Sunday, January 21, 2007


Philoxenia- Now that's not a word that is heard every day...probably because it's Greek! It's English pronunciation is a bit more common in speech, but unfortunately not so common in practice. It's not even a nuanced translation; philoxenia literally means "love of strangers"...and we translate it as the word "hospitality."

I did a word search for "hospitality" in the New Testament and found four instances of its use.

The first is in Romans 12:13, (ESV) "Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality." This is in a list of commands under the summary heading of "Marks of a True Christian." Obviously "Marks of a True Christian" is not part of the original text of the Bible, but is the publisher's commentary on that set of verses. Yet it is a worthy summation of the verses. So God is saying that one of the marks of a true Christian is that he seeks to show love to strangers.

The second is in I Timothy 5:10 (ESV) "and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work." This verse is in regard to the older widow's qualification for the widow's list... a list of women to be cared for by the church in their older years as needed. So one of the qualifications is that this woman has shown love to strangers...and look at the list in which this requirement is embedded! It's obviously not an afterthought or a meaningless task.

The third is in Hebrews 13:2 (ESV) "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." This follows verse 1 where we are commanded to let brotherly love continue. It would seem then, that showing love to strangers is tied to letting brotherly love continue.

The fourth is in I Peter 4:9 (ESV) "Show hospitality to one another without grumbling." This verse is in the middle of two verses commanding Christians to keep loving one another and to keep serving one another. Thus it would seem that showing love to strangers is directly related to loving one another and serving one another. In this instance, the one another is obviously other Christians, so the "stranger" here would be a brother or sister in Christ whom we don't know. By showing them love, we get to know them and thus encourage the love and unity for which Christians are to be known.

It seems that God is pretty serious about hospitality being practiced by the saints. So two questions seem to arise.

1) Just who is a "stranger?"

The immediate thought that comes to mind when asking that question is the question asked in Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan, "Who is my brother?" It would seem that a stranger is anyone you don't know well. That could be another Christian at church. It could be a person in the next cubicle at work. It could be someone you just met.

The bottom line is that God is interested in you as a Christian establishing and growing relationships! God cares about people...and He obviously wants his adopted children to care about them as well. After all, relationships with people (believers) are going to be eternal! If the person is a believer, you are strengthening his faith and ministering to him and his family. If he isn't, you are putting practical effort forth to witness the Gospel to him (and maybe his family) through love and service in your own home. Either way, the person won't be a "stranger" for long!

(Does that mean you can't have anyone you know over? Of course not! Relationships are important to God, and strong relationships witness to the world. There isn't a much better way to build a relationship than over a comfortable meal!)

2) What would "hospitality" look like?

I think there is a huge difference between "hospitality" and "entertainment." There is a place for both, but one should not confuse one with the other.

"Entertainment" is the huge bash a family might put on for Thanksgiving, going all out for days to prepare a fabulous meal with all the trimmings, decorating the house and setting a table to celebrate. It requires a tremendous amount of expense and work (especially for mom!), but provides a special time for all the guests. Think, "Martha Stewart!"

"Hospitality" on the other hand is a simple inviting of a person (or family) to join you in your everyday meal. It has the feeling of "family." There isn't a huge imposition on you, other than maybe making the meal in a slightly larger quantity than you would have otherwise. Your guests are welcomed into your home to delight in a new-found relationship. The ultimate in hospitality would be to create a feeling where your guest would be comfortable enough to lie down on your couch for an after-meal nap! Obviously, that is an extreme example...but the idea is to create an environment that is genuine, comfortable, warm, inviting, and friendly. You are witnessing the love of Christ in a very direct manner. A person who feels comfortable is much more open to talking of things that are the Gospel!

The guest who is being "entertained" will undoubtedly have a special time, but it is very unlikely he will feel comfortable. He won't feel like family; he will feel like a guest. And that's the whole point of hospitality. If you "love a stranger," he will feel the family.

Think of how effective this would be in sharing the Gospel! Think of how this attitude of hospitality would affect your children; they would see their family actively and intentionally ministering to both the saints and to the unsaved. They would see the Gospel in action and in word. Think of how easily they could be involved in something this concrete! Think of how they will learn to serve and to love others. Think of how you would actually get to know your neighbors! I don't know about you, but most of our neighbors would easily qualify as "strangers!" That's a sad admission, but I suspect it is true of most people in today's world. A Christian family who intentionally and regularly practiced hospitality just within their neighborhood would be a witness to the Gospel through the first Fruit of the Spirit: love...and they would stand out from the rest of the "Christians" (see my post on the sad state of American Christianity here) in their acts of love and service through their hospitality.

So...start practicing hospitality! It is both commanded and commended by God. It shows the Gospel to an unbelieving world. It teaches your children through example.

You don't have to do it every day, or even every week at the beginning. Start with once a month...or even once every two months. But be intentional. I suspect it will be habit-forming, and would happen much more often over time. But you have to start.

How about this week?

1 comment:

Eric Rutgrink said...

Hi there, enjoyed reading some of your blg, keep it up. God bless