Giving and Receiving

Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality (Romans 12:13).

Christians are instructed to be hospitable several times in our New Testament, and hospitality is highlighted as a necessary behavior of elders and worthy widows in the church (Romans 12:13, 1 Timothy 3:2, 5:10). Hospitality is a strength demonstrated in the characters of both Abraham and Lot (Genesis 18:1-8, 19:1-3). The widow of Zarephath was richly rewarded for her hospitality to Elijah (1 Kings 17:7ff) and the wealthy woman of Shunem was blessed by God for her hospitality to Elisha (2 Kings 4:8ff, 8:1-6). The hospitality of Abraham and Lot, sharing food and shelter with strangers, stands in stark contrast to the attitudes of the men of Sodom in Genesis 19, validating God’s mercy to Abraham and Lot while condemning Sodom and Gomorrah (and later generations of Judah, consider Ezekiel 16:49-50). Their example is referenced as a reason for God’s people today to also be diligent about hospitality, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). Hospitality, sharing our food, our homes, our transportation, our resources, with others, is putting Christian faith and love into practice. Perhaps the more we have that can be shared the more responsibility we have to share it, as when Paul warned that the rich should not put confidence in wealth, but rather, “Command those who are rich in this present world … to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:17-18). Whether we have much or little, Christians are called upon to share and be hospitable even to strangers, and especially to fellow believers.

The caveat, “willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:18), means that hospitality calls for not only sharing a meal or a ride or time or conversation or a place to sleep, as a duty, but also doing so with a gracious and willing heart. “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9). As one who has been a guest in many homes and at many tables, I personally greatly appreciate willing hospitality, and know that it can be very uncomfortable to be the recipient of hospitality given grudgingly, as an obligation rather than a generous gift. How much a person has may not directly reflect the willingness to share. Some of the finest hospitality I have ever received has been graciously given by people who had very little, and for whom the giving was actually a sacrifice. Such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

The story of the Philippian church begins in Acts 16, with the conversion of Lydia by the river. She promptly extended an offer of hospitality to Paul and his companions, to use her home as their residence and base of operations, an offer the itinerant preachers promptly accepted (Acts 16:14-15, 40). That gracious beginning for the Philippian church led to a congregation that flourished and continued to engage willingly and enthusiastically in “the matter of giving and receiving” as they shared with Paul several times during his travels, from Thessalonica to Corinth and even to Rome.

 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God (Philippians 4:15-18).

In this “matter of giving and receiving,” Paul wrote that the giving was credited (by God) to the account of the Philippian brethren, a pleasing sacrifice. Consider though, that for their gracious gift to do its job, it was necessary for it to be graciously received. The story of Philippi might have been much different if Paul and company had declined the offer of hospitality from Lydia. The story of the gospel, from the traveling of Jesus and the first sending of the twelve through the rest of the New Testament has depended both on the gift of hospitality and on gracious reception of the gifts provided. Consider the many times Jesus was a guest in people’s homes, and especially the hospitality of Peter in Capernaum. Recall too the instructions Jesus gave the twelve about their demeanor toward those who would volunteer to host them, and the blessing they should bestow on the kind and generous (Matthew 10:11-13, and consider Luke 10:5-8). It is important not only to be gracious in offering hospitality, but also gracious in receiving it.

Perhaps most of us have witnessed at some time a competition to be the giver, reluctance to be the recipient of buying lunch or some other small kindness. Sometimes such a competition to be “the giver” can become toxic, spoiling the happiness of the sharing and distorting the spirit of generosity. Recall that the Lord said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'” (Acts 20:35). So, it is important to be a giver, to practice hospitality, but it is also important to graciously let others practice hospitality and be blessed in the giving. Excel in giving, and also let others excel in giving. It is the Lord’s will that we be willing and gracious hosts, and also his will that we be gracious to others by accepting their hospitality in turn, as did Jesus himself.