This last Friday, we collected our exchange student from the airport in Nashville. We were supposed to have received her on Thursday, but a long line of storms caused her flight to be canceled from D. C. to Nashville. To us, she is our Spanish daughter, hailing from Madrid, Spain. We have spoken with her and her parents via Facetime since earlier this year about her stay with us, so we felt like meeting her last week was the climax of a relationship already in the making.
Beatriz is our daughter’s age, sixteen, and a junior in high school. She speaks English very well. She’ll be with us for the entire academic year even through holidays. I can’t imagine living without my own daughter for a whole year, but if I did or had to, I’d want her to be with a family that would love her as their own, which is what my wife and I are endeavoring to do with Bea. This, we believe, is what we should do as Christians—regard her as family, not as a stranger.
3 John is a short epistle whose subject centers on hospitality (vv. 5–6). Gaius showed hospitality to his brethren—to strangers (v. 5). The term in verse six translated “to send” suggests that Gaius supplied the brethren with resources they would have needed. Gaius’ love was demonstrated in what he did more so than what he said (cf. James 2:15–16).
To the early Christians, hospitality was far different from our modern understanding (cf. Rom. 12.13; 1 Tim. 3.2; Titus 1.8; Hebrews 13.2; 1 Peter 4.9). Because of hospitality in the Greco-Roman world, inns, hostels, hospitals and hospice houses were eventually born—some from Greco-Roman society and others from Christian practice. However, in the early church, many preachers were itinerant, so it was often the duty of Christians to provide them with hospitality.
Jesus exhorted His disciples to take up people on the offer of hospitality as a preferred exercise to inns (Matt. 10:11–14). Those unworthy were worse than Sodom and Gomorrah (Matt. 10:15)—note the hospitality reference to Heb. 13:2. God’s care for strangers underlies Israel’s practice of hospitality: God “loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing” (Deut. 10:18). Israel was prohibited from afflicting strangers (Exod. 22:21) because they had been strangers in Egypt (Exod. 23:9). Primitive cultures were suspicious of and distant to strangers since they were believed to have had dark enchantments. Strangers were often killed or driven away because they had no legal or religious rights but they later came to be regarded as messengers of the gods, and hospitality was shown only out of fear. Hospitality, therefore, led to an extension of protection under law and religion (cf. Exod. 12:49).
Though Israel left Egypt as strangers, the land that they were to inherit was also one in which they would be “strangers and sojourners” with God (Lev. 25:23). Israel had been shown hospitality in Egypt, but their sojourn became one of affliction and thus lousy hospitality (Exod. 1:11–14). God, however, would bring them to a land of relative ease and rest if they would only obey his commandments (Lev. 16:3–13; Deut. 28:1–14). By doing this, God gave Israel two contrasting pictures of hospitality—the afflictive treatment from Egypt versus the hospitality of love and care from him. This was to serve as Israel’s example of how they should treat strangers and be hospitable because they were once strangers themselves (Exod. 23:9).
In John’s letter, Gaius faithfully showed hospitality, but not Diotrephes. Diotrephes not only refused to recognize the authority of John, but he also talked “wicked nonsense” against John and the others and refused to welcome the brethren and control those who didn’t agree with him. Diotrephes was a man with his own agenda, and he was the anti-Gaius. We, however, want to be welcoming, accommodating, and loving to our Spanish daughter for the duration of her stay—something we believe will be a blessing to us all.