Due to the scarceness and poor conditions of public lodging in antiquity, providing visitors with food and shelter was a virtual necessity. Hospitality (Greek philoxenía = phílos [friend] + xénos [stranger]) under one’s own roof was deeply rooted in ancient society, highly valued, and even viewed as an obligation. The large number of itinerant evangelists and other Christian travelers made this particularly relevant to the early church. NT writers consistently remind their readers of this duty (e.g., 1 Tim. 5:10; Heb. 13:2; 1 Pet. 4:9; 3 John 5-8), according to “standards much more widely recognized and lauded” (J. D. G. Dunn, Theology of Paul 677). Nevertheless, the prospect of receiving and serving Christ himself (Matt. 10:40; 25:31-45) was of far greater significance than the secular ideas of reciprocity or honor and shame (see Part 2).
Exhorting the believers at Rome, Paul writes, “sharing [continually] the needs of the saints, pursuing [continually] hospitality” (Rom. 12:13).1 From a Christian perspective the apostle is reminding his readers, “Even under persecution one should not allow himself to be so preoccupied with his own troubles that he becomes insensitive to the needs of others…. To share with others is never more meaningful than when one is hard pressed to find a sufficient supply for himself” (E. F. Harrison, “Romans,” EBC 10:133). Paul is calling upon his readers to “put into practice the love and concern for one another that he has mentioned earlier (v. 10)…. to have fellowship with, to participate in, the ‘needs’ of the saints. These ‘needs’ are material ones: food, clothing, and shelter… sharing of our material goods …. to go out of our way to welcome and provide for travelers” (D. J. Moo, Romans 779-80). See also Acts 2:44-45; 4:35; 6:3; 20:34; 28:10; Eph. 4:28; Phil. 2:25; 4:16; Tit. 3:14; 1 John 3:17; Rev. 3:17.
Letters of recommendation helped open doors of hospitality for traveling Christians (Rom. 16:1-2; 1 Cor. 16:10-12; cf. Phil. 2:25-30; Col. 4:7-9; Eph. 6:21-22). “There are hints in the Pauline letters and elsewhere in the New Testament that ordinary Christians traveling to another city could already expect to find accommodation with ‘brothers,’ very likely following a custom established among diaspora Jews. Thus hospitality is already among the virtues of the Christian common life stressed in the traditional admonitions Paul includes in his letter to the Romans (12:13)” (W. A. Meeks, First Urban Christians 109, 230 n. 169). E. A. Judge comments further, “Security and hospitality when traveling had traditionally been the privilege of the powerful, who had relied upon a network of patronage and friendship, created by wealth. The letters of recommendation disclose the fact that these domestic advantages were now extended to the whole household of faith, who are accepted on trust, though complete strangers” (The Conversion of Rome 7).
Jesus and his immediate disciples were able to devote full attention to spiritual service because of the benevolent assistance of others (Matt. 10:9-14; 26:17-19; Mark 9:28, 33; Luke 8:3; 10:4-8; 19:5; 24:28-29; Acts 1:13). While financial contributions were still necessary (1 Cor. 9:4-14; 2 Cor. 11:7-9), there were many other ways God’s servants could be supported (cf. Rom. 12:4-13; Gal. 6:16). Paul clearly relied on the hospitality and provision of his fellow-Christians (Acts 9:19; 16:15, 34; 18:1-3; 20:11; 21:4, 7-10, 16-17; 28:13-14; 24:23; Rom. 15:24; 16:2, 23; 1 Cor. 16:6; Gal. 1:18; Philem. 22; 2 Tim. 1:16-18; cf. 2 Tim. 4:13). Leadership in the church was also predicated upon being hospitable (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8).2
--Kevin L. Moore
1 Scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
2 On the negative side, see Luke 9:51-55; 2 John 7-11; 3 John 9-11.
Related Posts: Sociocultural Context Part 1: Introduction, Part 4: Individualism vs Collectivism, Part 5: Households & Slavery, Part 6: House Churches, Part 9: Kiss Greeting & Feet Washing
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