verse is the command in the first half, “Do not neglect to show hospitality.”  The second half simply provides a reason why.

However, the part that is talked about most often is the second half.  Specifically, can we entertain angels today?  Three points of consideration:

  1. Whether we can or cannot it doesn’t change the validity of the command.  The command is still for us to be hospitable to strangers. If that stranger could potentially be an angel, or not, it shouldn’t change our zeal to obey;
  2. The clause is primarily designed as a reflection: looking back in history.  I think the verse is meant to draw the reader back to the Old Testament accounts of men helping out strangers, who were actually angels.  Specifically, the account of Abraham comes to mind (Genesis 18).  It fits in line with the Hebrew writing using “heroes of the faith” as a means to motivate us to good works (Hebrews 11).  Thus the main point of the clause is that people in the past have entertained angels.
  3. To the point of angels, there is no New Testament passage prohibiting the entertainment of angels.  I do not believe we will know we are doing it.  (Wouldn’t it defeat the purpose if we knew which encounters were with angels and which were not?)  Nor am I convinced it happens often (in fact I think it is rare, and that it will not happen to most people, namely because of the lack of these type of accounts recorded for us in Scripture).  The reason, though, I believe we can is the way the verse reads lends itself to being understood that this can happen today as well.  In fact that makes the “reason” of why we should help out all strangers even more forceful.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with this assessment, we all can agree that we could do a better job of showing hospitality – leaving their nature to God.

Christians are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Ephesians 2:10). As followers of Christ, we emulate His love and compassion when we show hospitality, not only to fellow Christians, but even more so to strangers and the less fortunate. In fact, we honor God when we are kind to the needy (Proverbs 14:31; 19:17). As Jesus said, “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed” (Luke 14:13). Christ also taught us the second greatest commandment, to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39), and the Parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us that “neighbor” has nothing to do with geography, citizenship, or race. Wherever and whenever people need us, there we can be neighbors and, like Christ, show mercy. This is the essence of hospitality with its purpose to demonstrate the living Christ within us.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus discusses the hospitable behavior of those who will inherit the kingdom: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:34-36). In fact, Christ entertained in various homes:  

  1. In the home of Matthew (Matthew 9:10)
  2. Of Simon the Leper (Mark 14:3)
  3. Of a Pharisee (Luke 7:36)
  4. Of Martha (Luke 10:38)
  5. Of one of the chief Pharisees (Luke 14:1)
  6. Of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:7)
  7. At Emmaus (Luke 24:29)
  8. At Cana of Galilee (John 2:2)

Conclusion:  1 Peter 4 instructs, in view of Christ’s return we must be calm & collected, prayerful (v.7), full of love for others, tolerant (v.8) and cheerfully accommodating (v.9).  In these days we often don’t think much about entertaining – strangers or otherwise, but hospitality is still an important part of Christian ministry (Romans 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9). By serving others we serve Christ (Matthew 25:40) and we promote the spread of God’s truth (3 John 5-8) fulfilling the Great Commission one act of kindness at a time.