The Love of Strangers
The title of my sermon today is Philoxenos, which is the Greek word for "love of strangers" or what we commonly refer to as hospitality. As a minister and his family, Lise, the children and I have been blessed to be able to offer hospitality to people from all over the world. In order to motivate more of us here to experience the very special joy that comes with exercising this virtue - I'd like to review what the Bible teaches concerning "the love of strangers."
One of the first instances of hospitality recorded in the Bible is when Abram is welcomed and given gifts in Egypt by the Pharaoh as a way of honoring Abram in order to take Sarai as his wife. Abram had lied about Sarai saying that she was his sister in order to protect himself. Later on we see Joseph, a descendant of Abraham, now a high official in the Egyptian court, welcoming his brothers and their families as strangers in that land. In the same episode we note that the Pharaoh, in honor of Joseph, offers his family great hospitality by giving them a place to live and the protection of the king. From this example we see the carrying out of God's primary command regarding the giving and nature of hospitality.
17For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. 18He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. 19So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
- Deuteronomy 10:17-19
It seems that the idea of hospitality in these early writings was directed mainly at the national level - how the Jews as a people were to treat strangers (non-Jews) who came in among them:
- Exodus 23:9 - They were not to be prejudicial against them because they were a different culture and background.
- Leviticus 24:22 - Their laws and attitude in dealing with strangers were to be the same as dealing with the regular citizens.
Jesus incorporated the spirit of these ideas in Matthew 25:35 when He said, "I was a stranger and you invited me in". To be kind and fair to the alien was part of the spirit of Christ evident in the kingdom. This same attitude was the basis for the original immigration policy of this country and the attitude that made it so different and desirable as a destination for so many people around the world. I believe God has blessed Canada because of this attitude and that while there should be safeguards against those who abuse this illegally, God will continue to bless this country because of its hospitality.
Hospitality in the New Testament.
Hospitality is not strictly an Old Testament idea, the thread of teaching on this important virtue goes on into the New Testament as well.
1. Jesus Teaches about hospitality on a personal level not just the national level.
Luke 14:12-14 teaches some new concepts concerning hospitality.
12And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. 13But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
Inviting friends, family, those who can bless you because of the invitation is fellowship not hospitality. The reward is the experience itself, or what you gain from it. True hospitality is receiving those who are strangers, those who don't bless you by their presence, those who need you but you don't necessarily need them. This type of hospitality may cost more, may be more inconvenient, may be less pleasant but will rewarded by God Himself. On a national level this is when we let people in who are refugees, medical emergencies, hardship cases, homeless and poor - on a personal level its when we deliver food, invite a stranger in church to dinner, make people who are different from us feel welcome - this is hospitality.
2. The Apostles teach about the importance of hospitality in the church.
- Paul says that the ability to do it well is a gift given by the Holy Spirit - Romans 12:13.
- He also instructs the church to offer it generously to those who minister in the church (Phoebe) - Romans 16:2.
Hospitality is seen as a virtue possessed by those who are mature in the faith. Something that takes time to develop but is a distinguishing mark of leadership (I Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7 - Qualifications of elders). Equal to other qualifications. I Timothy 5:10 - Qualification for widow to receive help from the church. Peter encourages us to offer hospitality without complaining about it. If it's done with a happy heart it is acceptable; and people can always tell if they are expected and welcomed (I Peter 4:9). John (III John 5) says that hospitality is the clear indicator that one is walking in faith and love. It is the deed that proves the faith. It is love in action.
We cannot grow as Christians, the church cannot grow as a body unless it loves strangers. If as a church or a family or a person we simply focus on ourselves, our needs, our own little world, we will shrink and die. Hospitality is that exercise that enables us to keep the doors of our church building, our homes and our hearts open to those that God will send us and He won't always send us people that are like us, or already converted, or very nice to be with.
That's what hospitality is for, the Christian form of love that is ready to love a stranger not based on how similar or likable she/he is, but love that person because this is what pleases our God and proves our faith - Church of Christ is the Church of love.
3. Abraham's example
1Now the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. 2When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, 3and said, "My Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, please do not pass Your servant by. 4Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; 5and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves; after that you may go on, since you have visited your servant." And they said, "So do, as you have said." 6So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, "Quickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it and make bread cakes." 7Abraham also ran to the herd, and took a tender and choice calf and gave it to the servant, and he hurried to prepare it. 8He took curds and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and placed it before them; and he was standing by them under the tree as they ate.
- Genesis 18:1-8
In this passage Abraham gives up an example of hospitality in action. In these verses we read what true hospitality consists of.
1. Gracious Welcome - Note how Abraham greets his guest and convinces them that they are welcomed in his home. People need to feel a genuine and joyful welcome. This can be shown in different ways:
- You're ready when they arrive.
- Food and other things are planned - not the decision of the guest.
- The home and your appearance and attitude say you have been prepared for.
2. An Eagerness to Please - Hospitality is a Godly thing and the joy should be obvious. People should feel that you really want them there and your attitude should show that their interests are what concern you while they are in your home.
3. Sensitivity to Real Needs - The strangers were tired and hungry and Abraham's task as host was to meet there needs. Sometimes the need is to feel welcomed, sometime the need is to find an understanding ear - it's not always food or rest. The host's job is to find out his/her guest needs and fulfill that as best as possible.
4. Serve the Best You Have - Love gives its best without worrying about competition with another. Some won't offer hospitality because they feel that they don't have a nice home or fancy food. Guest respond to love and enthusiasm and if you've served your best in love, you've offered Godly hospitality.
5. Hospitality as a Family Thing - Note that Abraham asked Sarah to work but he served and waited nearby while they ate. Hospitality is not inviting your friends over so your wife can serve them. Husbands, wives and children should all share in the responsibility and joy of offering hospitality. In Luke 10:33 Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan and his efforts to help a stranger who had been beaten and robbed.
This story illustrates that strangers never arrive at convenient times, nor are they easy to know and accept. It's always an effort and expensive to show hospitality but we ought not offer to God (or strangers) something that cost us nothing.
In the end God rewards those who love strangers:
- Abraham saved his nephew lot and received good news about Sarah from these strangers who turned out to be angels.
- Rehab, the harlot who offered to hide the spies in her home, saved her family and was counted in the genealogy of Jesus Himself - because of her hospitality!
- Martha and Mary became Jesus' friends because they offered Him their hospitality even when He was unpopular and eventually He raised their brother from the dead.
And God will reward us as well in the practice of Christian hospitality, Strangers will be blessed, the church will grow. Our capacity for love will increase bringing greater peace and joy into our personal lives.
Our greatest reward, however, will be the fact that in the end our Lord will welcome us personally into His heavenly home. It's not Peter at the gate to welcome like all the jokes say, it's the Lord Himself who welcomes with the words "well done good and faithful servant ... enter into the joy of your master".
As we close this study on hospitality, let me ask you, are you still a stranger to the Lord? Will you be welcomed into His heavenly home? You can guarantee that He will welcome you then if you welcome Him now into your life. You can do that by confessing your faith, repenting of your sins and being baptized into His name - won't you welcome Jesus now or invite Him back in.