Entertaining Strangers

“Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.” – Hebrews 13:1-2

As the writer to the Hebrews exhorts saints of the Lord to keep doing what they were doing in brotherly love with one another, notice how he then gives us all a helpful reminder to “not forget” our duty to “entertain,” or be hospitable to strangers. Indeed, showing hospitality is important for members of the body of Christ to be regularly engaged in today. The Apostle Paul supports this in Rom. 12 as he gives a long list of Christian duties, and being “given to hospitality” is one of them in v. 13 of that chapter.

How should we better understand hospitality? What should that look like? Is it just inviting fellow believers over for a meal and fellowship? It’s true that inviting friends, family, and believers we know well is an important duty we should be mindful to carry out. The Apostle Peter speaks of us doing so, as we are being “hospitable” to one another, in 1 Peter 4:9. Know also that the Greek word the writer uses for “entertain” in v. 2 above is philoxenia, which literally means “kindness to strangers.” It’s the same word Paul uses in Rom. 12:13. Who are the strangers that the writer speaks of? Those you don’t know well, whether believers or unbelievers. We find God’s people throughout Scripture showing kindness to strangers. For further study, read Gen. 19:1-3, Joshua 2:4, Ruth 2:8-10, Judges 19:20, and Acts 16:15-34)

We also see this to be true in the account the writer points us to with Abraham, who was himself a stranger (Heb. 11:13), entertaining strangers and unwittingly entertaining angels in Genesis 18:1-15. What happened there? Abraham was sitting in his tent and sees three strangers approaching. He runs to meet them, offers to wash their feet and let them rest under the terebinth tree. He asks them to stay for a meal. He then hurries to prepare food while they wait. Sarah made cakes. Abraham killed one of his good calves, prepared it, and brought butter and milk with the meat for them to eat. What did Abraham discover? His guests were the Lord Himself, and two angels. It was during the conversation that ensued that the Lord gave him the promise in verse 10, “I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.”  Abraham’s action here, informed by the rest of Scripture, provides a pattern for our practice of hospitality.

As we ponder more about the pattern we find with Abraham, it’s good to see a few things here:

  • We not only see that Christian kindness to strangers involves being welcoming, but it also has elements of sacrificial care. We should extend invitations to people who are unable to reciprocate, either because of their living situation, hard financial position, family issue, or physical condition (Luke 14:13). We should be ready to extend invitations to traveling saints and ministers coming through town. One of the motives at the heart of our hospitality should be giving, expecting nothing in return from the people who receive. 
  • Know that Abraham’s preparation and execution of this meal was costly to him. Likewise, there will be a cost to us as we engage in hospitality, whether that be time, resources, preparation, money, etc..
  • Further, hospitality can come with its share of inconvenience. We know this to be true once again in Peter’s exhortation in 1 Pet. 4:9. How does Peter say we should carry out hospitality with one another? “Without grumbling.” Be aware that carrying out this duty can come with temptation to grumble and complain about it, rather than doing it out of a heart fueled by sacrificial love and care. 
  • Wonderfully, beloved, hospitality also brings blessing. Never forget this! God blesses us as we are obedient to His commands. Hospitality blesses both parties – those who are welcoming and those who are welcomed, those who are kind and those who receive kindness.

I pray that God grants us all grace to see the need and blessing of hospitality, coupled with godly zeal to engage in it faithfully as He provides!

For further reflection on the topic of hospitality and generosity, please see the short presentation, “The Interests of Others.”