With the current racial tensions in America and tremendous internantional crises, we must remember what it feels like to be a foreigner. The reason we can love the the foreigner is because we used to be one ourselves.
So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh—called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands. At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah. For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, He made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it. When the Messiah came, He proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. The whole building, being put together by Him, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord. You also are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.
There are over 800 catalogued phobias. One of the more common ones is Xenophobia, the fear of the foreigner. Some of this is natural and we teach our children wisely, “Not to talk to strangers.” But I think we would all admit that there’s something wrong with the intense fear, suspicion, and even hatred that our culture is experiencing right now on this subject. Consider Ferguson, the Syrian refugee crisis, the rioting, and the intense racial division that characterizes our nation more now maybe than at any other time since Jim Crow. In this kind of environment, what are we, the church, supposed to do with regard to the “foreigner,” and why, and how?
What Are We (the Church) Supposed To Do with Foreigners?
What do I mean when I say “foreigner?” It is someone who has citizenship in another country. More precisely: a foreigner is someone who can’t get the full benefits of living in a country to which they do not belong. An American citizen living in America receives certain tax advantages, voting rights, government benefits, legal protections, etc. Our country makes promises of benefits to its citizens that it does not make to all the people of the rest of the world. A foreigner, then, is a stranger to the promises of citizenship.
In the Old Testament, the general definition is the same, although the Bible takes on more of a family sense than a national sense. In the OT, a Philistine might be allowed to live in Israel, but no Israelite would think that the blessings God promised to the tribes of Israel, family of God, could also apply to the Philistine and his family. He doesn’t get to share in the promised blessing that comes with being a citizen of Israel because he is a foreigner, a stranger to the promises of God’s family. Now, that’s a huge deal. If you are not Jewish, then you are excluded from the full blessing of God’s promises.
In the New Testament, the definition is the same. A foreigner is someone who is not a member of God’s family and therefore does not get the blessings of God’s promises. But the meaning of “member of God’s family” undergoes massive transformation. If anyone (Jew, Greek, slave, free, male, female) is in Christ, he receives the promises, the benefits, and the inheritance of God (Gal 3). For Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and we are his brothers, co-heirs (Hebrews 2). That means you can be an ethnic child of Abraham, and not a member of God’s family. In other words, at the cross, you can be Jewish and not receive the promises of God (Romans 9:6). Now, a “foreigner” to God’s family is someone who is not in Christ. You are a stranger to the promises of God’s family if you are not in Christ, regardless of your ethnic identity. This shift was made evident in Acts 2, when the Spirit fell, and everyone heard the gospel in their own language. In Acts 10-11, Peter recognizes that the Gentiles (non-Jews) are coming to faith, and then in droves through Paul’s ministry in the rest of Acts. So, for the early church, it’s not ethnic Israel that stands to benefit from God’s promises, but anyone in Christ will benefit. Again, the definition of foreigner doesn’t shift, but the way you get to be a part of God’s family certainly does. This reality wakes up the people of God to realize something that they’d never realized: that God loves all people. And this caused them to do something that they had really never done before: Love people who aren’t “family” better than “family.” People are pretty good at loving blood relatives (12 tribes). But the effect of the cross took those early Christians and mobilized them into the greatest missionaries of truth and compassion the world had yet to see. Because it forced them to see that Christ went to the cross for the world, not just a particular ethnic or socio-economic minority. Now, we sing that there’s “room at the cross for you….. And there’s still room for one.” The reason we can say that is because of what Jesus has done for all the world. Anybody, in the world, can come, because there’s still room. Do you know that’s the kind of heart we are called to have towards people who are not God’s family? To show to the world God’s love for the world. That’s what the church was and is called to do; to show God’s love for the foreigner. Notice Ephesians 4:2, talking to the Church: accept one another in love.
Why Are We Supposed To Love the Foreigner?
Because Jesus has loved us (Ephesians 2:1-13). Let’s read this text, glory in this text, and simmer in it for a moment…
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
The reason we love the foreigner is because we know what it’s like to be a stranger to the promises of God. When we look at people who are all around us without God in the world, we can say: “We know what you’re going through.”
When I was a kid, I just assumed everybody was fine. My parents’ friends were fine and there was really nothing wrong with anybody. Heartache was somewhere else. You know what I’ve discovered as I’ve gotten older, everybody, everywhere, is hurting. There are many who are far away from the hope of God and His promises. And you are called to love them, because Jesus has loved you.
Because God gets glory (3:10-11)
The church is to be the “fullness of Jesus Christ” (1:23). If we don’t love the foreigner, then, God’s wisdom looks half baked in Galatians 3:10-11. But if we do love the foreigner, God’s wisdom looks beautiful. This issue of people who are different worshipping together as one man (former foreigners) and loving each other is essential to the character of God.
This is what is at stake. Will God be mocked? Or will he be magnified? That depends on how his church treats people who are strangers to the family of God. How we treat the foreigner will either mock or magnify the good name of the Lord on the earth.
How Do We Live that out in the 21st Century?
Be hospitable. Open your home. (Zaccheus)
Invite people to be a part of your life. (Jesus-woman at the well with water)
Allow for interruptions (children with Jesus)
Be in fellowship. You can’t love the foreigner if you don’t love your brother.
There’s only one power big enough to bring ultra-different human beings together in love and under one banner. And that’s the cross of Jesus Christ. One Lord, not two. One faith, not two. One baptism, not two. Sure, this is tough to live out, to love the lost, to love the other, to love the foreigner. But let me ask you, how much do you think we should obey the Lord? How long should we obey the Lord? To what extent should we obey the Lord? If you’ve been shown God’s grace, you won’t have any problem showing the grace of God to everybody else, especially the foreigner to God’s promises, because apart from grace that’s exactly what you would be.
Dr. Ben Stubblefield is the Pastor of of FBC Jackson in Jackson, AL, and graduate of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Auburn University.