Fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign.-Mirriam-Webster Dictionary
We are intrigued by, curious about, and scared of things and people that are strange or foreign to us. Unfortunately, awareness of potential danger has made so much of our world reclusive and isolated.
I was in an elevator yesterday and said “Hi, how are you today?” to the person as they walked on the elevator. You would think I had just tried to sign them up for a pyramid scheme! (perhaps that was their fear?) He squaked out “hey”, and avoided eye contact for the next 5 floors of travel, and hastened his exit off the steel box.
The underlying fear of the unknown can affect our emotions and actions. It is not wrong to be aware of potential danger, but should we let our hearts and minds be run by fear?
I would strongly argue, according to Scripture, this must not be the case.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.” (2 Tim. 1:7) The problem is when sound judgment, or self-control, or discipline, morphs into unhealthy fear. The only healthy fear presented in Scripture is our fear of God. (Matt 10:28)
If you fear man, you are walking into a trap. (Prov. 29:25) Why do you think “Do not fear!” is one of the most repeated commands in all of Scripture? Because we are naturally fearful people.
We live in a sinful world, have destructive imaginations, and have witnessed horrible atrocities; thus, we often give in to fear because we know our fears are not unfounded. Our past can heighten our fears, but an understanding of our future heightens our courage and our faith.
Living in fear will create the following symptoms:
Disobeying the Great Commission.
Neglect of our neighbors.
What an awful way to live! Joy is stolen away by our fears. The prescription or antidote to this viral disease is love. Our fear of God is the other side of the same coin as our love for God.
“There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears is not complete in love.”1 John 4:18
Notice, the definition of xenophobia, (not Xena-phobia: Fear of the warrior-princess), also includes hatred of strangers and foreigners. This cannot be a characteristic of a Christian. If we hate any people-group or nationality, we are actively working against the Gospel. We cannot say we love God and hate those created in his image. John writes this very strongly in his first letter:
If anyone says, “I love God,” and yet hates his brother or sister, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother or sister whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.1 John 4:20
This language from John is very strong and should be stinging to all of us if we understand God, and ourselves, biblically.
Any one of us might be able to think of one, or several, people or groups that it would be easy to hate. We tend to classify them as our “enemies”. We may even be tempted to pray Psalm 58:6 at them, “O God, shatter their teeth in their mouths!” The problem is, Jesus made it clear that we are supposed to even love our enemies, not only to love them, but to pray for them!
Even a heart as wicked as a terrorist’s can be transformed by the power of the gospel; remember the apostle Paul?
None of this is easy, but with the Lord, it is possible.
Here are some practical steps to take, to move out of our fear of people and increase our faith in the Lord:
1. Go on an international mission trip! Missions helps break hearts of misconceptions and fear of what is different. If you struggle with a fear in this area, pray for the Lord to give you his perfect love and then take a step of faith and go! And if you are physically unable to go, truly unable, support someone else to go in your stead; the command to make disciples of all nations still applies today.
2. Look for local opportunities.
If you struggle with fear of your neighbor, bake some cookies and go next door and start a conversation with them. If you have a prejudice against a people-group, find a way to serve them. Give toward efforts to revitalize and reach other people-groups; not from a position of superiority, but from a heart of compassion and humility.
3. Pray purposefully for strangers and foreigners.
Start a prayer journal, use a world map, go to IMB.org/pray to find lists of countries and church-planters doing gospel work around the world and pray for them. God loves and celebrates diversity and so should we!
Remember that when you arrive in heaven, it won’t be an American church service. If you want a picture of what heavenly worship will be, look at how the apostle John describes it:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”Revelation 7:9-10
Every nation, tribe, people, and tongue will worship the Lord together in heaven. Jesus came to give his life for outsiders like you and me.
A love for Jesus Christ and his gospel truly transforms sinful, self-centered, xenophobic hearts into hearts that reach out, take risks, build relationships, and live out of love instead of fear.
EDIT: One last note: I have been guilty of avoiding other people out of inconvenience. This is really rooted in pride. We think our time, mission, comfort, etc. is more valuable than another person. I’ve rarely met a stranger, but I’ve often been one. Please be willing to step outside of your bubble for the sake of others, even if it’s just a “Hey, how are you today?” Who knows how the Lord may use that small act of courage.