The Xenophile Church Leader

Christian MölkFriend of Strangers Leave a Comment

In the New Testament, “xenos” and “paroikos” are the Greek equivalents of the Hebrew “ger”. Paroikos occurs only four times in the New Testament,[1] while xenos is more common.

Both paroikos and xenos are used in the New Testament to describe “foreigners”, who can be invited guests, strangers, immigrants or refugees. What they have in common, however, is that they are people from another country who speak another language.

For example, the Jewish high priests buy a “burial place for strangers [xenos][2] for the thirty silver coins that Judas returned to them after he betrayed Jesus. In Matthew, Jesus describes himself as a “xenos”:

35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger [xenos] and you welcomed me,”

(Mt 25:35)

In Ephesians, Paul uses paroikos and xenos almost synonymously in the same verse:

19 So then you are no longer strangers [xenos] and aliens [paroikos], but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,”

(Eph 2:19)

In modern English, xenos may be most associated with the word “xenophobia”, which is a word composed of the two words “xenos”, meaning “stranger”, and “phobos”, meaning “fear”.

Anyone who feels an unfound fear or hatred towards strangers and foreigners could be defined as “xenophobic”. But the person who instead shows hospitality and welcomes refugees and strangers is described in the Bible as the opposite, a “philoxenos”, which is a combination of the two Greek words “filia” and “xenos”. Filia means “love” in the sense of the strong love or fellowship one may feel based on common interests, for example in a family, church or football club. The related word “filadelfia” means “brotherly love” and is a common name for contemporary Pentecostal churches. An interesting curiosity is that Philadelphia was a Greek city located in a fertile valley in present-day Turkey and was known for producing bread and wine, thetwo ingredients of the Lord’s Supper.

A common translation of philoxenos is “hospitable”, but personally I would rather translate philoxenos as “xenophile” or “friend of strangers”. The direct opposite of being xenophobic is being a friend of strangers, in my opinion.

According to Paul, being philoxenos is a requirement for being a church leader:[3]

2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable [philoxenos], able to teach,3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. ”

(1Ti 3:2-3)

According to Paul, it is just as important for a pastor to be a friend of strangers as it is that he refrains from drinking, fighting and fiddling with money. To be really clear, Paul repeats the same instruction in another of his letters:

7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain,8 but hospitable [philoxenos], a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. ”

(Tt 1:7-9)

For a pastor, it is as important to be xenophile as it is to teach sound biblical teaching and rebuke false teachers. We live in a time when we church leaders need to raise our voices for the mute and voiceless. We pastors have a responsibility to preach the xenophilia of the Bible and oppose the xenophobia of society.

But it’s not just church leaders who should be a friend of strangers. Repeatedly, all Christians in general are urged to be hospitable and eagerly xenophile:

13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality [philoxenos]. ” (

Ro 12:13)

2 Do not neglect to show hospitality [philoxenos] to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. ”

(Heb 13:2)

These general exhortations to all Christians to be friend of strangers should be seen, first, in the context of the Jewish tradition of traveling preachers. For example, Jesus was received by Martha and her siblings Mary and Lazarus,[4] and by Simon the leper.[5] When Jesus sent out his disciples to preach, he expected them to be received in the homes of hospitable people as well.[6] In his third letter, John writes that the church “ought to” support “strangers,” in the sense of traveling preachers.[7] There is also an obvious link in the New Testament between welcoming strangers, traveling preachers and baptism.[8]

Secondly, the apostles’ call for general xenophilia was a prerequisite for the functioning of the first Christian community. The first Christians were a mixture of both Jews and Gentiles, and from being enemies, these different groups and peoples would suddenly unite and become one in Christ.[9] Being constantly reminded to be a friend of strangers and to show love to all fellow human beings, whether Jews or Greeks, was a prerequisite for integration to work.

Jews and Gentiles living under the same roof, celebrating communion together and seeing each other as brothers and sisters was a stark contrast to Pharisaic Judaism. Although the Old Testament is full of calls for hospitality and xenophilia, the Pharisees were very careful not to defile themselves by associating with Gentiles and eating with them.

Finally, I would like to highlight a very interesting biblical passage from my Pentecostal perspective:

9 Show hospitality [philoxenos] to one another without grumbling. 10As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:”

(1 Pe 4:9-10)

As a xenophile Pentecostal pastor, I find it hard to get past the possibility that Peter in the above Scripture actually describes xenophilia as a spiritual gift of grace, but I’ll leave that up to you as a reader to judge.

If so, it falls under the general biblical principle that all Christians can serve in all spiritual gifts in general, but that some may serve in a gift more specifically. For example, all Christians can pray for the sick in general, but some receive the gift of healing more specifically. All Christians should be a friend of strangers in general, but perhaps some receive the gift of xenophilia more specifically?

You have read a free chapter of my book Friend of Strangers. If you like this book, please consider purchasing the ebook through Amazon. Since English is not my native language, there may be some linguistic inaccuracies. Please contact me if you find any.

Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[1] Ac 7:6, Ac 7:29, Eph 2:19, 1Pe 2:11

[2] Mt 27:7

[3] 1Ti 3:2, Tt 1:8

[4] Lk 10:38

[5] Mt 26:6

[6] Lk 9:1–6

[7] 3Jn 5–8

[8] Ac 10, Ac 16:15, 33

[9] Ga 3:28

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