In the modern vernacular, the word, “strange,” has come to be synonymous with “weird and unusual,” but it is worth noting that originally it meant, “foreign and unknown.” Relatedly, the word, “stranger,” meaning “someone who we have not yet met,” originally meant, most specifically, a foreigner, or someone from elsewhere.
This is useful to understand when we come across the word, “stranger,” in the Bible, for the word is very likely being used in accordance with its original definition. For example, when Moses names his son Gershom, saying, “I have been a stranger in a strange land (Exodus 2:22; KJV),” he is literally meaning he was a foreigner, or sojourner, in a foreign land.
The Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments is very clear about the need to care for the stranger amongst us.
God commanded the Israelites, “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 19:34; ESV).”
Jesus warned that in the judgment when the righteous and the unrighteous were parted left and right, like sheep and goats, that the righteous would be told, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me… (Matthew 25:34-35; ESV).” Meanwhile the unrighteous would hear, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For… I was a stranger and you did not welcome me… (Matthew 25:41, 43; ESV).”
This expectation of caring for strangers is central to God’s message to man, in part because it mirrors the love that God has for us. Notice that the Israelites, in connection to caring for strangers were reminded that they themselves were once foreigners and aliens in the Land of Egypt. It was God, in His love and mercy. who took them by the hand and led them to a land of their own, giving them citizenship.God’s care for the Israelites was a foreshadowing of the salvation He was bringing to us through Christ.
Paul reminded the Ephesian Christians of their status before Christ: “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:11-12; ESV).”
The word “stranger,” used by Paul to describe the relationship of the Ephesians to the covenant, is the Greek, “Xenos,” and is the same word used by Jesus in His lesson concerning the judgment, and it most literally means a foreigner or alien. From God’s perspective, before our response to the Gospel of Christ, we were strangers, or foreigners, especially in regards to His law and His kingdom. But the good news is that in Christ, the situation has changed.
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13).” And, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19; ESV).”
Not only did God take us when we were complete strangers, foreigners even, and allow us citizenship in the kingdom of His beloved Son (cf. Colossians 1:13), but He went a step further and adopted us into His own family (cf. Romans 8:12-17). What love God has shown that we can say, in Christ we are no longer strangers!
This is therefore one reason why the Christian should care for the orphan, the alien and the stranger, showing love even to those we do not know and with whom we may not yet have much in common: in doing so we are doing nothing more than what God has already done for us (cf. 1 John 4:11).
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.