Today I will focus on the New Testament concept of hospitality. The roots of this teaching are found in the ministry of Christ.
When Jesus sent out His disciples on preaching missions, they were instructed to lodge in the houses where they were welcomed. (Matt 10:11, Mark 6:10, Luke 9:4, Luke 10:7-8). In cases where hospitality was refused, the disciples were to move on, shaking the dust from their feet.
Reading Acts and the epistles it is clear that Paul and other itinerant preachers of the gospel depended upon the hospitality of believers for food and lodging. Acts 16 gives two prime examples: Lydia, the seller of purple fabric from Thyatira, and the Philippian jailer. It appears to have been a widely accepted custom to show hospitality to “strangers,” that is to these traveling ministers from afar. However there were doctrinal restrictions regarding those to whom hospitality could be extended:
Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds. (2 John vv. 9-11)
It is in this light that we are to understand the concept of hospitality elsewhere mentioned in the Pauline Epistles. In Romans 12:13 we read: contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. This statement is in a paragraph exhorting brotherly love among believers. In the next verse believers are told not to curse but rather bless their enemies. And in 1 Timothy 5:10 one of the qualifications for widows receiving church support is that she has shown hospitality to strangers. Here again, the reference does not appear to be to random unknown persons but rather believers.
Perhaps one of the most commonly quoted verses on hospitality is Hebrews 13:2: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. This command follows the statement in the previous verse: Let love of the brethren continue. That command is the topic sentence of a paragraph that deals primarily with relationships within the family of believers. Taken in the broader context of the New Testament concept of hospitality, it is understood as a charge to feed and house visitors who come in the name of the Lord. Apparently it was (and perhaps still is) the case that angels showed up at the door in need of hospitality.
A detailed analysis of all the possible applications of the principle of hospitality is not intended here. But perhaps a couple comments on what it does not mean are in order.
First, it does not mean that as believers we are obligated to admit total strangers into our homes. Not that there are not times when this might be a wise and prudent thing to do. We do not live in a culture where itinerant preachers of the gospel are coming into the churches, so it is hard to see how a direct application of New Testament hospitality would be common. However it is clear that we are not to admit to our homes or give a blessing to anyone whose mission it is to promote a false religion or false gospel.
Secondly, since the refugee crisis in on the minds of many, we might consider how biblical hospitality applies. It actually doesn’t, since the refugee crisis is a government-policy issue, not a personal matter. The question is not whether undocumented refugees should be admitted to our homes, but rather: should they be admitted to our country? Wherever you come down on this issue, the New Testament concept of hospitality is simply not germane to the discussion.
In considering the refugee issue it might be a better idea to assess the biblical teaching on the role of civil government (Romans 13; 1 Peter 2). From these passages it would seem that the role of the civil authority is to punish evildoers and reward those who do what is right. The reader may judge for himself whether or not admitting undocumented un-vetted refugees is the biblical obligation of government.