Love for the Foreigner
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. 12 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. 13 But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah. 14 For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, 15 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. 16 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.[a] 17 When the Messiah came, He proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. 21 The whole building, being put together by Him, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord. 22 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. Now, 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, the intense racial division perhaps that characterizes our nation 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?” Someone who has citizenship in another country. More precisely: a foreigner is someone can’t get the full benefits of living in a country they aren’t citizens of. An American citizen living in America receives certain tax advantages, voting rights, govt benefits, legal protections, etc. Our country, we might say, 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. That general definition is similar to the Bible, although the Bible takes on more of a family sense than 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 12 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. In the NT, that definition is the same. A foreigner is someone who is not a member of God’s family and therefore doesn’t 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 the promises, the benefits, 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, on the hand, that 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, “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 in 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; anyone in Christ can. 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.”
You know, people are pretty good at loving blood relatives (12 tribes). Clarke Countians are good at this. And people in general (we) are good at loving people like ourselves. 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 care 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. 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 (Eph 2.1-13). Let’s read this text, glory in this text, and simmer in it for a moment…
I participated in high school in an after school program in a tough part of Mobile. Had a young man who had come through the program getting ready to take over. You know why they do that so often in those kinds of situations? I’m sure in part it’s because of their story and fund-raising. I think it’s more because they know what it really is to be a kid in that kind of environment. The statement, “I know what you’re going through” has tremendous power.
The reason we love the foreigner is because we know what it’s like to be a stranger to the promises of God. It’s because 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 come to discover 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) 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? Well, that depends on how his church treats people who are strangers to the family of God, unlike one another.
I got loud at Wintzells this past week because I got onto my child. I think I did that because partially it was a reflection on me. Sometimes we feel rightly or wrongly that what are children are is a reflection of us. But it’s hard to deny that the seeds that we sow in our children get fully revealed as they get older. They embody our values, eating habits, vocabulary, temperaments, etc. And that’s normal and to be expected. Now, the Lord is so concerned about this particular aspect of our lives and the church because it is a direct reflection on Him (1:23; 3:10-11). 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.
But our particular application in Jackson, Alabama in the 21st century would be to love our black brothers and sisters with the same love Jesus loves them with. Anybody can segregate. Anybody can divide. That’s worldly wisdom that’s normal. But 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.
Of course, this is really, really hard. Because we’re all a bit xenophobic. But perhaps we can all admit that we don’t know a thing about the gospel, if we don’t grasp and image the basic work of Jesus Christ on the earth, which we can best illustrate with Philippians 2 [READ].
And besides all that, if this is what we’re called to do, we ought to think like the character from The Hanging Tree. You remember that old western?
Gary cooper played a country doctor, who saved a young man’s life from a bullet wound. When the young man came around, he said, “Doc, how can I repay you; I’ll do anything.” The doc said, “Well, I need a good assistant.” “OK, said the young man. I’ll do it. I guess, I should get my affairs in order. So about how long should I expect to be your assistant?” Gary Cooper’s character thought for a moment and then said: “Well, for the rest of your life because that’s how long you would have been dead if I hadn’t saved you.”
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 we obey the Lord? How long should we obey the Lord? To what extent should 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.