A Commentary on Hebrews 13:2—What Does It Mean to Entertain Strangers With Love?
Early one morning, I sat by the window reading the Bible: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2). This verse tells us to entertain strangers with love, I thought. Since they are strangers, they must be people whom we don’t know, yet the pastor often tells us not to receive strangers by quoting the scriptures, “I marvel that you are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace ofto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6–7). He says that as our statures are too small and we cannot distinguish, we should never receive any stranger who preaches the gospel. Ah, what exactly is the Lord’s will? What should I do? Should I receive the strangers who preach the gospel or not?
Just when I was feeling very perplexed, Sister Li in the church came to visit me, so I eagerly asked her: “Sister Li, the pastor often preaches to us, ‘I marvel that you are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of Christ to another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ’ (Galatians 1:6–7). He doesn’t let us receive strangers, much less hear or see what they are preaching. But today I came across this verse, ‘Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares’ (Hebrews 13:2), which teaches us to entertain strangers with love. So should we receive strangers or not? I’d like to hear your view on this matter.”
Hearing what I said, Sister Li picked up the Bible, saying as she flipped through it: “Thanks be to the Lord! Sister Liu, do you know the background against which Paul said these words?”
“Background?” I felt very confused. “What background?”
Sister Li continued: “The Book of Galatians contains the epistles that Paul wrote to the Galatian churches. At that time, apart from people who spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, there were also people preaching the gospel of believing in Jehovah God and keeping the law in Galatia. As a result, many brothers and sisters in the Galatian churches departed from theChrist’s way and returned to the temple to observe the law. After he found out about this, Paul wrote this epistle to exhort and remind the brothers and sisters in the Galatian churches, saying, ‘I marvel that you are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of Christ to another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ’ (Galatians 1:6–7). ‘O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received you the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?’ (Galatians 3:1–2). These words were telling the brothers and sisters in the Galatian churches not to be deceived by the Pharisees and return to the temple to observe the law; they are not saying that we who live in should refuse to listen to the gospel of the Lord’s return. If we act according to the words Paul said to the Galatian churches, then how can we welcome the Lord’s return and gain the salvation that appears in the last days?”
Surprised at Sister Li’s fellowship, I said: “It turns out that these words of Paul were aimed at those Galatians who had abandoned the Lord Jesus’ redeeming gospel and who had turned back to follow the gospel that preached the law, not at people of the last days. We, however, accepted his words as not to receive any stranger who preached the gospel, to the point where we didn’t listen to anyone who spread the news of the Lord’s return. It seems that we misunderstood the original meaning of Paul’s words.”
Sister Li went on to say: “Sister Liu, tell me, when the Lord Jesus’ disciples went to spread the gospel to people all over the world, did those who heard them preach know them?”
“No,” I shook my head and said, “they didn’t.”
“If no one had received strangers just as the pastors and elders advise, then could the gospel of Jesus Christ have been spread throughout the entire universe and all across the world? The Lord Jesus said: ‘Go you into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature’ (Mark 16:15). Since the Lord Jesus asked His disciples to go to all nations to preach the gospel, there must have been lots of people who didn’t know them. Just like when the disciples Peter and Matthew, and Paul were spreading the Lord’s gospel everywhere—could there have been many people who knew them? There also have been many missionaries throughout the ages who risked their lives to travel cross the ocean and spread the gospel in unfamiliar countries. If no one had received them, then how could the seeds of the gospel have taken root? We are all familiar with the Bible. In the entire Bible, there is no one who sincerely sought God suffering loss because of receiving strangers. Instead, they were all blessed by God. For example, Abraham received three strangers, and then he gained God’s blessing—he got a son when he was one hundred years old; Lot received two strangers, who actually were the angels, and then he and his family escaped Sodom; Rahab the harlot received strangers, for which she gained God’s blessing and her family were all saved.”
Hearing Sister Li’s fellowship, I thought: It’s true. Wasn’t the reason why the Lord Jesus’ gospel could have spread to the ends of the earth, that those who yearned for salvation received the Lord’s disciples and heard the gospel? Throughout the ages, there have been many people who received strangers and eventually gained God’s blessings.
Sister Li continued: “The Gospel of Luke records these words of the Lord Jesus when He sent the disciples out to preach the gospel: ‘Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves. … And into whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you: And heal the sick that are therein, and say to them,is come near to you. But into whatever city you enter, and they receive you not, go your ways out into the streets of the same, and say, Even the very dust of your city, which sticks on us, we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding be you sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come near to you. But I say to you, that it shall be more tolerable in that day for Sodom, than for that city’ (Luke 10:3, 8–12). ‘He that hears you hears Me; and he that despises you despises Me; and he that despises Me despises Him that sent Me’ (Luke 10:16). From the Lord Jesus’ words we can see that God sent the disciples to spread the gospel, and that those who could receive them with love were able to hear the Lord Jesus’ redeeming gospel and gain His salvation, while those who refused to receive the disciples would lose the chance of by God and would suffer more severe punishment than Sodom at the day of judgment. This was because on the surface they were rejecting those who spread the gospel by not receiving them, but in essence they were rejecting God!”
Hearing Sister Li’s fellowship, my heart felt very moved and I said: “I never expected that this is such a serious matter. It’s true. Refusing to receive those sent by the Lord is refusing to receive the Lord, and it is shutting the Lord outside! This reminds me of the Lord Jesus’ words, ‘A new commandment I give to you, That you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another’ (John 13:34). ‘Whoever shall receive this child in My name receives Me: and whoever shall receive Me receives Him that sent Me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great’ (Luke 9:48). The Lord required that we love each other, act in accordance with His orders, and receive people with love. We, however, didn’t obey Christ’s teachings and requirements. We didn’t help other people with love, nor did we receive the strangers who preached the gospel or listen to or see what they were preaching. Didn’t that go against the teachings of Christ? Sister Li, what you have fellowshiped is in line with the Lord Jesus’ teachings and benefited me a lot!”
Sister Li said as she closed the Bible: “Thank the Lord. It is all thanks to the Lord’s enlightenment and guidance. We believers in the Lord must listen to the Lord’s words. No matter who it is, we must consider whether or not what they say accords with the Lord’s words. We should listen to the words that accord with the Lord’s words, whereas anything that doesn’t accord with the Lord’s words should not be blindly obeyed. The Lord Jesus said: ‘Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me’ (Revelation 3:20). ‘And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom comes; go you out to meet him’ (Matthew 25:6). ‘My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me’ (John 10:27). We can know from these words that thewelcome the return of the Lord by hearing God’s voice. The Lord’s intentions are that we are able to actively listen to God’s voice and receive His coming when we hear someone preach that the Lord Jesus has returned. From this we can also find a path of practice. That is, when someone spreads the gospel to us, even if they are people whom we don’t know, we mustn’t reject them in the first instance, but should listen to what they preach to see whether it is God’s utterance and voice. If it is, then we should accept it. That’s what is most important.”
Filled with emotion, I said: “Thanks be to the Lord! I’ve been listening to sermons for many years, but I have never heard anyone explain the scriptures so clearly. I’ve really gained a lot. All these years, I have always believed what the pastor said and refused to receive any stranger who preached the gospel. I really was so ignorant! If I continue like this, I will certainly not welcome the Lord’s return. I’ve often read these verses, so why haven’t I ever understood them? It seems that if we understand the Bible out of context without seeking God’s will, it will do great harm to ourselves! …”