ALIENS & STRANGERS IN THE WORLD
Peter begins his letter to scattered Christians by addressing them as “strangers in the world” (1 Peter 1:1). He comes back to this description in 1 Peter 2:11, calling believers “aliens and strangers in the world.”
Early Christians understood those terms quite personally because of two great struggles they faced: one from without and one from within. From without, they were treated as unwanted people in the Roman Empire and subjected to severe persecution, even martyrdom, because they refused to burn a pinch of incense at the emperor’s altar and declare that Caesar was Lord. From within, they faced the temptation to become so enamored with their spiritual life (their heavenly citizenship) that they would gladly disassociate themselves from more mundane and less pleasant earthly responsibilities.
Peter addresses these struggles for Christians then and for Christians today by drawing our attention back to that which ought to be of highest importance for us. What ought to be of highest importance for a Christian is faithfulness to Christ that is lived out in practical ways in how we live as people in this world.
It is in how we live in this world that we get opportunities to practice trusting God, and to grow in closer relationship with Christ, and to bring honor to God through our lives, and to be worthwhile witnesses to Christ to those around us.
In 1 Peter 2:17, Peter provides very specific instructions to us of how we are to conduct ourselves in this world: “Show proper respect to everyone; love your fellow believers; fear God; honor the emperor.”
The original recipients of Peter’s letter were the people who lived in the Roman Empire. There were 60,000,000 slaves in the Roman Empire. Every one of those slaves was considered by law not to be a person but a thing, with no rights. But in dying for the whole world, Christ affirmed the worth of each individual, so Peter instructs us to “show proper respect to everyone.” In our modern world where people’s identities are stolen, where children are bullied, where people are profiled, where people are dehumanized in a variety of ways, what an expression of love we could show and what a witness we could make if we showed proper respect to everyone.
Helen Keller observed, “Science may have found a cure for most evils, but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all—the apathy of human beings.” What a witness we could make to the world around us if we would genuinely “love your fellow believers.”
To “fear God” is to honor God over anything else in our lives. What a difference that would make in our lives if we would do just that: Honor God above everything else in our lives!
Disrespect toward our emperor, king, or president is contrary to Biblical instruction, is dishonoring of God, is a lousy witness of our trust in God, and poisons our soul with bitterness and arrogance when God is calling for our souls to be filled with trust in Him in all things. If Peter could instruct the early Christians to honor Nero, can we think to justify ourselves in dishonoring our president even if we disagree with him politically?