Marked by Xenophobia or Philoxenia?

August 23, 2018 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement

In 2016, determined the word of the year to be xenophobia. The word of the year is determined by frequency and numbers of searches as well as use in popular correspondence. Xenophobia is made up of two Greek words. Xenos is the word for stranger (noun) or strange (adjective). Phobia or phobos is the word for fear. Xenophobia is the fear of strangeness or strangers. 

According to, the spike in use of xenophobia in 2016 was related to world events such as Brexit, the US presidential race, immigration debates, terrorism, and race debates in the US.

While xenophobia has been prevalent in cultural conversations, the New Testament calls the church to the exact opposite, philoxenia. Once again, two Greek words make up this word. Philos is one of the Greek words for love (agape being the more common word in the New Testament). Scholars often differentiate the Greek words for love by stating that philos speaks familial love, or fond affections. Think of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love (adelphos being the Greek word for brother). Of course, you can recognize that xenos is the other Greek word that makes up philoxenia. 

Philoxenia… love for the stranger. The noun and adjective are used five times in the New Testament, and they are translated as hospitality or hospitable. 

Romans 12:13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 

Hebrews 13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers… 

1 Timothy 3:2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach… hospitable… 

Titus 1:7-8 For an overseer, as God's steward, must be … hospitable… 

1 Peter 4:9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 

In July, I made the observation that in nearly every context where hospitality is commanded love is the overarching characteristic. Hospitality is a natural outworking of love for neighbor. 

How do we grow and motivate such love that manifests itself in love for strangers? 

The key is to remember that we all were once strangers. Paul says in Ephesians 2:12, “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” The strangers are on the outside. They are unworthy and undeserving. They are hopeless. Much of these qualities make a stranger strange to us, and therefore spawns xenophobia. But Paul reminds us that we were once strangers, in the same vein. The gospel message is that God did not fear us or shun us, but he loved us and had mercy on us. God was and is the first and foremost lover of strangers. 

Paul goes on to say in Ephesians 2:19, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” 

Hospitality grows when we recognize that God has first been hospitable to us. We didn’t deserve it. Let’s be humbled by this and recognize that every other person is just like us needing hospitality as a stranger.


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