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2 John 1:10-11: Exceptions to Hospitality

If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds. - 2 John 1:10-11 
In the first century, showing hospitality to travelers was very important - especially to spiritual
teachers who did not necessarily have a lot of money, and were dependent on the good will of the community when traveling to share their message. Jesus, for instance, instructed his disciples when he sent them out in Luke 9 (c.f. Mt 10; Mk 6), to find someone to take them in, and stay with them for the duration of their visit. In my post about 3rd John, I talked about the importance of hospitality. It is important to show hospitality to strangers, because:

  • We might be entertaining angels unaware
  • The hospitality we show to others, we also show to God
In this passage we see however, that this is not a universal principal. There are actually times when it is inappropriate to show hospitality. In the specific incidence here. John is warning people against showing hospitality to someone when they come bearing a false gospel.

But what does this mean? I've had Mormon's and Jehovah's Witnesses come to my door, and I have allowed them to come into my house and spoken with them. I have also eaten with people who do not share my faith. But I don't think, because of this, I am violating this teaching. These casual interactions would have been rare in the New Testament, but we can already see Jesus breaking these social kinds of norms in the Gospels. Remember, he ate at Zaccheus' house (Lk 19:5), and at Levi's (Mk 2:15). He spoke with a foreign woman and asked for her hospitality in the form of water (Jn 4:9).

We must be careful, John is not so trying to tell his readers to be cruel, rude, or impolite. His purpose here was to prevent the false teacher from finding a base of operation from which to operate within the community. This is what he means by "do not receive them into your house". And the purpose of not greeting them is to prevent creating that expectation. The Greek word used for greeting chairo, means "rejoice" or "be well, thrive". The point of denying a false teacher this would be either 1) to prevent setting up the false expectation that you are willing to provide for him, or 2) to warn against blessing his mission, because people took the power of words a lot more seriously than we do.  The purpose of denying these things is not to be mean, but rather, "lest you share in his evil deeds". In other words, not to become a facilitator of false teaching.

 We find ourselves today, in a culture where the opportunities to interact with people who believe differently are culturally less restrictive. This seems to agree with the direction Jesus set for his followers on when he shared the love of God with people that society had marginalized. Christians may be tempted to think we should refuse to befriend certain people, or deny serving them them in some capacity - out of fear that we are violating God's will. But it would be a mistake to simply go back to the days when people were accustomed to only associate with people like themselves. This is actually a good thing, but it can also can create situations that are ambiguous and have us wondering where the boundary is, between showing Christ's love for all people and supporting a false message. That is something we should all think about, but while it is important, it may not be as clear as we think it is. If you have some thoughts about how to make this distinction, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts.


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