Anti-Semitism is tragically alive and spreading in the United States. As the Washington Post recently reported, violence against Jewish communities has been particularly apparent in recent news. From the shootings at the kosher deli in New Jersey by Black Hebrew Israelites early in December 2019 to the stabbing in the Rabbi’s home on the seventh night of Hanukkah, Jewish communities are facing more threats to their freedom to assembly and worship.
For Christians who have been called to love their neighbors and believe that freedom of religion is a fundamental right rooted in mankind’s creation in God’s image, these acts of violence against Jews cannot and must not be tolerated. Christians, out of love for God and neighbor, must stand by their Jewish neighbors in support and defense of their freedom to be Jewish.
As these news reports of anti-Semitic speech and actions spread, Christians must be reminded that toleration of and indifference toward evil is contrary to God’s will for his people. Contrary to what one news outlet suggested, anti-Semitism does not stem from the expansion of Jewish people into suburban areas of New York, but rather, from hatred of one’s neighbor. Hatred for one’s neighbor or enemy is the antithesis of biblical Christianity.
Turning from hatred to hospitality
The opposite of the hatred that has been so vividly displayed in recent days is hospitality. As 1 Peter 4:9 tells Christians, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” What does it mean to “show hospitality?” Simply put, showing hospitality means “loving and welcoming strangers.” The compound Greek word that is actually behind our English word for “hospitality” is “philoxenos.” The word “philo” means “love,” and the word “xenos” means “stranger.” This shouldn’t surprise us.
We have heard that “Philadelphia” means the city of “brotherly love.” And likewise, we have heard the term “xenophobia,” which refers to an intense and irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries. But the Bible does not call us to be xenophobic. Instead, it calls us to love and welcome the stranger. To welcome the one who is different. To open our homes for the sake of others finding a home. Hospitality means “loving and welcoming others into our lives.”
We love because Christ first loved us (1 John 4:19)—and when we choose love, the gospel is put on display.
While the word for hospitality implies showing love and welcoming strangers, it also equally applies to welcoming and loving those that we do know. Specifically, it applies to welcoming and loving other Christians. We see this throughout the New Testament. Whether it was Jesus’ disciples being welcomed in different cities (Matt. 10:11-14), or the apostles and early church missionaries being welcomed while on their missionary journeys (Acts 10:6, 16:15), or the letters to the New Testament churches regarding the virtue of hospitality (Rom. 12:13, Heb. 13:2), hospitality was a major concern and strategy for the early Church.
One of the most significant ways that Christians can demonstrate hospitality toward their Jewish neighbors is by working to see them protected from the violence that threatens their daily existence in many parts of the U.S. The Christian community ought to offer a place of refuge for their oppressed and threatened neighbors.
As people open their homes and lives to other Christians and strangers in their community, the gospel of Jesus Christ spreads throughout the world. If the gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God unto salvation, and this world is in desperate need of the life-changing message of God’s grace, and if the means that God has appointed to spread this message includes the use of Christian homes and tables, then one of the most powerful ways that we can change the world is by showing hospitality to one another.
And, according to Peter, we are to show hospitality without grumbling. What does it mean to “grumble?” It means to “express discontent, to complain,” typically behind someone’s back. Grumbling is rooted in a false understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which hospitality was designed to adorn. When we grumble, we undermine the love that hospitality was designed to show to others.
Hatred and fear of those who are different can never be the answer for Christians. And we cannot remain silent when we see others marginalized or attacked. Each of our neighbors is a human being made in God’s image and worthy of being treated with respect. We love because Christ first loved us (1 John 4:19)—and when we choose love, the gospel is put on display