Romans 12:13 is an odd little verse, perhaps because it sits among a quiver full of short arrows of advice the Apostle Paul is firing toward the Romans about prayer and love and ministry. Most of the phrases are short and quick:
And then, “extend hospitality to strangers.” This doesn’t sound all that strange to Southerners, of course, because we take that to be a matter of fact. Always be nice to people.
This particular word, φιλοξενίαν (philoxenian), in the Koine Greek is one that means “hospitality” in a stronger sense. Pursue hospitality to strangers. A. T. Robertson, the great Baptist New Testament scholar of a century ago, said that it can mean that Christians are to pursue hospitality with the same zeal that their enemies pursue them for their faith.
The other occurrence of this word is in the letter to the Hebrews in the thirteenth chapter that says we are to practice hospitality for we never know when we have entertained, as the KJV quaintly put it, “angels unawares.”
The essence of hospitality in the Christian tradition is that something is offered to you like grace. A welcome you didn’t expect. An invitation to belong when you thought no one knew you. Acceptance into the circle. It is powerful and a witness. At our finest, we offer hospitality, welcome, and grace in our fellowship.
We live in a moment when the whole world is rotten with distrust and dislike of one another. Generosity, welcome, and kindness are a bit of resistance to that endless torrent of poison. It is not simply something nice to have. It is a weapon against this time we live in. Welcoming new members, chatting with each other about this week's Bible school, telling our stories to one another, these are powerful acts of gospel life among us. Where do we start with recovering hospitality in an inhospitable, rude, and unkind culture? That’s a good question.
At the very least we can begin by taking time with one another, don’t you think? A family can turn off devices and eat together without them. We can linger after church to get to know someone we’ve always seen but never met. Taking time. We had good day, welcoming the Johnson family and Stephanie Thomas as they joined with us this past Sunday. As we pursue hospitality together, turning strangers into friends of Jesus, let us work more powerfully than those who are unraveling it with the selfishness of sin. It matters.