Refugees, Immigrants and the Gospel: Part 1

Part 1 “What does the Bible say about refugees and immigrants?”

By Chris Gillespie

What does it mean for Christians to think “Christianly” about the refugee crisis in particular, and immigration in general? This is a challenging question. It implies that there are ways of thinking on these issues that would not line up with the teachings of Jesus or the rest of the Bible. As citizens of God’s Kingdom our allegiance is to be first and foremost in alignment with the values of our King. Those values are most clearly laid out for us in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Now, the challenge is to apply those values to the current world we find ourselves in. A world that is radically divided and more complicated than at any other time in recorded history.

To that end, I have decided to write a three-part article titled Refugees, Immigrants and the Gospel. Each part will be released on consecutive Wednesdays through the month of February. It is my hope that those who call Redeemer Church their spiritual home will be more influenced by God’s Word and the example of Jesus than they are their particular political party.

Here’s how the series will be broken down: Part 1 “What does the Bible say about refugees and immigrants?”, Part 2 “What is the Governments responsibility?”, and Part 3 “How should Christians respond?”.

“What does the Bible say about refugees and immigrants?” Quite a lot actually. Both the Old Testament and New Testament are full of passages that can be directly applied to the current crisis the world finds itself in.

Old Testament

The Hebrew word gare is the word that would most line up with our understanding of the words “refugee” and “immigrant”. It is translated “foreigner,” “sojourner,” or “alien” in English translations of the Old Testament. It is used in one form or another 92 times in the Old Testament. Here are a few examples:

“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:34 (NIV)

“Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns. Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin.” Deuteronomy 24:14-15 (NIV)

Matthew Soerens in his article “The Gospel and Immigration” rightly points out, “Throughout the Old Testament, the immigrant is repeatedly referenced with two other groups – the fatherless and the widow – as uniquely vulnerable and thus worthy of special care and provisions.” Here are some examples:

“The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.” Psalm 146:9 (NIV)

“Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.” Zechariah 7:10 (NIV)

“When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this.” Deuteronomy 24:21-22 (NIV)

There are many other examples in the Old Testament that I could list, but I think you get the point. I’m not pointing you to these verses because I believe that we can directly apply God’s commands for the nation of Israel to the United States. Doing so has led to many false comparisons between the Old Testament nation of Israel and the United States over the years. However, God’s love for immigrants, refugees and those who are vulnerable is unchanging and should guide our contemporary response.

New Testament

Now that we have seen how God commanded Israel to care for the immigrant, refugee and the vulnerable, let’s see what Jesus has to say regarding the subject. No surprise, Jesus doesn’t contradict the teaching of the Old Testament in any way. He actually intensifies it by commanding us to love others as much as we love ourselves!

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39 (NIV)

The author of Hebrews has similar commands:

“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” 

Hebrews 13:1-3 (NIV)

“The New Testament’s emphatic commands to neighbor love and to extend hospitality to strangers guide us in the same direction as the many Old Testament texts: Christians are to love, welcome, and seek justice for immigrants.” Daniel Darling

Conclusion:

The verses that have been listed above may have caused more questions than they have given answers. Personally, I think that’s good. I believe we don’t spend enough time as Christians meditating on how the truths of Scripture are to be applied in the complex world we live in. So questions are good, however, I do believe there are also answers found in the Bible regarding many of the questions that are raised from these verses and how to apply them.

Some of those answers will be addressed in Parts 2 and 3 of this series. In the meantime, spend some time thinking about how some of the verses you read in this article might apply to you. What are ways you can faithfully live out the vision of life that God has laid out for us in the Scriptures regarding immigration and the refugee crisis?

Coming February 15, “What is the Government’s responsibility?”

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