Earlier this week I wrote about the importance of hospitality, and how it is becoming a rare art in today’s society. Today I want to continue in that vein and examine the idea of biblical hospitality more deeply.

What is Hospitality?

The two Greek words in the Bible that have been translated into hospitality are philoxenos (I Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8, I Peter 4:9) and philoxenia (Romans 12:13, Hebrews 13:2). Philoxenos is formed by two root words: philo means “loving/being a friend,” and xenos means “stranger.” Philoxenia is notated in Strong’s as a derivative of philoxenos. We tend to think of hospitality as hosting our friends and family, but the original word really means having a love for and being a friend to strangers. The writer of Hebrews tells us point blank that we should not neglect hospitality to strangers (Hebrews 13:2), and Jesus also illustrates that idea in his teachings in Luke 14.

Then He also said to him who invited Him, “When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. “But when you give a feast, invite [the] poor, [the] maimed, [the] lame, [the] blind. “And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” 

Luke 14:12-14 (NKJV)

We all read this verse, but how many of us actually implement it? So much of it comes down to fear. We’re afraid of letting people in, of welcoming strangers. We don’t know these people; they could be anyone! They may be dirty or dishonest. What if they steal our belongings or take advantage of us in some way? Society indoctrinates us from childhood with “stranger danger”. Villains in cartoons are identified as “foreign” by their appearance or accents, and we learn that different means scary. Our peers tell us to lock our doors when driving through poorer neighborhoods — without any actual knowledge of crime or safety in that neighborhood — teaching us that people with less money than us are scary.

Jesus invites the poor and hurting

There is no fear in love.

I’m not saying that it is wrong to teach little children to be cautious around people they don’t know. At some point, though, we need to grow up. We need to learn to look beyond ourselves and react as Jesus would. Even in Christian circles there is a defensive posture toward “outsiders,” despite what we profess to believe about Jesus.

Jesus teaches us not to be motivated by concern for how others treat us. Instead of worrying about what we might lose, we should instead wonder how we can serve that person. We worry that someone might hurt us, but Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek if they do (Luke 6:27-36). It’s not a popular stance, but it is biblical to sacrifice our own comfort and safety for others. It’s what Jesus did for us…and for them.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.

I John 4:18 (NKJV)

If we American Christians cannot break free from our chains of fear, we’re in danger of suffocating ourselves. We’re so afraid of what other people will do to us that we ignore the command to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18). Instead we choose to close our doors and hide from the world. We turn our backs on our mission as we reach out obsessively toward the idols of safety and comfort. I say this to myself as well – this is something I’m trying to improve in my own life.

I am working to escape the fog of selfishness and worldliness, but I fall far from the mark. My life is far too different from the life of my Savior for my satisfaction. My prayer is that I can keep moving forward and grow closer to that mark one step at a time.