Friday, July 22, 2016

The Stranger Is My Neighbor, the Pagan Is Not

One of the objections to my saying that believers are never commanded, whether in the OT or NT, to use kingdom resources to take care of unbelievers is that the Bible tells us to take care of "sojourners/resident aliens" among you. These resident aliens/strangers are viewed as unbelievers by the objector, and since believers are to take care of them with kingdom resources, it shows that the Bible negates the exclusive use of those resources for believers.

However, if one is to define גר "sojourner/resident alien/stranger," one must look at the contextual referents to know to whom the word refers in those instances. Abraham calls himself a גר (Gen 15:13; 23:4) because he is not native born in the land in which he resides. Moses also calls himself a גר (Exod 2:22) in the wilderness. A גר is anyone who is not of the ethnicity of the people group among which they now reside (note also that both Abraham and Moses stay in those lands for years—i.e., they are not just passing through). It has nothing to do with the person being an unbeliever, a non-member of God’s covenant community. It is an ethnic, not religious designation. In fact, Abraham is the only official member of the covenant community at the time he calls himself a גר. God calls all of Israel גרים with Him, since the land is His. This term is not a designation of a non-covenanted unbeliever (Lev 25:23).

Instead, it becomes clear that the "stranger" among the Israelites in the wilderness and the land, and even the ones celebrating with them in Egypt, are non-ethnic Israelites who are still covenant community members, i.e., followers of YHWH.

The גר are identified, even in the land of Egypt, in contrast to ethnic Israelites, as fellow covenant members who are participating in the Passover, and are given a covenant curse if they do not (12:19, 48-49). 

They observe Sabbath, which is a primary indicator that they are covenant members (Exod 20:10; 23:12). 

They are to observe the day of atonement to cleanse them with the rest of the covenant community (Lev 16:29). 

Leviticus 17:8-9 states that they are making sacrifices and calls the covenant community from which he’ll be cut off, if doing it wrong, “his people.”

Like the other covenant members, he is not to eat of blood, since God has made blood as an atonement for him, lest he be cut off from “his people” (Lev 17:10-12).

Since he is a worshiper of YHWH, he is to keep himself from the sexually immoral practices of the surrounding nations (Lev 18:26). 

He is not to give his children to Molech, since, like the children of the ethnic Israelites, his children belong to YHWH (20:2).

He is to make sacrifices just like the ethnically born Israelites whenever he wishes to do so (Num 15:14-16). 

The נכר “foreigner,” in contrast to the גר, is viewed as the enemy of Israel (Isa 62:8), who has false beliefs and practices, but any who repent and join themselves to the Lord are promised the blessings of fellow covenant members (Isa . 56:1-7), as they would then become a believing גר. But the נכר is the one who has foreign gods and evil practices. In fact, the common expression in the Hebrew Bible for “foreign gods” is actually the phrase, אלהי הנכר “the gods of the foreigner.” There is no verse in the Bible that tells us to give kingdom resources to the נכר, and in fact, there are verses that call it an abomination to do so. Instead, it is to the גר, the non-ethnic Israelite who is a believer that those resources should be given.

Lev 22:25 contrast the rejection of the sacrifice of a foreigner (נכר) with the sojourner (גר) in 22:18 who participates in worship and sacrifice that is acceptable to God.

Foreigners are not even aloud to reside in the land, as Israel was to remove them. Instead, the presence of foreigners and their use of Israel’s resources is a judgment on God’s people (Isa 60:10; 61:5; 62:8). Talk about not loving one's enemies. Not only do they not get kingdom resources, the Israelites are commanded to take their resources from them. Not so for the גר.

As a covenant member, the גר is not to blaspheme YHWH, or he will be stoned (Lev 24:16).

Numbers 15:22-26 talks about the whole covenant community, made up of ethnic and non-ethnic Israelites, natives and גרים as being forgiven for their unintentional trespasses via sacrifices. But he is held accountable to the entire law, just like the other Israelites, for intentionally rebelling against it (v. 30).

He can be unclean and in need of cleaning just like the rest of the covenant community (Num 19:10).

All of the verses concerning taking care of the גר are in this context. He is an Old Testament believer, which is why he is also promised a future inheritance of the land (Ezek 47:21-23), which only belongs to those who are united to YHWH who owns the land.

The "stranger," in continuity with this idea, in the New Testament is any believer, usually sent out by other churches, who are not known by the recipients personally, but are, in fact, coming in the name of the Lord. 

"Dear friend, you demonstrate faithfulness by whatever you do for the brothers (even though they are strangers). They have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone forth on behalf of “The Name,” accepting nothing from the pagans. Therefore we ought to support such peopleso that we become coworkers in cooperation with the truth." (3 John 5-8)

Notice that the ξένους "strangers" are brothers who are sent out. They are contrasted with ἐθνικῶν "pagans" in this passage from whom they took nothing. 

In Matthew 25, Christ, who is represented by His people, is called the ξένος "stranger."

"For I was hungry and you gave me foodI was thirsty and you gave me something to drinkI was stranger and you invited me in, I was naked and you gave me clothingI was sick and you took care of meI was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lordwhen did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the king will answer them, I tell you the truth just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mineyou did it for me." (vv. 35-40)

This practice of receiving brothers in Christ who are considered "strangers" is what the New Testament describes as hospitality (Rom 12:13; Heb 13:2; 1 Tim 5:10).

It is not, of course, that a pagan cannot be a stranger. They are just not the strangers that believers are commanded to take care of. 

This is also not to say that one would not take care of an unbeliever in one's household or under one's national obligations, due to governmental responsibilities. It just means that the physical well-being of the believer in good standing with his church, even though I may not know him personally, is still my responsibility in terms of using kingdom resources for his benefit. The physical well-being of the unbeliever, with the exception of governmental responsibilities, is not. My responsibility with him is to invite him into the kingdom. I can even do this by inviting him into my house. Apart from my household, or other situations in which I become the hand of the government over him, however, he is not to receive what belongs to me, since all that belongs to me exclusively belongs to Christ.

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