The Bible exhorts Christians to love strangers and show hospitality. In this article the author goes through a list of potential strangers who may be in need of your hospitable gift. Visitors in your church, members within the church you are not familiar with, Christians you meet on the street, and enemies. How do you show hospitality to these people?

Source: Faith in Focus, 2014. 3 pages.

A Stranger Love

Our family is in the throes of preparing to move many miles away so that my husband can take up the call to be pastor in another church. Our house is a jumble of sorting and tidying and, in the busyness of the week, the floor hadn’t been mopped and a half-completed jigsaw (part of the sorting) was all over the dining table. We had visitors at church that had nowhere to go for lunch, so we invited them over, along with several of our children’s friends. A quiet family lunch quickly turned into fourteen. The Lord provided, and we all had a sweet time of fellowship and precious time together.

A Command from the Lord🔗

There is a Greek word in the New Tes­tament, philoxenia, that means ‘stran­ger love’ or ‘love for a stranger’. Xenia (meaning ‘stranger’) is the word from which we get xenophobia; a fear of strangers. Philoxenia is translated as hospitality in the Bible. In Romans 12:13 we are commanded to “contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospital­ity.” The word ‘seek’ has the sense of pursue in Romans 12:13 and is written as a participle with imperatival force. Loving strangers is to be actively pursued as an ongoing pattern in life. Hebrews 13:2 states “do not neglect to show hospital­ity to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” The verb not to neglect/overlook/forsake is an im­perative (command) 1 Peter 4:9 says: “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” There is no explicit verb in the Greek of this sentence: lit. “hospita­ble (pl) to one another without grum­bling”. The imperative ‘to be’ is implied, as in many places where the verb is not stated. Given the above, it is clear that the extension of love to strangers (hospitality) is not an optional extra, but a command from our Lord.

In our western culture, showing hos­pitality has come to mean having people over for a meal, or to stay a night. If, however, we focus on the full meaning of the word, ‘love for a stranger’, we will realize it is way more than just food or a bed. In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus says some hard things about how He will separate the ‘goats’ from the ‘sheep’, when He returns. The ‘sheep’ gave food, drink, welcomed the stran­ger, clothed the naked, visited the sick and those in prison, to the least of His brothers and sisters. He is talking about showing love for a stranger, and ways we can do that, especially to those of the household of faith. The ‘goats’ did not do these things.

There are many accounts in the Bible of people of faith showing love to a stranger. For example: Abraham and the three angels, Jesus feeding the crowds of 5000 and 4000, the two that walked on the road to Emmaus.

Hospitality is to be generous, open­handed, unstinting, without grumbling or complaining (1 Peter 4:9). Munificent! Opposed to this is hospitality that is stingy (putting out exactly the right amount of biscuits on a plate, for the number of people you are hosting, unless that is all you have), keeping oneself aloof, se­cluded or apart. It is a command from the Lord and we are to ALL show love for a stranger. It isn’t a ‘gift’ that some people have and others don’t, rather, it is a command from the Lord for all who love Him, and He will provide all that we need to do what He has called us to do.

What Strangers?🔗

But, you might say, I don’t know any strangers. Who are these strangers whom we are to love? Let’s start with strangers who come to a church service on a Sunday. People sometimes come to church, curious about what we do and how we do it. They may have been invited by someone from within the church (a neighbour, a work mate, or a relative), or they may have seen an advertisement in the newspaper or looked the church up on the internet. They may be from another area and are visiting us with a view to moving to our area and (maybe) our church. They may be coming from another church within our city, wanting to see if our church is closer to the truth than the one they are cur­rently attending. A Christian young lady recently came to our church, and was unsure where to sit. The young people in the church quickly made her feel welcome and introduced her to others and she has now joined the church.

Sometimes we find it difficult talking to someone from a different culture, so­cio-economic group, or just strangers in general. We can start by asking questions like “are you visiting us today?” (usually visitors are very noticeable, we ‘know’ everyone who attends regularly) or “do you know anyone here?” (I asked this question recently and found out the visi­tors were related to half the congregation. Another connection learnt!). Other questions might be: How did you hear about this church; Do you normally go to church; Wow, that’s quite a tattoo, what does it mean? God doesn’t want people to be standing on their own – He wants us, commands us, to show a stranger love.

Other people to whom we can show hospitality include:

Regular visitors: These people have been attending church for a while but haven’t, as yet, joined the church. How well do we know them? Sometimes people return to the church after a long period away, who may have been men­tally or physically ill, or outrageously rebellious. Let’s not assume we know them now just because we knew them in their youth, or that they will never change their behaviour, but rather show love and grace to them, welcoming them back to the church and encouraging them in their walk with the Lord (James 5:19-20). Other regular visitors may be university students from other churches/cities. Show hospitality to them; they often slip through the net and either attend sporadically or stop attending altogether because they don’t feel like they belong. Some regular visitors haven’t joined the church for various reasons. Engage them. Talk to them. Show hospitality and maybe, over time, through God’s grace and us showing a stranger love, they may become full members.

People we don’t know well: In any size church, there are always people that we don’t know as well as we should. We are members of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12) and if the parts of a human body aren’t intimately joined and con­nected, the body will not be healthy or be able to work properly. The same prin­ciple works within the body of Christ; if we are not connected to each other, we will not function well. There will be some people, no matter how small or large the congregation, who are stran­gers to you; for example: whose strug­gles and joys you are unaware of. How did they meet their spouse, how did they come to know the Lord (not eve­ryone has grown up in the church), do they play musical instruments (there are a lot of closet players out there who could be used by God in various ways but are too shy or just let others do it), do they have issues in their lives that need counsel or prayer? This is part of loving the body of Christ that you are involved in and caring for one another.

Visiting speakers/missionaries: Don’t assume that a meal or accommodation has been arranged. Many years ago we asked, out of politeness, if the mission­ary couple, who were speaking at our church, had somewhere to stay. They didn’t! And this was after the evening speaking engagement! We quickly invited them to stay and we were very blessed to hear of their time on the mission field and how God had used the loss of all their savings (over $360,000) to strengthen their faith in Him and to not to trust in things that rust and get moth-eaten. One visiting preacher spoke of how he had been given a handshake and a cheque at the door and left to his own devices, even though he had a long drive ahead of him. We are ex­horted by Paul to “do good to every­one, especially to those who are of the household of faith”. (Gal 6:10)

Christians we meet in the street: We often meet other Christian people in the normal walks of our lives. We might meet them at work, in Christian service (like food bank, op shop, youth ministry), at school, hobby classes, re­tirement home. Show love to a stranger, talk to them, invite them for a meal or a cuppa. David and I would not even be in the Reformed Churches of NZ today without Reformed people showing love and hospitality to us, and, over time, dis­cussing great theological issues with us.

Non-Christians in the community: Use hospitality as an out-reach to show God’s love and grace to those who do not know the Lord. These may be your neighbours, employers or employees, landlord or tenants, people we bump into on a regular basis. Or it may be a chance meeting. One night, after mid­night, there was a knock on the door and there stood a barefoot Maori looking for a bed for the night as he had become stranded on his way down to Wellington for a tangi (funeral). David took him to the caravan and saw that he had eve­rything he needed and invited him in for breakfast. He was a lovely young man, and we had quite a long con­versation before he left to continue his journey. Show a stranger love. We do not know how the Lord will use us in other people’s lives.

Enemies: Sadly, in this life, we can attract enemies. It is even sadder when they are of the household of faith. These people become strangers to us, and God’s Word commands us to show love to strangers. We are told to love our brother because God loved us first (1 John 4:19-21), and, so as far as it depends on you, live at peace with one another (Rom 12:18). Your offers of hospitality may be rebuffed and you may be turned away, but be ever willing to show love to the one who has become a stranger to you.

We often come up with many excuses not to show hospitality to others, whether it is tiredness, being too busy, having a too small or an in-the-middle-of-renova­tion house, a dislike of other people, or not knowing what to cook. We can offer all sorts of reasons to not show hospital­ity. Yes, sometimes it is difficult but the Lord blesses our attempts and encour­ages us in our walk with Him and He knits us closer together with the other members of His body.

So, how can you show love for the strangers in your life, in your church and to those who wander across your path in life? How will you seek to show hospitality?

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