Tag Archives: apostles

Aliens and Strangers in the World

Studies in First Peter

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. (1 Peter 1:1-2 ESV)

Christians are a peculiar people. Not odd or weird but unusual and unconventional. Christians live in a world, adopting most of the cultural norms of the societies in which they live while knowing they are heaven bound and that the world is not their final home. We live in the world but are not of the world. We look like everyone else but do not act according to the immoral, ungodly dictates of the world in which we live.

Peter gives instruction to people who find themselves at odds with the world, sometimes violently at odds, because of their focus on eternity. The world and all that it contains will cease to exist. People will die and leave all that they have gathered to others, who will in turn die, passing on their possessions to yet others. There is no hope in this world except in the present. Christians hope in God who is eternal and who has promised, through Jesus Christ to bring them into His presence for eternity.

Peter has written a letter that is both easy to understand on the surface with sections that are difficult to comprehend. Peter, an eyewitness to Jesus’ words and works, a disciple of Christ and the leader of the twelve apostles, shows his experience in living for Christ and knowledge of deep spiritual matters, in this short epistle.

First Peter is divided into three main sections.  Each section shows one member of the Triune Godhead working in the Christian and in the Church, the Body of Christ.  The theme of First Peter is that Christians are aliens and strangers in the world, and drives the points Peter wants to make in each of the three sections. Throughout each section, Peter give his readers the tools they need to understand the work of God to live as Christians in a sinful and hateful world. (What are these tools? They are the spiritual disciplines found in the Sermon on the Mount.) His main concern is for Christians to view themselves in an eternal light.  For this reason he identifies them as sojourners in the world.  But he uses two different words to describe their position: “aliens” and “strangers.”

As I was growing up as an Air Force brat who lived in Europe for six years, family members of those in the military service were called “good will ambassadors.” I was a US citizen living in a foreign country. I had no idea what an “ambassador” was. I just knew that, according to my dad, I better be on my best behavior. I represented the United States, the Military Base where we were stationed, and my father and family. If I got in trouble then the United States was in trouble, the Base was in trouble and my father was in trouble. My dad was a First Sergeant and he made sure I understood that if he got in trouble I was in big trouble. Being a “good will ambassador” meant nothing to me. I completely understood what it meant to be in trouble with my dad.

People in a country not their own fall into two primary categories. Either they are just visiting for a short time or they have pulled up stakes in their home country and are living permanently in their host country.

Peter uses two Greek words to describe the Christian in the world. The English words used to translate the Greek words are unfortunate. I have come to understand what these two Greek words mean from being forced to live in a country not my own. In the English Standard Version both words are translated exiles. Neither word means exile.

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles (1 Peter 1:1 ESV).

Conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile (1 Peter 1:17 ESV).

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners (exiles) and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul (1 Peter 2:11 ESV).

The first word is better translated, alienor immigrant. The second word is better translated, sojourner or stranger.

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are aliensor immigrants (1 Peter 1:1 ESV).

Conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your sojourn (1 Peter 1:17 ESV).

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangersto abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul (1 Peter 2:11 ESV).

Understanding these two words is critical to understanding the First Epistle of Peter.

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Unafraid

Meditations on the Psalms

I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.(Psalm 3:6 ESV)

Jesus faced both great acclaim and heated opposition throughout His earthly ministry. Those who hated Him included the Deceiver, who did everything possible to frustrate, obstruct and stop His ministry, and the religious leaders of the nation. These religious leaders hated Jesus because He challenged their authority and position of leadership over the people. In addition, the Roman’s hated anyone, not particularly Jesus, who might incite the people under their dominion to rebel against Rome and the emperor.

Those who opposed Jesus were not just politically or religiously motivated. There were many who simply did not care about Him. Or, they cared about His words and ideas for a moment but when He confronted their covetous attitude toward what they considered their stuff, they would turn their backs upon Him and walk away. They cared more for their place in the world than their place in eternity.

God tells us to not be afraidof those who oppose Him because Jesus was not afraid of them. Afraid means to dread, fear, stand in awe, as well as to have reverence and to honor. To setthemselves against means to station, to take a stand, to lay waste, fix their mind in opposition to whatever Jesus represents or commands be done. Those who are hostile toward the authority of the King of kings, either actively fight against Him or passively ignore Him. In either case, their actions, or inactions, destroy the foundation of the relationship they have with God.

We have already seen those who mutiny against God will come to a physical and spiritual end. Their defiant words and works are judged and they are sentenced, then separated from God, the Giver of life. His judgment is a completed action from eternity, yet still works out in space-time history. For God it is done. For those living in the world it will be done but is not yet completed. Jesus was not afraid to stand before the religious leaders, Herod and Pilate, because He foreknew the outcome. He willingly endured the torture of crucifixion because He knew the final and absolute results brought the greatest glory to God.

During Jesus’ ministry, He chose and trained twelve disciples. These disciples, whom He also called apostles, were given responsibility to exercise authority in His name. “And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction” (Matthew 10:1 ESV; see also Mark 3:13-15, Luke 6:12-16). As Jesus trained them He was forthright in telling them what they would face and endure. Their and our temptations and trials are myriad and used to test. God does not test anyone to discover what they know. He tests so we can discover what we do not know, especially about Him. Throughout our training we are His and there is no reason to fear.

So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:26-31 ESV; see Luke 12:4-7)

Jesus’ disciples, throughout history, whomever they are and whenever they live, stand before those in worldly authority and give testimony about Him. Instead of removing us from the world He leaves us to declare, through words and actions, the evidence of His grace in the gospel. He also leaves us in the world to train and fit us for eternity. Being a Christian in the world brings trails and persecutions. The thinking of our hearts is on full display before the world and before God as we face the same opposition Jesus endured.

Fear is both debilitating and freeing. When we fear we can see that which is in the thinking of our heart. Fearing the world tells us we do not trust God and want that which the world offers more than what God gives. When we fear God, by honoring Him as Creator, placing Him first, then nothing we encounter in this world can potentially or actually remove us from His presence.