Tuesday, July 19, 2011

He Must Be... Hospitable

1 Timothy 3:2, in the midst of a long list of qualifications for the office of overseer (i.e., bishop, i.e. pastor), mentions that he must be "hospitable". So says the English translation.

In the course of a conversation with my lovely wife, we got to talking about what exactly this means for a pastor and pastor's wife. Perhaps it was my foggy recollection of what life was like in the home of Martin Luther, in which his wife Katie was often frustrated by Martin's liberal hospitality - and on her fell the burden to feed the frequent guests at their table. For instance, there's this passage from the historical fiction novel, "Kitty, My Rib":
Even the mealtime offered no opportunity for them to talk to each other because the table was always surrounded by students and visitors. The discussions at mealtime were nearly always of a theological nature, with Luther talking and the students, wide-eyed, hanging on his every word.

Katherine finally concluded that parsonage life was not conducive to a normal, happy family life. A parsonage couple had to work harder than other married people to remain happy and be close to each other.

Luther would even pawn wedding gifts to give money to the beggars at his door. Today, I doubt many would do the same. Well, my wife would kill me. And rightly so, for such a picture of life in the pastor's home, if accurate, certainly doesn't seem balanced. After all, a pastor has a vocation to be a husband and father as well. "Kitty, My Rib" makes it seem like Dr. Luther got the balance wrong here.

Nevertheless, times do change. Much of what was expected of a pastor then and there is different than here and now. But that doesn't change the words of Holy Scripture. A pastor is to be hospitable. So, Lutherans, "what does this mean?"

The Greek word from 1 Timothy 3, "Philo-nemos" literally means, "lover of strangers". Forms of it are also used in Titus 1:8 (a parallel passage to this one) and Romans 12:13 "contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality" (more on this later).

Jesus emphasizes this in Matthew 25 (the Sheep and the Goats), "I was a stranger and you welcomed me". Likewise Abraham showed hospitality to the strangers who visited him. There are other Old Testament examples.

The Lutheran Study Bible offers the following note on the 1 Timothy passage:
"hospitable - Not one who merely likes to entertain, but, in the first century, one who would take in Christian strangers who were traveling or fleeing from persecution".

Professor Buls collects some excellent commentary on "hospitality":
"Entertain strangers" literally means "love of strangers." The world is not inclined to love a stranger. In fact in many cases it is not inclined to love the one who is well known.

Lenski: Public hotels and lodging places were unknown at this time.

Guthrie: In the environment of the early church it was essential, since alternative facilities for travellers were such that Christians would not choose to make use of them. Wayfarer's hostels, where they existed, were notorious for immorality.

Kretzmann: The hospitality of the early Christians was commented upon favorably even by heathen writers.

Bruce: In the New Testament hospitality is incumbent on all Christians, and Christian leaders in particular must be 'given to hospitality, 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8.

Christians should open their homes to each other. This was a common practice in the early days of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. Pastors, with their whole families, would often stop at each other's houses and even spend the night or two with each other. In those days people would often spend Sunday afternoons visiting each other. Modern living has curtailed much of earlier hospitality.

The second part of verse 2 explains the first part. That is the purpose of the word "for."

Lenski: In Genesis 18:3 Abraham, and in Genesis 19:2, Lot actually entertained angels unawares.

Bruce: The incidents of Gideon, Judges 6:11ff, and Monoah, Judges 13:3ff, and Tobit, Tobit 3:17ff; 5:4ff, at a later date, may also have been in our author's mind.

There are two important points in this verse: kindness to strangers and the blessing which God may have in store for us.

Lenski: It is sufficient to say that, as some were unexpectedly blessed by receiving strangers, so we, too, may be thus blessed. Matthew 25:38, 40.

Bengel: An unknown guest is often more worthy than he appears, and has angels as attendants, although they are unseen. Matthew 25:40, 45.

Love for strangers is not limited to welcoming people into our houses. Love for strangers can be exercised just about any place.

So it seems clear that our modern American connotation of "hospitality", that we would welcome people into our home, doesn't quite get at the heart of it.

Romans 12:13 seems to be the key. Here we have a "this and that" sort of phrase, a polarity - between the "needs of the saints" and "seek to show hospitality". In other words, help those you know, and those you don't. Love the congregation as well as the stranger.

That's hospitality, in the biblical sense. It's not about the people you know, it's about the people you don't. It's just another application of the second greatest commandment, "Love your neighbor as yourself". Only this time it is the neighbor you've just met. The stranger.

Sometimes this might mean opening your home for them to stay. Maybe even feeding or clothing them. But neither is the Christian a doormat, to be taken advantage of by those whose needs aren't real (see 2 Thessalonians 3:10). Today there are many and various ways of "helping the stranger" that do not entail turning one's home into a bed and breakfast. Hospitality might not even have anything to do with your home - for "loving the stranger" can be done out and about in various places we go.

And yet, with all that said, we will still fail. The daunting list of qualifications for a pastor are just as much accusatory as the pointing finger of the Ten Commandments are to every sinner. Here too, the pastor and his family have an opportunity to model Christian living by repentance.

We pray the Lord to forgive our lack of love for strangers, and by His Spirit work to make us more like Christ. That our eyes would be opened to the true needs of others, and how we can serve them.

For Jesus Christ has done us the greatest service, and offers us the ultimate welcome - strangers that we were, separated from him by our sin. In Jesus we go from, "depart from me I never knew you" to "enter into your rest, those who are blessed by my Father". By his cross and resurrection we go from being outsiders, aliens and even enemies - to dearly beloved children of God.

So Lord, help us to love our neighbors - the ones we know, and the ones we don't. Help us, pastors and people, to be hospitable - to love the stranger.

Do I still think it's a good idea for a pastor and his family to be "welcoming"? Yes. Does that mean we are like Luther, with an open house every night? No.
A pastor who is standoffish and inaccessible doesn't serve his sheep as well as he could. But a pastor who is a husband and father must see to his family's needs as well. For everything there is a season, a time, and a purpose under heaven.

Common sense, experience, and your wife's elbow in your ribs (apologies to Kitty) will go a long way to finding the right balance.

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