We hear a lot in the news about refugees and the refugee crisis. While the word “refugee” isn’t in the Bible, there are countless examples of refugees in Scripture. In fact, some of the most important people in the Bible were refuges. Some examples include Jesus and His parents, who slipped into Egypt to escape Herod’s infanticide, the Israelites who were delivered from Egyptian tyranny into the Promised Land and the early church believers, who came out of Jerusalem and shared the Gospel so that it could reach those throughout the world. These people fled their homeland and were targeted by leaders within their own country, facing persecution. They were in fact refugees. What does the Bible say about refugees? How should we treat them?
We are called to welcome, care for and nurture refugees. One of the most cited passages dealing with welcoming the stranger is from Matthew 25:31-40. This passage speaks of the Final Judgment, when the righteous will be granted paradise and unrepentant sinners will be committed to eternal fire. Jesus says those at his right hand are blessed because “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” When the righteous asked, “When did we see you, a stranger, and welcome you?,” Jesus replied, “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 illustrates that Christians should see everyone as Christ in the flesh, including refugees.
Many scholars maintain that in the New Testament “stranger” and “neighbor” are synonymous. We all know the Golden Rule: do unto other as you would have them to do unto you, or in other words, treat others the way you would like to be treated. A Jesus follower lives a life that reflects the Golden Rule. This rule applies not just to people who you may know but also people who you don’t know.
Jesus Himself says that this simple rule captures all of the Law of the Prophets. Interestingly enough, He follows up the Golden Rule by reminding us that it is a path that few take; but it does lead to life. Jesus followers also practice the kindness virtue, where they give people the same respect we’d like given to us. Matthew 7:12-13 says, “So whatever you wish that other would do to you, do also to them for this is the Law of the Prophets. Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.” We exhibit love and kindness through generous acts of service. People who practice this are not only compassionate and considerate, but have the ability to see the best in others.
God views our compassionate treatment of refugees as an indicator of our true Christianity. Luke 14:12-13 says, “The Jesus said to His host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind…” When believers stand before Jesus on judgment day, He will ask them how they treated these people.
We are also called to treat refugees with respect, to take them in and treat them like their native born. The apostle Peter summarizes the Bible’s teaching on respect in his first Epistle: “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the King” (1 Peter 2:17). To respect everyone, believers must be conscious that God has created all people in His image, regardless of whether they believe in Christ. We are called to show our neighbors respect and honor because Scripture tells us their souls are of more valuable than all the wealth in the world.
To truly love the way God calls us means to love all believers, regardless of color, nationality, opinions or affiliations. As Christians, we are called to demonstrate to the world that we love our brothers and sisters in Christ. The apostle John wrote of this principle a number of times. Quoting Jesus, he wrote, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples if you love one another” (John 13:35-35).Our care for refugees is an expression of our love and service to Him.
Ultimately, we are commanded to love one another as Jesus does. This love isn’t just limited to those we know or interact with every day. This includes refugees and others from foreign lands who are escaping terror and persecution. There isn’t one person Jesus doesn’t love and did not come to save. This includes not only those who we grew up with or live next door to, this also includes those we hear about in the news and those who take refuge here. When we actively love those around us and put their needs before our own, we are taking the same amazing love that Jesus has poured out to us and become an incredible display for humanity.