Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
“Y’all come on out and see me,” echo’ed the voice of Pastor Bill Simpson throughout the sanctuary of the Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church of Denison, Tex. “I have a credit card, and a bedroom. I’ll take you to dinner, and I’ll give you a place to sleep.”
It was the annual messenger meeting of the Missionary Baptist Association of Texas, and Pastor Simpson was called upon to give the response to the welcome by the host church. Simpson had served as the pastor of Tall City Baptist Church in Midland, Tex., for as long as anyone could remember. He was well-known for his hospitality, generosity and kindness.
As pastor of Tall City, he worked to keep West Texas Baptist Institute in operation, published the Tall City Messenger, and supported missionaries worldwide. Those who had traveled through West Texas would tell you that Pastor Simpson would take in anyone who showed up at his doorstep. He loved fellowship, and he loved God’s people. Therefore, if any showed up to his door, he entertained them.
Pastor Simpson exemplified Hebrews 13:1, which says, “Let brotherly love continue,” as well as Hebrews 13:2, which says, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
When the Bible says to entertain strangers, it is commanding us to be hospitable. This thought is a continuation of the command to “let brotherly love continue.” God wants us to have a genuine affection for one another, for our brothers and sisters in Christ, and for everyone around us.
Pastor Simpson’s hospitality stood out in a world where we’d rather put someone up in a hotel room with a McDonald’s gift card rather than invite them in and cook them dinner, but there was a time when most Americans were as hospitable as Pastor Simpson. Hospitality is a dying courtesy in a world where we fear crime and value our privacy.
Still, if we are affectionate toward each other as scripture teaches, then we will also be hospitable.
Now, Hebrews 13:2 takes an interesting turn when it says “for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
In the church where I grew up Spiritually, I was taught that this verse meant that we should be kind to everyone, because we never know when we are dealing with an angel in disguise who is checking to make sure we are showing the love of Christ to a lost and dying world. Therefore, I was always nervous when presented with a choice to give to a homeless individual, or whether to withhold out of suspicion that I was being scammed.
I have since overcome this fear by learning these three things. (1) I have learned that I will never regret generosity, (2) I have learned that if the recipient of my benevolence misuses it (if the homeless man to whom I give money uses it to buy beer), then he will be held accountable to God, not me, and (3) angels (as in the Spiritual beings) do not go around posing as homeless people in an effort to make you be more benevolent.
The context of Hebrews 13:2 is that the scriptures are teaching us to be affectionate, loving and benevolent toward each other. We are being taught how to love and interact with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
It is on that note that we are told to “entertain strangers,” that is to be hospitable to other Christians. (In the context of time, there were no Motel 6s where traveling Christians could stay. Their options were to sleep outside, stay at an inn and contract bedbugs, or stay with acquaintances or fellow Christians.)
The scripture then notes that by “entertaining strangers,” or being hospitable to Christian brothers and sisters, that some “entertained angels unawares.”
The word “angel” comes from the Greek word ang-eh-loss which simply means “messenger.” The angels who were Spiritual beings were merely messengers of God, as demonstrated in the books of Genesis, Joshua, Daniel, and Luke.
In other passages, the word “angel” is used to describe the pastor of a church, such as in Revelation 2:1, where Jesus says, “Unto the angel of the church at Ephesus, write….” That angel wasn’t a Spiritual being appointed to oversee the church at Ephesus. It was the pastor called to lead Ephesus. The message Christ dictated for John to write was intended for the pastor at Ephesus to deliver to his church.
So, given the context of Hebrews 13:2, the phrase “entertaining angels unawares” could very well be paraphrased, “you never know who you’re helping.”
While it is an interesting idea that Spiritual angels are checking in on us, a more powerful truth is that, by letting brotherly love continue and being hospitable, you may actually make a difference in someone’s life, who will in turn make a difference in the lives of hundreds of people. You never know if the person you are helping will one day become a great angel (messenger) like the great Billy Graham.
So be generous. Be hospitable. Be friendly. Help those around you as you have opportunity. You will never regret loving, and you will never regret the good you do, neither in this lifetime, nor when you stand before the Lord Jesus Christ on judgment day.
–Leland Acker has served as pastor of Life Point Baptist Church since its inception in 2008. He is currently leading the congregation through a study of the book of Hebrews, which will conclude Sunday, Dec. 17, with a study of Chapter 13.