Strangerly Love

John Telgren


We have all heard of brotherly love.  There is a city of brotherly love, Philadephia.  Philadelphia is the Greek word which means, "brotherly love."  It is actually a compound word, combining love, or friendship, philia, and brother, adelphos


There is another compound Greek word that uses philia, which is philoxenia.  It combines the word love, or friendship, philia, with the word stranger, xenos.  This is "strangerly love" rather than "brotherly love."  This is the word Greeks used for hospitality, which is how this word is translated into English.


We usually would not think of "love of the stranger" as hospitality.  We may think of guests in our home that we offer a drink to.  We may think of feeding our guests with the fine china.  We may even think of putting our guests in the guest room for the night.  "Love of the stranger" may seem too extreme a concept.


However, when we look at the biblical examples of hospitality, we see something much stronger.  Hebrews 13:4 alludes to Abraham and Lot who showed hospitality to strangers they did not know were angels.


In Genesis 18, three strangers walked up to Abraham's camp.  He implored them not to walk on by, but to sit under his shade tree while he, his wife, and his servants prepared a feast for them.  This involved baking bread from scratch and preparing a choice calf from the herd.  Being hospitable took a lot of effort.


In Genesis 19, two strangers had come into the city gates as it was getting dark.  When Lot saw them, he approached them and invited them to stay the night at his place. They refused at first, telling Lot they would spend the night in the square.  But Lot insisted they come home with him.  Lot brought them home, washed their feet, and prepared a feast for them.  Then some of the men of the city beat on his door, demanding he send them out so they could rape the men.  Since they were under Lot's roof, they were under his protection, and he would do anything to protect them from the mob at his door.  So Lot went out to face them.


Philoxenia, love of the stranger, what an appropriate word for hospitality!  As I reflect on this, it occurs to me that hospitality of this order is a reflection of the God whom we serve.  Hospitality communicates the love of God to others and demonstrates the value that God places on people.  God so loved the world that Jesus came as one who serves, not as one to be served, to provide an example for us.  Whether it was washing feet or some other task, Jesus taught his followers to be gracious and hospitable. 


Hospitality is one of the oldest ministries of the church.  Back before the days of church buildings, pulpits, and pews, churches met in homes.  The center of Christian fellowship was not an auditorium, but the kitchen where people were treated to Christian hospitality.  Masters served slaves as hosts.  The rich served the poor.  Former tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners all sat at the table together with a Christian brother or sister as their host.  They prayed together, worshipped together, encouraged each other, and reflected the love of God through Christian hospitality.


Hospitality is a ministry any Christian can still be involved in.