When was the last time you were warmly, eagerly welcomed? Maybe it was a friend’s home, or a new workplace, or a special event. Maybe they threw open the door and embraced you, ushering you in with a genuine sense of care and honor.
Welcoming is a beautiful expression of the Christian faith.
In fact, this concept of practicing hospitality and being welcoming is a repeated theme in the New Testament (for example Romans 12:13 and Hebrews 13:2). While many of us picture a cozy guest room or inviting our friends and family in for a meal occasionally or hosting special events in our home as adequately hospitable, the actual Greek word for hospitality offers a different image.
The Greek word for “hospitality” used in the Bible is “philoxenia,” which literally means “the love of strangers.”Greek word for #hospitality in the #Bible (philoxenia) means the love of strangers. Do you? Click To Tweet
The love of strangers. Who or what comes to mind when you think of strangers? Pastor and author, Tim Keller, expounded on these referenced strangers in his book Generous Justice, saying they “were immigrants and refugees, and they were… to be ‘invited in.’ There were not merely to be sent to a shelter but were to be welcomed into the disciples’ homes and lives and, it is implied, given advocacy, friendship, and the basics for pursing a new life in society.”1
Echoes of this concept are heard throughout the Old Testament, in other word forms such as sojourner, alien, and foreigner. In fact, the Hebrew word “ger” (one of several meaning “foreigner” – one not just passing through but living, at least temporarily, in a foreign nation) appears 92 times in the Old Testament. God commanded His people repeatedly about how to care for and treat strangers.
“I read verse after verse about how God desired his followers to treat the foreigners in their midst. How had I not noticed all these passages before? The single thought that kept swirling in my mind was, ‘Immigrants matter to God.'” Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor, Willow Creek Community Church2
And then, finally, we arrive at Jesus Christ Himself in Matthew 25. The word stranger slips into one of the most convicting dialogues offered by our Lord, in verse 35, 38, 43, and 44:
42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
Clearly, God’s Word has a great deal to say about strangers living among us.
God’s Word speaks to this time and place, to this community of Storm Lake in particular.
We are a community where over 30 languages spoken, and in the average class in the public school around 36% speak only English at home. About 40% of the population is Latino, 40% Caucasian, and 20% from SE Asia, Africa, and other people groups.
Diaspora missiology views this movement of people as part of God’s divine plan and an incredible opportunity for His Church to fulfill the Great Commission and to care for strangers, quite literally from our front porches. Yet, it is more than an opportunity; in light of God’s Word, it is commanded. Certainly, there are numerous issues to consider, legalities and casualties in the system. However, we are not called to view the situation solely in light of politics, emotion, opinion, and fear, but through the lens of God’s Word.
“Our primary concern is, ‘What does God’s Word say?’… if you allow your authority to be a politician or a political ideology or talk radio or news media when it comes to any issue in life over the Word of God, you are outside the will of God.” Bryant Wright, President, Southern Baptist Convention 3
So, what does it mean for Christians to live as “Welcomers” in this present time, extending hospitality to the stranger, as laid out in Scripture?
What would this look like in your life, in your community? In Part 2 of Welcoming the Stranger, we will share a list of a specific characteristics that we believe comprise the heart of a Welcomer. In the meantime, may God encourage you as you prayerfully consider the opportunities around you to share His love with the nations.
1Bill Hybels, The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God, Having the Guts to Respond (Zondervan, 2010), 237
2Timothy Keller, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just (Penguin, 2010), 52
3Bryan Wright, “Immigration: A Biblical View,” Right from the Heart Ministries, September 4, 2011, available online at <http://rightfromtheheart.org/watch/48528>