More Blessed to Give
Practicing hospitality is actually a blessing. After all, Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35), and being hospitable toward strangers in need is a real act of giving. My wife and I have come to realize this truth after serving in ministry together as a married couple the past three decades.
Early on in our marriage, right after I graduated from seminary, I worked at a church in children’s ministry part-time while I taught the Bible full-time at a large Christian school in Los Angeles. I had six classes per day with thirty-five kids in each class, consisting of both seventh graders and seniors. That’s 210 teenagers every day! It was exciting, exhausting, challenging and memorable. One year in particular, I remember having a quiet and withdrawn female student in my senior Bible class who did not speak much but had an interest in learning the Bible. She seemed to be somewhat of a loner as she was not hanging with the athletes or the academic geeks or the popular crowd. She was soft- spoken and courteous. I developed a bit of a rapport with her as “Mr. McManis,” the Bible teacher. I was able to get her to talk more than she normally did with others.
As the last day of the school year was approaching I found out unintentionally that she did not have a dad and she was not getting along with her mom. Her mom actually despised her because this student was a Christian. She was eighteen. It turns out that her mom had just kicked her out of the house and would not let her come back home. As a result, she had no place to stay. That day when I got home I shared the news with my wife and asked her, “Can we house this girl for a while? She has nowhere to go.” My wife did not know this girl from Adam…or Eve…but said, “Absolutely!” We took her into our tiny, cramped apartment the next day. She happily slept on the floor in the living room for two weeks until she found a long-term solution. She was very thankful and appreciated immensely the care my wife gave her during that time: home-cooked meals, someone to talk to and get advice from. She said she was truly blessed.
In hindsight, my wife and I have fond memories of that incident. We saw a need, took a step of faith—well aware of the Bible’s teaching on hospitality and on how to treat those in need—and welcomed the girl in. Thirty years later we see that God would use that occasion to establish a pattern and an ongoing ministry that my wife and I have practiced ever since. After the student left we took in an autistic Christian man for three months to help him get back on his feet…in that same cramped, one-bedroom apartment. Thirty years later, he is living a fully independent life in another state, faithfully involved in a good local church.
We also had a Christian man stay in our home on occasion (the same small apartment). We would periodically see him on the highways of California, sitting on the side of the road, reading a Bible, with a hefty back pack and a sign that said, “Jesus Saves.” He called himself a missionary to the highways of America, had a powerful testimony, and was committed to a local church. He had shared the gospel with at least one person in all forty-eight continental states. He called himself “Brother Lee” and he never asked anything of us the whole time we knew him. We initiated contact with him simply by asking, “Do you need a ride?” Then a ten-year friendship ensued, and he told us of the ongoing work he was doing to help a fledgling church in Mexico.
The above three scenarios all happened before we had kids. Once the children started coming, (we have four), the hospitality continued. When we finally began renting a house that had a few rooms, we began opening up our home to people in need of a more long-term basis. For instance, we housed a teenage girl we knew from a previous church in Texas that we had served in before moving to California. She was a neighbor who had a troubled and broken home. We befriended her, brought her to church and youth group, told her the gospel and loved her. Shortly after we moved to California, she called us out of desperation as her life and family were falling apart. We flew her out to our home and took her in for several months. We had four children at this time. They had great attitudes as well and welcomed her into their home, treating her like a big sister.
Not long after she moved out, we took in a high school senior from our church when his dad got a job in another state and the teen needed to finish high school. He stayed with us for six weeks. On another occasion, a young nineteen-year-old man with no family had been visiting our church for several months. He needed some stability in his life. So again, I came home and asked my wife, “Can this young man stay with us?” She said, “Well, I don’t know him, but if you think we should, then let’s do it.” He moved in the next week. Eventually he secured a full-time job, became self- sufficient and moved out on his own.
When that young man moved out, we took in a college student from Indonesia who needed a place to stay. A friend from church asked us if we could accommodate her. We did not know her—she was a stranger. But, she had recently started attending our church. We interviewed her, then my wife and I prayed and talked it over, and welcomed her in. She lived with us almost two years. She helped take care of the kids in return for living with us. She became part of the family in a way. She finished school, graduated, moved out, married a Christian man and now has her own family. It was a blessed experience for all of us. Our four kids have fond memories of her.
I personally give much credit to my wife and my four kids who maintained tremendously hospitable attitudes toward all these strangers over the years. They always seemed to have a stranger living in their house, eating their Cheerios, using their washing machine, sneaking in their back garage door into the downstairs bedroom. They often wondered, “That person finally moved out…that room is now vacant! Now who is dad going to bring home from work to live with us?” My four children, who are all adults now, literally don’t know what it is like to not have a stranger, or non- family member, living in their house.
In addition to the many random people from churches, and off the street, that we invited into our home, there are the countless visiting pastors, missionaries, and church guests from all over the world we were able to entertain when they needed a place to lodge—thirty years of fond memories, spending quality time with dear saints, many of whom were complete strangers. We thank God for the mandate and ministry of biblical hospitality. Jesus is right—it is more blessed to give than to receive.
I now want to transition to the caution—hospitality does entail discretion, wisdom, and prayer. You can’t take every person into your home who claims to have a need. This imperative can’t be approached willy-nilly out of guilt, compulsion, lack of planning or ignorance. The Bible is clear about that. God wants us to be hospitable, but He also wants us to be good stewards. He wants to protect us. In light of those truths, consider seven kinds of people that Scripture says to avoid and keep your distance from—which also means you don’t extend biblical hospitality to them.
The first group of people to avoid and stay aloof from is false teachers. These are people who profess to love God, say they help people, frequently quote the Bible and invoke the name of Jesus, but in fact are phonies. The Bible calls them spiritual imposters and says they are dangerous. They don’t deserve any hospitality from true Christians. John the Apostle puts it this way in his second epistle:
For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.
The Bible says categorically in verse ten “do not receive him into your house.” This literally means, “Do not be hospitable to false teachers! Do not welcome them.” To some this sounds mean or not nice. But God knows this is actually a loving thing to do as it protects others from the poison of destructive spirituality and from deceivers with ill motives.
Immoral Professing Christians
The next group to stay away from is immoral people who claim to be Christians. We all have sin living in us and we all sin (Rom 7:14-24; 1 John 1:1, 10), but there is a different category of people who say they are believers while at the same time they nurture, protect and justify their sin. Sometimes they even flaunt their sin and have no regard for the holiness of God or the purity of the Church. Avoid such people. More than that, call them out and expose them. The apostle Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 5:
I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one.
The Bible says categorically, “not even to eat with such a one.” This means, do not entertain them, do not be hospitable, do not welcome them; rather, isolate them. This is holy separation and blessed subtraction. To embrace and welcome such an immoral person would be to endorse that person and their wicked lifestyle that is contrary to being a disciple of Jesus. True believers don’t willfully embrace and flaunt immoral living as a lifestyle. John says, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him” (1 John 3:9).
Those in Church Discipline
The third group of people God’s Word says not to welcome with hospitality is those under church discipline who are in step three or four—those living under corporate, public censure. Typically, such a person is a professing Christian, has refused numerous times to repent of sin and has been exposed by the local church. While they are unrepentant in steps three or four, other believers should not be welcoming them into fellowship nor should they be hospitable. Rather, the saints should be warning those remaining in sin and calling them to repentance. And if the person under discipline runs from the accountability of their home church to another church without repenting to hide from their sin, the new church should not welcome the recalcitrant spiritual fugitive. The new church needs to honor the discipline process of the home church in question. In such an instance, the new church is not to be a city of refuge for the rebel.
The fourth category of people the Bible says to not welcome with hospitable care is the sluggard. Paul calls such a person “the idle brother.” This person is the able-bodied person who loiters around churches, lingering among the saints for the sole purpose of begging from others, feigning hardships, loaded with illegitimate excuses as to why they can’t work. The Bible says to love and help the poor (Gal 2:10), but these “idle” people are the fake poor; lazy manipulators; bold, expectant sloths; presumptuous takers who prey on the good-hearted, kind and sympathetic givers. Scripture says not to aid and abet their self-centered behavior:
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example. For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.
This is tough love. Verse six says, “keep away from” them. Verse ten says, “If they don’t work—then they don’t eat.”
The fifth group of people Scripture commands us to avoid, thus depriving them of hospitality, are factious people. Titus 3:10 commands us to “reject a factious man.” A factious person is one who is divisive, argumentative, contentious, and known for causing cliques, factions, and schisms in the church—even after a couple resounding warnings from church leaders. Paul says further that such a person in the church is actually “foolish,” (3:9) even “perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned” (3:11). Proverbs says, “Leave the presence of a fool” (14:7) and “Do not associate with a…hot-tempered man” (22:24).
The sixth group of people the Bible says to avoid are mockers, or those who overtly scorn the gospel. Jesus was incarnate love, but at the same time He was not welcoming to everyone. There were people He avoided and hid from. These were people that He warned His own disciples to stay away from. The main people Jesus avoided were the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. Many times He traveled in secret at feast time (John 7:10) for He knew they were trying to kill Him (7:19). These same Jewish leaders mocked Jesus publicly, calling Him a Samaritan, demonic, and a blasphemer. In return, He rejected them, saying, “where I am you cannot come” (John 8:34). Jesus told His disciples that if people reject their message then they were to shake the dust off of their feet and avoid them (Matt 10:14). He also told His followers to not cast their pearls before swine (Matt 7:6). Those who mock the gospel are to be shunned. Jesus further taught that if mockers die in their sin, refusing to repent, then Jesus will not welcome them into heaven:
Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’”Matt 7:21-23
The seventh group of people the Scripture says to watch out for and not welcome are dangerous people. In the Old Testament, God gave six cities of refuge that people could flee to in the event that they accidentally committed manslaughter (Num 35). A trial was held to verify that person’s guilt or innocence. If the person was not guilty then that stranger to the city was to be embraced and welcomed. If the fugitive was guilty of willful murder then that person was not welcomed to the city and instead was summarily executed (35:16-21). God has always warned His people about those who are dangerous. God gave law and government to protect the innocent from those who threaten our well-being and even our lives. This is not just an Old Testament truth. First Timothy 1 says,
[the] law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, or the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching (vv. 9-10).
Paul says in Romans 13 that God has given laws of government for the purpose of protecting innocent citizens from dangerous people. Authorities like the police and military are even given the power (“the sword,” 13:4) by God to execute capital punishment for capital offenses.
The Bible is not naïve, and Christians should not be naïve either. This world is full of dangerous people and violent law-breakers. Such dangerous people should not be harbored, welcomed, protected or given sanctuary with disregard to just laws. God is the Great Law-giver and His laws need to be honored. Christians and the Church universal need to remember that the law is holy, just, and good (Rom 7:12). It should not be trumped or ignored in the name of misguided, undeserved mercy.
Giving is more blessed than receiving. Extending biblical hospitality in the name of Christ is a vital ministry and virtuous discipline. Yet it needs to be practiced with God’s wisdom, leading and discretion to preserve safety for all and produce good stewardship. Thankfully, God’s Word is the perfect, sufficient guide to help us strike the balance.