One of the most common practices in the early church was that of hospitality. It was radical hospitality. It started with Jesus never having a house of his own and most often staying in homes of people who demonstrated radical hospitality. It continued when he sent out the first disciples, telling them to preach the Good News and to stay in the homes of people who would offer them a bed. It culminated in the Letter to the Hebrews in which the author urges radical hospitality for a radical reason.
Be sure to welcome strangers into your home. By doing this, some people have welcomed angels as guests, without even knowing it. Hebrews 13:2
What an amazing statement. The writer is saying that some people have actually opened their homes to angels without knowing it. How incredible! Movies and television programs are full of the theme of angels stepping into the world and making an impact without us even knowing it. Movies like, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Angels in the Outfield”, and programs like “Touched by an Angel”, all revolve around angels in our midst. Put the writer to the Hebrews is not talking about fantasy. He is talking about real life.
It is mind blowing to think that people could put a sign outside their house saying that “An Angel Slept Here”. But what is more amazing to me is that there were probably some people who missed the opportunity by actually turning a stranger away. If people showed hospitality to angels without knowing it, then certainly people turned away angels without knowing it. What a missed opportunity that must have been.
What really is the challenge for us today is to consider the role of radical hospitality today. The move away from any kind of hospitality to a culture in which we hide behind out walls and separate ourselves from others is well documented. How often does the typical suburbanite drive home from work, hit the garage door remote, pull into the garage, put down the door and the walk into the house without ever engaging their neighbors? Most people don’t even know their neighbors names. What a radical shift it would be if Christians actually started inviting their neighbors over for a barbecue or Super Bowl party. But that stuff is not even close to being radical.
The early church was radical. Paul could travel anywhere there were Christians and always have a place to stay. It was so common for Christians to open their homes to others that at the turn of the first century there were already written down standards for such things. It was considered a privilege to open your home to people. Today we only see the extra work and burden of it all.
When I look at our family I can see that we have done some things of radical hospitality but we pale in comparison to those first generations of Christians. The past Christmas we opened our home for a week to two students from Taiwan whom we had never met before. They are not Christians but we had some great conversations about God. The best part was that they started the conversations by asking questions. An added blessing was that my youngest son, Garrett, got to practice his Mandarin with them and build an ongoing relationship. In September we had three men from Zambia stay with us. Again we never met them before, but we provided a home for them for a few days. In that case it was so they could be part of a choir raising money to support a school in their hometown in Africa. There are more such stories but the point you would get from all of them is that every time we have opened our home to others, we have been blessed far beyond what we sacrificed.
The most common objection people give to opening their home to strangers is a fear for the safety of the family. Yet, if we really pray and seek God in this we should not fear. I have a friend in South Africa who opened his home to a man who was just released from prison. The man was on parole after having spent years in jail on a murder charge. My friend and his wife opened their home and as a result they are being used by God to change this mans life. That is the kind of hospitality God wants us to demonstrate because that is provocative and changes lives for His glory.