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Christian Hospitality

“He said, ‘Come in, blessed of Yahweh. To what end do you stand outside? I have tidied up the house and a place for the camels.’ And the man went into the house and unharnessed the camels. He gave straw and fodder to the camels and water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him.”

(Genesis 24:31-32)

 

In light of the verses that precede these verses, one needs to ask the motivation behind this family’s generosity. Certainly brother Laban’s character we know and it seems that Laban has taken the role of speaking for the family. His father, being Abraham’s nephew, would likely have been fairly old and perhaps, Laban being the rightful heir, was running the activities of his father’s house at this point. We are not told for sure, but he takes charge of the situation. The needs of Eliezer and his men are met, as well as the needs of their mounts, which means that Laban’s household is certainly not a modest one, and this wealthy visitor is brought in. There seems no question that Laban wants to see what he might get out of this deal. Sadly, that seems to motivate his hospitality.

As Christians, we are commended to show hospitality to others, especially to those believers who are traveling to do the Lord’s work (3 John 5-8). Yet, we too should examine our hearts to discern what our motivation is for being hospitable to those in our midst. Are we hoping for money having done so? Are we hoping that our expenses will be recouped — if we have our expenses recouped as a matter of course, we are offering a lodging service, not generously offering hospitality. Are we seeking the praise of others? Jesus reminds us that if we act well for the purpose of the praise of men, then that is all the praise we will ever receive (Matthew 6:2-4). Surely we cannot hope to earn merit in God’s eyes through hospitality because those things that we have, were given to us by God in the first place and thus are not truly our own. We are simply rightly stewarding God’s possessions when we offer hospitality.

Instead of seeking our own interests, let us set as our motivation for hospitality the glory of God. It is for His praise that we host and it is by His grace that we can gratefully receive the hospitality of others. It is for His glory that we may serve the needs of those whom God places in our midst. When we take our own motivations out of the equation, grace can be offered and received to the praise of our God and King. So long as we place our own desires into the mix, as does Laban, the name of man is only ever lifted up, and that is not hospitality.

The Woman at the Well

“Then the servant ran over to meet her and said, ‘Please provide a drink for me of a little water from your pitcher.’ And she said, ‘Drink my lord.’ And she hastened to put down her pitcher by her hand and provided him drink.’”

(Genesis 24:17-18)

 

You almost need to picture the site of this event to really grasp the intensity of what is taking place. The servant, Eliezer, has been sent out blind to find this girl. He has made a long journey and now he is here. He says a prayer to God asking for God’s grace and then he sees the young lady whom he perceives is the one — clearly there is a nudge of the Holy Spirit in this action. Now he is ready to put his plan to the test. Will she give him water and water his camels or will she retreat from this man whom she has never met? You can feel the electricity in the air and Eliezer dismounts his camel and rushes over to this woman — can you imagine his excitement he must feel? Can you imagine the wonder that would have been going on in Rebekah’s mind as she sees this unknown man running in her direction? Don’t lose sight of the humanity of these people.

Notice the contrast between the request and the response. He asks for a “little water” — essentially, a small sip to wet his lips; she provides a full pitcher to refresh him. The text even states that she put the pitcher down by her own hand. She doesn’t hand him the pitcher and say, “draw some yourself,” but instead, she lets down the pitcher herself and provides him with a drink. What will follow is a watering of the camels (again a willingness to work and labor to bless), but what we find in her is grace and hospitality. Truly this is a woman of noble character.

There is much about this event that is reminiscent of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well (John 4), but the contrast is also remarkable. Here it is the woman that does provide the servant with water rather than receiving water from him. Here, Rebekah is marked as a virgin and a woman of virtue; the woman Jesus encountered had numerous marriages and was living in immorality — even the other women would not come to the well with her. Perhaps the contrasts we see between these two scriptural encounters are to remind us of how far sin has caused people to fall and how desperately we need a redeemer. Jesus indeed provides redemption for the woman at the well. Eliezer provides something different for Rebekah. He comes to bring her into the covenantal family of Isaac — to become the woman through whom God’s promised line would flow. Indeed, Jesus the savior would descend from Isaac and Rebekah’s union.

There is much we can learn from this interaction about trust and hospitality, but the most important thing is that we recognize the God whose hand is governing all of these events to bring about his good and glorious purposes. We should never be tempted to forget that we serve the same God and that he is also working in our lives to bring about his ends and purposes as well.