Christ himself is the paradigm of our life, our preaching and our conduct as Christians.
In Matthew 25, Jesus highlights the stranger among the “least of these.” He goes as far as to say that whatever we do to the “least of these” we do to him. In that sense, Jesus commands us to welcome the stranger, because we should see him in the stranger.
Jesus calls us to see the image of God in migrants and to focus on the kingdom of heaven rather than our fleeting kingdoms.
God’s concern for strangers and foreigners
The stranger or the foreigner commonly are equated in the Bible with widows and orphans. We see God commanding his people to care for them.
In Hebrews 13:2, we are required to show hospitality to strangers, and the story of the Good Samaritan compels us to be merciful to the stranger. Therefore, we as Christians are called to care, love, welcome and see Jesus in the foreigner and their struggles.
Where can we find more vulnerability compounded by the image of God than in the circumstances of unaccompanied migrant children? If Pharaoh’s daughter responded with love, tenderness and protection toward an unaccompanied migrant child such as Moses, how much more should we the redeemed show toward migrant children in our midst?
On the other hand, it is important to recognize God was deeply interested in Israel’s immigration laws (Exodus 22:21; Leviticus 19:33-34). Several times the people of Israel were reminded to treat foreigners as equals to the natives (Exodus 12:49; Leviticus 24:22).
In fact, God goes further and directly declares he “loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19).
Also, the prophets constantly advocated for the rights of immigrants (Ezekiel 22:6-7; Jeremiah 22:3; Zechariah 7:10).
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As you can see, God is concerned with immigration, immigrants, migrants and unaccompanied migrant children. And if God is concerned about them, how can his people not be concerned about them, especially with a subject as prevalent all throughout the Bible as God’s love for the stranger? In that sense, God does not ignore immigration laws and policies, and neither should we.
Our relationship with Christ is tied up with immigration.
Our relationship with Jesus grows in interaction with others, and it should be manifested in the way we treat the “least of these.” Otherwise, we are goats, based on Matthew 25.
It is impossible to say we love Christ and not love those whom Christ loved and defended. It would be a contradiction to the explicit deep love of God for migrants, especially given the context of judgment that frames Matthew 25, which is precisely Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25.
In that vein, advocating and loving immigrants is not a requisite foreign to our spiritual experience, but is linked intrinsically and intimately to our relationship with a God who always has exhibited a special zeal for strangers and their plight.
Why should Texas Baptists care?
Texas churches are perfectly positioned to make an impact for the kingdom of God. The current increase in the number of migrants arriving at our southern border and the brokenness of our immigration system are opportunities we cannot ignore.
Texas churches have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to model the gospel and express Christian love to the stranger.
The mission field no longer is outside our borders. Texas itself is the mission field now. We can preach the word of God and transform the lives of generations through our acts of hospitality, care and love to migrants. Bilingual churches in Texas have an unprecedented missional opportunity to engage their communities through immigration.
In addition, many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are immigrant themselves or have immigrant family members. This means their uncertainties and burdens must be ours as well.
The question should be how Texas Baptist churches are welcoming the immigrant and expressing God’s love to the least of these.
Ten verses revealing God’s love for the stranger
1. Exodus 12:49 & Leviticus 24:22—The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you.
2. Exodus 22:21—Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.
3. Leviticus 19:33-34—When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.
4. Deuteronomy 10:18-19—God defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.
5. Ezekiel 22:6-7—The princes of Israel were condemned for oppressing the foreigner and mistreating the fatherless and the widow.
6. Jeremiah 22:3—This is what the LORD says: “Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.”
7. Zechariah 7:10—Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor.
8. Luke 10:36-37—When Jesus asked who of the three “was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers,” the expert in the law answered, “The one who had mercy on him.”
9. Romans 12:13—Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
10. Hebrews 13:2—Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a two-part series. The second part will explain practical application of this understanding of biblical instruction.
Elket Rodríguez, an attorney and minister, lives on the U.S.-Mexico border, in Harlingen, Texas. He is the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s and Fellowship Southwest’s immigrant and refugee specialist.