Authored by Sonia Purkiss (a guest contribution)
Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”1
I was familiar with this verse when I was a child, and I remember imagining that people I interacted with were angels in disguise, which made me try to be courteous and friendly in most situations. However, as I grew older, it became more cool to me to show a tough exterior, to keep people at arm’s length, and make sure I wasn’t too friendly (unless I chose to be, of course).
When I was 17, however, I had an interesting encounter that brought this verse, and others on kindness, to life for me. I was in Taiwan at the time, and was at a hospital waiting for my appointment with a doctor. My dad was going to meet me at the hospital, to help translate, as I hadn’t mastered Chinese well enough to understand medical terms. However, he was late as he had to attend to some other business, so I was forced to go ahead without him.
For some reason this was very intimidating for me; I remember feeling frustrated and even a bit afraid to approach this on my own. While I was struggling to fill out a form that was all in Chinese, a young man who spoke English fluently approached me and asked if I needed any help. I was not pleased at all to have a stranger step into the shoes that my dad was supposed to fill, so I acted a bit annoyed and aloof with him, but I did need help, so I ungratefully accepted.
Once the forms were filled out, this man kindly helped me find the floor and waiting room for my appointment. When he left, I let out a sigh of relief. My dad should be here any minute, I thought. My name was called, but my dad still hadn’t arrived. I went into the doctor’s office and asked if he spoke English. He didn’t. I was frustrated and about to leave, when the door opened and the same young man came in and said he would translate for me.
I know I should have been grateful, but again, I only wanted my dad to be there, so I was annoyed to have someone else’s help. Finally the appointment was over. “I’d better stay with you until your dad shows up, just in case you need my help again,” this young man said as we left the room. Instead of engaging in conversation with him, I stood with my arms crossed, and silently waited until my dad finally arrived.
When he did, my dad quickly and easily struck up a conversation with this young guy, and while they casually chatted I began to think, Maybe he isn’t that bad after all. Why have I been so rude to him anyway? He’s actually been very nice to help me without having any ulterior motive.
I noticed my dad shake the man’s hand as he was getting ready to leave, and feeling very ashamed of my previous reactions to this man, I quickly reached out my hand to shake his as well. But as I extended my hand and said “thank you,” the young guy backed away and put his hands up. “No, no, I was glad to help,” he said. Then he left.
His actions shocked me, but were also a catalyst to my doing some soul searching. Immediately, I wondered if I had indeed met an angel, and if so, I knew I had failed big-time in showing him hospitality. Over the next few days I thought about this encounter a lot, not so much trying to decide if he was an angel or not, but with taking time to reconsider the way I had been treating people.
You see, it didn’t matter whether he was an angel or not. This man helped to remind me of the important fact that people need to be treated with kindness and respect regardless of who they are. He had gone out of his way to help me and was there for me when I needed help. How did I repay him? By snubbing him and distancing myself from him. How much would it have cost my pride to simply be kind to him in return and show gratefulness? I would say not much.
I felt very humbled by this experience. My prayer was that I could meet this man again to apologize and to tell him how sorry I was for how I’d acted, but we don’t always get a second chance, as I didn’t. What I could do, however, was let that experience change me to act better the next time with another person, in another situation. And this is what I determined I would do. I have by no means aced it each time. I have made further mistakes over the years, usually when I have felt justified in being discourteous or sometimes even plain mean—either because the person was rude to me or because I felt that the person was not “good” or in the right.
But who am I to decide when I should or shouldn’t be Christian and to judge who does or doesn’t deserve my “Christian grace”? James 4:12 says: “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?”2 I often need to remind myself that my job isn’t to give others a taste of their own medicine, but to in all circumstances show kindness and humility. Colossians 3:12 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly [be]loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”3 Those are key words when it comes to our interactions with people, regardless of their status or appearance. This is what being a Christian is about.
God needs us to be kind to those we meet. He needs for us to show them that they are special to Him. Our actions speak volumes in making people feel important, valued, and respected. Titus 3:1–2 says to “Remind the people … to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.”4 This verse is also talking about having respect toward authority, but I have often applied this to how I should interact with others.
There are also a few verses in Philippians which have been a good reminder to me and have guided me over the years when my nature to be cynical or act proud in the presence of others was stronger than my ability to show kindness and humility. These are from Philippians 2:3–7:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.5
I have since stopped looking for angels in disguise (although it would be fun to know I have met one!) and have instead focused on following Jesus’ excellent example of taking on the nature of a servant with everyone I meet—whether they are angels or not. It’s something I need His guidance on continuously, as it’s not easy for me be servant-like. But it feels ever so nice and satisfying to know that I have made someone happy and have given back to someone what they have given to me or to others.
I will end here with a quote that I really like.
Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you. Not because they are nice, but because you are.6
1 New International Version.
2 English Standard Version.
3 New International Version.
4 New International Version.
5 New International Version.
6 Author unknown.
Read by Amber Larriva. Music by Simon W. Copyright © 2012 by The Family International