STUDIES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
(Hebrews 13:1-2 ESV)
Sometimes, at the end of the New Testament epistles, we get some parting words that can feel like a hodge-podge. It’s kind of like what you might say to your kids before they head out the door for their first day of school: “Did you brush your teeth? Do you have your lunch? Listen to the teacher, and make sure that you follow the rules.” The final chapter of Hebrews may feel like that, but there is a line of thought that flows throughout the chapter. These verses all deal with aspects of loving God by loving others.
In verse 1, we are exhorted to “let brotherly love continue.” Let’s remember that the love spoken of in Scripture is more than a mere emotion. It results in action. Take John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (ESV) The love God has for us isn’t just a warm feeling, it also moved Him to action. God could have talked all He wanted about sending Jesus to save us, but if He never got around to it, we’d still be in our sins. We’d still be lost.
God urges us to love each other in the midst of attacks by the devil, the sinful world, and our own sinful flesh. And so, when we see a Christian brother or sister in need, it is Christian love that moves us to pray for that person and to help however we can.
Now, that can be hard enough for us who are prone, by nature, to look out only for ourselves and not for the needs of others. What we’re told to do in verse 2, however, is even more difficult: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.” In verse 1, we have one Greek word that combines “love” and “brothers” (philadelphia—brotherly love). In this verse, we have one Greek word that combines “love” and “strangers” (philoxenia—love for outsiders). We’re called to show love not only for those we know, but also for those we don’t know.
Oftentimes, we are inhospitable. Maybe it’s not because we want to be inhospitable, but only because we don’t take the time to practice hospitality. We have too many things on our “to-do list.” We have too many things we would rather do than do something for someone else. But think about the hospitality that God showed for us, even while we were strangers—in fact, while we were God’s enemies. Romans 5:8 says, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (ESV) Loving by being hospitable reflects the very character of God.
Showing hospitality to strangers may benefit us as well. Verse 2 ends by mentioning that “some have entertained angels unawares.” This reminds us of Genesis 18, in which Abraham showed hospitality to three strangers, not realizing that they were angels. You and I may not entertain angels in a literal sense, but any stranger could turn out to be a messenger of blessing to us. (The word “angel” sometimes means “messenger.”)
Our lives are made up of relationships—with God, family, fellow Christians, and strangers. May Christ’s love drive us to make the most of every opportunity to communicate His love in all of our interactions with others.
Robert Sauers is pastor of Luther Memorial Church in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and a member of the CLC Board of Missions.