Throughout the years, I have had the opportunity to see several Broadway musicals. The experience is always memorable. But in particular, I am often struck by the decor and layout of each theatre. They are all so unique, full of history, polished and ornate. When I enter the grand foyer, I instantly feel something special.
By contrast, go to an everyday movie theatre, and you will be greeted with greasy carpets and the overwhelming smell of popcorn and butter. Your shoes will stick and pop as they strike and peel off the coke-covered floors. Certainly nothing to write home about. But go to Broadway theatre, enter the grand foyer, and you will be transported into a magical world.
Each theatre’s grand foyer is so distinct and eye-catching. Shiny chandeliers, luxurious carpet, floating staircases, hand-carved woodwork…all say “Welcome! We’ve been waiting for you! We’re so glad you’re here!” Everything about the grand foyer communicates the value of the guests. From the greeters in tuxedos, to the bathroom attendants, to the ushers…all transfer a sense of importance to us, that we matter, that we are welcome and significant. One can’t help but smile and even stifle a giggle as he enters a Broadway theatre for the first time.
Now, this may sound odd or surprising, but I believe the Bible calls the church to be a kind of Grand Foyer, that is, a place that welcomes guests and communicates how much we value them. But instead of relying on architecture and decoration, we the people are to be the grandest greeters of all.
Of course, the Bible does not use the language of “Grand Foyer,” but it uses another word that communicates the same idea. The word is “hospitality.” Several times the Bible exhorts Christians to show hospitality. In a section of scripture discussing how to love one another, the Apostle Paul writes:
“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” (Romans 12:13)
Elsewhere, Peter writes, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9). Also, the writer of Hebrews reminds, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2). And according to Paul in 1 Timothy 3:2, the ability to show hospitality is even a requirement to be a minister. Clearly, hospitality is central in the minds of the apostles.
So what is hospitality?
Hospitality has a very simple definition. Hospitality comes from the Greek word philoxenia (φιλοξενία). That word may sound somewhat familiar because there is another word like it, philadelphia. Philadelphia refers to the idea of brotherly love. Phileo is Greek for love and delphia is Greek for brother. The philo in philoxenia must then also refer to love, but what does xenia mean? Xenia means “stranger.” Philoxenia means love for the stranger. Thus, showing hospitality means loving strangers. The church is to love strangers. Ministers and church leaders are to love guests, new people, different people.
Just like the grand foyer of a Broadway theatre, we are to communicate to new people the message of welcome and the feeling of value, that we think they’re important and that we want them here.
So the church is the place for the stranger.
The church should be the kind of place where a stranger off the street walks in and feels welcome. They should walk in and say, “Wow! This is incredible!” They should be greeted and made to feel special. They should grin and stifle a giggle at the level of welcome and appreciation they receive when they enter.
Now, I do not say all this as a guilt trip. This vision is not your motivation. Your motivation to live out this vision comes from the Gospel. The Gospel is that God has welcomed you, a stranger, into His home. He has made you feel wanted and special.
Remember the story of the prodigal son? The rebellious son takes his inheritance and abandons his family only to return broke and broken. But what does the father do for his estranged son? He throws him a party. He hardily welcomes him. He gives him new clothes and his very own ring. The father shows him philoxenia, hospitality.
When we remember that this is what God has done for us, that he has forgiven our sin and welcomed us in, then it motivates us to do the same for others.
Let us then be the welcome center, the grand foyer for strangers.