Summer of Hospitality #8 - Love for Strangers

Leviticus 19:33-34

"When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God."

In the dictionary, the word “hospitality” is wedged between “hospital”, a place of healing, and “hospice”, a place of shelter. The root of all 3 words is the Latin word translated “guests”. Our homes are meant to be places of shelter and healing, havens of rest. The Greek word for hospitality (philoxenia) in the New Testament means “a love of strangers”.

In order to grasp the importance of hospitality in Biblical times, especially to those not like us, we have to realize how different life was in the ancient world. Your place in a society was based on kinship; by a whole web of blood ties and marriage relationships. Back then, you would identify yourself, not by your country, but by your family, and your clan, and your tribe. So whenever you traveled away from your homeland you were in a very uncertain position. You couldn’t necessarily expect that the laws of some other place would protect you. Why should they? Their laws are for their people. You’re a stranger. What right do you have to demand anything from them? So, foreigners and aliens were often mistreated, with little or no legal recourse.

But in Israel, strangers and aliens were a protected class. God specifically commanded His people not to oppress them, not to exploit the foreigners in their midst. Such persons were not to be denied justice, or treated unequally before the law. Not only that, they were to be loved, and provided for, and their needs taken care of. Why? What was the motivation for hospitality? What was the motivation for loving strangers and providing for them?

God gives the motivation to love strangers, "for YOU were strangers in the land of Egypt." Why should a person love strangers just because he has been a stranger? Perhaps he shouldn't. But that's not the point. The point is that they were strangers in Egypt, but they aren't any more! Why? Because: "I am the Lord your God." The words "I am the Lord your God," are packed with meaning because they are the very first words of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:2. Any good Israelite could finish the sentence: "I am the Lord your God WHO BROUGHT YOU UP OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT, OUT OF THE HOUSE OF BONDAGE." In other words, “I am God who came to you when you were oppressed aliens in Egypt and saved you.” For the people of God in the Old Testament, the duty of hospitality came right from the center of who God was. I am the Lord your God who made a home for you and brought you there with all my might and all my soul. Therefore, you shall love the stranger as yourself. Your values shall mirror my values.

You see, what’s at issue here is the character of God – what kind of God the Israelites served, and what kind of God WE serve. Our God is one who reaches out to the alien and the stranger; who invites the one who doesn’t belong into His own family. We serve a God who not only tolerates the stranger, but loves him, welcomes him, and accepts him as one of His own children. In like manner, as followers of Christ, we are to reach out, and show hospitality to those who aren’t a part of “our group” – our church, our small group, our friends, or even our own family – because that’s what God does! We’re not to exclude them, or shun them, or ignore them. And it’s not sufficient merely to politely tolerate them. We are to intentionally seek them out; to make provision for them, and care for them, and consider their needs, just as if they were already a part of the group. We are to take the initiative to welcome newcomers and outsiders; we are to actively encourage them to join in. We do it because that’s what God does! He makes the outsider a part of His family. That’s what God did for Israel in Egypt, and that’s what God did for us when we were separated from Him.

"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. . . . Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household." – Ephesians 2:13, 19