Let brotherly love continue.
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers…
“You know what the key to evangelism in the 21st-century will be, don’t you?”
Recently I read an older article at Desiring God, where David Mathis told of being in a class on intensive evangelism and being asked this question by Steve Childers, director of Global Church Advancement. Childers waited, then gave the one word answer. “Hospitality.” If you want a further development of Childer’s answer, read Mathis’ article entitled “Hospitality and the Great Commission.”
Childers is correct. Repeatedly the Bible shows God using hospitality to advance the kingdom of God. From Jesus eating with tax gatherers and sinners to Cornelius inviting people into his house to hear Peter, the Lord used homes to spread the gospel. Mathis’ post shows how thoroughly Biblical and how often commanded showing hospitality is, especially in our witness to Christ.
Next month our congregation will begin a series of evangelistic services called Stories of Hope. Rather than only trying to encourage members to invite friends to those services, we have been urging them to pray for and then befriend more deeply those around them. We do no want their friends only coming to hear the testimonies and gospel story preaching at the services; we want their own lives to be to their friends “stories of hope.” Last night I gave our congregation a ten minute or so talk on the subject of hospitality to this end. Here are the seven admonitions on hospitality I shared that are based on Hebrews 12:1-2.
Clearly we are told here, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.” How easy it can be to allow personal comfort, full schedules, self-pity, and careless disregard to keep us from showing hospitality to strangers. Yet that is a neglect of a basic Christian duty. Literally, the commandment above means “do not forget to show hospitality.” If you did not come to church for weeks, it could rightly be said of you that you are neglecting the Sabbath Day. You are forgetting to remember God’s holy day as He has commanded you. Likewise, if you have not intentionally had guests and especially strangers in your home and lives for a significant period of time, then you have neglected a basic Christian duty. Surely you know a co-worker, neighbor, classmate, teammate, or acquaintance you have met through an activity that you have not extended yourself to love in a deeper way. Yet rather than sit in silent shame and guilt over the neglect you have exhibited, simply confess it. Pray, “Lord, forgive me for not showing hospitality to strangers, and especially to this person you have brought in my life. Help me learn to do so.”
Often our fear of having someone we do not know well stops us from inviting them into our lives. That is why it is wonderful how these verses above go together, and why we should read verse 1 before verse 2. We are told, “Let brotherly love continue.” All of you, I am certain, have Christian brothers and sisters you love having in your lives and homes. You would not think twice about opening the door to them. Verse 1 tells you that why continuing to love them, then also love strangers. One great way to overcome your fear and practice hospitality to strangers is to have some brothers and sisters in Christ over when you invite a stranger. So involve your brothers in Christ when you practice hospitality, for it is a great way to introduce the unbeliever to other members in the body of Christ.
You will not do what you do not plan. Events we do not want to forget or neglect must go on our calendars. So as you consider hospitality, get your calendar out and mark a date or dates you plan to host others. Why not decide at what day and time you are going to do this before this day is done? Also, decide what type of time you are going to have in your home, apartment, or dorm room. Will it be a meal, cookout, game night, sporting event, working on or discussing a favorite hobby, etc.? No matter what type of event it is, make sure you have some type of food available. Eating together is a way of relaxing, slowing down, and encouraging conversation. Finally, do not attempt to make the time too fancy or impressive. Learn to practice what many are calling “scruffy hospitality.”
Invite the Strange(r)
The Biblical word for hospitality, which comes out in this verse, is a compound word that literally means “love strangers.” At the heart of showing hospitality is to love people who are strange to us. Remember what Jesus said.
He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:12-14).
So when you consider inviting folks into your home, be sure to include those across cultural, socioeconomic, and racial lines from you. You may feel “strange” yourself doing so, but that’s okay because that’s what loving strangers is all about.
Often Christians get uptight about having unbelievers over because they are fearful about evangelizing them. So here is a word of encouragement. Do not think the purpose of the evening is “I have to evangelize them!” The verse does not say “proselytize the stranger” but “love the stranger.” So when you have guests over, especially the first time, though you may discuss whatever comes up about Jesus, commit beforehand to just one intentional act of witnessing. This is another reason you need food. Before you eat, pray with them. Tell them you want to give thanks to God. Then pray warmly. Be sure to thank God for your friends by name, for your relationship to them, for their lives. Then thank God for making himself known to this world through Christ. By praying, you will have sanctified the evening, witnessed to and loved your friend, and brought peace to your own heart. As time goes on, the Lord will open further doors to more active witnessing.
Enjoy the Time
In my former pastorate, we would have homeless men from the Rescue Mission over to our home who had been coming to church. A number of times men would tell me they felt like people in the church treated them “like a project.” They had a sense we were trying to change them rather than loving them. Do not make your friend a project. Just show love to the person and enjoy your time with him. Think of questions you can ask him about his life. Find out their interests and enjoy learning about the person. If your heart motivation is to love him and to learn about him, then the Jesus who did eat with tax-collectors and sinners will shine through you. Remember, He’ll open doors and do the converting all in due time!
The verb here regarding showing hospitality has the sense of ongoing action. When it comes to hospitality, you cannot have a “one-and-done” approach, i.e. just have someone over one time then drop him. You must keep showing interest in the person and be diligent in your love to him. A time may come where he says, “Forget you!” But do not let a time comes when he says, “You forgot me.” Think and again plan through, if possible, creating additional times to love the stranger.
For if you practice these admonitions, soon you will find that some of those strangers are not so strange, but have become friends. You may also find, as was the case for me years ago when a friend invited me into his dorm room one Sunday evening for snacks, that your new friend has begun an eternal friendship with Jesus.