Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. -Hebrews 13:2
One of the areas I think much of the evangelical church in the United States needs to rediscover is the Scriptural importance of hospitality. We have a lot we could learn from our brothers and sisters around the world when it comes to hospitality. Some of the most generous and graciously hospitable people I know live in very different cultures than my own. They are often even among some of the materially most impoverished people in the world. But they always put me to shame with their hospitality and inspire me to want to be more like them in this area.
In this brief blog post, I want to make a case for the biblical importance of hospitality and even issue a prophetic warning about closing our hearts and homes to especially others different than us. Hospitality or the lack thereof is one measure by which we can judge a culture, church, or self-professing Christian. Hospitality is one of the core character traits that are necessary when considering and selecting leaders (1 Timothy 5:10). Of all people, Christians should be the most hospitable of all and are in fact commanded to show hospitality without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9) and without fear (Hebrews 13:2).
I just finished reading for my own personal devotions the book of Judges. The book of Judges is described as a time when, Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit (Judges 21:25). The book of Judges ends with an utterly shocking situation that I won’t get into here. But it was precipitated by the lack of hospitality among the people of Gibeah (Judges 19). A Levite man and his concubine were traveling back home when they stopped in this town, but no one took them into his home for the night (Judges 19:15). Finally, one man from another city who was living there did take them in (Judges 19:16-21). However, while they were in this man’s house some of the other men described as “wicked” came and demanded that the Levite guest be brought out so they could, have sex with him (Judges 19:22). Without getting into the morals of what happens next, the man’s concubine is given to these men in place of the man. The concubine is raped and abused all night and ends up dying the next morning as a result (Judges 19:23-28).
This story has similarities with a situation that happened in the book of Genesis. Chapter 19 tells the story of angels arriving in Sodom and Gomorrah before the cities were judged and destroyed by fire from heaven. Lot was the only one to show these “strangers” hospitality and take them into his house (hence where the line “showing hospitality to angels without knowing it” comes from later in the book of Hebrews). However, the men of the city surround the house and demand Lot hand over these men for the same purpose of sex as the men in Judges 19.
The Evangelical church has often focused only on the sin of homosexuality being the reason for God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. While this was undoubtedly part of the sin of these towns and sin within our culture today, it wasn’t the only sin for which God’s judgment came. By the way, it’s important to note that in both situations, sexual abuse, like today, was also a major part of the issue.
But there is still more that Scripture specifically addresses that we often fail to consider as the sin of Sodom. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God began to rebuke his people for their spiritual idolatry and adultery (Ezekiel 16). In Ezekiel 16:49-50, God speaks directly to what the sin of Sodom was, Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.
In one word, you could sum up their sin with the word: inhospitable. They were selfish and cared only about their sinful self-interests. Their sexual immorality and sexual abuse was part of the equation. But so was their selfish indulgence manifested even in over-eating. They were full of pride and did not care about others. They were not hospitable but instead aggressive, abusive, and even violent towards others.
I fear America is going down this same path. We are spiritually complacent, nationalistically arrogant, overweight, overindulgent in selfish and even sinful pleasure, and unmoved by the suffering and plight of others different from us. Sexual abuse is coming more and more into the light of how extensive the issue really is.
And our lack of hospitality is seen especially in our attitude towards immigrants and refugees. Instead of opening our hearts and homes to demonstrate the grace of God to others, we have closed our hearts and homes to strangers out of fear. We see terrorists instead of angels. Just like Bethlehem in Jesus’ day, there is no room in our land for those that we should treat as if it were Jesus himself! But by rejecting others and refusing to show hospitality, we are actually rejecting and ignoring Jesus himself. There seems to be little room in our hearts for the One who himself was a refugee and is looking to make his home even today in our lives and hearts. We often fail to see that Jesus comes to us in the form of a stranger, refugee, immigrant, poor, and needy.
Scripture makes clear a nation is judged based on her compassion and hospitality; or lack thereof. As individuals, we will all also give a personal account. The way we treat others is taken personally by Jesus himself. The day is coming when Matthew 25 will become a reality. The question is, are we trembling at this coming judgment or ignoring to our peril? You and I can’t be neutral and will not escape accountability. We either are pro-active in showing hospitality or complicit and guilty in the suffering of others by our lack of action. Evil is not just intentionally doing horrible things. It is failing to do what is right in showing compassion and hospitality to others. We should also be warned that we shouldn’t expect God’s mercy towards us in eternity if we refuse to show God’s mercy to others on earth. Indifference is criminal. It is evidence of a heart unchanged by the grace of God. If God is preparing a place for us in heaven (John 14:1-2), surely we can prepare a place in our heart and even home, for others. Consider carefully the very words of Jesus:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit 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.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”