[From ws3/18 p. 14 – May 14 – May 20]

“Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.” 1 Peter 4:9

“The end of all things has drawn close,” wrote Peter. Yes, the violent end of the Jewish system of things would come in less than a decade (1 Peter 4:4-12)” – par. 1

True, with Peter writing sometime between 62 and 64 CE, the start of the end of all things relating to the Jewish System of Things was only 2 to 4 years away in 66 CE when the rebellion against Rome resulted in a Roman invasion of Judea that culminated in the complete eradication of the Jews as a nation by 73 CE.

 “Among other things, Peter urged his brothers: “Be hospitable to one another.” (1 Pet. 4:9)” – par. 2

The full verse adds “without grumbling” and the prior verse talks about having “intense love for one another”. In context then this would suggest the early Christians were having love for one another and showing hospitality to one another, but the love needed to be stronger, more intense; and the hospitality provided without grumbling.

Why was this necessary?

Let us briefly consider the context of Peter’s letter. Were there any events that occurred around the time of writing that might have contributed to Peter’s counsel? In 64 CE, Emperor Nero caused the Great Fire of Rome which he blamed on Christians.  They were persecuted as a result, with many being put to death in the arena or burnt as human torches. This had been prophesied by Jesus in Matthew 24:9-10, Mark 13:12-13, and Luke 21:12-17.

Any Christians who were able, would doubtless have fled Rome to surrounding towns and provinces.  As refugees, they would have needed accommodation and provisions. So, it was likely that it was hospitality to these refugees—these strangers—that Paul was referring to, rather than to local Christians. Of course, there was risk involved.  Offering hospitality to persecuted ones, made the resident Christians even more of a target themselves. These were indeed “critical times hard to deal with” and those early Christians needed reminders to display their Christian qualities amid those stressful, turbulent times. (2 Ti 3:1)

Paragraph 2 then goes on to say:

The word “hospitality” in Greek literally means “fondness for, or kindness to, strangers.” Note, however, that Peter urged his Christian brothers and sisters to be hospitable to one another, to those whom they already knew and associated with.”

Here, the Watchtower article is claiming that despite the use of the Greek word for hospitality referring to “kindness to strangers”, Peter was applying it to Christians who already knew one another. Is this a reasonable assumption, given the historical context? If Peter’s focus had been on showing kindness to those already known to one another, he surely would have used the correct Greek word to ensure that his readers understood him properly. Even today, English dictionaries define hospitality as “friendly, welcoming behaviour towards guests or people you have just met.” Note, it does not say “friends or acquaintances”. We should, however, concede that even in a congregation of Christians, both then and today, there will those who may be closer to the definition of strangers than friends to us.  Hence, showing hospitality to such ones, so as to get to know them better, would be an act of Christian kindness.

Opportunities to Show Hospitality

Paragraphs 5-12 then discuss different aspects of how we can show hospitality within the congregation. As you will see, it is very organization-centric. Not once is showing hospitality to a new neighbour or new workmate who perhaps is having a difficult time even hinted at.

“We welcome all who attend our Christian meetings as fellow guests at a spiritual meal. Jehovah and his organization are our hosts. (Romans 15:7)”. – par. 5

How interesting that it is not Jesus, the head of the congregation, nor even the local congregation members, who are the hosts, but “Jehovah and his organization.”  Does this tally with what Paul says to the Romans?

“So welcome one another, just as the Christ also welcomed you, with glory to God in view”. (Romans 15:7)

Of course, if Jesus is our host, so is Jehovah…but the organization?  Where is the scriptural basis for such a statement?  Replacing “Jesus” with “Organization” in this case surely amounts to an act of presumptuousness!

“Why not take the initiative to welcome these new ones, no matter how they may be dressed or groomed? (James 2:1-4)” – par. 5

While this suggestion is admirable based on the principle in the scripture—and for many congregations a very important reminder—who was James actually talking to?  James admonishes:

“My brothers, you are not holding to the faith of our glorious Lord Jesus Christ while showing favouritism, are you?” (James 2:1)

James was addressing the early Christian brothers.  What were they doing? It seems they were showing favouritism to the richer brothers over the poorer ones based on how they were dressed.   He reasons by saying, “If so, do you not have class distinctions among yourselves and have you not become judges rendering wicked decisions?” (James 2:4) Clearly, the problem was between brothers.

Did James insist that both the rich and the poor dress the same way?  Did he stipulate a dress code to be followed by both men and women?  Today, brothers are expected to be clean shaven, and to dress in formal business attire—a suit, plain shirt and a tie—while sisters are discouraged from wearing formal business attire such as a pant suit, or pants of any sort.

If a brother were to sport a beard, or refuse to wear a tie to the meetings, or if a sister were to dress in pants of any sort, they would be looked down upon, viewed as weak or even rebellious.  In other words, class distinctions would be made.  Is this not a modern-day variation on the situation that James was addressing?  When Witnesses make such distinctions, are they not turning themselves into “judges rendering wicked decisions”? Surely this is the real lesson from James.

Overcoming Barriers to Hospitality

The first barrier comes as no surprise: “Time and Energy”.

After stating the obvious—that witnesses are very busy and “feel that they simply do not have the time or energy to show hospitality”—paragraph 14 urges readers to “make some adjustments so that you will have time and energy to accept or offer hospitality”.

How exactly does the organization suggest that busy Witnesses can make time and energy for showing hospitality? By reducing time spent in field service?  How often have you driven by the home of an elderly brother or sister, or an ailing member of the congregation, and felt guilty that you didn’t stop in for an encouraging visit, because you had to get your field service hours in?

What about cutting back on the number or length of congregation meetings?  Surely we could reduce or eliminate the weekly “Living as Christians” meeting which has little to do with the Christ and living as a Christian, but much to do about conforming to the Organization mold and mode of conduct.

The second barrier mentioned is: “Your feelings about yourself”.

Paragraph 15 thru 17 mention how some are shy; some have limited income; some don’t have the skills to cook a nice meal. Also, many feel their offering cannot match what others may be able to provide. Sadly, it does not offer a scriptural principle. Here is one:

“For if the readiness is there first, it is especially acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what a person does not have.” (2 Corinthians 8:12)

What matters is our heart motivation.  If we are motivated by love, then we will happily minimize time spent on organizational requirements in favour of showing hospitality to our brothers and sisters in the faith, and also to those on the outside.

The third barrier mentioned is: “Your feelings about others”.

This is a tricky area. Philippians 2:3 is quoted, “With humility consider others superior to you”. This is the ideal.  But understandably, considering some as superior to ourselves when we know what sort of person they really are can be a real challenge. Therefore, we would need to use a balanced approach to applying this fine principle.

For instance, there is a big difference between being hospitable to someone who perhaps upset us with a remark, and someone who upset us by defrauding us or  abusing us—verbally, physically, or even sexually.

The last three paragraphs deal with how to be a good guest. This, at least, is good counsel; particularly the reminder not to go back on one’s promise. (Psalm 15:4) Many have the habit of accepting invitations only to cancel at the last minute, when they get what they consider a better one as the paragraph states. It is also a good reminder to respect local customs so as not to offend, provided they do not conflict with Bible principles.

Overall the article is discussing hospitality, a commendable Christian quality, with practical points as to how to apply it. Sadly, as with many articles, it is heavily slanted to filling organizational needs rather than displaying the quality in a true and proper Christian manner.