On Sojourners, Walls, and Illegal Aliens, Part 8 (To Whom Are the Commands Given?)


To whom are the hospitality commands given?

The original series from May 2016 has now concluded. Reflecting back on those posts, I now realize that I failed to meaningfully address what may be the biggest question: To whom were the sojourner and hospitality commands given?

Well, obviously enough, the commands about how to treat the sojourner were given in the Torah to the nation of Israel. They were to be obeyed  by the individual Israelites, but also by the king and the other leaders of the people. The sojourner commands are largely part of the civil law of Israel.

Then again, the OT prophets speak of hospitality more universally. For example, both Jeremiah and Ezekiel condemn Sodom and Gomorrah for, among other things, a lack of hospitality. Sodom and Gomorrah were not part of God’s Kingdom and likely weren’t God worshipers at all. Nonetheless, they violated God’s will — a will that was revealed to them through the culture and traditions of that part of the world. That is, even without having direct revelation from God, such as the Torah, they knew that hospitality was expected of good people.

In the NT, the hospitality commands are given to the church, the Kingdom of God. Paul does not go to Mars Hills to announce the good news of hospitality. In fact, the church was separated from the surrounding culture by its radical hospitality. The church was not like the rest of the Greco-Roman world, nor did the church make any effort to change the world to be like the church. Rather, the church displayed the image of Jesus by being the church, that is, by behaving as Jesus called the Kingdom to behave, and so drew people to Jesus and to his church. And the hospitality of the Christians was a major reason that many pagans found Jesus and his church attractive.

So that has me wondering whether we are called to vote to have our government require non-Christians to act like Christians? For example, it’s one thing for a Christian, because of his faith in Jesus, to decide to risk his and his family’s lives to open his home or neighborhood to refugees. It’s quite another to ask the President or Congress to require non-Christians to do the same thing.

(In the current US setting, it’s very important to distinguish offering hospitality to refugees — people invited in and vetted by the government — as opposed to illegal aliens — people who entered the US contrary to US law. The difference may not matter to you, but the risk profile is obviously very different. And I think the biblical analysis differs as well. I mean, illegal immigration raises the question of obeying God rather than man (and not all would agree that God commands us to offer hospitality to those here illegally, which is not an easy topic) whereas refugees are here legally, there is no question of disobedience to the civil authorities, and the risk that a vetted refugee will be a criminal or terrorist has, historically, been very low but not zero.)

Should we use the government to impose Christian values on non-Christians or Christians who disagree?

Even where Christianity is a minority religion, we expect our government to respect our beliefs and not impose on us obligations that we consider immoral. Christians very reasonably and fairly ask the government not to force them to fund the costs of abortions against their consciences, even when Christianity doesn’t have the votes to force this outcome. To us, it’s not a matter of political power so much as a question of right and wrong and the balancing of government power against freedom of conscience.

Well, that has to be a two-way street. In general, when Christians are in the majority, they should not force non-Christians to violate their consciences either. I mean, freedom of conscience, if it is to exist at all, has to exist for both Christians and non-Christians. Therefore, before the church asks the government to impose any burden on its citizens, we have to ask whether we’re violating someone else’s freedom of conscience. Don’t we?

There are exceptions. I mean, we can’t allow people to commit murders even if their consciences tell them the murders are okay. We can’t allow people to steal even if they are part of a culture that considers theft moral. We don’t allow adults to have sex with underage children regardless of consent. We believe that children can’t meaningfully consent, and so we enact statutory rape laws even when a given culture might allow pederasty with young boys (as in Afghanistan) or marriage of 12-year old girls.

So, yes, we can legislate certain kinds of morality — especially morality that impacts others. Criminalizing “morality” that has non-consenting victims is easily a proper use of government power (Rom 13 would agree), although the line can be devilishly difficult to draw. Muslim honor killings should be illegal even though such killings are considered moral, even obligatory, in their culture. If you want to live in the US, you have agree to live within the boundaries of our prevailing moral culture.

On the other hand, where there are no victims, we generally decline to enact laws even when a majority considers the conduct wrong. Thus, even though there is nothing good about smoking, we don’t ban smoking in private, although we often ban smoking where it would affect non-consenting other people, such as in a restaurant. Just so, most Christians consider premarital sex a sin, but few would vote to criminalize premarital sex (except where there is no consent, of course).

Civil law is not designed to make non-Christians act like Christians. And civil law does not necessarily reflect our moral culture so much as the outside boundaries of what our moral culture can tolerate — not what we aspire to at our very best. That has to come from within. I mean, the highest Christian law is “Love the Lord your God,” and yet it would be pointless to write this into the Code of Alabama because love driven by fear of jail is love of self. Love of God cannot come from the state’s legal system, no more than we can pass a law require husbands to love their wives and children to love their parents. The law can’t touch hearts. That’s why God has given us the Holy Spirit and not a code of laws (Rom 2:27-29; Rom 7:6; 2 Cor 3:5-8).

The intersection of Christianity with political science or public policy is complex because it’s often true that the Christian thing is also good public policy — and so the government quite properly passes laws that parallel God’s teachings for how Christians should behave. But then there are plenty of cases where God’s teachings should not be the law of the land. For example, no one would want baptism or church attendance to be required by law (as was once the case in some parts of Europe and colonial America). Benjamin Franklin was a Deist (and not a Christian) but he regularly attended church on Sundays because the law required it!

And drawing the line between what ought to be required by the government and what is between me and God only is no easy task. But it’s a fact that we haven’t made most of the Ten Commandments part of our civil law. Here’s the list:

  • No other gods before me
  • No graven images or likenesses
  • Not take the LORD‘s name in vain
  • Remember the sabbath day
  • Honour thy father and thy mother
  • Thou shalt not kill
  • Thou shalt not commit adultery
  • Thou shalt not steal
  • Thou shalt not bear false witness
  • Thou shalt not covet

Of these, only “Thou shalt not kill,” “Thou shalt not steal,” and “Thou shalt not bear false witness” are likely found in your state’s laws, and the law against lying will generally only apply when under oath or if amounting to fraud. And “Thou shalt not kill” will have several exceptions, such as self-defense and protection of private property, not to mention state-approved executions and abortions.

So in Alabama, we’ve had several lawsuits and literally millions spent on whether a judge may place a monument to the Ten Commandments in a state courthouse — even though most of the commandments aren’t even a part of our legal system. And yet they are quite plainly commandments from God himself.


About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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9 Responses to On Sojourners, Walls, and Illegal Aliens, Part 8 (To Whom Are the Commands Given?)

  1. buckeyechuck says:

    Jay, I really appreciate this well-thought out summary of how Scripture, culture and secular government intersect. Given the current toxic environment between non-believers as well as among believers regarding our government’s policies towards refugees, it seems that these Scriptural principles may be misunderstood. Many Christians maintain that is against Scriptural teaching regarding showing hospitality to the sojourner, that ANY restriction by the civil government is 100% wrong. They rely on their understanding of Scripture to defy the civil government. They do so in sincere desire to comply with their understanding of Scripture.

    As you so clearly stated in part 6 of this series, “Where we typically err is by beginning with our political or religious views and then reasoning from scripture to affirm our existing views. We are much better followers of Jesus when we let the scriptures speak to us before we adopt a political position. After all, it’s far better to obey God rather than man.”

    Is it an example of developing a political position based on a misunderstanding of Scripture when Christians maintain that illegal immigrants should be welcomed regardless of or in spite of U.S. federal law? Are Christians justified in actively defying the federal authorities to protect the illegal immigrant, for example, in sanctuary cities? This week my own home city mayor instructed local law enforcement to not enforce federal immigration law. Many Christians have spoken openly in support of that policy and against federal law and the President’s Executive Order. The same has occurred within the federal judiciary where political beliefs may be given priority over the letter of the federal law. What process should Christians follow to determine what is and what is not federal law and whether that law is in direct conflict with Scripture?

    Perhaps more importantly and on topic, in what way should the individual Christian or the aggregate church respond to the treatment of illegal aliens who may be discovered in our own community?

  2. Dwight says:

    To the extent we can influence the government which rules over us we can, but there is no scripture that places this as a Christian duty. Jesus was surrounded by two governments, Jewish and that which was over the Jewish system, the Roman. He never told his people to seek office or change the political structure or even influence the government. People were to convert people. The government was in place to enforce laws for the sake of the people, even when the laws or the government were not that good.

  3. Gary says:

    Jay, I agree with you overall. I would point out that Rahab violated the law of her city when she hid the spies who were at least equivalent to illegal immigrants today. She is commended in Scripture for her actions. I don’t think there is one answer that covers all situations. We can’t blame anyone for trying to better their family’s wellbeing by coming here illegally. Most of us would do the same, given the opportunity, if we had not won the birth lottery by being born in a developed country. On this subject I have long thought that the Catholic Church in this country has the right stance for Christians. They do not believe that the Church and Christians have any obligation to help enforce federal immigration laws. When undocumented immigrants are fleeing persecution or danger or extreme poverty the Catholic Church has actively been involved in the Sanctuary Movement and helped to prevent their detection. Is that appropriate in every situation? No, but it is sometimes the right Christian action. When people of foreign origins in our communities are living productive and law abiding lives I cannot see any benefit for anyone to uproot and deport them because they are undocumented. I live next door to a Mexican couple. I have no idea whether they are here legally or not and I don’t care. I do know they are probably the hardest workers who live on this block. Preventing entry of illegal immigrants at our borders is fine but it seems to me that the Christian approach would be to leave the ones already here alone unless they are a danger to others.

  4. Jay F Guin says:


    I’m sure everyone agrees that it’s better to obey God than man. When God’s laws contradict man’s, God’s laws prevail. I’ve not tried to suss out the boundaries in any detail because, well, I can’t cover but so much in a given post and the Churches of Christ are a long way from the sanctuary movement. You don’t get to that question until you first concede a duty of hospitality — and Churches of Christ (and many other evangelical churches) have no history of hospitality in the biblical sense. So I’d be pleased if we could just get to the point of talking about whether Christians and the church have some obligation to sojourners — at all. And the politics get in the way of that discussion. We can’t even put three sentences together about sojourners without talking about Congress, Trump, or the law. What the Bible says gets swallowed up in politics. We are idolaters because we worship politics and seek salvation through voting for the right platform — which is not that much different from seeking salvation by having the right doctrinal positions. And I’m tired of talking about positions as though we were called to be right on the issues without regard to whether we do right. Orthodoxy without orthopraxy is idolatry: worship of having the right positions rather than a Savior who serves others sacrificially and asks us to follow him to a cross.

  5. Jay F Guin says:


    Good questions all, and I intend to address some in a future post I’m still working on.

    There are some preliminary questions that must be answered first.

    1. Is the American immigration system just? I mean, the government can and should establish rational lines for who can and can’t enter the country. Has this happened? Or is the system fundamentally immoral? Not do I agree but is it biblically wrong? And few people understand the system well enough to judge its rightness. But as applied to Hispanic immigrants, it’s insane and foolish. There is no way for most people to enter legally.

    2. If the system is biblically wrong, to what extent is it wrong? I mean, surely we shouldn’t let terrorists driving trucks filled with explosives across the border. Total civil disobedience would be foolish. That is, as you seem to suggest, what parts of the law are wrong and what parts rational responses to real problems? Again, it’s not just whether I disagree but whether the law is so wrong as to violate biblical principles.

    3. Will civil disobedience accomplish good? Anytime the church chooses to disobey the law, well, we’d had better have prayed and studied it thoroughly. The apostles chose to preach the gospel despite civil orders not to. That’s a much easier call than whether to be hospitable to illegal aliens.

    BTW, pretending that we’re not breaking the law with euphemisms such as “undocumented” rather than “illegal” avoids the very question we need to answer: Should we obey God rather than man? The fact they are here illegally is what makes the question important and difficult, and if we pretend they’re not illegal, then we’re just avoiding the question and the discipline of scripture. I mean, if you’re going to break the law in civil disobedience, admit to yourself that’s what you’re doing and, more importantly, asking others to do. Don’t soften it. If it’s not defensible in plain language, it’s not defensible.

    4. So where the law actually makes some sense, I think we have to obey it. That means we can’t just be against the federal government or immigration law in general. The Underground Railroad very properly violated federal law in helping slaves flee slavery. But should the Underground Railroad have protected known murderers? I mean, it’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of thwarting an unjust law and forget that not all laws are unjust. Not every sojourner is entitled to shelter. And so I’d love to see some principled boundaries being discussed rather than open borders — which strikes me as grossly irresponsible. We need to control our borders, but we need much better laws that draw much more sensible lines. And, frankly, we’re not going to get sensible lines from either political party because both see this as an existential battle for who wins the long-term Hispanic vote — which has little to do with what is best for the country or even for immigrants. They seek to answer the wrong questions and so if they get a right answer, it’ll be by the sheer grace of God.

    5. This means the church and other people of conscience should be offering real-world proposals for how to solve the problem with compassion and good government. Silliness such as entirely closed or entirely open borders aren’t even worth the bumper stickers they get printed on. And this the art of the deal (to quote Trump) and wise political science. That is, there’s a wide range of rational, acceptable solutions and so room for conversation and compromise. But only if someone steps up to recognize the real problems and propose real solutions.

    6. One part of the equation that is rarely addressed is how to fix the economies of Mexico etc. so that people don’t live in poverty and need to immigrate to earn a living. I mean, there are institutional, structural problems with Latin governments that make prosperity hard to come by — and when Americans point this out, they get shouted down as imperialists and colonialists — even though much of the problem is internal and enriches an aristocratic or criminal class at the expense of everyone else. I’m not so sure I want to be an enabler of criminalized governments by letting them abuse their citizens by giving the unhappy citizens a place to flee to so that no one feels the need to fix the local kleptocracies. And this greatly complicates the moral calculus — and I don’t really have the expertise to say much more than that — and may be wrong in what I’ve already said.

    7. So it’s complicated.

    But that’s the political side of the equation. The more important question is what churches in the US ought to be doing. And I think that’s pretty simple. Post to come. (Lord willing.)

  6. Gary says:

    It is ironic that later in this century there will likely be competition among countries for immigrants. The reason is the spread of population decline of working age adults. Almost all developed countries and many developing countries are having too few children to replace themselves so that each succeeding generation will be smaller than the generation before.

    Canada for example has not had a birth rate above the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman since 1971. Without immigrants Canada would already be an economic basket case. Even China’s working age population is declining by several million people each year. Mexico’s birth rate now is only a little over replacement level and is slowly but steadily declining. So even Mexico will run out of surplus workers over the next generation or two. Already we have more Mexicans leaving our nation each year than are entering.

    Just about every issue in our world today has a significant demographic aspect. It would be helpful even in 2017 to recognize how valuable workers, legally here or not, are to our wellbeing. Some years ago a movie was made about all illegal immigrants in California suddenly disappearing one day and how the economy and many aspects of daily life almost ground to a halt. We are wealthier as a people because of immigrants- no matter what their legal status.

    My point? If Christian charity is not enough to help us to see immigrants in a more positive light maybe enlightened self interest will.

  7. Gary says:

    Jay, I appreciate your point about the importance of doing what is right instead of only believing what is right: orthopraxy and orthodoxy. It has always struck me in Micah 6:8 that justice is something we do.

  8. Jay F Guin says:


    You make a valid point. Europe has dealt with the need by allowing increased Muslim immigration, and had naively assumed that the Islamic immigrants would absorb and adopt Western values, but that often doesn’t happen, making for some very serious problems.

    In the US, most immigrants are Hispanic and Christian, which produces far fewer problems compared to Europe. Islamic immigration is very low in comparison to Hispanic immigration or the total US population. So in a sense, we’re very fortunate to have a vast numbers of immigrants who either are already Christian or who are open to Christianity. But because they generally enter illegally, there is no control over does and doesn’t get in — allowing criminals and such in on the same terms are good, hard-working Hispanic who in fact share many of our key American values.

    You’d think the first step toward a solution would be a policy that allows Hispanic immigration legally and with a vetting process that keeps criminals out. That takes a lot of pressure off the border guards, as the border is then only needed by people who can’t pass the vetting process. But the political class insists on negotiating a pathway to citizenship for illegals already here — which leads the American people to distrust their politicians (for good reason). Trump’s wall does no good unless accompanied by a policy that allows immigration on rational terms.

    So a rational worker permit system, which could be expanded to include those already here. If they could have entered legally under the new system, they gain legal alien status.

    Legal aliens have a pathway to citizenship as has always been true. They have to take classes to learn the American story etc. and they become citizens through the traditional route. Most aren’t here to become citizens, and so citizenship shouldn’t be the driver. Rather, the driver is whether an employer can demonstrate a need and that the employer will provide workers comp, health insurance, and the other benefits American workers expect. If the worker will contribute to the overall good by having a decent job, paying taxes, etc., he’s welcome.

    Some thought needs to be given to migrant farm workers and similar seasonal jobs. But the Affordable Care Act creates a mechanism to insure these people. The challenge is to require the farms to pay the full price of the insurance for the months someone is employed, so that their medical care is paid by the benefited industry (and their consumers) rather than the taxpayers in general. I’m no fan of corporate welfare, and bringing in workers to bid wages down in competition with American workers seems like bad policy. Requiring employer-paid health benefits protects the local hospitals and other health care providers and makes the employer carry the true cost of the employee. I’d also ban the use of independent contractor status to avoid FICA, unemployment, workers comp, and other costs. That is, regardless of legal structure, you can’t allow a worker (immigrant or otherwise) on site unless he can show that he’s receiving the minimal fringe benefits. Immigrants should have the full range of social safety net services as Americans expect or else they’ll be hired in preference to equally qualified Americans, creating a permanently unemployed underclass — not a good thing for any country. That’s part of protecting our values as Americans — we believe workers should be insured and covered by Social Security benefits.

  9. JohnF says:

    And yet, every law has some basis of morality. For example, laws against excess speed are based on the perceived danger to the value of human life.The question is “whose” morality will be legislated? If MY morality says “A” and yours says “B” what is to be done? “Aah, Watson, that is the question.”

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