Last night one of the students wished to talk to me to show his appreciation for my time and effort and for helping him get to know the Bible better. It was an awkward moment, given the circumstances, and he felt some regret that he had nothing to give me as a gift. I told him that as I am not a very materialistic person (nor do I have much storage space in my luggage, to be honest), I was not very particular about physical gifts. However, I did wish to give him some encouragement about his motives, even if he had nothing to give, and so I told him about Jesus’ story of the cup of cold water.
We find this lesson about a cup of cold water, one of the Bible’s many passages about hospitality, in Matthew 10:40-42. It reads: “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.”
What does this passage mean? At least one of its meanings deals with the question of hospitality, a question that has at times taken on an extreme importance in my life. With God there is a question of representation. The way that someone acts towards us as people is also an attack on those we are representatives of. An attack on an ambassador, for example, is an attack on the nation that ambassador represents. Hospitality and generosity shown to a person is generosity and favor shown to those whom that person represents. And our acts of either generosity or hostility to people are also acts against those whom they follow.
Two whole books, albeit small ones, of the Bible are devoted entirely to the subject of hospitality to traveling ministers. 2 John condemns false teachers and commands brethren not to show any hospitality to them, claiming that such hospitality is support of their heretical beliefs. The book of 3 John, on the other hand, is written to encourage a member of the Church of God to show hospitality to a godly minister in opposition to his tyrannical local pastor who wants to keep full control of his congregation for himself. In both of these books, the determining factor of the hospitality depends on the moral character of the person one is showing hospitality. It is a Christian duty to be hospitable to godly people, but it is a crime to harbor assassins and terrorists. We are judged by the company we keep.
And the same is true with hospitality. If someone is a godly man–whether they are a prophet or just an ordinary believer–our generosity and hospitality to such a person is an act of service and devotion toward God. Those who show love for their neighbor show love for God as well, and even small acts of service like giving a refreshing glass of cold water to someone who is thirsty is sufficient service to be blessed by God. All too often people are concerned that the small things they are able to do are not important enough for God’s notice, but Jesus Christ is very clear that these acts of service will receive a reward.
It is with this message that I sought to encourage the student who seemed a bit down about my leaving. Knowing the regular acts of service the students do on a day-to-day basis (including, it must be admitted, regularly helping to provide cups of water, sometimes tepid and sometimes cold), I am not in doubt of their generosity of character. And even if they are unable to provide me with any going away present commensurate to my service for them, I know that God will give them a reward or the love and respect in their hearts. They will be blessed for the honor that they have shown me, and for the fond memories they will hopefully have of me forever after. And that is enough.