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Nov 08, 2020

Christian Citizenship & Immigration

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Christian Citizenship

Keywords: race, citizenship, nations, prejudice, immigration, refugees


Christian Citizenship & Immigration

Part 4 in Christian Citizenship Series

November 8, 2020

WELCOME back to the last in our series on Christian Citizenship.  Today we’re diving into a topic about which the Bible again has quite a bit to say but which, per the situation in our country, has become a very polarizing issue—IMMIGRATION.  (Nobody can claim I’m conflict-averse this season!)

            So, let’s have a little FUN this morning on an issue that can actually be deadly serious.  Take a piece of paper and we’ll do a 6- True/False QUIZ.

  1. T/F Someone in my family was an immigrant to this country in the past 4 generations?  [???]
  2. T/F Most of the key characters in the Bible were immigrants at some time in their lifetime?  [T—Adam & Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Ruth, the exile, Mary, Joseph, Jesus, etc.]
  3. T/F I’ve opened up my home to immigrants and taken them in to live with me at some time.  [???]
  4. T/F I’ve been an immigrant at some period of my life? [T—if you are a follower of Jesus!  See 1 Pt. 2:11-12—aliens & strangers/sojourners.]  
  5. T/F There is little difference between an immigrant and a refugee.  [F—refugees are fleeing persecution of some kind and it is no longer safe for them to remain in their country of origin.  Immigrants may or may not be fleeing persecution (political, religious, ethnic, etc.).]
  6. T/F This month marks the 400th Anniversary of the arrival of the first community of successful English immigrants to America?  [F—Jamestown, VA in 1607 was the first English settlement; St. Augustine, FL, was the first Spanish colony in 1585].

[Review answers.]

Points of Agreement in our Country about Immigration:

  • No one thinks the reality of an estimated 11-20 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. is an ideal situation.
  • Everyone agrees that our government should protect American citizens from those who would seek to do harm.


  • The S. is the #1 destination country for immigration around the world.
  • 7% of our population are foreign-born immigrants today, 3 times the percentage 50 years ago.
  • That is slightly below the record percentage of 14.8% set in 1890.
  • 77% of all immigrants are here legally. 23% are here illegally.
  • Mexico is the top country of origin for our immigrant population, 25% or 11.2 in 2018.
  • The next largest origin groups are from China (6%), India (6%), Philippines (4%) and El Salvador (3%).
  • Immigrants and their descendants are projected to account for 88% of the U.S. population growth in the next 45 years.
  • The highest rates of deportation of immigrants in the last 20 years happened under the Obama Administration.
  • 2/3rds (66%) of Americans say immigrants strengthen the country while ¼ (24%) say they burden the country (by taking jobs, housing and healthcare).

57% of self-identified American evangelical Christians (of all ethnicities) stated in a 2015 LifeWay Research poll that immigrants presented a “threat” or a “burden” of some kind.

  • 20 years after arriving in the U.S., the average refugee adult has paid in about $21,000 more in taxes than the combined cost of the resettlement assistance and any public benefits they’ve received.
  • 200 million people are migrating around the world from one place to another right now. 60 million of them are refugees being forcibly displace from their homes. 
  • The maximum number of refugees allowed in the U.S. has been as high as 232,700 in 1980 to as low as 18,000 in 2020.

Let’s begin by clarifying what the problem is today in regard to immigration.  There is a tension…or at least I would contend that there should be…for every follower of Jesus when it comes to immigration in modern America.  What is that tension?

  • On the one hand, we as Christians are called to love and care for our neighbor, the poor, the persecuted, those afflicted by injustice, the spiritually lost, etc. Most immigrants fall into one or more of these categories. 
  • On the other hand, even the most loving among us would probably agree that bringing into the U.S. everyone in the world who is suffering from any of these tragedies (over 2 billion people) will destroy our nation (i.e. harm our nearest-neighbors of family, friends and fellow-citizens) while at the same time make it impossible to improve the lot of the world’s suffering masses.

If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, this is a real tension.  Some have tried to solve this tension by going to extremes on either end of the argument:

  1. One extreme would say that we shouldn’t have any immigration, that the suffering and poor of the world aren’t our neighbor nor our responsibility. This extreme position would advocate for closed boarders and zero refugees or immigrants.
  2. The other extreme would say that we should allow in any and every person from anywhere in the world who manages to get to our shores and provide them with a path to citizenship. This extreme position would advocate for completely open boarders with no recognition of nation-state boundaries or limits on immigration. 

Something in most of us intuitively recognizes that both of those extremes are…extreme!  And hopefully none of us want to find ourselves camping out at either polar opposite of that continuum. 

            Allow me to frame the first part of this message by giving you the biblical argument against both of those extremes.  Then we’ll need to wrestle with where we, as followers of Jesus Christ, should land on this spectrum and what we should be doing about the immigration crisis of our time. 

            Let’s begin with the second extreme—the person who says we should allow any and every person in the world who wants to come to our country to immigrate here.  Is there a biblical and moral argument against that?  I would contend there is.  Any ideas about how the Bible might argue against “open boarders”?

  • Nation of Israel as a people to possess a particular land?
  • Walled cities—Jerusalem?
  • Prohibitions against God’s people of Israel intermarrying, adopting the customs and gods of pagan nations?
  • Judgment of God on nations (O. & N.T.)?
  • ???

Let me frame this from a different perspective, a moral obligation perspective.  I’ll call it “the problem of proximal responsibility.”  [See Peter C. Meilaender’s Toward a Theory of Immigration (New York, Palgrave, 2001)]  It goes something like this:  God holds us more responsible to care for those closer to us while we are less obligated to those farther from us

That doesn’t mean we have NO obligations to people in other parts of the world. As believers we are still obligated to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth and make disciples of all peoples.  But you will not find God holding you personally responsible for the war in African Sudan or Congo or the political evils of communist China as a citizen of the U.S.  Yes, we may be called to draw attention to them and advocate on behalf of those suffering in those countries.  But you are not responsible to feed, clothe and house every refugee from those countries. 

  1. Family First: But we are told clearly in Scripture that if you don’t feed and clothe your family, you are in sin and worse than an unbeliever (I Timothy 5:8).  
  2. Saints Second: We are told to especially take care of our brothers and sisters in the church while not ignoring the rest of mankind ( 6:10--Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
  3. Neighbors Next: Luke 10:25-37  We’re not required by God to be a good Samaritan to every person in this world.  But we are required to be that Good Samaritan to every person who is our “neighbor”, i.e. with whom we have some contact, knowledge of their need and ability to alleviate their suffering to some degree.

We are required to “love our neighbors as ourselves” but are never told to “love everyone in the whole world as my neighbor.”

“When we share a common life involving a range of shared institutions and practices, we develop obligations towards one another that we do not have, or not to the same degree, towards outsiders.” [Peter Meilaender, Loving Our Neighbors, Both Far & Near”, p. 14 in a series of articles published on-line by Baylor University; found at https://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/66496.pdf]

This doesn’t mean we don’t love outsiders or we think Americans are somehow better than people in other countries.  They are simply the people whom God has placed near us and in our country.  Is it just chance that people are in the countries they are?

Listen to Acts 17:26-27 in this regard.  (The NET Bible)

26 From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.

            We could picture this with a GRAPH: on the “X” axis you have “Level of Responsibility” and on the “Y” axis you have “Proximity of Relationship”.  (See graph in slides)  [EXPLAIN]

  • Who is closest to us? GOD.  This is why our first responsibility is always to obey God.  He is and always will be the “closest” being to us in life.
  • Family is next.
  • Church family is next…and this may extend around the world to some degree.
  • Known ‘near-neighbors’ are next.
  • Far-neighbors/strangers
  • ???

While it might not be a nice, neat straight line between responsibility and proximity, it is a general correlation. 

But by far the vast majority of Scripture speaks to the responsibilities we DO have towards foreigners, immigrants, refugees, aliens and those who God brings to us who are poor in ways we can do something about. 

            The Bible uses and is translated into several different terms when it comes to commands about people from outside our country, terms like foreigners, strangers, sojourners and aliensMost of those occurrences come in the O.T. (Heb. ger—92 times) and involve commands God gave to the nation of Israel regarding HOW they were to treat an immigrant (not just a tourist passing through but someone who had taken up residence in their land from another nation).  

            Remember, in this series, as we’ve appealed to the O.T. for specific directions on the rule of law, just laws, forms of government and economic practices, we’ve noted that God’s law is simply a reflection of His nature.  Every law he handed down He did so to reveal something about Himself, about His nature. 

            So, when God gives instruction about how we are to treat people from different nationalities, nations and parts of the world who come to live among us, He’s telling us both about how HE feels towards all people as well as about his nature that drives those thoughts and feelings.  And if we want to be like Christ, we had better want to have that same heart and character. 

            Let’s look at just a few of the dozens and dozens of verses in the Bible about how we are to treat immigrants. 

  • Exodus 22:21—Don’t mistreat or oppress an immigrant, because you were once immigrants in the land of Egypt.
  • Exodus 23:9“Don’t oppress an immigrant. You know what it’s like to be an immigrant, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt. 
  • Leviticus 19:33-34—When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.
  • Deuteronomy 10:18-19—He [God] enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. That means you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt. 

So what can we conclude from these verses about how WE should deal with immigrants today? 

  • We must love them, provide food and clothing as God does for us.
  • We must identify with them because WE are strangers and sojourners in this world.
  • We are to treat them like our fellow countrymen.
  • They are in the same group in God’s eyes as widows and orphans.
  • We must not mistreat or oppress

In Israel, there were not to be two sets of rules when it came to offerings in the tabernacle/temple.

  • Numbers 15:15-16“The assembly will have the same regulation for you and for the immigrant. The regulation will be permanent for all time.  You and the immigrant will be the same in the Lord’s presence.  There will be one set of instructions and one legal norm for the immigrant and for you. 

Clearly, there is to be no distinction about civil status when it comes to places of worship.  We should never allow immigration issues or status to prejudice the way we treat someone in the family of God.  That has a lot to say to the issue of racism as well.

  • 26:12When you have finished paying the entire tenth part of your produce on the third year—that is the year for paying the tenth-part—you will give it to the Levites, the immigrants, the orphans, and the widows so they can eat in your cities until they are full.

Here again does God not only include immigrants in the category with widows and orphans but even His Levites, “pastors” of the day.  The very produce of their labors, 10% every 3 years, was to go to this group.  So paying benefits to immigrants so they can get on their feet and take care of their families is not an unbiblical practice!

Many of the prophets told God’s people that the reason they were being judged by God was because of the way they were abusing and mistreating immigrants.  Here’s an example:

  • Jeremiah 7:5-7No, if you truly reform your ways and your actions, if you treat each other justly, if you stop taking advantage of the immigrant, orphan, or widow; if you don’t shed the blood of the innocent in this place, or go after other gods to your own ruin, only then will I dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave long ago to your ancestors for all time.

Notice that idolatry is placed in the same category as “taking advantage of the immigrant, orphan, or widow.”  What do they share in common?

  • Powerlessness
  • Ability to be taken advantage of (trafficked, slave labor, exorbitant charges, etc.)
  • Discrimination
  • Vulnerable
  • Poor

This is particularly evident when it comes to WAGES.  God addresses that specifically.

  • Malachi 3:5So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.

How are foreigners “defrauded…of their wages”?

[Paid sub-standard wages due to vulnerable position as illegal aliens; not paid at all; required to pay taxes for which they won’t receive benefits; charged excessive, above-market prices for housing, food, etc.]

How are foreigners “deprived…of justice”? 

[Trafficked; don’t report crimes against them due to fear of recriminations; taken advantage of in any number of ways; blackmailed.]

But what does the N.T. say about taking care of immigrants? 

  1. God’s people are to show hospitality: biblical hospitality is not simply inviting someone over for a meal.  The Greek term, philoxenia, literally means “love of strangers”, the opposite of xenophobia. It is inviting them to live in your home with you!  (See Gen. 19; Judges 19-20—Levite & his concubine;
    • Matthew 25:36—“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me….”
    • Luke 10:36-37—Parable of the Good Samaritan
    • Romans 12:13—“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”
    • 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.”

APP:  Helping immigrants get settled in our city through World Relief. How many of us have hosted immigrants in our homes?  It’s a wonderful outreach, education and blessing. 

(continued) What the N.T. says about care of immigrants:

  1. God’s people are to submit to the government:

What are we as Christ-followers to do when the law requires us to obey our leaders/laws that do NOT violate God’s law, i.e. are just laws? 

EX:  These might include limitations on immigration, penalties for those who break that and other laws, non-mandatory reporting of illegal immigrants (unless you are employing them)…

What are we to do when those laws DO violate divine law, i.e. are unjust? 

EX:  If the gov. had mandatory reporting of neighbors who were undocumented immigrants; didn’t punish human traffickers abusing immigrants; if reporting a Chr. refugee would lead to forced repatriation to their homeland where they would face certain death (Iran, Saudi Arabis, N. Korea, etc.). 

WHY would God give so many instructions about foreigners? 

  1. To remind us that we are to live as immigrants in this world.
  2. Immigrants are extra-vulnerable world-wide…and God cares for the weak, vulnerable, poor and downtrodden.
  3. Compassion for those who have gone through suffering. This is why many immigrants and all refugees come to the U.S.—to escape hunger, poverty, persecution, war, illness, be united with family, etc. 

What do immigrants potentially bring to our country that God wants us to appreciate/recognize?


  • Spiritual fire/experience/strength
  • Spiritual opportunity/Gospel opportunity
  • Long-term missional reach (they return to their country as missionaries)


  • False religions
  • Loss of cultural unity/cohesion
  • Completely different world views

WHAT can we do to express God’s heart for immigrants in our country?  “P.L.E.A.S.E.”—pray, listen, empower churches abroad, advocate, serve and evangelize.

  • PRAY: for their salvation, needs, hearts, families, etc.
  • LISTEN: to God’s word and to the immigrant’s hearts
  • EMPOWER churches abroad: financially, prayerfully, with missionary support 
  • ADVOCATE: 31:8—speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves; call for better laws and policies in immigration.  Martin Luther King:  “We are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act.  One day the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be beaten and robbed as they make their journey through life.  True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it understands that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”  [p. 45 of “A Guide o Welcoming the Stranger/ Session F” from World Relief.]

The current situation makes a mockery of the rule of law since the government only sporadically penalizes either the employers or the immigrants who violate the law.  We need to put in place a system that “gives honor to the law and… gives mercy to the immigrants” [John Piper]. 

  • SERVE: provide ESL classes, host a family in our home, assist with getting settled in a community, food insecurity, homework with kids, transportation, legal services, friendships.
  • EVANGELIZE: learn about them—their religion, dreams, needs…and share how Christ answers all of that, often through His people. Love them genuinely, regardless of their immediate or long-term response to the Gospel.  Have them to your house for meals. 

BENEDICTION:  Revelation 7:9-10 (ESV)

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.


O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  !”  [p. 9, A Guide to Welcoming the Stranger/ Session A, World Relief] 


    1. Family-based immigration
    2. Employment-based immigration
    3. Refugee status
    4. Diversity Lottery.
    1. Make it harder to immigrate illegally—border security and accurate tracking of temporary visa holders.
    2. Make it easier to immigrate legally by adjusting quotas to meet U.S. labor markets, more quickly reunite families, continue to provide safe-haven for refugees.
    3. Allow undocumented immigrants a path forward through paying fines and working toward permanent legal status. (Note:  to round up and deport all of the over 11 million undocumented aliens in the U.S. would cost somewhere between $100-300 billion, not financially feasible nor morally constructive.)
    1. More than half now come from Central America and Asia.
    2. The majority entered on a valid temporary visa but have overstayed their visas.
    3. Once they become “illegal”, there is no option under existing law for them to become “legal.”
    4. 66% have been living in the U.S. for at least 10 years.
    5. Since 1980, not a single one of the 3 million refugees who entered the U.S. through the Refugee Resettlement Program has taken an American life in a terrorist attack. (I haven’t seen data about other crimes committed.)