Tag Archives: neighbor

What About the Syrian Refugees?

My knee-jerk reaction to the idea of bringing thousands of Syrian refugees into the U.S. was “Don’t do it!” Muslim immigration in Europe seems to have caused an alarming increase in terrorist attacks, shedding innocent blood and threatening personal freedoms.

How many of our soldiers have fought, bled and died in order to secure and protect the precious liberties we enjoy in America? Is it not an insult to their sacrifice if we throw away our freedom and security by foolishly welcoming potential terrorists into our communities?

After the attacks in Paris on November 13, which claimed the lives of 130 and injured many others, the debate about immigration quickly moved to front and center. Some insisted that we should bring in thousands of Syrian refugees who are fleeing the death and destruction spread by ISIS, a radical Muslim group murdering thousands and pillaging an entire region.

The Bible is being cited as support for the idea of helping refugees by bringing them to America. God instructed his people not merely to be compassionate toward aliens, but to love them (Deuteronomy 10:19).

Therefore, since our society claims a Christian heritage, we should follow the admonition of the Bible. (Never mind the fact that we have been lectured to stop thinking of our country as a Christian nation.)

I welcome the opportunity to apply God’s Word to our current lives, including the immigration question. But let’s listen to the full counsel of God’s Word.

The Bible shows us that the Lord Jesus himself reached out to the marginalized and oppressed. His compassion is famous. But he had more in mind than alleviating suffering. Jesus was concerned about saving souls in addition to healing bodies.

I wonder if those who are quoting the Bible to support immigration will agree that conversion to Christianity should be an important goal when offering assistance to refugees.

If the Bible has the authority to urge us on toward compassion for immigrants, then it also has the authority to demand that spiritual goals be included. One cannot duck and cover behind “separation of church and state” when the Bible’s commands are unwelcome, but then turn and appeal to Scripture when it happens to support one’s political agenda.

In addition, Jesus did not endanger the lives of his fellow citizens in order to help others. The Bible places responsibility for keeping law and order and providing security in the hands of the state (Romans 13:1-6).

If the state adopts policies that endanger the lives of her citizens, then she is not fulfilling her biblical duty. We have a right to insist that our leaders take strong precautions against bringing terrorists into our neighborhoods.

Christian love compels us to work hard and find ways to help the Syrian refugees, but not by risking our neighbors’ children and grandchildren. It is not too much to ask that we help refugees, nor is it too much to insist that it be done wisely.

May the God of all compassion give us love for our neighbor,

Brother Richard Foster

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Are We Our Brother’s Keeper?

Cain killed his brother Abel because he was jealous. When God asked Cain about his brother’s whereabouts, he fired back at the Lord in anger, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). Cain meant that he was not responsible for his brother, but God disagreed.

Cain’s question has become a symbol for issues far greater than the tragedy between two brothers from the ancient past. The question is now asked in relation to the Church’s responsibility to society. Is the Church called to eradicate all injustice in this world?

God’s command in the Old Testament to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:17) could be seen as an answer to Cain’s question. God’s people have a responsibility not just to their own family members, but also to neighbors. Does that include the society at large?

In the New Testament, a man asked Jesus about this command to love one’s neighbor. He wanted to know where to draw the line. How does God define “neighbor”?

Jesus answered the man’s question with a parable. A traveler was robbed and left for dead on a dangerous road. Two religious Jews passed by and denied the man any assistance. A Samaritan, however, went out of his way to help the dying man.

Jesus told his listeners, Jews, to be like the Samaritan, a people considered inferior by the Jews. Clearly Jesus expects his followers to help those who are in need, and not just those within one’s own socio-economic or ethnic group.

God’s people should reach across the multitude of lines that divide humanity in order to help anyone who is in need. But did Jesus expect his followers to establish a just and equitable society?

Jesus was a prophet like those in the Old Testament. They spoke truth to power. As bold messengers from the Lord, they stood against exploitation and oppression. They were advocates for the poor and disenfranchised in their culture.

Did not Jesus carry on the tradition of exposing and denouncing the sins of the ruling class? He did. Jesus excoriated the leaders in his day for using their places of privilege to enrich themselves at the expense of the marginalized.

The prophets’ fiery denunciations against abuses of power are a good model for the Church today, but only if their full message is understood and imitated. The prophets clearly saw that a just society depends upon a God-fearing and God-obeying people. Trying to remove injustice is not enough. The prophets’ ultimate goal was to turn the hearts of the people to the Lord.

Jesus condemned social injustice, but he left no mandate for redeeming cultures, societies, or governments in this age. He predicted that Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed, and it was. He also predicted that all kingdoms in this age will fall and they will. Why? Every new generation battles with sin and injustice because this world is broken by sin; and this broken world needs not just progressive social reform, but radical spiritual change.

Jesus expects his followers to denounce social injustice, but not as part of an attempt to establish heaven on earth because that would be an impossible task. Every generation starts over with a fresh crop of sinners whose hearts are drawn toward disobedience to God, leading to another harvest of injustice.

Despite the perpetual and inevitable failure of humanity to achieve a just and righteous society, God’s people are not allowed to be pessimistic. Instead, the Lord expects his followers to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. In fact, the Bible asserts that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). But good works without faith are futile.

The man who asked Jesus how to define “neighbor” had first asked Jesus’ opinion about God’s greatest command. Jesus answered by noting the command to love one’s neighbor, but he said that it was second in importance, not first. The primary command is to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength. Loving one another is not a substitute for loving God.

A rich man asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him to sell his possessions and give all the money to the poor, but not so that first-century Palestine would be a more just and equitable place. The young man needed to rid himself of all that would keep him from following Jesus. To be a follower of Jesus was the ultimate goal then as it is now.

Jesus attended to the sick and poor, but he did so in order to bring attention to his message. At the end of his time on earth he gave his followers instructions for carrying on his work. “You all will be my witnesses,” he told them, to everyone everywhere (Acts 1:8). The record shows that Early Christianity’s main focus was placed on announcing the truth about God’s salvation.

Moments before Jesus surrendered his life on a Roman cross, he said, “It is finished.” What was finished? Surely he was not referring to the work of social justice, because as he uttered those words the world was filled with war, poverty, sickness, violence, and despair.

Jesus’ finished work was to give his life as a sacrifice for sin so that all who trust in him will be right with God and spend eternity with the Lord in a place without social injustice and without sin. Help those in need, but put your faith not in social reform, but in the Savior, Christ Jesus the Lord.

Richard Foster, Grace Baptist Church

Published by the Camden News in Religious Reflections April 12, 2013

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