Remembering the refugees: 9 principles for ChristiansWritten by Subby Szterszky
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Once in a while, an image hits the news and captures a problem so poignantly that it cannot help but galvanize people into action. So it was with the heart-rending photo of Alan Kurdi, the little Syrian boy who drowned and washed ashore in Turkey amidst his family’s desperate attempts to flee their war-torn homeland.
The picture spread across social media and seared itself into the public conscience, driving the plight of Syria’s refugees to the top of the headlines. Around the globe, people were moved with outrage and compassion, mixed with concerns over the dangers inherent in the crisis. Yet despite the best of intentions, the situation remains complex with no easy solutions in sight.
For Christians with a heart to help, here are a few Scriptural principles to fuel our efforts as we look for practical ways to get involved.
1. Love for strangers
“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)
This is the ground-level principle for believers who are trying to grapple with the refugee situation. Throughout Scripture, God reveals His tender heart toward the poor and weak of the world – the widow, the orphan, the foreigner far from home. This truth reverberates across the pages of the Old Testament and into the New. Accordingly, the Lord calls His people to exhibit the same compassion and kindness toward strangers, not merely out of empathy (“you were strangers in the land of Egypt”) but also because it reflects God’s own character (“I am the LORD your God”).
2. Love for family
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10)
When the New Testament speaks of fellow believers as brothers and sisters, it’s not a sentimental metaphor. Jesus taught that spiritual relationships were real and in fact superseded the ties of flesh and blood (Mark 3:31-35; Matthew 10:34-37). This is not a denial of legitimate love for our physical relatives, but rather a call to superior familial love for our spiritual relatives. And while the majority of the refugees in the current crisis are Muslim, a significant number of them are Christian, persecuted for their faith and driven from their homes.
3. We too are strangers
“If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19)
In the Old Testament, God continually reminded His people to be kind to strangers because they knew what it was like to be a stranger in a strange land: “You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9) Perhaps most modern Christians can’t relate to the experience of Israel in Egypt. But according to Scripture, all believers are strangers and exiles on the earth, desiring a better, heavenly country (Hebrews 11:13-16). In Jesus’ words, we are not of this world. We too know the heart of a sojourner, and are thus called to show compassion to sojourners.
4. The image of God
So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27)
It’s a universal human trait to connect more deeply with those in our own circles of family or culture, and less so with those outside. While this is understandable to a point, it can also lead us to dehumanize others who are different from us. We view them as faceless masses rather than individuals, thereby distancing ourselves from their suffering. To counter this tendency, we need fresh reminders that they, like we, are made in God’s image and thus worthy of the same respect we afford our loved ones.
5. The wisdom of serpents
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)
The urgency of the crisis has brought with it a number of practical concerns. How can a host country accommodate such a massive influx of people? How can it guard against the possibility that terrorists might slip in amongst the genuine refugees? In their eagerness to help, Christians should not dismiss such concerns out of hand. While the Lord’s injunction to be wise as serpents was in the context of evangelism, it surely applies to all of life. Compassion must not be divorced from prudent wisdom.
6. Love for enemies
“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. . . .” (Luke 6:27-28)
At the same time, fearful speculation must not be allowed to subvert compassion. It may indeed be that members of radical groups might use the refugee situation as a cover to enter Western countries. But what if they do? Are we to allow that to turn our hearts away from the overwhelming numbers in dire need of aid? Even in such an event, our Lord calls us to love our enemies, to earnestly seek their well-being, and to leave the ultimate outcome in His hands.
7. Being like our Father
“. . . So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. . . . Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Matthew 5:45; Luke 6:36)
This brings us full circle to the first principle outlined above. As God’s people, we’re to show kindness to strangers, regardless of whether we think they deserve it or not. In so doing, we demonstrate that we’re genuine children of our Heavenly Father by faith. He pours out His multi-faceted grace on the just and the unjust, and is kind to the ungrateful and the evil (Luke 6:35). If we’re truly His children, then we will reflect something of His character, however imperfectly.
8. Doing it to Christ
“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:37-40)
It goes without saying that God takes the plight of the disenfranchised very seriously. In fact, when it comes to the poor and needy among His own people, He identifies directly with their suffering. When Saul of Tarsus was persecuting the early church, Jesus confronted him with the question, “Why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4-5) Likewise at the last judgment, our Lord will equate how we treated the prisoners, the refugees and the strangers among His brethren with how we treated Him.
9. The sovereignty of God
Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases. (Psalm 115:3)
This short verse distills one of the great central truths that saturates the Scriptures: God is sovereign. The One who created atoms and galaxies and sustains them with a word is also Master over human affairs, whether at the individual or societal level. Nothing that happens in the world takes Him by surprise or occurs outside of His ultimate purposes (Isaiah 46:9-10; Daniel 4:35; Psalm 135:6; Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 1:11; Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1:1-4; etc.).
Consequently those called by His name need not fret over the vicissitudes of the unfolding crisis. We have but to open our hearts, engage our minds, and follow our Father’s example. Our role in these matters may not prove easy, but it will be invariably simple:
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
Sources and further reading
Metaxas, Eric, “Loving the foreigner: Seeing refugees through God’s eyes,” BreakPoint, September 21, 2015.
© 2019 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.
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