As I write this letter the world is being tossed about by the whole refugee crisis caused by the mass movement of people wanting to gain asylum in various European countries. Certain countries say that borders should be completely open and others want to ‘process’ applications in a far more orderly and seemingly rigid way. We cannot ignore what is going on around us and it is quite likely that in a matter of weeks we will have some of these people ‘living next door’. How then do we respond?
I do not intend entering into a political debate, but already comments are being made – “we haven’t got enough housing;” “Our economy is struggling as it is;” “Why should we take responsibility?” etc. As Christians we have to respond and we have to respond in a Biblical way.
The Bible does not use the word ‘refugee’, but uses the term ‘sojourner’. It is not a common word today, so I was surprised to find that the ESV uses it 67 times whereas the older Authorised Version only uses it 8 times. It is variously understood as ‘foreign resident; settler; tenant’. The Oxford Online Dictionary translates the verb ‘sojourn’ – ‘to stay for a short time in a place away from your home’. That understanding makes 2 assumptions:
i. That people have a home
ii. That their stay will be temporary.
We cannot make either assumption, because in many cases these people have been driven from their homes, therefore have nowhere that they can call home. Also history shows us that temporary often becomes permanent.
How do we respond? We learn from both the example and teaching of the Bible. Abraham and Moses both described themselves as sojourners because they were forced to live away from their home country, the country that God had given them. The Lord Jesus Christ, as a baby was also forced to live in exile for His own safety.
When we turn to the teaching of the Bible we find that the sojourner is recognised and protected by God in the Ten Commandments. In the fourth commandment, which provides a weekly day of rest, God says “but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.” (Ex 20:10) God provided for the sojourner in the harvest rules which provided for the poor in the community (Lev.19:10). The sojourner when he lived amongst God’s people was to come under God’s legal arrangements and be tried in the same way as a native Israelite, but they were also given the same protection in the cities of refuge: “These six cities shall be for refuge for the people of Israel, and for the stranger and for the sojourner among them, that anyone who kills any person without intent may flee there.” (Num 35:15)
The NT also sees Christians as sojourners. Peter writes, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” (1 Pet 2:11). Although Hebrews does not use the term it is obvious that the writer sees our life as human beings as a temporary experience on this current earth: “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”(Heb 13:14)
How does this help us to respond? We remember that this country is not ours, but “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps 24:1). We therefore are to care for it as tenants and welcome any ‘tenants’ that God allows to enter our comfort zone. We remember that God is still king and therefore His Law applies, we are not to adjust our legal principles and practices in order to accommodate the ideas of others, who will not acknowledge God’s sovereignty. We are to humble ourselves realising that this world and experience is not our final resting place; we are seeking a world that is to come. As a church we are to face the challenges posed by the fact that we no longer have to “GO into all the world … to make disciples” because God has brought people to our front door.
Let’s pray that just as Egypt welcomed our Lord as an exile, we will welcome all who come to us and share with them the fact that Christ came into this world as an exile so that He might “seek and save the lost”.
Bernard Lewis October 2015