Welcome The Stranger

Lesson #1: Show hospitality to strangers, they may be God’s heaven-sent angels

Dear friend, you are faithful in 
what you are doing for the brothers 
and sisters, even though they are 
strangers to you. 
3 John 5

The saying goes, “A man’s home is his castle.”  And we might add to that, “surrounded by a deep moat, protected by a closed drawbridge.”  At least that’s how it seems so many have come to treat their abodes.  But the concept of hospitality has a long history for us Christians.

The two angels arrived at Sodom in 
the evening, and Lot was sitting in 
the gateway of the city. When he saw 
them, he got up to meet them and 
bowed down with his face to the ground. 
“My lords,” he said, “please turn 
aside to your servant’s house. You 
can wash your feet and spend the 
night and then go on your way early 
in the morning.”

"No," they answered, "we will 
spend the night in the square."

But he insisted so strongly that 
they did go with him and entered 
his house.  He prepared a meal for 
them, baking bread without yeast, 
and they ate.
Genesis 19: 1-3

In Leviticus we are admonished to treat the traveler as one of our own family.  And throughout the New Testament we see the kindness of various townsfolk welcoming Jesus and the disciples along the way.  Without these strangers’ help they would’ve found themselves hungry and without a bed on which to lie their head.

And in our smallest Bible book, 3 John, we see the work of a church elder named Gaius.  The news of his hospitality and kindness toward fellow Christians reached John who noted how it brought him “great joy.”

But why is hospitality a life lesson?  The Greek word for hospitality is philoxenos from the two words philos (friend) and xenos (stranger) and it means to show proper warmth or friendliness to strangers.  It also means to have the readiness to share our home and other treasures.   So often when we think of hospitality in our home it means inviting friends and family for dinners and parties.   But strangers?  Pull up the drawbridge and release the piranhas into the moat!

So what is Christian hospitality?

  1. Answering calls from the church to hosts missionaries and guests
  2. Inviting church elders over for meals
  3. Hosting church activities such as Bible study in our homes
  4. Reaching out to our unfamiliar neighbors and inviting them over for coffee
  5. Being a welcoming face at church – not just a smile but showing a genuine interest in a new face

I wonder how many of us (I raise my hand) have read in the church bulletin about a visiting missionary needing a place to stay for a week or a car to borrow and we thought at best “Yea, I don’t feel comfortable with that” and at worst didn’t think about it at all?  

I have a friend who has always held her Catholic priests in very high honor.  It borders on being afraid of them.  And when a friend of hers invited her to have a private gathering with a local priest she was aghast that it was all so, well, normal.  It reminds me of when my kids were in elementary school and they thought the teacher didn’t have a life outside the classroom.  But church leaders are people in addition to their divinely appointed roles.  They enjoy fellowship just like you and me!

What hospitality is not.

  1. Allowing situations in our home where guests openly sin
  2. Inviting guests out of a sense of obligation, not love
  3. Feeling the need to have our homes be perfect before inviting guests

Let’s look at number 1.  Many years ago, my husband and I invited his brother and his brother’s girlfriend out for a visit.  They couldn’t afford to travel so we let them stay at our home.  Under one condition.  They’d have to sleep in separate rooms.  As a fairly new Christian, this was the first time I really stood my ground as the “new me.”  Initially, my brother-in-law took issue with this.  He commented that my husband and I had lived together before marriage so why should we now place this restriction on him – wasn’t that hypocritical?  Friends, let’s be honest.  Before we were made new in Christ, we did a lot of stupid, dangerous, sinful things.  It’s ok to now say those things were wrong.  And being that our house is our castle, you can make any rule you want.  We didn’t place judgement on what he did outside our home,  we just drew a line as to what was going to happen in our home, around our children.  Our hospitality included the use of our home but not the erasure of our morals.  The result?  They both came and had a great time plus we were able to witness to my brother in law the changes Christ had made in our lives.

Number two seems obvious but when people take action out of a sense of obligation rather than love, the road can get bumpy.  I read the story of a pastor who was invited to speak at a church.  The host family welcomed him in, showed him his room and then preceded to tell him they didn’t feel it was their responsibility to feed him.  They also worked very hard to completely ignore him over the course of five days.  They did their “Christian duty” in their eyes.  But can we really call that true Christian hospitality? I hope not.

The key to good hospitality isn’t found in the externals, like linen tablecloths and exquisitely furnished guest bedrooms, but in qualities like servanthood, a listening ear, and an encouraging word.

Max Lucado

When I was involved in PTA there was a chair position called “hospitality.”  What that entitled was setting up a beautifully appointed table of yummy food at various events.  Shouldn’t a church body’s goal be more of the philoxenos version?  How many times does your church have to beg people to be greeters or to host a home Bible study? Our church volunteer coordinators should be overwhelmed by the requests to be able to say “hello!” and shake hands with new people.  We should have too many homes (large and tiny) from which to choose for Bible study. We may not be the Hospitality Chair but we should all be committee members!

We ought therefore to show hospitality
to such people (the faithful) so that we
may work together for the truth.
3 John 8

A Christian who lives with an active approach to philoxenos brings God a lot of joy, just like Gaius did for John.  We are reminded in the Old Testament that at one point in our lives we were all strangers.  Strangers hoping for someone to reach out and say “hello.”  Strangers hoping someone would show us God’s love.  We need to assume that person is us.

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