I Was A Stranger And You Invited Me In

June 15, 2012


When we think of ‘hospitality’, what comes to mind? Entertaining family and friends? Martha Stewart? Coffee and doughnuts?

While many of us may think that hospitality is making a nice meal for our friends or having a comfortable guestroom available for traveling relatives the biblical idea of hospitality goes beyond that.  The other day I pulled out my trusted concordance and discovered that the Greek word for hospitality is philoxenia; literally, “the love of strangers.”  The “love of strangers” is a repeated theme in the New Testament because everywhere you read the command, “practice hospitality” it’s focus is the love of strangers!

As our children’s pastor pointed out to me, philoxenia (“the love of strangers”) is the direct opposite of zenophobia, the fear of strangers.  It’s not too terribly difficult to love our friends–even the tax collectors and pagans of Jesus’ time did that:

“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?   Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matt.5:46-47 NIV).

But Christ’s call is for us to love those who are different and unknown to us, even when they seem very different–intellectually or physically– than us.

In showing kindness and love to the disabled and others who may be strangers to us, we are presented with the possibility that we might unexpectedly find a blessing.  Scripture suggests that, by extending hospitality to a stranger, we may be entertaining angels, unaware!

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers,   for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Heb.13:2 NIV).

Jesus, as He does with so many other ideas, takes this one even further!  He tells his disciples that by welcoming a stranger who is “one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine,” they have welcomed him, and will thus be welcomed by Him into his kingdom.  Oh, did I mention that conversely, by failing to welcome a stranger, the have snubbed Him?

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.   All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me,  I was sick and you looked after me,  I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matt.25:31-46 NIV).

These “strangers” we are called to welcome are to be invited in.  “They aren’t merely to be sent to a shelter but are to be welcomed into the Body of Christ and our lives and, it is implied, given advocacy, friendship, and the basics for pursuing a new life in society” (Tim Keller, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just).

Hospitality…the love of strangers…is not something we do as a favor toward “the other.”  It is not based on a contract.  It is not even a right that can be claimed.  Welcoming a stranger, someone who is not similar to you, is a fundamental characteristic of human relationships according to our Standard, Jesus Christ.

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About Michael Woods

Christ-follower, husband, chocoholic, and peanut-butter lover! I'm a father to triplet boys...each on the autism spectrum.

View all posts by Michael Woods


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3 Comments on “I Was A Stranger And You Invited Me In”

  1. April M Whitt Says:

    Hello Mr. Woods Sir,
    I’ve been reading your posts. I am a teacher of students with special needs (in Lakeland FL) and an author of a fun book for kids w/ special needs. I am (of course) trying to get the word out, but also consider myself to have a ministry to produce wholesome books for kids and (with this book in particular) something fun and positive for kids w/ disabilites. I thought it was time for a book with a hero who has disabilities but who is also adventureous and fun (even though having a disability is not fun, people who have disabilities like to have fun!) I am a believer, and of the Baptist faith. If you’d like to see the book, please get back with me. I am also available as a speaker if you need me. Blessings to you. I know how much what you are doing is needed. Thanks for the encouragement.
    Yours in Christ,


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