The topic of refugees has stormed to the forefront of our news and conversations in recent days. I hope we can all bear in mind that caring for refugees doesn’t equate to having no regard for our nation’s safety; and caring for our country’s safety doesn’t equate to not caring for refugees. Competing interests are always tricky and it seems unwise to think that whatever someone’s thoughts are on the matter relegates him or her to one side or the other.
I say all this because what I’ve written here is not meant to be a statement on our country’s policies. I will leave that to those more informed and knowledgeable than I am in these areas. What I would like to do, however, is consider with you, not what our personal politics or interests are, but whether we have a Gospel heart when it comes to refugees.
A few years ago I wrote a bible study on the book of Ruth and the story deeply convicted me. While Ruth was not a refugee in the technical sense, her plight was the same: a foreigner from a rival nation, a widow, poor, without social standing, no way to support herself, and fully dependent upon the harboring nation’s kindness. While writing that study the Lord showed me what a Gospel heart for the foreigner and outsider looks like through the life of a man named Boaz. And as a result, how much closer my heart needed to move toward Christ’s.
A Gospel Heart not only Permits, it Prizes
When Ruth entered the Israelite town of Bethlehem as a Moabitess she could only hope to meet a landowner who’d have enough pity on her to permit her to glean in his fields. (It’s worth mentioning that Moab’s beliefs and practices stood directly opposed to those of Israel’s.) But Boaz, a wealthy Israelite landowner, did far more than turn a blind eye and permit Ruth on his fields; He prized her. He invited her to sit at his table, offered her a place among his workers, protected her from men who might take advantage of her, allowed her to freely drink from the water the servant’s had drawn. So overwhelmed by Boaz’s kindness, Ruth fell on her face exclaiming, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you would notice me, a foreigner?”
A heart left to its natural inclinations might hope that the refugee crisis just goes away, or that other countries will deal with the problem. Or maybe our attitude is that we’re okay if refugees are allowed into our country as long as they keep to themselves. But permitting refugees and prizing them are two different things. Boaz continually showed me that a Gospel heart goes beyond cultural norms, beyond meeting basic needs, beyond what would be considered “enough”. It crosses over into lavish.
A Gospel Heart not only Gives Lodging, it Gives a Legacy
Near the end of this short book, Ruth and Boaz get married and have a son named Obed. After Boaz officially announces his intent to marry Ruth in the presence of the leaders of the community—including the religious leaders—the people make one of the most convicting proclamations in all the Bible. “May the Lord make the woman [Ruth] who is entering your house like Rachel and Leah, who together built the house of Israel” (Ruth 4:11).
Listen closely to what is being said here. Rachel and Leah were the all-star matriarchs of the Israelites. They were the mothers of sons like Joseph and Judah, respectively. Ruth was a widow from the dark, enemy, anti-God nation of Moab. Imagine the humility and graciousness it would have taken for the Israelite leaders to pronounce this kind of blessing on Ruth, essentially saying, we hope our God weaves you into the legacy of our nation, making you as great as the most legendary women of our heritage. And great God made her—Ruth, the Moabitess, became the great grandmother of King David.
The Israelites offered Ruth far more than an offer to lodge in their community; theirs was a proclamation of legacy.
Are we willing to cheer the refugees on in our country past giving them shelter over their heads? Are we willing to champion them into the most meaningful places in our society? And more than those earthly places of standing, are we willing to lead them into the most sacred places of our spiritual heritage? As we’re to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, what an opportunity when the ends of the earth travel to those with the Gospel.
A Gospel Heart not only Offers Refuge, it Offers Redemption
In Ruth 2:12 Boaz said to Ruth, “May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge”. Boaz knew that no matter how wealthy, resourced or generous he could be to Ruth, he was ultimately powerless to save her. He could offer provision in this life, but he couldn’t be her Redeemer. Only the God of Israel could do that.
The food, water, place at the table, protection and job offer that Boaz gave Ruth were tremendous blessings, but his deepest desire was for her to harbor beneath the eternal refuge of the wings of the God of Israel. As New Testament believers, while we seek to provide for the physical and material needs of the foreigner, we should always hold out the promise of refuge in the arms of Christ through forgiveness of sins, the only Redeemer.
Despite the heated exchanges and valid implications of differing policies regarding the refugee crisis, Boaz reminds me that the most important question I can ask myself at this moment in history is, do I have a Gospel heart toward the refugee? Not everyone will be able to do everything all the time for all those in need. But if our hearts align with the Gospel, when the opportunity arises, we’ll already have the table ready.