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The Church - A Community of Resident Aliens

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The Church: A Community of Resident Aliens
1 Peter 2:4-12

Open your Bibles to 1 Peter … chapter 2. …

In 1 Peter 2 … Peter does something which might seem a little unusual. … He compares Jesus to a living stone … and he talks about Christians as stones which are being built together into a great temple. … So Jesus is the living stone … and God’s kingdom is being built stone by stone. {POINT OUT PEOPLE} … As God puts us all together.

Even though this might sound a little strange … these images are frequent in scripture. … God is called our rock. … Jesus is the rock of ages. … In Daniel God’s kingdom is called a “rock cut out without hands.”

So God is a rock. … God’s kingdom is a rock. … These images are common in the OT … and Peter picks them up in our text.

1 Peter 2:4-12 says … {PP} (1 Peter 2:4-12) … “As you come to him … the living Stone—rejected by men … but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also … like living stones … are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood … offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. {PP} (1 Peter 2:4-12) 6 For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion … a chosen and precious cornerstone … and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

7 Now to you who believe … this stone is precious. … [PAUSE]

{PP} (1 Peter 2:4-12) But to those who do not believe … “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone” … 8 and, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for. {PP} (1 Peter 2:4-12)

9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. {PP} (1 Peter 2:4-12)

11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world … to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” {PP} (Blank)

Last week we looked at a few verses in this same chapter when we talked about the priesthood of all believers.

This morning I’d like for us to look at this text again. This time we’ll focus on how we relate to those outside of the church. … How do we live … (as Jesus talks about) … “in” the world … without being “of” the world? … The answer is that the church is a community of resident aliens.

But before we get there … I’d like to first explore this image of the church as living stones being built together.

Then we’ll talk about how we are to live in relation to the world. … The church is supposed to live in a certain tension. … “In” the world … but not “of” the world. … Most Christians are uncomfortable with this tension and so they seek to resolve it. But we’re not supposed to resolve it. … We’re supposed to live in the tension. … That’s where we are heading today.

But first … let’s talk about the church.

Verse 5 says … “you also … like living stones … are being built into a spiritual house.”

It’s easy to build with bricks. … Every brick is identical. You just slap them together. … That’s not how God builds.

God is a craftsman. … An artist.

We know this from the way He has designed human beings. Each human being is unique … “fearfully and wonderfully made.” … That’s how He builds the church too. … He doesn’t slap a bunch of bricks together. … He carefully fits just the right stones together. … You are not here by accident. … You’re here for a reason.

And God builds His church. … And this is a constant job. … Notice it says you “are being built.” … It’s a work in progress.

Every stone in a wall is dependant on all the others. … Right? … What would happen if you pulled out one of the stones in the middle? … The whole thing would come crashing down.

Sean Haase builds retaining walls. … (“Sean … you know about having to rebuild an entire wall if one stone is removed … don’t you?”)

If the Apostle Peter is right … and he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. … (So … he’s right) … then every single one of you is a vitally important part of this “spiritual house” God is building.

Every stone is important.

If you’re a stone … then you’re built in and around lots of other stones. … And they are dependant on you. … If you’re pulled out … they will crash. … And you’re dependant on them too.

The imagery is one of deep interdependence. … This is so foreign to us. We live in an age where a lot of Christians just “go to church.” … They sit under the teaching. … Maybe serve in an occasional ministry. … But they’re not being built into each others lives.

Are you letting God build you into the lives of others? … Are you in a small group where this is happening? … Where you’re dependant on one other? … Where you share in each others struggles? … Where you’re growing together? … Where … if you stop coming … the thing will collapse?

Peter calls the dwelling that’s created when all the stones are built together … a spiritual house. … A temple. … That’s the dwelling in which God resides.

I hope you’re not expecting God to be active in your life apart from living deeply connected to other believers … (apart from community). … You’ll never really know God as an individual. … You can’t. … I don’t care how good your quiet times are. … You have to know Him in community with other believers.

C. S. Lewis illustrates this in a wonderful little book called The Four Loves. It was one of the first Christian books I ever read when I came to Christ about twenty-five years ago. … In his chapter on friendship he talks about a group of friends that he had.

It was a very close group of friends … and one of the friends … Charles … died. … And
C. S. Lewis writes … “In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. … By myself I’m not large enough to call any person completely into activity. I want other lights … than my own … to show off the facets.

Now that Charles is gone … I will never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Charles joke. Far from having more of Ronald … far from having him to myself now that Charles is away … I have less of Ronald.”

Think about what he’s saying. This is profound.

{SHOW} (C. S. Lewis is saying … “It’s me, Ronald and Charles”).

Now that Charles is gone … I don’t have more of Ronald. … In fact … I’ve now lost that part of Ronald that only Charles can bring out.

“In this … (he says) … friendship exhibits a glorious nearness by resemblance to heaven itself … where the very multitude of the blessed … which no man can number … increase the fruition which each has of God. … For every soul in heaven … seeing Him in her own way … communicates that unique vision to all the rest.” … [PAUSE]

And that … is why … the seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying ‘holy, holy, holy’ … to one another. … [PAUSE]

What Lewis is teaching us … is that it takes a group to really know an individual. … No individual can fully know another individual the way a group can. … Only the group can bring out every facet of the person.

If that’s true of human beings … what do you think the chances are of you really knowing God apart from a community? … [PAUSE]

You can’t.

By yourself you can only know a piece of God. Without others … you’ll miss a lot. … And … the piece of God that you see … others won’t. … They need you too.

81% of Americans now say you can live a flourishing Christian life without even going to church. … 81%. … [PAUSE]

But those 81% are sorely mistaken. … Not only must you go to church … you need to get connected with others. That’s what God’s Word say. When surveys disagree with the Holy Spirit … I’ll go with the Holy Spirit every time. … [PAUSE]

I urge you … if you’re not in a small group … please do whatever is necessary to free up your schedule so you can get into a small group. Make it a priority. … You can only live the Christian life in community.

That’s why Peter uses the image of a spiritual house being built by stones.

And this brings us to our second point … and really our main topic for this morning. ... (Actually … these points are both main topics. … It’s just that we’ve been talking a lot about the church as a community … and now I want to talk about how we live … (as a community believers) … within the larger community of the world.)

If the church is supposed to be this deepcloseloving community … how do we relate to those who are aren’t in the community?

We know we’re supposed to be “in” the world … but not “of” the world. … But what exactly does that mean?

Sociologists who study religious groups say that most religious groups can be classified as either “conservative religious groups” … or “liberal religious groups.”

“Conservative religious groups” seek to separate themselves from the world. They see the society as “them.” … In order to avoid being “of” the world … they often are not even “in” the world.

“Liberal religious groups” see society as “us.” … The religious group is not trying to separate from the culture at all. … In order to make sure they’re “in” the world … they often end up being “of” the world too.

Both of these approaches are flawed. … Being “in” the world … but not “of” the world is tricky business. … But that’s our calling.

Look at verses 11 and 12. {PP} (1 Peter 2:11-12) … “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds … and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

I want to focus in on that first line. … “I urge you … as aliens … and strangers in the world.” {PP} (Blank)

Peter calls us aliens and strangers in the world. … As a Christian … you’re not supposed to “fit” in this world.

Some of you “fit” in the world too much. … [PAUSE] … And you can’t be saved because you’re more concerned with “fitting” in the world … than “fitting” in God’s kingdom. … Some of you high school students need to decide whether you love the world and being popular at school … or whether you love Jesus Christ. … [PAUSE]

If you love Jesus Christ … you won’t “fit” in this world.

That phrase … “aliens and strangers” … meant foreigners. … Missionaries like Jim and Connie realize this every day. … In Turkey … they are foreigners. … They have strange American accents. … They’ll always be outsiders in their culture. … Never fully at home.

Well … that’s how we all should feel in the world. … We’re not quite at home. [PAUSE]

In our text … Peter is talking to Greeks … in Greek cities. … And Romans … in Roman cities. … People who are the same race … and speak the same language … as everyone around them. … And yet he says … you’re “aliens and strangers” in the world.

Why? … Why are they called aliens and strangers in the world if they share the same race and language?

Why did an early pagan writer … call Christians another species (as in genus/species)? … He said that Christians were another species of human beings.

He said this because Christians just didn’t fit. They were so different from the rest of the world.

They lived entirely different lives. … So even though they spoke the same language … and were the same race … they were aliens.

A scholar of early Christian history lists nine things about the early Christians that separated them from the rest of society. Think of this list in terms of our society today.

First … Christians refused to go to the gladiatorial events … because they saw that it was immoral for two human beings to fight to the death … for sport. … So they were considered anti-social.

Second … Christians refused to serve in the military because they refused to support Caesar’s wars of conquest.

Third … they were against abortion and infanticide. … In their culture … it was considered perfectly legitimate to allow a newborn to die if you didn’t want the baby. … Almost always … this was because the baby was a girl.

So babies were just left out to die of exposure. … Not only would the Christians refuse to practice abortion and infanticide … but they were incredibly well coordinated at saving these babies and raising them as their own children. … To do this required the Christian woman to nurse several babies.

Fourth … the Christians allowed women to have roles of leadership that were unheard of in their culture. … Jesus Christ was the greatest liberator of women who has ever lived! … [PAUSE] … (Greatest liberator of men too.) … But women were empowered. … And this is clear by simply reading the gospels.

Fifth … Christians were against sex outside of marriage. … In their culture … this was very unusual. … Their culture was even more sexually degraded than our own. So Christians really stood out for their commitment to sex being reserved exclusively for marriage.

Sixth … they were against same sex practice. … Again … this was a time and place when same sex practices were extremely common.

Seventh … they were absolutely … and radically committed to the poor. … They gave to the poor … and cared for the poor … in ways that the Greeks and Romans just couldn’t understand.

Eighth … they met together with no distinction whatsoever of class or race. … Rich and poor. … All different races. … It simple didn’t matter. … They met together … and shared life together in ways that were thought scandalous in their culture.

Finally … they believed that salvation was found only in Jesus Christ. … Again … their culture was radically different on this point. … Everyone had his or her own religion … and religious view point. … There were so many gods in the Greek and Roman cultures. … And so many religious points of view were tolerated. … But the Christians had the audacity to believe that salvation could only be found in Jesus Christ.

The combination of all of these beliefs was incredibly unique. … It made the Christians aliens and strangers. … Not like the Greeks. … Not like the Romans. … Not like the Jews. … Different.

Think of the strange combination of beliefs that they held. … Think of what a group who held these views would look like today?

A group that would … reject the blood thirsty entertainment of the day … empower women … have different races comfortably living life and serving together … and a group of people radically serving the needs of the poor. … What kind of a group is that? … It sounds liberal.

But … suppose that same group also … forbid and fought against abortion … forbid sex outside of marriage … saw same-sex practice as sinful … and insisted that Jesus was the only way to salvation. … What kind of a group does this sound like? … It sounds conservative … doesn’t it?

Guess what? … We’re still aliens! … [PAUSE] … We still don’t fit. … We don’t fit in our culture. ... We don’t fit in the materialistic worldview. … We don’t fit in the post-modern relativistic worldview. … We don’t fit in the legalistic worldview. … We don’t fit.

The church … (when it acts like the church) … has always been aliens in their culture. … When the church is being the church … there is no culture in which we will be at home. … Our home is another place. … We’re aliens.

But … (and this is key) … we’re not just aliens. … We’re resident aliens.

That phrase “aliens and strangers” in verse 11 means more than just “foreigners.” … This phrase had a rich history.

It comes from Genesis 23:4 where Abraham said to the Hittites … “I am an alien and a stranger among you.”

One Bible commentator said … “these two Greek words … (for alien and stranger) … had a very technical meaning. It meant “resident aliens” … not tourists. … Not visitors. … Not people who had come for a couple of years and then they were going to go back home.

These were people who had come permanently. … These are people who … although they were foreigners … they were permanent residents. … They were committed to the new country.”

We’re to be “in” the world … but not “of” the world.

We’re not to assimilate into the culture of this world. … But we’re also not to attack the people of this world. Verse 12 says … {PP} (1 Peter 2:12) “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” {PP} (Blank)

This is exactly what Jesus says isn’t it? … “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.’

Christians will always have points of agreement with their culture … but there will always be places of disagreement too.

Two examples … sex and forgiveness.

The Bible talks very clearly about sex and how it is reserved for a man and a woman in marriage. … The Bible talks very clearly about forgiveness. You are to never stop forgiving. 70 times 7 times. Right?

I suppose that even the traditional Muslim and eastern cultures are going to like what the Bible says about sex. … But they are going to hate what the Bible says about forgiveness. … They believe in the “eye for eye” … and “tooth for tooth” justice.

On the other hand … our relativistic culture loves the forgiveness stuff. … But they hate what the Bible says about sex and gender issues. … “How regressive.”

Every culture will relate to some things we believe … but will reject other things. How should we respond?

The Bible says we should respond by living as resident aliens. … Distinct from the world. … But impacting the world. … We should not withdraw saying … “Our culture is too far gone … so I’m going to separate myself out.

We lose our ability to be salt and light if we remove ourselves from the culture. … If we’re not “in” the world … we cannot impact the world. … But we also lose our ability to impact the world if we just assimilate into the culture. … We must never become “of” the world … or we lose our saltiness. (Light under a bowl).

So we’re “in” the world. … And we love people. … And we serve people.

Yet we’re not “of” the world. So we won’t fit. And we will suffer. … The entire book for
1 Peter prepares us for this.

Expect it. … Whether you’re living in the Middle East … or in the middle of south county, St. Louis. Don’t say … (like I hear on some Christian radio programs) … ‘us poor Christians. … We’re really persecuted in America. … They wouldn’t treat any other group like this. … But they do Christians!

Former President of MBI … Joseph Stowell writes … “Do we as Christians really just want to be another group that is mad about its loss of power and influence and its place in society being undervalued? Do we really want to be just another political minority, another protest in the streets; or is there something more dramatically unique and powerful that has gotten lost in the struggle?

I think so! (He says)

It should not go unnoticed that both Jesus Christ and the early church, through the first three centuries of its existence, found themselves thriving in an environment that was politically and culturally far more pagan than American is today.”

Don’t be surprised when people in our society want to marginalize the Christian worldview.

Expect it. … We’re aliens and strangers in the world. … Don’t turn on the culture and point your finger at “those people.” … Don’t separate yourselves. … Then you lose all opportunity to make impact.

But don’t assimilate with the world either.

Live in the tension.

Live as aliens … but live as un-alienated aliens.

Live as residents … but not as if this is our home.

Live as “resident aliens.” … People who don’t quite fit here … (because our home is somewhere else). … But people who are committed to making an impact here for Christ … and His kingdom.

Let’s pray.

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