The local church and illegal immigrants–remember the Gibeonites!

I’m a follower of Jesus, I’m a pastor of a local church that is heavily engaged with serving the immigrants that live in our local community, and I’m a person who believes the bible is God’s self-revelation and that the historical events recorded in the bible actually took place at a specific time in history. I also believe that God has recorded those events, and many other things, for our benefit (1 Cor 10:11). I’m also convinced that if we take the time to understand the historical and cultural context of the times in which these events took place, we can discover principles that transcend all times and cultures. I also believe that those principles can and should be expressed by specific practices relevant and understandable to any specific culture.

Having said all of this, I am also something else, I am…….deeply troubled.

What specifically is troubling me? It appears to me that many self-proclaimed followers of Jesus here in America view themselves first and foremost as citizens of the United States of America, rather than first and foremost as citizens of the Kingdom of God. That for a number of reason too numerous to go into here, they live with the faulty understanding that somehow, the United States is a valid and perhaps the only true expression of the Kingdom of God in a political form. That the American “way of life” and the American “dream” are somehow in complete agreement with and are actually a great example of the truths that citizens of the Kingdom of God should navigate life by. And that somehow, the stumbling and unraveling of America will inflict a major death-blow to the Kingdom of God.

Needless to say, I beg to differ with those that hold these views.

I base the above summary of Christian American’s views on many conversations I’ve had with people around the country and right here in Phoenix. If you don’t understand why I would describe many self-proclaimed followers of Jesus in this way, here’s a quick summary of just some of what I’ve experienced since I arrived in Phoenix and began working among the refugee community:

The Arizona Republic, the largest newspaper in the state, has run a couple of articles in the past few years about the work my church does with refugees in our local community. After each article was published I received telephone calls from people claiming to be Christians who accused me of being a contributor to the train wreck that the American “way of life” is headed toward. I was told that I had no idea what I was doing by giving help to “those people” and one lady went as far as stating that she hoped when the kids of “those people” start gangs and cause turmoil, that my kids and grandkids will suffer at their hands. Again, these were people claiming to be Christians. Even when I explained that we work primarily with refugees who arrive completely legal under U.S. State Department guidelines and oversight and that 90 percent of the refugees would go back to their home country tomorrow if they could do so without the risk of being put tortured or put to death by a variety of means, some of these callers still spit venom in my direction. But, and this too is troubling, even those who softened their rhetoric after understanding the situation of refugees, on the other hand, were quick to tell me that those other immigrants, those “illegals” are the main culprits that are contributing to the ruin of our country.

What is going on here? In my opinion, as I’ve described above, some crucial lines have been blurred regarding the Kingdom of God and the United States of America. I’m convicted and convinced that it is the responsibility of those who take the Word of God seriously, especially those who pastor local churches, to bring some biblical truth and principles to bear regarding followers of Jesus and immigrants, even ILLEGAL-IMMIGRANTS!

The bible is full of admonitions for God’s people to be an expression of His love and care for the fatherless, the widow, the poor and oppressed, and the “stranger” that lives among us, (Deut. 10:17-22 being just one of dozens of examples). But does the bible have anything to say about the stranger or foreigners who live in our midst and who came here by “illegal” means? How should His people relate to those who have used deception to circumvent the clear laws of a sovereign people in order to sneak in and live in the presence of God’s people? How should His people interact with those who have snuck in among us in order to avoid what they perceive as an inevitable death much earlier than they would desire?

Are there a principles from a historical incident recorded in God’s Word that might apply to the situation followers of Jesus find themselves in at our moment in history? I believe there are.

Let’s consider those pesky Gibeonites!

Is it possible that God recorded the whole story of the Gibeonites and their interaction with God’s people so that His followers in America more than 2,500 years later might be able to clear up some of the very important lines that have been blurred? I think so.

Without expositing the texts in detail, let me give you a few key points from the story of Israel and the Gibeonites that I believe contain principles for us today.

1. God permitted the Gibeonites to deceive Joshua and peace was made with them and a covenant agreed to that will permit them to live. (Josh 9:15)

2. When they discovered they had been deceived, they didn’t give them what they deserved. A commitment had been made to them and Joshua wouldn’t permit them to break that commitment…even a commitment that was actually the result of the Gibeonites deceptiveness. This decision was not popular with the majority of God’s people and caused them to complain against their spiritual leaders. (Josh 9:18)

3. The Gibeonites agreed to be woodcutters and water carriers, (jobs nobody else really wanted to do), to stay alive and live among and be blessed by the blessings God was going to pour out on His people. (Josh 9:21-27)

4. The “long day of Joshua”, when the sun stood still, was triggered by God’s calling His people to protect the Gibeonites that were living in their midst. (Josh 10:6-15) The Lord fought for Israel in a unique way as Israel was His tool of protection for the “illegals” that lived among them.

5. Even generations later, mistreatment of the Gibeonites by Saul and some members of his house in their zeal for their own ethnicity brought serious consequences on members of their own family at a later point in time, David even permitting the Gibeonites to determine what form the justice should take (2 Sam 21:1-9)

Me thinks it would behoove the body of Christ in America to consider and apply the principles I’ve just unpackaged.

The following is my thought process based on these principles:

–Personally, I’m not commissioned by my government to enforce immigration law, but I am commissioned by my God to love the stranger, the poor, and the oppressed, regardless of their immigration status.

–I don’t view the changing ethnic make-up of our neighborhoods and our country as a threat to the American “way of life”. I view them as an amazing opportunity for me personally and the members of my church and God’s true followers nation-wide, to be able to obey the “great commission” (Matt 28:18-20) and have a direct, participatory role in helping Rev. 5:9 and 7:9 a reality….what a privilege!

–If those I serve and share Jesus with are here illegally and they are apprended and deported, I will weep with them, encourage them to stand strong as they face the justice of deportation that they deserve, view them as missionaries being sent to a needy field at government expense, and then maintain communication with them as they represent Jesus in their cities and among their own people.

–I don’t believe any country’s borders should be eliminated. I believe it’s every government’s responsibility to have immigration laws and enforce them. I don’t have a problem with a border fence, national ID cards, or any other reasonable steps a government takes to try to ensure the safety and success of it’s own people. But none of those things is the responsibility of the Kingdom of God…it’s priorities–the King’s priorities are usually quite opposite.

Let’s grab our motto back from the Blues Brothers: “we’re on a mission from God here”! And let’s thank God for those pesky Gibeonites and what it reveals about Him and the responsibilities of the citizens of His Kingdom.

9 replies
  1. Gunnar Hanson
    Gunnar Hanson says:

    Excellent post! I also feel that many American Christians have reversed their priorities in their identification. I was one of them early on as a Navy SEAL. During a sermon many years I became convicted about caring about my citizenship in heaven more than my American citizenship (not that I am not a patriot by any means).

    There are so many principles from Scripture that point to the person, not their I.D. card…

  2. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    Jeff – spot on! More than an ‘illegal’ problem, we have a ‘people’ problem. Why define them politically and legally and not Biblically. Politically – they are aliens. Legally – they are illegal. Spiritually/morally – they are people. If I were a poor Mexican man, I’d be across this border in an instant if it meant I could support my family better. I don’t have an answer – but I know that breaking broken people isn’t what God has called me to do. Keep up the kingdom work!

  3. Bill Walden
    Bill Walden says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Something is radically wrong in the thinking of many American Christians.

    They have lost sight of the Kingdom of God, if they have had a clear understanding of it to begin with. There is far too much patriotism, and far too little Kingdom thinking.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts so clearly.

    We ought to be citizens of the Kingdom first, and of America second.

  4. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    Just the few comments so far go a long way to demonstrate why the Bible has been such a subversive document down through the centuries and why those who would seek to make the State the ultimate point of loyalty have always persecuted believers and censored the Bible.

  5. Trip Kimball
    Trip Kimball says:

    Thanks for the great post, Jeff! It’s especially relevant with the current backdrop of the presidential race. May we, as America, seek and extend God’s kingdom above and beyond our own political views and patriotism.
    PS- I always knew you were a “Gibeonite-lover” 😉

  6. Jeanne DeBenedictis
    Jeanne DeBenedictis says:

    Amen Pastor Jeff… very well said. Thank you for shedding light from His Word on such a current and relevant topic, that effects us and requires us all as Christians to walk in His ways. Thank you also for being a voice to remind believers that we are first and foremost citizens of Heaven, that should effect the way we live here or wherever we may dwell. I am so looking forward to Sunday and hearing your message, it is always timely and convicting. Thank you Jesus.

  7. seun
    seun says:

    Great post. Just as a coin has two sides, let me offer another perspective to this issue. I am a believer of Jesus Christ and follow Him wholly (at least to the best of my ability). I believe that the church is an extension of God’s love, mercy, and grace to the world around us. We are the arms, feet, eyes of Jesus. This knowledge causes me and others at my church to be involved with evangelism and prayer to those around me who do not know Him. With that being said,

    How do we reconcile honoring and respecting the laws of the land to which God has called us to ? (This doesn’t mean that illegal immigrants should’nt be shown mercy, compassion and love. If there’s a need, by God’s grace, I(as a member of the Church, the body of Jesus) should meet that need as much as I’m able to.)

    How should the illegal immigrant population in our prisons be dealt with ? These are not crimes commited for illegally crossing the borders. These are crimes commited while in the country.

    Do you agree/dissagree with this statement (quote) nation can survive with an unchecked and unrestrained tidal wave of poverty-stricken foreigners flowing over its borders. (Consider the school system, health care, prisons, e.t.c)

    Can illegal immigrants receive the favor, blessings and provision of God in their own country just as the United States have ? You bet.

    If I was an illegal immigrant who is a believer of Jesus Christ, would I attempt to cross the border illegally ? Or would I trust the leading of God’s Spirit knowing that my God will never leave me nor forsake me, knowing I will lack no good thing as I seek Him, knowing He will perfect that which concerns me, knowing He is my shepherd I shall not be in want, knowing all His promises are yes and amen concerning me in Christ, knowing I will be a blessing to others here on this earth, knowing that I have the blessings of Abraham, e.t.c

    If I have an different view regarding illegal immigration, does this make me not a christian. Am I a “self procalimed” christian as opposed to a regular christian. Will God judge me based on my views as opposed to me putting my trust in the finished work on Jesus on the cross.

    Don’t get me wrong. God loves people. I must love peope as He does. I should extend whatever God has blessed me with to others regardless of race, nationality, gender, even sexual orientation. But at the same time I must be balanced with other areas God has called me to.

    Forgive me for my rant but I had to get that out.

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