Hospitality and the Christian life
By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
PECOS, NEW MEXICO—The thought of entertaining angels should cause one to pause. Does the writer of Hebrews mean real angels, as in supernatural beings? Or perhaps human messengers, as the translation of the word—aggelos—used in Hebrews 13:2 means? To give a context, the entire verse reads: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.”
In either case—person or angel, the command stands: Christians are to provide hospitality to strangers (as the meaning of the word entertain, xenizo—”to lodge a guest,” expresses).
Recently my wife and I stayed the night at a Benedictine Monastery in Pecos, New Mexico. As part of the Benedictine Rule, hospitality has played a central role in the life of the early Christian order. Benedict of Nursia (480-547 AD) stated, “All who arrive as guests are to be welcomed like Christ, for he is going to say, ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me.’” Of the seven pillars of Benedictine spirituality, hospitality comes only after community. The other five are humility, reverence, stewardship, integration, and discernment .
Expanding Benedict’s thought, Benedictine Sister, Joan Chittister, writes, “Hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves. It is the first step toward dismantling the barriers of the world. Hospitality is the way we turn a prejudiced world around, one heart at a time.”
And to highlight both Benedict and Chittister’s words, one writer puts it this way: “Everyone—everyone—is received as Christ. Everyone receives a warm answer—on the phone, at the door, in the office. Sarcasm has no room here. Put-downs have no room here. One-upmanship has no room here. Classism has no room here. The Benedictine heart is to be a place without boundaries, a place where truth of the oneness of all things shatters all barriers, a point where all the differences of the world meet and melt, where Jew and Gentile, slave and free, woman and man all come together as equals” .
These are profound statements—all rooted, as Benedict pointed out—in Jesus. We welcome others because Jesus called us to—as He welcomed us, because the New Testament teaches it, and it is honorable thing to do.
In an age of neglect, selfishness, and time constraints, one must ask if hospitality is practical? And really, does the Bible actually teach Christians need to show hospitality? The answers: Yes. And it sure does. Consider the following quotes from three important new Testament figures: Jesus, Paul, and Peter:
- “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? … The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Jesus speaking, as recorded by Matthew in chapter 25, versus 34-46.
- “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Paul writing to the Roman church, chapter 12, verse 13.
- “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Peter writing in I Peter 4:9.
And believe me, there’s much, much more—in both the Old and New Testaments. One website lists roughly one-hundred verses connected to hospitality . So, there’s no doubt Christians must show hospitality to others. So how do we go about doing it?
- Give cookies or baked goods
- Drop off a treat only a mother would love
- Deliver muffins for breakfast
- Take dinner
- Offer to babysit
- Take the kids on an outing
- Make busy bags
- Talk and listen to a widow
- Pray with other
Another site gives similar examples :
- Take a meal
- Play or coffee date
- Offer to help clean or do laundry
- Be a friend
As you can read, there’s little money involved in these—so you won’t break the bank, and many of them don’t require exorbitant time. But time and money aside, you’re doing something more important: helping people and honoring Christ.
How can a church show hospitality? According to Evangelism Coach, there are several ways a church can show Christ-like kindness . These include:
- Recruit a greeting ministry
- Train new church greeters
- Have a Welcome Center
- Have a Welcome Folder or packet
- Go out of your way to greet someone you don’t know
The Church of the Brethren, Quaker, and Mennonite churches takes it a step further, helping immigrants, strangers, and other dispossessed people . In Albuquerque, New Mexico a Quaker Meeting House provided sanctuary for an immigrant man about to be deported .
How a congregation elects to show hospitality is dependent on the call of that particular church. The point is whether or not we should we show hospitality, but how shall we show hospitality.
At our stay at the Benedictine Monastery, the Brothers and Sisters provided care through meals, spiritual guidance (if needed), church services, and as important, a quiet place to rest and relax—all in a beautiful setting.
If more churches did as the Benedictines, I wonder if the impact for Christ would be greater in communities around the globe, leaving a compassionate footprint for others to walk. So, instead of aloofness and hostility, ensure you—and hopefully your church, is one of acceptance and hospitality, reaching out to others in the name of Christ. And who knows, we may be entertaining angels.