Xenophobia in South Africa is again making international news. Many are talking about recent violence against foreigners in South Africa, with many opinions. Some in the international community think they know the solution to this problem, but many overlook its social and economic complexities. This problem isn’t small, and it requires urgent attention from us and our leaders.
A spiritual problem
What does the Bible say about xenophobia? We know the Bible condemns violence and injustice, and clearly speaks against hatred and violence as sinful social reactions.
But xenophobia is more than simply a social problem; it’s a spiritual problem. Xenophobia reveals a deeper problem in people’s hearts. A country that tolerates the injustice of xenophobia is a society with a much deeper spiritual problem at heart.
What’s the opposite?
Did you know the Bible speaks about the opposite of xenophobia? The English word xenophobia is a transliteration from Greek meaning, literally, a fear of foreigners. An opposite Greek word, also transliterated into English, is xenophilia – a love of foreigners.
The Greek word xenophilia is not in the Bible exactly, but there are two similar words: philonexia and xenizo. These words are used in Hebrews 13:2: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”. The Apostles Paul and Peter make similar statements: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” – Rom 12:13, and “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” – 1 Pet 4:9
The activity of hospitality is the opposite of xenophobia. Biblical hospitality, though, is much more involved than what happens at the reception desk of a luxury hotel. Today’s hospitality industry is programmed to make strangers feel welcome and relaxed. It’s good business, especially if it brings money or other advantages. But spiritual hospitality is much deeper and more sincere than simply making strangers feel happy in order to benefit us.
Hospitality, as taught in the Bible, is a spiritual gift – it’s a grace given by the Spirit that empowers believers (especially church leaders) to demonstrate God’s love to all people, even the undeserving. Hospitality for Christians is not optional – it’s a command. God requires us to show genuine, selfless, Christ-like love to all people, especially to those who are marginalised within a sinful society.
Christ died for this sin too
Did you know that Jesus died for the sin of xenophobia? Jesus suffered the shame and rejection of His own people. He was victimised and killed outside the city gate. Yet at all times, Jesus remained holy, gentle, and undefiled by sin. In this way, Jesus Christ suffered to pay for the sin of those who hated Him; and He earned righteousness in order to freely forgive wicked people who hate and victimise fellow humans.
Christ died in order to forgive sinners, even those guilty of violence and xenophobia. And Christ lived on earth as a perfect example of spiritual hospitality, at all times sincerely loving all peoples. We’re invited – even commanded – to follow in the footsteps of Christ.
How to practice hospitality
The Bible teaches us to overcome the evil of xenophobia by practising the good of spiritual hospitality. What practical steps should we take in this direction to choose a lifestyle of love?
• First, pray for grace to live more like Jesus. When the Spirit of Christ fills us, then we become more like Christ also in showing genuine love to foreigners.
• Second, practice spiritual friendship with foreigners. How can you share the love and peace of Christ with them? What needs do they have that you can assist with? There’s no guarantee that such Christ-like activity will solve the present social problem. But, regardless of the economy and politics, we’re called as Christ-followers to practice true spiritual hospitality.
• Third, work towards growing spiritual fellowship in your church with foreigners and other marginalised peoples. True Christian fellowship is a wonderful blessing, a gracious gift that enhances our worship experience and brings greater glory to God.
• Fourth, engage your church in various ministries to marginalised groups in your community. For example, perhaps you can find ways to help refugees in your area. Or perhaps your church can partner with local churches who serve large groups of disadvantaged foreigners. There are many ways to show spiritual hospitality, once God opens your eyes to the needs around you.
God Himself is hospitable
Did you know that God Himself is hospitable? Study the following verses and consider what they teach about the character of almighty God: Leviticus 19:33-34, Psalm 146:9, and Exodus 22:22-23.
We’re challenged by the Bible to become more spiritual in this way: to love foreigners and to care for the marginalised of society. This kind of living is a powerful witness of God’s great love shown even to those who don’t deserve it.
Date published: 18/10/2019
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