Practising hospitality

Published on: 1 July 2018

I’ve been thinking about Biblical hospitality. Romans 12:13 reads “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality”. Sounds fairly straightforward, right?

But when I looked closer at the seemingly simple phrase ‘Practise hospitality’, I had to think again. The entire phrase in Greek reads philoxenian diokontes, which literally means ‘pursue the love of strangers’. The Greek word ‘hospitality’ combines two concepts. The first part (philao) is the Greek word for ‘brotherly love’. The second half (xenos) is a broad term, meaning ‘stranger, foreigner, immigrant or enemy’. Re-reading Romans 12:13, instead of simply ‘Practise hospitality’, I found an active, dynamic commandment: ‘Practise [go out of your way to] show love to strangers, immigrants, or your enemies as if they were your siblings’. The implications of this made me feel deeply uncomfortable.

The concept of hospitality was not new to New Testament Christians in Rome. It runs throughout the Bible; in Leviticus 19:33–34, God commands the Israelites, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them … Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” Israelites were expected to demonstrate hospitality because they remembered being foreigners in an oppressive system in Egypt.

This must strike a chord; who of us has never felt slightly (or even very) out of place? I clearly remember my first few months at a new sixth form. Having just moved from Central Africa, I had never been to school in England before and I found myself in a year group larger than my entire school had been. I was terrified, and it was only because of others who welcomed me into their lives that I began to feel at home. The memory of being enslaved in Egypt may not be part of our personal experience, but we all know what it is like to not fit in or to feel isolated, and therefore we have no excuse to ignore the commandment in this verse.

Exploring God’s expectations regarding hospitality has convinced me that the church needs to be at the forefront of providing for strangers, for immigrants and for all those who are vulnerable in today’s society. Jesus’ death was the ultimate act of hospitality. He welcomes us into His kingdom and promises, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2).

Local charity Hope into Action provides Christians with practical ways of mirroring Jesus. By investing in HiA, we play a part in preparing a place for tenants on earth: a physical room of their own, with the chance to be surrounded not only by professional support from HiA but also fellowship from the wider church family. My prayer is that more people will see the theology of sharing as intrinsic to their practice as Christians and that the immigrants and vulnerable here will know we are Christians by our hospitality.


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