Foreigners in a world that is not our own

First’s are always beautiful, the first time you drove alone with the freedom to choose your destination, the first time you feel in love and every detail seemed multiplied –  no beauty compared, the first time you travelled and lost yourself in the buzz of a place that was not your home.  Firsts are what shape everything, our memory of them be it positive or negative is the one we rebound too in every similar moment.

I beg you, as those whom I love, to live in this world as strangers and “temporary residents”, to keep clear of the desires of your lower natures, for they are always at war with your souls. Your conduct among the surrounding peoples in your different countries should always be good and right, so that although they may in the usual way slander you as evil-doers yet when disasters come, they may glorify God when they see how well you conduct yourselves.  1st Peter 11-13 JB Philips

I can clearly recall my first trip abroad, the excitement of travelling without family; for me, it was a massive undertaking for me because up until the age of 19 I hated being far from home, I liked what I knew. At eighteen I would never have dreamed of travelling to Africa, but, things happened and God was slowly working within me.  Before I knew it I was standing in Dublin airport to being a journey to the west coast of Africa.  The experience is still fresh in my head, the cramped Boeing 747 that took seven hours to travel from Paris to Dakar, Senegal. The moment when the seatbelt sign beeped and the light went off; people rising up, grabbing bags and getting off. then reality hit me: I was a two-week sojourner. From the moment the plane doors opened I stepped off into the wall of heat and humidity, I became a foreigner in an unknown culture.  Everything seemed amplified: the smells; the heat; the noise; my senses were being overcome with new information as I tried to come to terms with my new reality and I was only on the first step. Every second that time progressed I felt more and more foreign to the situation and culture. I knew nothing; not the language, the laws or Customs. It was a context where I had to understand how to live as a temporary residence, and being there on a mission, I had to understand even in my temporary state how to do good so that people would see God in a society that would often clash with Kingdom values.

 

 

(11) Live wisely

 

Peter has been addressing the church and reminding them of their identity and freedom in Christ.  How they are different to the world around them, they are a Royal priesthood and a Holy Nation; they are Gods special possession.  Once they had no identity, no purpose; but, now because of their faith and Christ’s atoning work on the Cross they have a new identity and purpose. They are citizens of heaven:  it is light of this citizenship and eternal state that we must remember the temporary nature of our current state and we must discern what it means to be a Christian in a fallen world.  We must ask the question what does it look like to live in a world that is not our own? and what do we do when the kingdom of God comes into direct conflict with the human Institutions.  This is a command to remember the Final Coming and to live for after it; to live for the moment when all things will be made new.

 

For most who live in this century it is an easy thing to imagine; being a sojourner. No matter the century or nation: political uncertainty; instability; wars; rumours of wars; abuse of power is the reality for the majority of the world’s population since we began recording human history.  Existences that would not breed confidence in possessions, or trust in government. Yet over and over we put our trust in governments more that we put our trust in Christ.  The heart of this passage is to remind us we serve an eternal king; a King who will never leave us or fail us;  A King who will never let us down.

 

In light of the people’s new Identity (as a Royal priesthood and Holy nation), Peter, directs them to abstain from the desires of the Flesh, desires that wage war against you.  Notice the depth of this short request, Peter is not simply saying don’t perform or partake in sinful acts he declares that in light of your new identity wage wars on the very desires that would lead you to such actions. He jumps back to 2:1-3 where we put away the things of the world and like new babies long for the pure spiritual things that will increase our faith.  Fight for your freedom and ask the question ‘what desires conflict with Gods Kingdom and effect how I live in this temporary world?

“We make time for what we truly value. We build habits and routines around the things that really matter to us. This is an important principle to understand as we seek to build our lives around the gospel. Do you want a cross centred life? A cross-centred life is made up of cross-centred days.” CJ Mahaney

 

It is through the power of the Holy Spirit your desires will start to centre in light of your new identity. Remember, waging war with our sinful natures, doesn’t mean that we have to wage war with the world around us, Peter directs to the opposite; he demands not that we wage war with the culture around us or withdraw from it but that as far possible we honour it.  We honour it to silence those who would speak badly of the church. Furthermore, in everyday situations, we must ask; “What does it mean for me to live as a temporary resident of this world and how do I honour the priorities of the kingdom?” Sometimes it means being comfortable with having nothing to say; the church does not need to have an opinion on everything (Brexit, elections, new roads).  Consider what might be a normal situation for a lot of people:

 

imagine you work in a local shop and your  co-worker has mocked your faith for years.  From that moment he found out you attended church and midweek bible studies the ‘banter’ has never stopped. He has used you to get one up over you and make himself look big in fronts of his mates; “It is only banter” they cry and day after day the banter carries on. I believe it’s a situation like this, the advice given to us from this passage means we do not return with our own ‘banter’ or ‘digs’, we fight our desire to get a one-up.  It is not just that we remain silent and grunt under our breath, but we go the extra mile and find ways to honour them; to outdo them with love (if it is an innocent that you would classify as bullying then we should deal with it through proper procedures) and never rise to the occasion.  That the person will never have the opportunity to slander God because of our actions, we do good onto them so when the time comes they will give God the praise and Glory that is due to Him.

 

 

 

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult, and left untried.” – GK Chesterton

 

 

(13-17) Living in this world as exiles

Inordinate desires commonly produce irregular endeavors. If our wishes be not kept in submission to God’s providence, our pursuits will scarcely be kept under the restraints of his precepts. – Matthew Henry

 

In modern thinking, submission is often seen as the antitype of freedom. To submit to the authorities that govern you for the sake of God no matter the state of the authority governing; whether you live in a ‘Christian’ country, live in the depths of a liberal democracy that seems to be moving further and further away from biblical morals or live under extreme oppression from a corrupt government – you are to live out the gospel in honourable submission.  Peter, writing here concerning civil obedience for the sake of the gospel is similar to that which Paul writes to the Roman church when there were facing extreme persecution (Romans 13:1-7).

Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience. Romans 13:1-7 (NLT)

Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honour to those who are in authority.

It would have been a daily existence that you would have wanted to react to; take arms and fight for freedom – I know I would. So as we consider these verses it and ask ourselves:  What does it mean to live in this world as temporary residents? and what about when our faith conflicts with the priorities of the world? When we ask these question of ourselves your mind soon starts to think ‘when is it okay for a Christian to stand against authorities?’  This must come with the reality of being part of a new people, being under a new authority.  There are many examples of civil disobedience, but the cornerstone of each is a request to go against Yahweh – the supreme authority

 

  • The midwives in Exodus chapter 1. They disobeyed Pharaoh’s command to slaughter the Hebrew children because they feared the Lord. It went to the point of lying to the face of Pharaoh.

 

  • Daniel, you see several examples of directly disobeying the command of those in authority over him, because of his faith: think of him choosing his own diet, think of Daniel in the Lions’ Den and Shadrach Meshach and Abednego in the Furnace for refusing to worship the statue of the king. Yet someone who honoured authority and submitted to it fully, and worked for the benefit of the nation.

 

  • Peter in Acts, when it is demanded of him to stop preaching he retorts “God’s authority or man’s” – he continues preaching and ends up getting arrested. By allowing himself to be placed under arrest he is submitting to human Authority but still being faithful to the Gospel/

 

There will be times when a Gospel stand will require us to be in direct conflict with their ruling authorises.  When such moments come we must follow the biblical examples we have: We must discern with wisdom to follow in the footsteps of Christ, who respected the human authorities and honoured them because he knew who had the ultimate authority.  He was the perfect example of what Gospel disobedience and honourable submission to authority looked like and as always is the example we must follow.

 

In verse 13, Peter directs us to submit to every human institution/authority.  How strange an instruction in light of the daily realities the church he was writing to faced. In an empire where there was a pantheon of religions yet Christianity garnered a reputation that would see it as a dangerous, extreme cult that defied every social boundary. A faith that had no temple to meet, where people did not seem to take note of normal social standing, where ethnicity was disregarded. Christianity was seen as dangerous because it  ignored every religious convention of the Roman Empire. So Peter is not writing to small group of people of similar social standing who are facing some issues; he is not writing to a church that has seen a new government elected that is opposed to certain Christian moral traditions,  He is not writing to a church that has been involved in a political campaign in America to elect a Donald Trump and suddenly Hilary is standing as president-Elect, and the church is crying out that God has abandoned them because why would he ever want two consecutive Democratic politics when they are so ‘unchristian’. He is writing to a church in 1st Century Rome, who has faced the scorn of their peers, abuse from government and the tyranny of an emperor Nero a man whom the BBC describes as ‘ineffectual, neglectful and brutal leader.’[1] An emperor who would blame them for burning city of Rome: It was in this context that Peter was asking believers for the Sake of God to submit and honour those in authority over them.  It was in this context that Peter was asking people to figure out what it means to live as temporary residents; decision by decision discern what to do when Kingdom collides with Culture.

 

Why bother with honourable submission?

Ability to resist temptation is directly proportionate to your submission to God – unknown  

We live in a fallen world, everything in it has been tainted by sin.  Human Authorities/institutions are inventions, created in the minds of man in order to work out the law and maintain society.  As with everything in this world:  God who is seated on his throne right now, exercises his authority over it. The rest of verse 13 and 14 outlines the authorities, whether it is the emperor/king as the pinnacle of authority and power or the servants he appoints to judge good and evil; that is to govern, we honourable submit.  No matter who It is we submit to them because no human authority is outside God’s authority. In submitting fully to human authority as long as it does not go against the Gospel we are trusting God. Also, it is good, generally government and structure are a good thing.  Even Nero, at his worst, was better than the alternative: anarchy. So to honourably submit to God’s appointed authority mean allowing society to function, which forms part of doing good, but, we never lose sight of our two questions: “What does it mean to live as Sojourners and in a world that’s not our own?” and “What does it look like when the Kingdom of God conflicts with this Earthly Kingdom?

 

Do Good for the Gospel

Verse 15 gives our heart behind submission.  We submit because it is good, we submit because it pleases God and so the world around us sees something. We submit because we are citizens of a different kingdom, our concerns are different and our perspectives are different because we are not entitled to anything. We fill our lives with goodness, we live as good exiles who seek the benefit of our communities because it will as JB Philips would put it ‘silence the ill-informed criticisms of the foolish.’ We seek to live out gospel lives so that our neighbours who know nothing of God but what we show them will have nothing bad to say off him. We live good lives so people speak well of God and in doing so will want to know more of him.  Living in a world that is not our own means like the Jews taken into exile in Babylon we ‘seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile’[2] We do good in our context because we are where God wants us to be. This world might not be our home, but that does not allow us to neglect it. Not only do we honourably submit and do good, so that people speak well of God, we submit and do good because society functions best not just by taking part, but working to improve it.  When we consider how to live as temporary residents, it means living for the benefit of our community because whatever the state of Culture there will always be areas of overlap where the Church and those not in it can agree.  Think about human trafficking:

 

Imagine you discovered that in your community there’s a massive problem with human trafficking. You become so enraged that you go to your Minister to outline that something must be done.  Eventually, he agrees and slowly your start to plan to do something, at the same time you have approached your local authorities and they are blind to the reality of their community; they do not want to believe that such an evil could happen so close to home. They mock you and your stupid Christian ways – seeing things that are not there. Yet, as time passes; hope rises.  Arrests are made and the police praise your work, house prices start to rise, investment comes back into the community and people seem to be back out on the street. This is an example of doing good and exercising our citizenship.  When we as Christians live out the Gospel in such practical ways it will silence the ill-informed and may encourage people to speak well of God and his Church.

 

Freedom that Restricts

 

God promises spectacular blessings to those of you who remain single in Christ, and He gives you and extraordinary calling for your life. To be single in Christ is, therefore, not a falling short of God’s best, but a path of Christ-exalting, covenant-keeping obedience that many are called to walk. – John Piper

 The command to live as free people, in today’s world would be the picture of the very thing we are told to wage war against in verse 11.  Modern freedom is being allowed to fulfil your natural desires free from judgement. Freedom, when spoken out evokes passion.  It is an idea that will drive people to action.  Google a company that has no Christian motive donated  11.5 Million Dollars[3] to IJM[4] a Christian charity, because it brought freedom to people who had never known it. However, today the world wants to free people from one thing and enslave them to another; their own desires.  When the world speaks of true freedom – it means the right to choose: “The right to do what I want without consequence.” When Christians live as free, they live in light of their new Identity in Jesus Christ, as a Holy nation with new perspectives and priorities.  Our Freedom is found in submission, there are two types of people in the world: those who follow God and submit to his will (slaves to God) and those who submit to their own evil desires – which one has more freedom.  Verse 16 is the conflict of kingdom reality and earthly reality, that we might be free to do as we please but the Grace of God compels us to be slaves to Gods will and trust him. It is the reality of being able to freely perform any action, but as Gospel people asking “What does it mean to live in a world that is not my own?” and “What realities of this world that I am free to partake in conflict with the kingdom of God?”

If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will then we may take that it is worth paying. – CS Lewis

The very idea of freedom presupposes some objective moral law which overarches rulers and ruled alike. Unless we return to the crude and nursery-like belief in objective values, we perish. – CS Lewis

The lost enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded. – CS Lewis

 

Conclusion

 

We as Christians have a new Identity, an Identity that is found in Jesus.  It is in light of our identity that our desires can be transformed, not through acts of our own valour, but, through God working in us and helping us to embrace our new identity as Permeant Citizens of heaven and temporary citizens of this world.  It is God working in us that allows us to refocus the desires of our hearts onto Kingdom things, and it is when this process is occurring we being to ask ourselves at every opportunity and almost by default “What does it look like to live in this world that is not my home as Children of God?” and navigate the path where Kingdom Values collide with Earthly values. It’s a process we will fail in, because of our nature, but we stand firm in the truth that our failures do not define our identity; Jesus does – it is  discipleship.

 

Secondly, as we live out this freedom as temporary residents of this world, not giving into the desires of our flesh; yet seeking to be the best citizens we can be in light of the Gospel. Seeking to do good, seeking to honour those in authority and whom might speak ill of us.  When we live out true freedom, doing good rather than using it to hide evil – we will change the image of the church in the depths of a culture that sees no need for it and almost mistrusts it. When we live out our freedom, it shows people the folly of theirs.

When we live out our freedom, it shows people the folly of theirs. 

Thirdly, remember back to 1st century Rome and consider their situation and the authority they are being asked to honour and submit to.  In light of this Peter is able to write confidently; ‘Live Free.’  In spite of all Nero would do, he would never take their freedom because their freedom was not dependent on government, an elected leader, a form of democracy, a political Party or an ideology.  We are temporary in this world because this world is temporary – we as Christian live between the frustration of the Kingdom now, and not quite yet.  Our freedom is found secured in eternity, because of what Christ did on the cross.  Consider this:

You were born in Syria, in times of prosperity and peace, you grew up in a neighbourhood full of Muslim’s and people of different tribes living together in a fragile harmony. You had a good childhood. Then, came the rebellion and the false hope with it, fast forward a few years and now you sit locked in a house with only the cover of darkness granting you some protection.  Your neighbours who once offered the hand of friendship now use the same hands to carry weapons hunting you.  They have found you, and in the cold darkness of night you can hear the rain beating what remains of the roof of the old house, you look around the room and the small community of believers who are with you are terrified, their faces white from fear, battered from the journey and all hope seems to be gone. Yet, you pray and your trust because you know somehow God is with you. 

 

Peter says to us, that in this situation those believers who are trapped in the confines of that four-walled prison have more freedom than those who hunt them ever will because their identity and security is found in Jesus Christ not the temporary things of this world.  So our freedom in Christ allows us to honourably submit to human Institutions and authority positively and willingly up to the point where it goes against the ultimate authority: God. I leave you with two thoughts:

 

  1. What are we submitting to that we should not be?
  2. How do you find it hardest to submit to the authorities? How does this passage both challenges and motivate you to do so?

 

So let us Fear God, Love the family of Believer and willingly Submit to authority.

 

 

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/nero.shtml

[2] Jeremiah 29:7

[3] https://www.ijm.org/content/associated-press-details-google-donation-ijm-and-other-anti-trafficking-organizations

[4] International Justice Mission

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