The biblical mandate for caring for the refugee

October 24, 2017

Refugees are vulnerable people made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), and Jesus calls us to serve, love and welcome them in His name. If we profess to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then we must seek to obey the biblical mandates to minister the gospel to our refugee neighbors and the nations.

A survey by Lifeway Christian Resources sadly highlights that only 12 percent of evangelicals’ beliefs about immigrants are shaped by the Bible. Another survey showed churches are twice as likely to fear refugees than to help them. As evangelicals committed to God’s Word, these numbers should be alarming. So, let this serve as a biblical primer motivating us to serve, care for, and minister the gospel to refugees.

Love the sojourner, for you were sojourners
The Bible instructs us to show hospitality to those here (Hebrews 13:2), love and show mercy to our neighbors no matter their nationality or religion (Luke 10:25-37), do justice for the vulnerable (Isaiah 1:17, James 1:27), and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). Fundamentally, God’s people are called to love and seek justice for refugees, who are part of the larger group of immigrants often called sojourners in the Old Testament. Loving and seeking justice for refugees is following God’s example described in Deuteronomy 10:17-19.

“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”

“Ger,” the Hebrew word closest to “immigrant” in English, appears 92 times in the Old Testament. God instructs His people to remember their own immigrant history: “You must not oppress foreigners (sojourners). You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt,” as seen in Exodus 23:9 (see also Leviticus 19:33-34; Deuteronomy 10:19).

Practice hospitality
Christians are called to hospitality. The word for hospitality in biblical Greek was philoxenia, which literally means the love of strangers. Matthew 25:35-36 and 40 says, “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… Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Additionally, Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Speak for the voiceless
The Bible calls us to speak up and advocate for, do justice for, and even rescue vulnerable peoples. Proverbs 31:8-9 says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Also, Micah 6:8b says, “…. what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Rescue the helpless
Additionally, Proverbs 24:11-12 states, “Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?” To be a rescuer of the helpless is a clear command in Scripture, yet complacent hearts have caused many to turn a blind eye to the plight of refugees as well as many other vulnerable groups, such as the unborn, orphans and homeless.

Scripture challenges us to think that refugees might actually be a blessing rather than immigrants to be feared.

Make disciples of all nations
Jesus commands us to “make disciples of every nation” (Matthew 28:19). In refugee ministry in the U.S., the nations arrive at our doorstep, representing a unique and enormous missional opportunity to show mercy to our neighbors. In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus asks, “‘Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise’” (Luke 10:36-37). Ultimately, the greatest way for us to demonstrate the mercy of Christ is to share with them the message of Christ, imploring them to be reconciled to God through the

Some refugees are Christians who become missionaries within their own ethnic communities and beyond. Others may be forced to flee their homelands and arrive with a nominal faith or from entirely unreached people groups. They may be much more open and have more opportunities to hear of the love of Christ than they did in their home country. The global movements of peoples are part of God’s plan to draw people to Himself. Acts 17:26-27 provides a biblical framework for the movement of peoples around the world. “From one man [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him.”

Some refugees are fleeing persecution for their Christian faith, and we are called to help. Hebrews reminds us to “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3). Additionally, Galatians instructs us to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

Take steps to obey the biblical mandate
Believing God’s Word changes minds and hearts. Consider participating in or or having your church participate in the “I Was A Stranger”challenge. The challenge includes 40 days of scripture reading and prayer directed towards caring for the stranger. We are instructed to be both hearers and doers of God’s Word (James 1:22), so consider other ways to serve refugees as well. Connect with our ministry partners at Baptist Global Response, the North American Mission Board, or the International Mission Board to engage serving refugees in North America and around the world. Be better equipped for this task by joining us at at the Reaching the Nations in North America summit on Oct. 27-28, 2017, at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary or via the livestream.

Refugees are a unique and vulnerable immigrant group. They may be fleeing persecution based on their race, religion, political affiliation or national origin, but they are part of the more than 65 million people who make up the global refugee crisis. They need our help and Christ’s hope. May we walk by faith and seek God’s Word to equip us so that we minister to refugees with gospel intentionality and Christlike compassion.

Editor’s Note: Jason Lee serves as director and missionary at the Acts 17 Initiative. He serves refugees, immigrants and equips churches across the southeast. The Acts 17 Initiative is a ministry out of Clarkston International Bible Church in northeast Atlanta. Jason may be reached at [email protected]


by Jason Lee  
/  Director and Missionary  /  Acts 17 Initiative

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