As converts to “the way” increased, they were encouraged by their leaders to see themselves as “brothers and sisters” in a family of faith, and to care for each other as real brothers and sister would. (See Hebrews 13:1.) As they became a persecuted minority in an increasingly hostile world, this hospitality became their hallmark, and served three purposes.
First, it was how they obeyed Jesus who, before his death, told his disciples to “Love one another, even as I have loved you…By this all men will know that you are my disciples because you love one another.” In other words, hospitality was how they lived out love on a daily basis. (See John 13:34, 35.) (By the way, Jesus hasn’t rescinded that commandment.)
Second, it was how they cared for their leaders and those who traveled around telling others about this gospel. Inns were notoriously dirty and dangerous places in those days. To check people you respected into an inn really said you didn’t respect them all that much; instead, you took them home with you. But more than that, the followers of Jesus knew that to refuse Jesus’ messengers was the same as refusing Jesus’ message. (See Luke 10: 10-16.) In many of the letters their leaders wrote, those who exemplified lavish hospitality were identified by name and esteemed.
Third, it was often in the environment of hospitality that faith was forged. Christianity was a home-centered movement in those days. The followers of Jesus didn’t rent public space for meetings (and as time went on, many of them had to go into hiding just to talk about their beliefs). And so many of the converts to this new faith learned about Jesus from the discussions (and treatment they received) in the homes of those who had recently been converted to “the way.” Interestingly, homegrown faith was something Jesus himself started: He accepted invitations from common folks, and in their homes he engaged them in spiritual discussions. (See Luke 7: 36-50, and 11:37-54.)
The safe, commonplace, comfortable religion that is Christianity today in most of the Western world is a far cry from that fledgling faith of the first century. But today, ever so quietly but steadily, around dining room tables and in front of family room fireplaces, Christianity is rediscovering its original venue and virtue.
To practice Christian hospitality is not as much about entertaining as it is about welcoming. Entertaining is inviting family and friends into your home for a well-planned dinner party; welcoming is inviting into your life those you know and those you don’t because they need your comfort and care.