Eight Words from Jesus in a World with Refugees

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I lived in Syria. I grieve over the destruction and death that occurs there every day. Since 2012, I’ve been living in a neighboring country, seeking to bring hope to Syrian refugees. We help them with practical needs like blankets, heaters, food boxes, and diapers.

Daily I’m confronted with the overwhelming needs that we simply cannot meet. Many people I know are waiting to travel to the West or already have. They are hoping for a better future.

Jesus calls us to follow him. Sometimes it is clear how we do this, and often it is not. In trying to grapple with what it means to follow Jesus as it relates to the current refugee crisis, it is worth rehearsing at least eight things Jesus expects from those who follow him. May he give us all wisdom in how best to apply them.

1. “Love God, and therefore love the things he loves.”

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment” (Matthew 22:37–38). Loving God implies loving the things he loves. Deuteronomy 10:18 tells us that God “executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.”

It is no surprise, then, that the very next verse is “Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19).

2. “Love your neighbors, as you love yourselves.”

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). But who is my neighbor? This is the very question Jesus was asked in Luke 10:29. He responded with the story of the Good Samaritan and taught us that our neighbor is anyone who is in need, even our enemies (as Jews and Samaritans were).

3. “Do for others what you want them to do for you.”

“Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Jesus doesn’t say we should do some things for others that we’d like done for us. He says, “Whatever you wish that others would do to you.” If there is anything that you would want others to do for you, you ought to do it for them.

If you were a refugee, fleeing war, would you want another country to give you safe refuge?

4. “Do not expect (or demand) greater security, comfort, or treatment than I had.”

“A scribe came up and said to him, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’” (Matthew 8:19–20).

“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Matthew 10:24–25).

5. “Do not fear.”

Immediately after Jesus tells us to not expect better treatment than he got, he calls us to not fear. “So have no fear of them. . . . And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:26–28).

6. “Deny yourselves, and lose your lives.”

“Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul’” (Matthew 16:24–26)?

Jesus calls us to die daily to ourselves for the sake of others. There is no gain in having a secure nation if we lose our souls due to self-love (by making safety our highest good).

7. “Love your enemies.”

It is important to keep before us who our enemies are. It is not Syrian refugees who seek to kill and destroy; it is ISIS. However, even though ISIS is our enemy, Jesus is still quite clear about how we should respond.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43–48)

This is exactly what Jesus did. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. . . . For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:8–10).

8. “Walk in my steps.”

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:4–8)

D. Glenn works with Syrian refugees in the Middle East.