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Entertaining Angels by Showing Hospitality
“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 NIV).
When we think of hospitality, we often think of the custom of feeding family, friends, and neighbors in our homes or even providing them a room in our home for a brief visit. Many churches have hired a dedicated staff person to train the church members on how to staff hospitality to each other and particularly new members.
The writers of the New Testament, however, were working with a significantly different definition of hospitality. The ancient custom of hospitality involved welcoming strangers, often travelers, into one’s home while offering them provisions and protection. Hospitality to strangers in the first century could be dangerous. How many of us would open our homes to a stranger and provide just a single meal, let alone lodging for a night? Many of us will not do this because we are concerned for the safety of our families and ourselves. However, in the books of Luke and Acts we see an appeal for Jesus’ disciples, and ourselves, to practice hospitality in their lives and ministries. Naturally, I think that today we should use some discernment and caution. For example, I do not think we are called to offer hospitality to a dangerous person because we are called to provide and protect our families (1 Timothy 5:8) and ourselves (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
Early Christians understood the blessing on both parties by extending hospitality to those in need. An absence of hospitality would mean an absence of love for God and neighbor. This perspective is especially vivid in Luke’s writings. Luke provides an emphasis on hospitality in three passages: Luke 10:1-16, Luke 24:13-35, and Acts 9:43-10:48.
In Luke 10:1-16, Luke describes Jesus’ commissioning of seventy disciples who will travel in pairs to various towns to spread the news about his message and ministry. Jesus instructs the seventy to depend on the hospitality of the townspeople they encounter.
For instance, He prohibits them from carrying their own provisions. Instead, the blessing and peace of God (blessing) will rest upon those hosts who extend hospitality to Jesus’ servants (Luke 10:4-6). Always remember this – blessed is the giver and receiver of hospitality.
He forbids the disciples, after they enter the home of a gracious host, from moving about from house to house. Rather than seeking more prestigious or luxurious accommodations, they are to accept willingly the provisions they have received (Luke 10:7). Finally, Jesus commissions the seventy-two to minister to their host families and communities. Rather than merely receiving provisions and protection, the traveling missionaries are to meet the needs they encounter along the way and to proclaim the Kingdom of God. “Whoever listens to you listens to me,” Jesus concludes, “and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (10:16). Jesus realized that some would not welcome His disciples so He told them, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet” (Matthew 10:14).
Just as faith without works is dead (James 2:17), so is Christianity without hospitality. The townspeople’s response to His disciples (strangers) served as their response to Jesus himself. Today, our response to the “least of our brothers and sisters” is our witness and stands as what we do for Him (Matthew 25:40-45). Perhaps this is no more evident than in prison ministry.
Jesus required His disciples to participate in the ancient custom of hospitality (Luke 10:4). He wanted them to be dependent upon their hosts, who are likely unaware of Jesus’ ministry. Their willingness to stay in the homes of people who are not yet followers of The Way opened a door for God’s blessing and work in their lives and communities.
Jesus demanded that His disciples be grateful to their hosts and content with what they have been provided. They must not seek out wealthier or more prestigious hosts within the same community. To carry out their mission properly, Jesus’ disciples formed deep and loyal bonds with those of all classes whom they encounter along the way. Hospitality is not just showing kindness to people that look like you, live in your neighborhood, and attend your church. The right next step is to be mindful that hospitality also includes showing kindness to those that will never be able to return the favor. Jesus taught that by doing this, “you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:14).
Prayer: Dear God: Forgive us for the times we have denied hospitality to others. Help us to remember that whatever we do for the least of our brothers and sisters we also do for you. Amen.
Meet the Author
Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and is in training to be a Certified Lay Minister through the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves as the President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and is a Board Member for Gulf South Men and serves on the Action Team for The Kingdom Group. He is a volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, and Iron Sharpens Iron. Todd resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
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