Did you know that Jesus never asks his followers to help those in need? That seems like a crappy click-baity thing to say (and it is! I want people to read this), but in some strange sense it’s true. Jesus never once asks any of his followers to go out of their way to help because helping others wasn’t an option, it was a requirement to be one of Christ’s followers. Jesus didn’t ask, he told. “Wait a minute! I’ve never read that in the Bible!” some may be yelling (I hope not, what Bible have you been reading???). If you’ll allow me the time of day, I’d like to introduce you to Christ’s true calling for us. One that’s not so watered down by Western philosophy and feel-good vibes.
In Matthew 25:31-46 the author of the gospel gives a picture of Jesus on Judgement day. Jesus is separating “the sheep from the goats”, in other words, those who have followed Christ and those who have not. The sheep, he says, gave Jesus drink, food, and shelter because they tended to the poor and needy. The goats, on the other hand, as good as ignored Jesus because they did not help those in need. The ones that helped are included into God’s family and inherit the Kingdom of God. The goats, on the other hand, do not. This helping of the needy, then, is not asked of Jesus’s followers, it’s a requirement to even be included among the sons and daughters of God.
Not convinced yet? There are quite a number more verses that say basically the same thing. The God of the Bible is one who looks out for the outcasts in society such as the poor, widowed, and yes, even the refugee. Check out some of these verses if you don’t believe me yet: Acts 20:35, Proverbs 19:17, Deuteronomy 15:11, Matthew 5:42, Proverbs 14:31, Luke 12:33-34, Hebrews 13:16, Mark 12:31, and Matthew 10:8. This isn’t even a complete list, not even close!
Now, pay special attention to those last two verses. The first is one that we Christians love to throw around, yet rarely ever practice. Mark 12:31 says “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. In a conversation with someone, Jesus lists this as the most important commandment second only to the shemah (Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength). Funny thing about this verse: Jesus uses it again in Mathew 5:43-48. I won’t go into too much detail, but to summarize what Christ says about it: Your neighbor is anyone who is around you, even your enemy (especially your enemy).
Even more than all of this, God is a refuge for all of us (see Psalm 46:1-3, Proverbs 18:10, Isaiah 25:4, or Jeremiah 16:19). Is it not hypocritical for us who run to God as our refuge to then deny refuge to others? (Hint: God says it is, see Isaiah 10:1-4 or Amos 2:6-7)
Now I know what many may be thinking, “But helping these refugees is dangerous! Look what happened to Paris! God wants us to be safe.” That’s the thing that I don’t think many understand, God isn’t all about safety. Yes, God loves you, but many times he calls his people to do something down right dangerous (I won’t cite specific verses for this, just open up the Bible and read!). A verse many quote often is Matthew 16:24 (…take up your cross daily…). I wonder if any ever think about what that really means, or if they ever bother to read on from there? Jesus just told his followers that if they want to follow him they have to carry an instrument of death, pain, and torture. That doesn’t sound very safe to me. If you were to read on, you’d find that Jesus says things like, “he who would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” He’s not asking you to be safe, that means that you have to be willing to die for Jesus. And many of the early church did die. 10 of the 12 original disciples were martyred for Christ (pulled apart by horses, flayed alive, crucified upside down, fed to lions, thrown over balconies; you know, all kinds of peaceful deaths). The two that didn’t die for Christ were Judas (who committed suicide in some way or another out of guilt) and John (who was still beaten relentlessly and exiled for his devotion to Jesus). Paul of Tarsus goes into great detail in 2 Corinthians 11:23-33 of the many trials he went through for the gospel (he, too, was eventually martyred). As a matter of fact, when God called Paul to apostleship He is quoted by the author of Acts as saying “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16). In other words, God said “Paul, you think you can just sit around in comfort and worship me like all of the other Pharisees. You’ve been nice and secure in your job as the Christian witch-hunter, but that’s not how one follows me. You’re going to see how hard it is to really be righteous and holy, and how much suffering it takes to truly be a good person who seeks after the me.” Jesus the Christ himself, who we are called to model ourselves after (1 John 2:6, 1 Peter 2:21, Ephesians 5:21, Romans 8:29), did not take the safe path. He was constantly pursued by those who would kill him, and he eventually suffered one of the most torturous deaths imaginable because he refused to give up on following God. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying you have to die in order to serve God. I am, however, saying that if it comes down to death you should be so devoted to God that the thought of dying doesn’t hinder you in your work for the gospel.
So what do we do about these refugees? What do Christians do about these refugees? It’s clear that we’re called to help, even if that means endangering ourselves. Let me be more clear on what it means for a Christian to help though. I think that in our closed off Western society it’s become very easy for people to sit back and throw money at problems or send off a box of hand soap and canned food and then feel as if they’ve accomplished something great (myself included, sometimes). That’s not what Jesus meant by helping the needy. When Christ helped the poor he went out into the streets among the outcasts, the sick, blind, lame, and the lepers and picked them up himself. He healed the sick with his own hands. If you have the money or the resources to send to people for help, then by all means do it, but that’s not enough in Jesus’s book. He wants us to follow him in putting ourselves out there for people in need.
I’ve heard lots of people who are afraid to help the refugees. They’re afraid because of Paris. That’s understandable, and I’m not one to pretend it’s perfectly safe to help them. I’m also not one to propose we help recklessly with no caution at all, but we do have to help, even by bringing them into our own homes. You cannot sit back and deny these people refuge and then pretend you’re doing God’s work. The fact of the matter is this: Helping these refugees is no more dangerous than any other thing God calls us to do. There’s a chance every time you reach out to the homeless that you’re talking to a lunatic ready to stab you, take the money and run. There’s a chance every time you go to a poorer area on a mission trip that you’ll get mugged or murdered. There’s always that chance, and it’s no less present here with these refugees. The small chance that some may be dangerous, however, should not deter us from helping the thousands who aren’t. That’s what God calls his sons and daughters to do.
Part of being a Christian means having faith. Unfortunately, that phrase today has come to mean, “Being a Christian means having the faith that God exists.” Believe it or not, this isn’t the kind of faith the Bible speaks of. Biblical faith is trusting that God is a good God, that he will uphold the promises he’s made, and that he has humanity’s best interest in mind even when the going gets rough. When we’re called to help, we often face many dangers. Doing the right thing is rarely a safe path. We as Christians, however, should be confident that, when faced with such danger, we are still guided by the Holy Spirit. God is still with us. I’ll leave you with Romans 8:31-39. The church Paul was writing to lived in a time when the Roman authorities were really starting to crack down on Christians (very brutally). The Gentiles who had just become members of God’s family were confused. They felt as though the work God was calling them to do was dangerous, and that they were throwing their lives away for nothing. Paul quotes a passage from one of David’s psalms, one that he wrote when he had similar feelings as those of the Gentiles. “For your sake we are being killed all the day long: we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered”. The early church (and parts of the church even today) saw their brothers and sisters butchered or tortured on a daily basis. They saw Christians go out of their way to help those in need and live out the Gospel only to receive death. Paul was fully aware that suffering and death come with the Christian passage, but he says God is not just using the church as pawns in a chess game. We’re not just sheep for the slaughter, though many may feel that way sometimes, we are God’s people, His family. Though we face many trials in doing God’s work, He does love us and He does all things for a purpose. The promise that he will restore the world to perfection, peace, and holiness still stands. It’s coming, but in the meantime we have to spread the Gospel, help the needy, and be a refuge for the refugees just as God is our refuge. It’s scary, it’s dangerous, and many who don’t understand the love and power of God would even say it’s foolish. That’s our call though, as Paul says, “We are fools for Christ’s sake.”