Six ways to transform our lives by loving a stranger
Our parents told us, “Don’t take candy from them,” and “Don’t accept rides from them,” and “Don’t even talk to them.” Yet we want someone to talk to us when we are them. Sooner or later we will be them. Strangers, outsiders, aliens, foreigners— people whose complexions, or clothes, or customs, or accents, or occupation, or education level doesn’t fit in the surrounding community.
But when we come to think of it, we all have been strangers at one time or another. Do you remember the experience of being a stranger? How long were you guessing where to go or what to do before someone showed you some hospitality—or just basic kindness?
Perhaps it’s time to let go of our fear of strangers and not pass them by but open our hearts to them. Could it be that the stranger is God’s defibrillator for the personal revival we’ve been praying for?
Here are six reasons God wants us to love the stranger:
1. The daily news gives us reasons for caution toward strangers, while the good news is reason for compassion toward strangers. God urges us to love strangers because He loves strangers. He loves us, after all—and we’re the ones who estranged ourselves from Him! By accepting the challenge to love strangers (and a challenge it is), we emulate God’s character. By rejecting opportunities to love strangers, we incur His rebuke: “He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing” (Deut. 10:18), and He “will be a swift witness . . . against those who turn away an alien” (Mal. 3:5).
2. Loving strangers builds our memory muscles and exercises our empathetic intelligence. “The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Lev. 19:34). “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 23:9). What if when strangers cross our paths, we see them as God’s reminders that we were once the new kid at school? We were once new to a community— maybe surrounded by neighbors we didn’t seem to have much in common with. We were once the new person on the job, trying to remember our way around the building. We were once the new person at a church that allowed us to enter and exit without a “Hello” or a hug or a handshake or a bulletin or even directions to the bathroom. We were once strangers, and God wants that memory to motivate us to reach out to others.
3. Loving strangers is an expression of true worship. There is no true prayer and fasting or Sabbathkeeping without loving the strangers within our gates (Deut. 5:14, 15; Isa. 58). Our tithes and offerings don’t budge heaven’s scales compared to the weightier matters of justice, mercy, and faith (Matt. 23:23). God is not impressed by religious fanfare without loving strangers. Why? Strangers are part of the “quartet of the vulnerable.”¹ God repeatedly expresses special affinity toward these four people groups in such passages as: “ ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. . . .” But they refused to heed, shrugged their shoulders, and stopped their ears so that they could not hear. . . . Therefore it happened, that just as He proclaimed and they would not hear, so they called out and I would not listen,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 7:9-13).
4. Loving strangers demonstrates our love for Jesus and readiness for kingdom living. “ ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for . . . I was a stranger and you took Me in.’ . . . ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’ ” (Matt. 25:34-40). What if when we see people who seem to have nothing to offer to us, we suddenly sense the gaze of the One who is the source of everything we have? What if instead of seeing ourselves as sharing our riches with some poor nobodies, we see Jesus reaching to uplift us from spiritual poverty?
5. Both the Old and New Testaments remind us that we are strangers in this world, occupying rent-free land that belongs to God, as we await a better world. “The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me” (Lev. 25:23). “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). Do we really trust God as our reliable tour guide through this world? Are we confident that Jesus has handled the legalities of our documentation status in heaven? Does our generosity show that we see ourselves and our belongings as God’s possessions? Do we believe His heavenly hospitality outshines the hospitality He expects us to show?
6. The rewards aren’t just limited to promises of future blessings. As theologian Miroslav Volf argues in Exclusion and Embrace: “It may not be too much to claim that the future of our world will depend on how we deal with identity and difference. The issue is urgent. The ghettos and battlefields throughout the world—in the living rooms, in inner cities, or on the mountain ranges—testify indisputably to its importance.”² In a world currently convulsed by violent exclusion of strangers, we can offer the contrasting values of the world to come. By embracing strangers, we are the living proof that Jesus’ sacrifice has “broken down the middle wall of separation” between strangers of various backgrounds (Eph. 2:14).
Could there be a more powerful defense for faith in Jesus? Additionally, our earthly homes will become attractive to heavenly guests (Heb. 13:2). Peacemaking, societal reconciliation, and angelic visitation are available now as we invite Jesus to jolt the spiritual current of our hearts by loving the stranger.
¹ Nicholas Wolterstorff, Justice: Rights and Wrongs (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2010), p. 76.
² Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2019), p. 9.