What the Bible says about refugees

There are stories about refugees in the papers every day, but what does the Bible say about them?

With consistent media focus on the number of refugees risking their lives in overcrowded dinghies to reach various European countries, opinions on how these people should be treated vary dramatically. Many are concerned about overcrowding and the strain on local services. Some see refugees as a threat to their faith and lifestyle. Others feel we should be doing a lot more for refugees in the UK. Let’s find out what the Bible has to say about the issue.

While it doesn’t specifically use the word ‘refugees’, there are plenty of passages in scripture about ‘foreigners’ and people who are exiled in other countries. It certainly isn’t a new phenomenon.

One of the key verses can be found in 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. I am the Lord your God.’”

We know that God cares deeply about orphans and widows (categories many refugees fall into), and he specifically includes foreigners alongside them. Note that a blessing was promised within the following command in Deuteronomy 14:28-29:

“At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”

The New Testament speaks less directly about our treatment of foreigners, though it’s worth noting that Jesus himself was a refugee in Egypt during his early years. You never know who the refugees we encounter may turn out to be!

In Hebrews 13:2 we read:

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

Mark 12:30-31 says:

“‘The most important [commandment],’ answered Jesus, “is this… Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Remember that the ‘neighbour’ Jesus parabolizes is not a Jew but a Samaritan; an outsider and an outcast. We’re not only called to love our British neighbours, but those from other regions, backgrounds and faiths. And we’re to love them the way we love ourselves.

Matthew 25:31-40 says:

“‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne… Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was ill and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Let’s treat the refugees we meet as if they were Christ himself. A kind word, a listening ear or an act of generosity can go a long way, and if we want to introduce those around us to Jesus we need to start acting like him, treating all people with love and compassion. After all, he died for each and every one of us.