A Time To Talk When a friend calls to me from the road And slows his horse to a meaning walk, I don’t stand still and look around On all the hills I haven’t hoed, And shout from where I am, “What is it?” No, not as there is a time to talk. I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground, Blade-end up and five feet tall, And plod: I go up to the stone wall For a friendly visit. Robert Frost
Columnist Neal Gabler warned against the erosion of relationships by the steady tide of media such as email, Facebook, and television. Gabler comments on the “decline of real friendships” and the “dramatic rise of virtual friendships... like those on social-networking sites where being ‘friended’ is less a sign of personal engagement than a quantitative measure of how many people your life has brushed and how many names you can collect, but this is friendship lite. Facebook, in fact, only underscores how much traditional friendship--friendship in which you meet, talk and share--has become an anachronism and how much being ‘friended’ is an ironic term...the fact is that we miss the friendships we no longer have, and we know that Facebook or e-mails cannot possibly compensate for the loss.”1
It’s difficult to say how the early church would have responded to all the new media outlets such as email, Facebook, and so on. (Would Paul have had a Twitter account?) One thing is sure, however, the early Christians were not impersonal. The apostle John summed this up best when he wrote, “I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face” (3 Jn.13-14). Now John wrote a good portion of the New Testament, yet he knew the limitations of a written letter. He admitted, “I would rather not write with pen and ink.” Instead, he preferred to “talk face to face.” In 2 John, the apostle concludes his letter in exactly the same way, but makes a revealing addition. He writes, “I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 Jn.12). Talking in person offered an element of joy that pen and ink--or email, Facebook, and Twitter can’t. He desired a depth of relationship that went beyond the bounds of convenience. John merely expressed a truth that permeated the early church: sharing life with one another is vital to spiritual health. 4
A Simple Act “...the family possessions, which generally destroy brotherhood among you, create fraternal bonds among us. One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another” Tertullian, Apologeticum, ch.39.10-11
In the first century, the Christian home was a primary place of ministry. We see an example of this in 3 John. The apostle writes, “it is a faithful thing that you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are...You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God” (vv.5-6). “These brothers” were men sent out by churches to preach and teach the gospel in different towns. There were many difficulties involving this ministry, not the least of which was finding a place to stay the night. Travel during this time was more difficult than it is now, even though the Romans built nearly 53 thousand miles of good roads. While it was easier to get from one place to the next, finding a good place to sleep was more difficult. The Empire didn’t lack inns, but most of the ones available had a reputation for poor quality and bad morals.2 Sleeping quarters were filthy and infested with insects and rodents. Innkeepers were extortionate. Thieves were always around. Government spies could be listening. Additionally, many of the inns were nothing more than brothels. The moral dangers of Roman inns made hospitality an important virtue in early Christianity. Practicing hospitality became a very practical way to love your brothers and sisters. So, in John’s third letter, he is largely concerned with this practice of hospitality. One man with a funny name receives most of the apostle’s attention. He is “the beloved Gaius” (v.1). John tells us quite a bit about him, and most of his words are praise. He was a man who believed and lived out the truth of the gospel, labored for the church and was known for his love (see 3 Jn.3-4). D.A. Carson adds, 5
“When you got to Gaius’ home, you knew you were loved...[Itinerant] ministry is emotionally fatiguing, but you get to Gaius’ place and put your feet up, have a Diet Coke, some good conversation, and read a book by the fire, and get a good night of sleep. And he’ll pray for you, you’ll have a wee taste of heaven and you’ll go on your way because Gaius loves you.” 3
Yet Gaius’ hospitality was not limited to traveling preachers. He also entertained others. At the end of the letter, John adds, “I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face” (vv.13-14). Soon enough, Gaius and the apostle would be sitting around the table talking late into the night. He would give John a place to rest and food to eat. More than that, however, John and Gaius would encourage one another’s souls. As they ate together or sat around with their feet up, they would “stir one another up to love and good works” (Heb.10:24); “exhort one another” (Heb.3:13); and encourage one another through the sharing of “each other’s faith” (Rom.1:11-12). It doesn’t seem at all wrong to assume that Gaius opened his home to all his brothers and sisters (cf. Rom.16:23). 4 It was this experience that the brothers “testified” about when they spoke of his “love” before the church.
What’s Love Got to Do With It? “What’s love, but a second hand emotion?” Tina Turner
She raises a good question: what’s love? The word “love” is used so often that it quickly loses its meaning. Through Gaius, however, God reminds us that love is defined by action. In other words, for love to be real, it must be demonstrated. In the person and work of Christ, we see God’s love through his action. He didn’t merely say, “I love you;” instead, he demonstrated it. “He loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation [i.e.the wrath-bearing sacrifice] for our sins” (1Jn.4:10). 6
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son...” (Jn.3:16). “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom.5:8). “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph.2:4-5). Love doesn’t have to be complicated or hard to understand. The great value of 3 John is that it gives us a simple picture of how the early church loved one another. They simply welcomed one another into their homes and fellowshipped. It’s as basic as that. The tools for expressing love toward one another are not out of reach. They are right before us everyday. These tools are a kitchen table to sit around, an oven to prepare a meal in, a glass to drink from, or a couch to sit upon. These common things that we take for granted everyday can be extremely powerful tools to demonstrate the love of God to one another. Not surprisingly, hospitality occupies a prominent place in Scripture. “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” 1 Pe.4:8-9). “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Rom.12:13). “Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you” (Rom.16:23). “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me...” (Matt.25:35). “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb.13:1-2). “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts...” (Acts2:46).
“...as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples” (Matt.9:10). “Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house” (Lk.10:38). “And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.’ And she prevailed upon us” (Acts16:15). “And he [Peter] stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner” (Acts 9:43).
The Gospel in Action We read about the life, death, and resurrection of Christ in the Scripture, but the practice of hospitality gives us a tangible picture of the gospel. When we welcome one another into our homes, we are living out the truths of the gospel and preaching it to ourselves and others. Here’s how. 1. Hospitality provides a picture of Christ’s sacrifice for us. Opening your home to others is work--most of which is done after the guests leave. There are floors to be swept, furniture that must be returned to its original place, and dishes to be washed (not to mention mopping up the snow that was tracked in). Most of us cringe at these thoughts, so we opt out of hospitality. We choose personal comfort over sacrifice and think, “It’s just easier to see them on Sunday morning.” Comfort, however, hardly ever advances the gospel (Cf. Matt.16:24-26). On the other hand, when we open our homes to one another we provide a small but powerful picture of Christ’s sacrifice for us. He sacrificed what was comfortable (being worshipped in heaven) for 8
what was uncomfortable (ridicule, betrayal, and ultimately death). When we think about the sacrifice involved with opening our homes, we should be reminded of Christ’s sacrifice for us. Will I have to rearrange my schedule a bit? Will I have to make an extra trip to the grocery store? Will I have to pull out the vacuum when everyone leaves? Sure, but rather than complain you can use this opportunity to remind yourself of how Christ “emptied himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil.2:8). In doing so, you’ll be preaching the gospel to yourself. 2.Hospitality provides a picture of how Christ served us. Christ described his earthly ministry in terms of service, declaring, “the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk.10:45). Paul explains how Christ “made himself nothing” by “taking the form of a servant” (Phil.2:7). Service characterized Jesus‘ life and ministry. It shouldn’t surprise us then that Jesus commanded his disciples to define themselves by serving one another. After washing their feet, he told the disciples, “I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (Jn.13:15). His point was not to exalt the act of foot washing, but give them an example of serving. Hospitality is one way to humbly serve the church as Jesus did. We serve them by providing a place to talk and laugh; a place to strengthen relationships; and a place to experience a kind of fellowship that Sunday morning can’t provide. It may be tiring, but when the final guest leaves we can be sure that we have exhausted ourselves for the same people Christ died for. In doing so, we’ll remind ourselves of how Jesus took the form of a servant in order to love the church and give himself up for her (Eph.5:25). 3.Hospitality provides a picture of the Father loving us. Since we have been born again, God abides in us and continues to love through us--“if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 Jn.4:12-13). There is a very real sense in 9
which the Father’s love is experienced through his children’s concrete acts of love toward one another. John Stott has written, “the unseen God, who once revealed himself in his Son, now reveals himself in his people if and when they love one another.” 5 This is what John means when he writes, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1Jn.4:12; cf.Jn.1:18). Is there someone who needs comfort? Who needs to be assured of the Father’s love? Invite them over for a meal or just to talk. Serve them and minister to them. When you do, they’ll experience the Father loving through you. Here’s the bottom line: Christ is no longer physically present on the earth, but if anyone wants to see him, they should see him in the church’s love for one another. We love not just in words, but in practical down-to-earth actions. The Bible teaches us that hospitality is one simple, but powerful way that the Father can use us to communicate his love. 4.Hospitality provides a picture of how we have been welcomed into the family of God. Paul wrote, “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom.15:7). In Romans, Paul teaches that the church is to “bear with the failings of the weak” (15:1). Scholar Leon Morris comments, “Just as Christ accepted us, we are to accept other believers. When Christ has accepted someone, are we to say that we will not take him as a Christian brother? Our attitude to others must flow from the transformation wrought in us by Christ.”6 He continues, “[Paul’s] point is that all are to accept those who differ from them...God’s glory was promoted when Christ received us sinners, and it is further advanced when we who are by nature sinners and wrapped up in our own concerns instead receive our brothers and sisters in Christ with warmth and love.”7 The church is comprised of people from different backgrounds and experiences. We are an odd collection of people of different ages, personalities, opinions, personal taste, and quirks. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more divergent group of people who voluntarily 10
spend time together. Yet the only reason we are together is because “Christ has welcomed us” into his family. We are bound together not by human blood, but by Christ’s blood and the inner working of his Spirit. This new family bond is pictured for us every time we open our homes to the many different parts of the Body--those like us and others who are not. God gets the glory when people who are as different as night and day call each other brother and sister. He looks good when we “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us.”
The Rewards of Hospitality “By the time he had got all the bottles and dishes and knives and forks and glasses and plates and spoons and things piled up on big trays, he was getting very hot, and red in the face, and annoyed. ‘Confusticate and bebother these dwarves!’ he said aloud, ‘Why don’t they come and lend a hand?’” The Hobbit
Before we begin to think that practicing hospitality is all work and no reward, John also mentions at least two rewards of sharing our homes with one another. First, it strengthens and encourages the church. John wrote, “I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (vv.3-4). Hearing of his friend Gaius’ spiritual condition had a profound impact upon the apostle John. It caused him to “rejoice greatly.” John’s soul was encouraged, as surely Gaius’ was when he read this letter. Likewise, the brothers were physically and spiritually refreshed--and all of this because one man opened his home to the church.
By allowing these men into his home, Gaius had opportunity to open up his life and faith to them. They shared with Gaius and he shared with them. These brothers may have been “strangers” (v.5) when they first entered Gaius’ home, but they weren’t when they left. Spending time together in an informal setting allows for life to be shared and relationships to be cultivated. The result is that the church is strengthened and encouraged. “Hospitality involves welcoming, creating space, listening, paying attention, and providing. Meals slow things down...It’s possible to remain at a distance from someone in public gatherings--even in a Bible study. Meals bring you close.”8 When we talk face to face across the table or in our living rooms, the spiritual bonds of our new family are strengthened in ways that will never occur on Sunday morning. In his excellent book on hospitality, Alexander Strauch writes, “I don’t think most Christians today understand how essential hospitality is to fanning the flames of love and strengthening the Christian family. Hospitality fleshes out love in a uniquely personal and sacrificial way. Through the ministry of hospitality, we share our most prized possessions. We share our family, home, finances, food, privacy, and time. Indeed, we share our very lives. So hospitality is always costly. Through the ministry of hospitality, we provide friendship, acceptance, fellowship, refreshment, comfort, and love in one of the richest and deepest ways possible for humans to understand. Unless we open the doors of our homes to one another, the reality of the local church as a close-knit family of loving brothers and sisters is only a theory. A cold, unfriendly church contradicts the gospel...Brotherly love, however, entails intimate relationship, care for one another, knowledge of one another, belonging together, and sharing life together. We cannot know or grow close to our brothers and sisters by meeting for an hour and fifteen minutes a week with a large group in a church sanctuary...in most instances, we hardly even know one another until we get together in one another’s homes, eat together, and talk with one another across the table.” 9
A second reward of practicing hospitality is that we become “fellow workers for the truth” (3 Jn.8). What John means is that when Gaius opened his home to these men, he furthered the advance of the gospel. He did this by giving them a place to teach the gospel. After all, that’s what they were sent out to do. He also refreshed them for their mission, giving them food and rest so they could continue on to another city. This enabled Gaius to became a “fellow worker” in their mission. Moreover, it’s not too far fetched to imagine Gaius even inviting some of his unbelieving co-workers or neighbors to join them, so that they too might hear the gospel. That’s what Matthew did (Matt.9:9-10). John teaches us that practicing hospitality brings “mission into the ordinary.”10 Too often we fall into the trap of thinking that evangelism or mission is a program of the church. Tim Chester reminds us that “Jesus didn’t run projects, establish ministries, create programs, or put on events. He ate meals. If you routinely share meals and you have a passion for Jesus, then you’ll be doing mission. It’s not that meals save people. People are saved through the gospel message. But meals will create natural opportunities to share that message in a context that resonates powerfully with what you’re saying.”11 We see this very clearly in Jesus’ ministry (Matt.9:9-10; Lk.5:30; 15:1-2; 19:1-7). He shows us that hospitality can be a very powerful, yet simple way to practice evangelism. Jesus was so fond of hospitality that he gained an unfavorable reputation. “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matt.11:19)! What makes hospitality a compelling way to do evangelism? Maybe it’s because sharing a meal with someone breaks down barriers. Our homes are the quintessential picture of personal space. Home is where we unwind and are most naturally ourselves. We won’t allow just anyone into this space. So when we invite others in or are invited in, it sends a powerful message. It communicates friendship. It tells people that you are interested in them as a person, rather than a project. When you practice hospitality with unbelievers, you are creating a space for that relationship to develop because you gain the opportunity to listen, pay attention, and communicate with one another. 13
Strauch adds, “For the early Christians, the home was the most natural setting for proclaiming Christ to their families, neighbors, and friends. The same is true today. If you and/or your local church are looking for ways to evangelize, opening your home is one of the best ways for reaching the lost.”12 So what are we waiting for?
They Devoted Themselves to...Fellowship Vince Lombardi’s childhood was defined by his family in Sheepshead, NY. His mother had thirteen brothers and sisters, who all returned to Grandma Izzo’s house each weekend for a huge meal and family reunion. Sunday dinner was an endless feast consumed in shifts, with delegations of Izzos taking turns at the oblong mahogany table in the dining room, food and drink flowed for five or six hours...After antipasto came homemade soup, usually minestrone, sometimes a tart dandelion, followed by spaghetti and meatballs with hot red peppers, or freshly made ravioli, then stuffed capons or braciola, and the Izzo specialty pies....There was no rush to leave the table. 13
A local New York paper sent a reporter out to witness this family gathering one Sunday. He returned and published a story that ran on the front page of the Brooklyn Eagle. The headline read: “Izzo Family of Sheepshead Is Interesting.” Like the early church, the Izzo family had “devoted themselves to...fellowship” (Acts 2:42). Of the church, Luke writes that they were “day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:42, 46-47). It sounds like “there was no rush to leave the table.” 14
Whenever the church gathers, it should be a family reunion. When all outward appearances are taken into account, we just might be as different as night and day. Inwardly, however, “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” So then, we are no longer strangers, but are instead sons by adoption (Gal.4:4-7). We are sons of God, and brothers and sisters to one another. Let’s not be in a rush to leave the table.
Getting Started “Just Do It.”--Nike
Here are a few ideas to get you started. 1. A good place to begin is to just ask someone over for a meal or coffee. But don’t stop there... 2. Establish a regular time to invite people into your home. Maybe it’s once-a-month, weekly, etc. Whatever you decide on, be sure to make it a regular time. 3. Make a list of persons you will invite. Use the church directory for those within the church, and think of neighbors and co-workers who are without Christ. 4. Use holidays or special occasions to have parties in which you invite both the church and the lost (cf. Matt.9). 5. Welcome visitors to our church family by having them over for lunch or dinner one night. 6. Be creative. Host a theme night such as a movie night or game night. 7. Throw a backyard cookout for your neighbors.
“Commentary: The Social Networks” Neal Gabler October 17, 2010. LA Times.com 1
2 Lionel Casson, Travel in the Ancient World (Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins ! Press, 1974).
“I Have No Greater Joy,” D.A. Carson, The Gospel Coalition
“Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you” (Rom.16:23). Though the name Gaius sounds funny today, it was not uncommon in the early church. The name appears in four different books/letters of the New Testament (Rom.16:23; 1Cor.1:14; Acts 19:29; 20:4; 3Jn.1). We can be fairly certain that these are not all the same man, but not as certain whether the same man appears more than once in Scripture. Nevertheless, the Gaius in Romans 16:23 affirms the practice of hospitality. “This may mean that the church met in his house or that he habitually provided hospitality either for local church people or for traveling Christians like Paul” (Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988, 544). 4
John R.W. Stott, The Letters of John: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1988), 164. 5
Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988),
Tim Chester, A Meal With Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission Around the Table (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), 47. 8
Alexander Strauch, The Hospitality Commands (Littleton, CO:Lewis and Roth Publishing, 1993), 17. 9
I attribute this idea to Tim Chester, though I can’t find him actually using these words. He adds, “Mission as hospitality undermines the professionalization of ministry. Mission isn’t something I can clock out from at the end of the day...People often complain that they lack time for mission. But we all have to eat. Three meals a day, seven days a week. That’s twenty-one opportunities for mission and community without adding anything to your schedule” (p.92). 10
! David Maranniss, When Pride Still Mattered (New York, NY: Simon & Shuster, 1999), 18-19. 13