Strangers In The World
I Peter 1:1-12
I talked to Jake Kroeker this week about what it was like to be a missionary in another land. He told me that when he was in church in Mexico he felt fully a part of the congregation and the life there, but when he did business and traveled around the country, there was always the awareness of being a foreigner. He mentioned that the Mexican people recognize the missionary as a foreigner and expect that they will leave on furlough or go home for medical reasons as was the case for Jake. We also realized that as a missionary, when it is time to come home, most missionaries go back to their home country. Although they become a part of the community and try to fit in as much as they can to be effective, they are always in some sense strangers in the foreign country. Is that not a good illustration of our situation as Christians?
This morning, we want to begin a study on the letter of I Peter which will take us through the summer. It is addressed, in verse one, to “God’s elect, strangers in the world…” That address has a lot to do with the whole book. As we study the letter together over the next ten weeks we will see how as God’s elect we are strangers in the world. We will be challenged to live as God’s elect while we live in this world. We will be encouraged that together we are the people of God in this world and we will be comforted with instructions on how to deal with the suffering which will be inevitable since we are strangers in this world. The title I have suggested for the series is “A People Belonging To God.” This comes from what I believe is the key verse of the book, I Peter 2:9, “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.” I trust that you will be encouraged and challenged as we study God’s word together.
The letter is written to Christians who were scattered about in five provinces of what is today Turkey. Christians were not the majority in these provinces, but, were a few churches scattered about as resident aliens. Peter identifies them as people whose kingdom is in heaven, but who lived in these regions of Asia Minor. The word refers to “one who is merely passing through a territory, with no intention of permanent residence.”
This identification is true of us as well. God has chosen us and through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit he has set us apart for obedience to Christ, since we have been sprinkled clean by his blood. And so we live with this double identity - earth dwellers, but heavenly citizens, which often leaves us in a difficult place. We are in truth, strangers in the world. As we read I Peter, we find that there are plenty of challenges to this. There are the challenges of fitting in a little too well and getting a little too comfortable with our life on earth. Have you ever, on vacation or a shopping trip been tempted to blend in so that no one knows you are a Christian? Have you ever hidden the fact in conversation from a stranger? By the things you do, do you identify more with the world or with the things of God? Is it your goal to know the world so you can fit in or so you can influence it for Christ?
On the other hand, there is often also the challenge of persecution and trials which make us want to leave earth for our true home in heaven. If we don’t fit in, we will experience all kinds of trials. Some are killed, some lose their jobs, some are teased, all of us are discouraged at times. How do we deal with these challenges related to being strangers in the world?
As Peter begins the letter, he offers some reasons why it is so valuable to hold on to and in fact rejoice at our heavenly citizenship. He also gives us a strategy for how we can think with hope and joy about our heavenly citizenship while we live as strangers on this earth.
I. Bless God For His Great Mercy!
There is a commercial on TV about a woman rushing through an airport trying desperately to catch a plane for which she is late. She arrives just in time and is about to board the plane when her cell phone rings. The last picture is of her sitting on the gate talking on the phone and the plane is gone. Catching the plane was of great value, but when the phone call came, it was of greater value and she did not mind giving up catching the plane in order to answer the phone.
We may value getting along in the world, having peace, avoiding persecution, having the things of the world and any number of other things that our neighbours who are not resident aliens have. Yet we are willing to give them up for something that is much better. Peter’s message to the believers is that they are to bless God because they have something that is so valuable that it is worth being a resident alien for.
Now before we think about how valuable our life in Christ is, let us just take note that there is also a strategy here. Praising God is the strategy which we have to help us remain true to our status as strangers in the world, even when the pressure becomes great to become one with the world. Praising God will restore our understanding of His great gift to us. Praise lifts us up and reminds us of what is real. So whenever we are discouraged or fearful, let us bless God.
But what is the content of our praise? What is it that we have that makes it worth being strangers in this world?
A. He Gave Us New Birth Into A Living Hope
What we have is that we have been given a “new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
What kinds of hopes fill the hearts of people who are bound to this world? We know because we are often filled with the same hopes. We hope to be comfortable, to have peace, to live a long time, to be healthy, to have lots of friends who never abandon us, to be happy. Earth’s citizens strive for these things and pursue them diligently. Some seem to achieve them to a significant degree. But at some point or other, we all begin to realize that they are dead hopes, or at least hopes that lead to a dead end. No matter how wealthy we are, six feet under ground we are all dirt. The best looking, most popular people are not necessarily any happier than anyone else, in fact, we sometimes hear that they are more miserable. Sin destroys relationships between people. Happiness is removed in a moment when tragedy strikes. The poor suffer physically and the rich suffer from ulcers and stress. If you live a long life, all your friends will die. In these and other ways, citizens of earth live with hopes that are seldom fulfilled.
But, because of God’s great mercy, he has made it possible for us to be born again, not to sin, separation and death, but to a living hope. The whole world is in bondage to sin. Because we have a living hope, we are not. The whole world faces eternal death. Because we have a living hope, we do not. The whole world is separated from God. Because we have a living hope, we are not. The living hope allows us, in the midst of the most hopeless situation, to walk with courage and joy. It allows us to live in the power of an intimate relationship with the creator of the universe.
It is a living hope that is assured because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. We are not placing our confidence in a pipe dream, but in something that has been demonstrated to be real. Jesus rose from the dead! Because He lives, our hope lives! This week, someone who is going through a struggle told us that her hope is expressed by the song, “Because He Lives.” That is real and that is far more valuable than anything we have here on earth.
Why do we so often long to be part of the world. We have something far better than anything this world offers. Because we have something far better, we are encouraged to be faithful to our position as God’s elect who are strangers in the world.
B. He Gave Us An Inheritance
But the hope we possess is not only for this life, a living hope, but also contains a promise for the future which is far better than anything the world can offer. Why do we hold tightly onto our possessions, our comforts and our desires when we have a far greater possession in heaven. Peter encourages them and us to bless God for our inheritance.
There are three words which describe this possession. In Greek, the words all begin with the letter “a” which is a prefix which means not. The inheritance we anticipate will not perish, will not spoil and will not fade away.
Everything on this earth will be destroyed. Whenever I buy a car, I always enjoy the newness of it. But it doesn’t take very long before it has a scratch and then I have to repair it and then it gets a rust spot. No matter how durable something is, it will all deteriorate. In contrast, we have an inheritance which will not do that ever.
It is an inheritance which is pure. It is free from any deformity or impairment. It is hard for us to imagine a world without sin, but we are heirs of such a world. I love what it says in Revelation 21:8, “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur.” They will not be there, nor will anything impure.
It will also never stop. Our insurance policies run out, our vehicles rust, our house rots, our teeth fall out, our friends move away. Nothing on earth is permanent, but our inheritance is forever.
1. It Is Kept For Us
What is more, we find that this inheritance is kept for us. It is in a safe place under the care of the creator. Nothing will remove it. The store will not go bankrupt, it will not be bought out by a multinational corporation, it will not be stolen by Satan. It is kept in heaven for us by the power of God.
2. We Are Kept For It
Furthermore, we read on that we are kept for it. As long as we remain in a faith relationship with God, we are kept for it. I spoke with someone this week who talked about a time when some church leaders were hesitant to give assurance of salvation. They mentioned that an evangelist came and said, “if Jesus came today, I would leave my clothes here and go directly to heaven with the Lord.” Some questioned the validity of such assurance, but when we read the Bible we find right here that such assurance of salvation is ours not because we are righteous in ourselves, but because God has promised that we are kept by His power through faith in Him. The term used here is one that describes a military fort. We are guarded, kept safe under the care and guard of our God in heaven.
This is ours! We have been born again to a living hope. We have an eternal and sure inheritance. Surely this is worth far more than anything this world has to offer. Surely, it is worth living as strangers in this world because of what we have. Peter’s first advice is that whenever we struggle and want to fit in to this world a little more and quit being strangers in this world, we must bless God. Such praise will sustain us in our struggles. Blessing God will restore our hearts and give us courage to be strangers in this world no matter what struggles threaten us.
II. Rejoice In Spite Of Challenges
And struggles there are a-plenty. It is not easy for us to live as strangers in this world. Peter mentions two things in verses 6-9 which identify our struggle, but because of what we have, we can continue to believe and even love Christ in the midst of these struggles.
A. In All Kinds Of Trials
Sometimes I just don’t want to limit myself because I am a Christian. Sometimes I feel sorry for myself when people expect more of me than I think I can handle. Sometimes I don’t want to avoid temptations. Sometimes I don’t want people to think I am strange because I build my whole life around Christ’s church. Sometimes I wonder why good people get sick and die. Sometimes I don’t like it that some have a life of ease and others go hungry. I am so thankful that Peter mentions in verse 6, the struggle of suffering “grief in all kinds of trials.” Although we don’t really suffer too seriously when we think of those who are threatened with death for taking a stand as believers, our trials are ours and they are real and they create a crisis of faith for us. Paul also experienced various trials for he says in II Corinthians, “we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within…”
But, Peter says that because we greatly rejoice in the greater thing we have, we have what it takes not to give up. So as these trials come, we should bless God and so restore the balance of a true perspective.
I am also intrigued by the phrase in verse 6, “for a little while.” Although our trials and the grief we experience may seem so large, in reality it is just for a little while compared to the glory of our eternal inheritance. Whenever we struggle to give up because of our trials, let us remind ourselves that they are just for now, but the better thing we have is forever.
Furthermore, these trials prove that we have a genuine faith. One time Carla went canoeing with the youth group. She got into the front of a canoe with a strong young fellow in the back who told her that he had had canoe lessons and knew how to steer a canoe. After a few hours of paddling into one bank of the river and then another, she inquired about his canoe lessons and found that they had been far from adequate. The actual practice of paddling in a river demonstrated the poverty of his ability. We may say that we have faith in God but it is a question if it is real faith if it is never tested. When it is tested through trials, it is shown to be real and then we rejoice because real faith is faith that will bring honor and glory to Jesus when he comes again.
So we are encouraged that although trials make it difficult to continue to be faithful as God’s elect strangers in this world, it is worth continuing even though the trials are difficult because of the better thing we have and because there is value in trials and because the glory of eternity will far outweigh them.
B. Though We Have Not Seen Him
But there is another thing that makes it hard to continue to live as strangers in the world. Have you ever wished that you could have been with Jesus when he was on earth? Have you ever wished that you could have a clear and audible word from him or a vision of Him which would make everything clear? How often I have sat having my devotions or seeking guidance on an issue and wished that God would make himself known to me. But it has not happened. Peter acknowledges, “you have not seen him…” Peter had seen him when he was on earth, but the people of the churches he was writing to had not and neither have we. He also acknowledges, “you do not see him now…” Although Stephen and Paul saw Him, that vision is very rare. We have not seen him. We live with that reality and sometimes it makes it hard to continue as strangers in this world.
But again, because of what we have, we can continue to believe in Him and not only believe, but also to love him. In spite of not seeing, we “are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” This is so because of the indwelling Spirit and because of what we have, that is we are receiving the salvation of our souls. We live by faith and by faith we can rejoice even though we cannot see him.
Living the Christian life is not only a matter of enduring the hardship of earth until heaven comes. We live a life filled with joy even though it is not easy.
III. Understand The Big Picture
One of the great difficulties of being strangers in this world is that we always look at things from the perspective of this world. We can’t see the way things are because our view is limited to this world. One of the things I hope to do this summer is to visit one of those corn mazes. People who have gone through them tell me that it is quite difficult to find your way out. I know people who have spent the better part of an hour wandering about. If you get really lost, some of them have bridges which allow you to take a view of things from the top and that helps you get a bigger picture and so to find your way out. In verses 10-12, Peter provides such a view from the bridge for us, which encourages us that from the point of view of the big picture, it is worth being strangers in this world.
A. Prophetic Focus
Throughout the Old Testament, prophets spoke the word of God. As they wrote, they did not understand everything they were writing. As they were writing they realized that their message pointed to a time beyond their time. In verse 12, Peter indicates that all the prophetic messages have their focus in the time of the coming of Jesus. All the prophetic words which God gave throughout all the time before the coming of Christ is focused on what we now possess.
That is a powerful realization. The God of the universe has directed his energy and work on one important event which event has brought us what we now have in Christ. We are living in the age of fulfillment of God’s prophetic word. That makes what we have in Christ pretty important, pretty central in all of God’s plans. Such a cosmic perspective helps us see that we are part of something that is central to God’s plans and central to His purpose and work. Therefore, it is worth holding on as strangers in this world.
B. Angelic Curiosity
The last little phrase in this verse is very interesting and gives us another such cosmic perspective. “Even angels long to look into these things.”
Today, there is a great fascination with angels. TV shows and books have picked up on these things. As usual, the world misses the point. It is not we who should be interested in angels, it is angels who are interested in us and in what God has done in us through the salvation which is found in Jesus Christ.
Again, when we understand that angels, God’s personal messengers are interested in what God has done for us in salvation, we see things from a bigger perspective and are encouraged to hold on to the value of being strangers in this world.
I doubt if any person who serves as an ambassador minds being identified with his home country. He lives and works and indeed represents his home country as a stranger in a foreign land. He is proud to do so and happy to be identified with his home country.
We are like ambassadors. Yet because we are so much like the citizens of our host country, we often find it hard. Trials distort our view of what is real, the fact that we have not seen and do not see Jesus makes it difficult for us to remain true to our home country. But we must remember that we are strangers in the world.
As we continue to study I Peter, we will learn more about what it means to live as strangers in the world. As we begin, let us be reminded that what we have is so valuable that it is worth all the challenges and difficulties of being strangers in the world.
Whenever anything causes us to want to give up on being strangers in the world, let us bless God. Let us bless God with the realization that what we have as God’s elect is so valuable that it is easily worth being strangers in the world.