We studied in previous posts that hospitality is a necessary attribute for Christians, and it includes open arms and homes to strangers as well as loved ones. Like the lawyer asking Jesus “Who is my neighbor,” we may also wonder, “Who is the stranger?”

There is extensive mention of showing love and kindness to the stranger in the Bible. But what groups of people are considered to be strangers? The Hebrew word that we see translated as stranger in KJV and NKJV is ger.

ger – properly, a guest; by implication, a foreigner (translated as alien, sojourner, stranger)

Strong’s Concordance

Depending on which version of the Bible you use, the word can be translated as stranger, alien, foreigner, or sojourner. Abraham uses this word to describe himself as he was a sojourner in a new land. The Hebrew people are reminded time and again of their roots as sojourners and strangers, and that reminder is meant to affect their treatment of strangers in their own land.

Strangers in the Old Testament

We often hear people talk about our God-given responsibility to care for widows and orphans. Interestingly, the combination of “fatherless, widow, and stranger” are commonly grouped together in the Bible. I found this combination 17 times in the Old Testament. If you would like to look those references up, they are:

God loves the stranger, widows, and fatherless.

Deuteronomy 10:18, Psalm 146:9

God expects his people to take care of strangers, widows, and fatherless and include them in annual feasts.

Deuteronomy 14:29, 24:17, 24:19-21, 26:12-13

Deuteronomy 16:11 & 14

God is angered by mistreatment of strangers, widows, and fatherless.

Deuteronomy 27:19, Psalm 94:6, Jeremiah 7:6 & 22:3, Ezekiel 22:7, Zechariah 7:10, Malachi 3:5

Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Deuteronomy 10:19

When I searched this word pairing, I only found 2 verses that addressed widows and fatherless without mentioning strangers (Isaiah 1:23 & Jeremiah 22:3). The vast majority of instructions about just treatment of widows and orphans encompasses “strangers” as well.

When reading through these verses concerning widows, fatherless and strangers, you will notice a clear pattern. Most of them are either commandments on treating these vulnerable groups with justice and compassion or warnings about God’s wrath when Israel neglected those commandments.

Strangers in the New Testament

While the New Testament doesn’t carry as many references to strangers as the old, Jesus and his disciples still have quite a bit to say about how we treat them.

  • We should love ALL people, not just those who love us back (Matthew 5:38-48).
  • When we take in strangers, we are welcoming Christ as well (Matthew 25:31-40).
  • We should be welcoming them into our homes (I Timothy 5:10 & Hebrews 13:1)
  • We should do good to both brothers and strangers (III John 5)
  • Christians are strangers in this world (I Peter 2:11)

What can we conclude?

When I read through all of these verses and reflect on God’s attitude toward strangers and his instructions to his people, I see several things.

A synonym of “the stranger” in our modern vernacular would be “immigrant.” The many references to Abraham, the people of Israel in Egypt and the wilderness, and Christians as strangers in the world all point to a definition of people who are not living in their home country.

Besides immigrants, the commandments about just treatment also extend to widows, orphans, and the poor. God clearly has a great love for people who are marginalized and mistreated by the world. He commands His people to be different than the world and to treat the vulnerable with love.

I have a long way to go. I am still learning how to welcome family and friends graciously into my home, and God wants me to also welcome actual strangers? While I think hospitality is not limited to the act of having someone in your home, that does appear to be an important aspect of it. But if I aim to be willing to open my home to strangers, I first need to cultivate a welcoming spirit in general.

I don’t think the answer to hospitable living lies in roaming the streets and inviting random strangers into my house. It lies in opening my heart to everyone I meet and having a generous attitude. I should be willing to sacrifice my time, money, and comfort to serve everyone. Not just the people I like or the people who would do the same for me, but every single person. It also lies in consciously expanding my circle to meet more of the vulnerable mentioned so often in the Bible. Jesus sought out the vulnerable and the marginalized. How can I claim to be a follower of Him if I am unwilling to do the same?