Strangers and Angels — Showing the Gospel in Our Hospitality


Our family recently sat down with MHC’s Family Advent Devotional, and Day One’s topic of angels sparked a lot of good questions! It was refreshing to think together about angels and their role in our lives. As we all contemplated the ministry of these invisible creatures, my mind was drawn to a peculiar reference in the book of Hebrews — a little phrase mentioned just in passing in chapter 13: “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13:1-2). What?! Strangers, and angels?!

Little phrase, big implications, and another great example of something we would never know if the Bible didn’t tell us! And while this truth could give rise to myriad secondary discussions about angels, my soul was convicted by the plain and simple of it — Jesus commands us to extend hospitality to strangers.

Now, one component of this command — practicing hospitality — is hardly new or unfamiliar to Christians. Most of us know that opening our homes and sharing our possessions is in our spiritual DNA, so to speak. After all, when the first 3,000 members of the Christian church were still dripping wet from baptism, the first thing they did was make a regular habit of extending hospitality to one another — “ by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes...” (Acts 2:46). Hospitality is natural for Christians. But the other component of this command — “ strangers...” — I have to confess, doesn’t feel so natural to my soul. And, stacked up next to Jesus’ command in Heb. 13, that’s convicting.

You see, it’s one thing to invite my friends over. It’s fun. It’s easy. I don’t have to think, don’t have to work, don’t have to try. No need to be fancy; the house can be a bit disheveled, it can be last-minute, and it’s okay if we just order pizza. It just feels good. And, under the general category of “hospitality,” it is good. But let’s just all be honest here; strangers are, well, just that — strange. We don’t know them. We don’t trust them. And, depending on the person, we may be a bit afraid of them. Strangers can be odd, they can be smelly. Those with disabilities may make us uncomfortable. And yet, in spite of all this, our good King Jesus commands us not to neglect showing hospitality to them.

In order to rightly understand the beauty and goodness of this command, we need to interpret it through the lens of the gospel. The gospel is the good news that begins with the unrivaled miracle that, in Jesus Christ, God became man. Eternal in being and infinite in glory, the Son of God humbled himself and took on human flesh—voluntarily sacrificing the comforts, familiarities, and status of heavenly throne-hood, all for the sake of serving the outcasts and marginalized of earth. The strangers. He came to serve, not to be served. He gave, expecting nothing in return. He made a move most decidedly out of his comfort zone, for the sake of the feasting of the hungry, the increase of the poor, and the exaltation of the lowly. In this act we call Christmas, nothing less than the very definition of love is revealed. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (1 Jn. 3:16). Before Jesus laid down his earthly life, he laid
down his heavenly one. For strangers. And that’s how we know what love is. Perhaps it’s even more sobering viewed from this angle — if it sacrifices nothing of itself, it’s something, but it’s not love.

And so, we rightly feel the weight of this command. Showing hospitality to strangers is difficult because it forces us to be others-focused. It forces us to love. It forces us to give to people who will not be able to give back to us; to associate with characters that may expose us to societal shame. When we open our homes to strangers, we can’t put our souls in “cruise-control,” like we can when we entertain friends and other Christians. We have to work at starting conversations. We have to endure potentially unpleasant sights, sounds, and smells. We have to sacrifice comfort and familiarity — and oftentimes, social status — to be faithful to this command. We have to leave heaven, as it were, and come down to the miry bog of earth. And that’s the gospel. And for Jesus, that’s the whole point. Jesus wants us to love
strangers, because when we do, we put the gospel on display for the watching world.

Practical Wisdom For Ministry To Strangers
Jesus commands us to pursue this ministry, but that doesn’t mean we should enter into rashly. Obedience to Christ involves, not just diligence, but biblical wisdom, too — “Zeal without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way” (Prov. 19:2). The fact remains that we live in a fallen world; a world where some strangers in our midst are resolved to deceive, manipulate, or even harm us. In our zeal to pursue holy obedience, we must remain aware of these simultaneous truths:

First, the world that Jesus sends his sheep out into is a den of wolves (Mt. 10:16), ruled by a serpent who prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he might devour (1 Pet. 5:8).

And second, in spite of the real dangers in the world, we are ultimately to rest in the sovereignty and mighty power of God—avoiding the sins of anxiety (Mt 6:25) and fear (10:26), convinced that certain risks are commendable (Heb. 11:8), and working with intentionality to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mt. 10:16) — ready even, if necessary, to lose our lives for the sake of love, as Jesus did!

With these truths in mind, here are a handful of practical tips for faithful ministry to strangers.

1. Whenever possible, minister in group settings. This may mean that you invite another family to join yours when you host a stranger for a meal, or it may mean that you bring a homeless man into a public restaurant in order to fellowship with him. This not only encourages safety, it all the more so provides your guest with a greater picture of what Christian fellowship looks and feels like — inclusion in a large, diverse family of children who are generously provided for by their Heavenly Father. One-on-one encounters are glorious, and if that’s the door the Spirit opens, you should rejoice, and act accordingly. Cases where one woman entertains one man/one man entertains one woman in private seem outside the biblical definition of wisdom, and a Christian should never be in pursuit of this type of ministry, though, particularly in pioneer missionary settings, the Spirit can do whatever he wants.

2. Whenever possible, plan ahead. Spend some time before their arrival, thinking through a few conversation-starters. Be yourselves, and try to let your guest in on some of the funny quirks and “inside jokes” of your family life. Think through some probing questions you can ask them, with a view to bridging your discussion naturally into the gospel. Talk to the kids, and prepare them for how they should and should not respond, and some topics that should be out-of-bounds during the visit. Help them understand simple ways they can and should seek to serve your guest—offer them a beverage, clear their plate from the table, etc. Counsel them on how to make sure they avoid being alone with your guest.

3. Without ceasing, pray. Since Jesus is the one who has commanded us to do this, he is the one who will provide you with everything you need, in order to obey him! As in all matters of sanctification, we put in our very best effort, all the while resting in the sovereign grace provided to us by the Holy Spirit, which enables us to obey him in all things (Ezek. 36:27). Pray! Plead with the Spirit of Jesus to enable the glorification of Jesus during your meal!

4. Seek opportunities to share a testimony of your experience with the church. Nothing convicts and encourages corporate obedience like the glorious testimonies of other believers! In addition to your own private prayer, ask other believers ahead of time to join you in praying for God to provide for your obedience, and for an open door for the gospel! The apostle Paul did this regularly, in order to encourage the praise of more and more believers when God proved faithful to answer (2 Cor. 1:11).

What better time than Christmas, to commit to opening our homes to strangers? And, you never know, you just may find yourselves in the presence of an angel.

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