The Bible exhorts Christians to love strangers and show hospitality. In this article the author shows some practical ways of loving strangers and showing hospitality through prayer, serving food and drinks, and providing accommodations.

Source: Faith in Focus, 2014. 3 pages.

"Philoxenia" - Love Of A Stranger

I wrote an article on hospitality for the May 2014 Faith in Focus with the title “A Stranger Love”. To recap, we saw that the Greek word that is translated ‘hospitality’ in the New Testament is ‘philoxenia’ meaning love of a stranger.

Christ showed us love while we were yet strangers by giving his life for us so that we might have life. So too, we are to show love to strangers, not by giving our lives for others but by showing sacri­ficial love to strangers. Most of the times it is mentioned in the Bible, ‘philoxenia’ is used with ‘imperatival force’, meaning it is something we must do,1 without grumbling.2 Since writing the article on “A Stranger Love”, I have been asked “but how can I show hospitality in prac­tical ways?”

First you need to Be Prepared. Al­though this is the motto of the Scout movement, it could also be the motto of Christian women (and men!). Be pre­pared. So what does being prepared look like in reference to hospitality? Just as Jesus prayed, we too must pray so that we are prepared spiritually.

PRAY – for strength, ability, wisdom and courage. Hospitality can seem like a scary thing to do when you are first starting out but God repeatedly says “Do not fear, for I am with you.”

PRAY – for wisdom as to who to speak to and invite. Sometimes you don’t know where to start. You could start at the be­ginning of your church phone list (or at the end), asking yourself “how well do I know everyone in our congregation?” You might start with those in your Bible study or on your elder’s list. (In 1 Tim 3:2 one of the qualifications for elders is that they are hospitable and, unless they are single, they will need their wife (and family) on board to help to fulfil that mandate.)

PRAY – for opportunities to invite people for a meal, a drink or to stay overnight. Be open and generous with your invitations to: visitors to church, people from your work place, people you meet on the plane, hitchhikers/tour­ists/foreigners to our country.

PRAY – for the person(s) you have invited. After you have invited someone, pray for your time together, that it would be a time of Christian fellowship (or if you are meeting with a non-Christian that you would show, in some way or by some word, the love of Christ) and that you would be a blessing to them.

In Matthew 25:35-36 Jesus talks to us about several ways we can show love to a stranger with some practical examples of how these scriptural principles of hos­pitality can be worked out in our lives:

For I was hungry and you gave Me food
I was thirsty and you gave Me drink
I was a stranger and you took Me in
I was naked and you clothed Me
I was in prison and you came to Me

Let us look at these five different areas we can show a stranger love.

FOOD: this is what we traditionally think of when we think of hospitality. We all have dishes that we can prepare with our eyes closed. It doesn’t have to be flash. Or even enough. People haven’t come to get their daily quota of calories from you. They have, primarily, come for the opportunity to meet you and get to know you, and vice versa. Sometime ago, an unexpected guest turned up at dinner time, after I had already stretched the meal for 3 hitch­hikers, so I quickly added more frozen peas to the pot and put bread and butter on the table, to make everything go further. Cheese toasties, cup-a-soup, peanut butter sandwiches, or macaroni cheese, when served with a smile, will be received well.

Many of us have traditional dishes we like to prepare: Nasi Goreng, croquettes, roast beef and yorkshire puddings, braai, pavlova, oliebollen, chapatti. These can be very special to people who are not used to eating these things (and to those who are!). These days many people have food tolerances or allergies. If they are highly allergic to something, it is up to them to let you know. I had one gen­tleman tell me he was fatally allergic to fish just as I was about to add Caesar dressing to a salad (it has anchovies in it). I usually ask people when I invite them if there is anything they don’t/can’t eat. If you end up with a gluten-fee, dairy-free, sugar and soy intolerant vegetarian you could either ask them for a recipe that they could eat or ask them to bring a dish to share. The internet is full of recipes that covers all sorts of food in­tolerances/allergies.

Special occasions are a good time to invite people, for example, at anniversaries or on birthdays. You can invite singles, widows, the lost and lonely and share your special time with them. If you are having people for a special meal, set the table beautifully and use the good crockery (if you have some). My children enjoy decorating with candles, flowers (anything that can be picked out of the garden, or you could choose stones or shells), and prettily folded serviettes.

Occasionally people will not be able to come and give you late notice because of sickness or an unexpected event. Be gracious and remember to re-schedule, but what do you do with the excess food? Use this as an opportunity to take a meal to a widow, a shut-in or to a mum of 3 young children who would appreciate having a night off from cooking. We can show hospitality with food we have pre­served, or an over-abundance of garden produce by sharing with others.

DRINK: In today’s coffee culture, an offer to take someone out for a coffee may be less intimidating than a meal. I often ask young women to catch up over coffee. We have a great time and it is easy to talk with them without the distractions of children and housework demanding my attention and the atmos­phere is relaxed. A cold drink on a hot day to a worker on site or to someone who has dropped in is very refreshing. After church, make use of the time you have when having a cup of coffee, to be intentional about having a Christianly conversation. This may seem so obvious, it doesn’t even need to be said, and yet, sadly, our conversations are often about the busyness of the week, the weather, the problems of work/school/home without a mention of Christ, how the Lord has blessed or upheld us during the week. Recently I was talking to someone after church and she asked me, “How can I pray for you this week?” It brought a focus to our conversation. Another topic to talk about is the sermon, whilst it is still fresh in your mind.

CLOTHING: We can show hospitality by recirculating our clothing to families, students and unemployed people. Take clothes that your children have outgrown to another family. Have a Bring-and-Swap night with the ladies at church. Offer to alter or mend clothing for others. This is a dying art and many people no longer possess the skills or tools to be able to do simple repair jobs. Donate clothing to missions, church opportunity shops or to the homeless in your city/town. This can be such a blessing to others and a real way of showing a stranger love.

ACCOMMODATION: Who could you offer accommodation to? Maybe visiting preachers, missionaries, singing groups (not the whole group necessar­ily but maybe one or two). Be generous. We have had visitors sleep in our bed while we slept on the fold-out couch. Have the children sleep in the lounge while your guests sleep in their beds. If you have a caravan or camper van, that may be another option. Of course, having a spare room as a guest room is ideal but many of us do not have that luxury (until the children move out of home). Be thoughtful – especially of visit­ing missionaries and preachers/teachers. Be aware of their need for rest. As in­teresting and exciting as it may be, resist the urge to talk late into the night with them (unless they are up for it). Too many late nights for a travelling speaker can become exhausting. Time may well present itself for longer fellowship over breakfast, morning tea or dinner. If they feel rested and welcomed they may well want to return for a visit at another time. Be practical and attend to their physi­cal needs; supply towels and show them where and how to make a cup of tea/coffee. Tell your guests what time break­fast is normally served, but be flexible if they require an earlier/later time. Also be available. Sometimes, guests have some extra time and would like to chat, visit local places of interest (overseas visitors in particular), practice their music/singing or write. Also make sure they arrive at the concert/workshop/church or their train/plane in plenty of time. Other ways of showing hospitality with accommodation may be fostering children, having elderly parents live with you, sheltering homeless people when they have no other place to go or offering to help a temporarily misplaced, unhoused person(s).

VISITING THE SICK: Another way of showing hospitality, especially to those of the faith, is to visit the sick, infirm and disabled. Many of our elderly people become sick and house-bound in their latter years. They may have been faith­ful Christians for many, many years and now, due to failing health, they are no longer able to attend church services. They appreciate a visit (not too long) and most really enjoy meeting children too. Visit those who are in hospital and minister to the rest of the family. Taking a meal to the family of those in hospital can be helpful at a very stressful time. Recently, my daughter was sick and a friend brought a bunch of cheery daf­fodils for her room and a card. It was very much appreciated.

PRISON: Here is an opportunity to show love to strangers and to bring the gospel to those who are in prison. Some of us may be able to be involved in the Prison Ministry,3 bringing the Word of God to prisoners. Another ministry to become involved in is Crossroads Bible Institute that sends Christian correspond­ence courses to prisoners.4

So let us prepare ourselves to show ‘philoxenia’, and put into practice showing love to a stranger. As Christ sacrificed his life for us, let us there­fore sacrifice some of our comfort, time and money to show strangers the love of Christ.


  1. ^ Romans 12:13, Heb 13:2
  2. ^ 1 Peter 4:9
  3. ^ See for more informa­tion about Prison Fellowship and Angel Tree ministries.
  4. ^ Contact CBI New Zealand P.O. Box 11005 Hast­ings 4158 New Zealand

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