Question: "What does it mean that we should entertain strangers because we might entertain angels (Hebrews 13:2)?"
Answer: The writer of Hebrews urges believers to show hospitality by offering an extraordinary incentive: “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Hebrews 13:2, NKJV). The encouragement is part of a more extensive teaching on showing brotherly love to fellow Christians.
Demonstrating brotherly love means treating fellow Christians as we would beloved family members. One way believers can do this is by pitching in to care for the needs of Christian ministers and missionaries, showing hospitality and entertaining them in our homes.
First-century accommodations for travelers were often unavailable, especially in smaller towns. If lodgings existed, they were typically expensive, immoral, and unsanitary establishments. It was much more common for travelers to stay in the home of a friend or family member.
In the New Living Translation, Hebrews 13:2 says, “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” This passage makes direct reference to Genesis 18—19, when both Abraham and Lot showed hospitality to mysterious visitors who, in reality, were messengers sent by God. Abraham and Lot literally entertained angels. The author of Hebrews conveys this principle: it is preferable to open our homes to needy guests than run the risk of offending God by treating His messengers inhospitably.
God’s servants who travel about as missionaries and ministers give more blessings than they receive. Therefore, believers should be generous in supporting them and helping them accomplish their work (1 Corinthians 9:11–14; 16:17). The apostle Paul instructed the Galatians, “Those who are taught the word of God should provide for their teachers, sharing all good things with them” (Galatians 6:6, NLT). Paul explained to Timothy that one of the qualities required of a church leader is, “He must enjoy having guests in his home” (1 Timothy 3:2, NLT).
Jesus also upheld the principle of entertaining strangers. He said that whenever we refuse to help a servant of the Lord—the needy, the stranger, the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, and “the least of these my brothers and sisters”—we are refusing to help the Lord Himself (Matthew 25:35–45). When we entertain strangers, we are showing hospitality to Jesus Christ our Lord and demonstrating brotherly love.
True brotherly love is not satisfied with mere words but expresses itself with deeds of compassion. Opening our homes to visitors and being generous with our possessions is how we prove our love for one another and faithfulness to God: “Dear friend, you are being faithful to God when you care for the traveling teachers who pass through, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church here of your loving friendship. Please continue providing for such teachers in a manner that pleases God. For they are traveling for the Lord, and they accept nothing from people who are not believers. So we ourselves should support them so that we can be their partners as they teach the truth” (3 John 1:5–8, NLT).
Today, we can look for opportunities to “entertain strangers” by accommodating traveling ministers and missionaries, inviting fellow Christians into our homes for a meal, or hosting an informal life group, prayer meeting, or Bible study.
“When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality,” urged Paul (Romans 12:13, NLT). We may never know if, by welcoming a stranger, we somehow entertained an angel of the Lord. But we can be sure that, by showing warm, generous-hearted hospitality to our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are being faithful and obedient to the Lord’s will.