Chances are the majority of readers of this article are Gentiles (non-Jewish). It is a simple fact we consistently and without intention suppress. We were on the outside. We were the foreigners. We don’t for a moment even consider the notion we might not belong. We accept the mystery of the gospel.
We remember we were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, we who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:12-13 paraphrased).
In terms of our walk with Christ, we are certain and assured of our salvation as believers. We do not question for a moment our relationship with God is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
However, sometimes we fall into the same ethnocentrism that became a problem for the Jews. Jesus told a story, “The Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25–37), to an expert in the Law to confront his unwillingness to extend love to a broader community. However, if the expert in the Law had really understood the Law, he would have come to the same conclusion the story of Jesus brought.
Notice in succession from Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy (part of the Law) God’s special instruction for how the Israelites are to treat the foreigner:
“Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).
“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 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 19:33-34).
“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19).
Notice the instructions: Do not oppress them; do not mistreat them; treat them as native-born; and love them (as yourself). Notice the substantiation for the instructions — “you were foreigners in Egypt” is repeated three times.
Among those receiving this command in Deuteronomy, only two people would have been adults in Egypt — Joshua and Caleb. Many of the people would not have any active memory of being slaves in Egypt. All they knew were the stories of their parents and grandparents. Most of those receiving the instruction would have been born in the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. But the instructions talk about the collective understanding of what it means to be a foreigner. They all had that in common. Not a person in the whole of Israel would have been at home in the land where they were going. They were all foreigners, and that was to inform them as to how they were to treat foreigners.
But there is another level of substantiation for the instructions. “God loves the foreigner residing among you…and you are to love those who are foreigners.”
That’s a biblical perspective that informs how we respond to the foreigners living among us. The first level is to not oppress them. The second level is to treat them as if they are native-born. The third level is to love them as we love ourselves. The fourth level is to love them as God loves them.
God loves foreigners and welcomes them. It is just what God does. He welcomes the stranger. Even Jesus used this as an understanding of what it means to welcome Him.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:35–36). The word translated “stranger” is the Greek word xenos, which is also translated foreigner.
God’s heart is for those who are foreigners to Him. Jesus came to seek and save those who were lost. God sends the rain on the just and the unjust. We are in no place to regard ourselves from a position of prestige, power or privilege. Our identification is as foreigners whom God loves, and we, in turn, welcome those whom God loves.
We live in a day in which we encounter people for whom this country was not their country of birth. Our response to them reflects our theology. At one level, it is good if we are not oppressing them or cheating them. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people taking advantage of the first-generation immigrants. But what would happen if the church of Jesus Christ in the United States was known for its adherence to the theological framework that treats foreigners as the native-born and loves them with a welcoming love? What would happen if we would expand our understanding of community to embrace the foreigners?
Gerald W. Coates is the director of global church advocacy for Free Methodist World Missions. He also is the co-author of “Go Global,” a book in the FreeMo Journal series.1