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Foltz: Hospitality and neighborly love

Hebrews 13:2 in the New International Version reads, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”  This is probably the most well-known verse from Hebrews other than Hebrews 11, the faith chapter. I hear this verse referred to a lot. Part of why this verse is so famous is because we like to think angels are kind of everywhere and interacting with us. I think that’s why shows like “Highway to Heaven” and “Touched By An Angel” have been so popular over the years. Often, this verse is referred to when you have a chance encounter and someone makes the implication that the stranger involved in the chance encounter wasn’t actually a stranger but rather an angel. This verse may have another meaning though other than just entertaining literal angels. It also reminds us that we are supposed to see the image of God in every person that we encounter.

In Greek, the word for “hospitality” can be translated literally as “stranger love” or “love for strangers.” If you transliterate the Greek word into the English alphabet, it’s “philoxenias.” This is a compound word coming from “philos” which means love and “xenia” which means stranger. The preacher of Hebrews is telling us that God would not have us be xenophobic. In other words, we can’t hate people because they are different than us, no matter what that difference may be. No matter their race, spoken language, culture, country of origin, or any of the variety of issues that divide us in this day and age, God calls us to love one another, because, in that love for others, something heavenly, something angelic happens.

Biblical scholar Kevin L. Anderson, in commenting on this passage, wrote, “Kindness to strangers is a display of devotion to God.” [1] This certainly has a lot of implications for how we live our lives in a very divided world. It means we should engage in charitable discourse in the ways that we talk to and about one another. It doesn’t take too long on social media or reading the comments section of popular news organizations to realize that we are in desperate need of some charitable discourse these days. It means welcoming others into our lives and homes and allowing them to invite us into their lives and homes. It will sometimes mean doing for one what we wish we could do for everyone when we encounter someone who is in need.

It’s often easy for us to love our neighbors. They often look like us and are from the same socioeconomic class as we are. They may even let us borrow a cup of sugar if we find ourselves in need, but that’s not the question the preacher of Hebrews is asking us. His question is will you love the stranger? Can you love someone who doesn’t look like you, act like you, vote like you, or speak like you? If you won’t, keep in mind, that person you hate or simply ignore might just be an angel.

Joe Foltz is the Pastor of the Olive Hill Church of the Nazarene and is a guest columnist on The Carter County News. He can be reached at (606) 286-2452 or by email at pastorjoe52@gmail.com.


[1] Anderson, Kevin L. Hebrews, New Beacon Bible Commentary: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 2013, 346.

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