No, not the city. Although you could probably make a case for it. I’m talking about one of the four Greek words for “love” and the dichotomy found in Hebrews 13:1-2:
13:1 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. (NIV)
A lot of readers can get hung up on the “angels” part of this verse. I’m not going to. I want to look at what’s being asked of believers in this text.
Jesus Himself said that “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” People on the outside won’t recognize you’re a follower of Jesus because of your t-shirts, or your window stickers, or your rally signs, or your Facebook posts. But there is something undeniable about the way disciples of Jesus love each other that draws others in. But in this text, we’re told to “keep on loving one another.”
Because it gets hard after a while. Church people are people. We’re broken. We have history. We get tired of each other. We lose patience. I remember at the end of my senior year of high school nearly getting into a fist fight with a guy in my youth group simply because we were tired of each other. We had been in the same groups, the same classes, gone on the same trips, and done everything together for 3 straight years. Love is hard. That’s why we’re told to keep it up. Because if we bail on loving one another, we bail on our primary witness for the redeeming work of Christ.
But the text doesn’t stop there and tell everyone in a small group to pray and go home. It also says “do not forget to show hospitality to strangers.” Here’s the dichotomy.
“Love” in verse one is philadelphia (whose root word is philos). “Hospitality” in verse 2 has the same root word, philos.
So, we’re told by Jesus and the writer of Hebrews to “love” (in a brother/sister kind of way) those with whom you have fellowship in the church. But in our zeal for one another, we are not to forget the new person (ie, the stranger). They want the same community you worked so hard to get. That’s how this all works.
When the church shows that it’s capable of loving its own, it becomes a gravitational place for those searching for love. When those “strangers” arrive, we are not to neglect them and so deceive them. We work hard to make relationships in the church work. It takes even more work to welcome, include, invite, and invest in someone new.
But this. is how. it works.
Keep loving your Christian friends and your church friends. But don’t forget about the strangers. Because in this dichotomy of philadelphia, both pursuits are biblical obedience.