Why the bizarre Christian teaching to be strangers and fearful actually makes a lot of sense

14 Jun

Photo by Grant Whitty on Unsplash

“Live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.”  I love that phrase.  It even rhymes.  You know where it is from?  It is from the biblical book of 1st Peter, chapter 1 verse 17.  I’ve been posting all week about being strangers.  You can read the previous posts (here, here and here) to see why this guy Peter was telling Christians that they were strangers in the first century Roman Empire.  Now he says that that should live as strangers in reverent fear.  What is reverent fear?  In the original language that Peter wrote, Greek, this is just one word: “Fear”.  In fact Peter uses the standard word for “fear” which you would use if you were scared or afraid.  So why does the New International Version, which is the English version of the Bible we use at Faith Church, use two words to translate one word?  “Reverent fear”.  They could have just used the word “fear”.  It is because in this context, the translators who were writing the New International Version felt that this use of fear was not the scared or terror kind of fear, but the fear of respect and awe.  Reverence for God.

The most literal translation of this phrase is “conduct yourselves in fear during your sojourn on earth.”  There you can see how the NIV is trying to help English readers understand what Peter was saying when he said, “live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.”  I like “sojourn” a bit better than “live your lives.”  A sojourn is commonly understood as a temporary stay.  It is not permanent.  Peter wants us to remember that we are temporarily here on earth.  This earth is not our true home.

Peter explains this further in verses 18-20.  Why should they live not as citizens of an earthly nation, but as citizens of heaven? Because of the costly price paid to save them (Jesus’ gave his blood, his life for us!).  This is an oft-repeated New Testament teaching.  Paul once said in 1 Corinthians, “You are not your own.  You were bought with a price.”  Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection were an incalculable price paid to rescue you.  Therefore, we have a wonderful, deep reason to live our lives as strangers here in reverent fear.  We have an allegiance to a new master, to his new country: the Kingdom of God.

And so, not only on Ash Wednesday when many churches write the cross in ash on people’s foreheads, but at all times, we live our lives under the sign of the cross.

Peter describes this allegiance to Jesus further by saying,”We were redeemed.”  Redeemed is a slavery word.  Slavery was a huge part of their society.  Those ancient Christians would have understood what it meany to be bought and sold, to be redeemed.  You paid money to buy slaves.  A slave in the Greco-Roman era could even do this for themselves.  So slavery was different then from what we know of slavery in our American past.  Peter says it was not with money that we were set free from the empty way of life.  We couldn’t pay for it ourselves. It had to be and only could be through the blood of Christ.  The crucifixion of Jesus is pictured here.  What a huge price was paid for our redemption.

Notice that Peter says even more about this.  We were redeemed FROM the empty way of life.  The empty way is the way of following selfish or sinful desires.  Another word for the old kind of life is “futile.” One author says, it is a way of life that is “useless on the basis of being futile and lacking in content.”[1]  That’s a pretty strong statement.

But in our culture, we can see this as true, can’t we?  How many people pursue an empty way of life?  Think about the many problems in our society.  Broken families.  Drug addiction.  Sexual predation. Racism.  Gender inequality.  Greed. Celebrity worship.  Screen time. Video game, sports, and entertainment addiction. Obesity.  I could go on and on.  These kinds of things were going on 2000 years ago in the Roman Empire when Peter was writing this letter.  He nails it all in one phrase: An empty way of life.

Praise the Lord, though, Peter is saying, we have been redeemed from that way of life.  We have been set free!  Those that life their lives as strangers here in reverent fear have been set free from the empty way of life, and follow a new way, the way of Jesus, the way of the Kingdom of God.  Peter, earlier in the letter described this new way of living by using the word “holiness”.  That’s another way of saying, “Allow Jesus to be the new master of your life, to follow his way.”  It doesn’t mean that every follower of Jesus will become instantly perfect.  Instead this reverent fear is a life of respect for God that desires to know him ever more deeply and seek to make his ways our ways.  In other words, we learn from Jesus how to live because his Spirit has given us new birth, redemption, freedom, to pursue a new full life.

Want to learn how to get started? Comment below!  And check back in tomorrow as we’ll see Peter describe another way to live our lives as strangers here in reverent fear.

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 624. Print.

One Response to “Why the bizarre Christian teaching to be strangers and fearful actually makes a lot of sense”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Here’s how Christians should be strangers and aliens | Let's Talk About Sunday - June 15, 2018

    […] of an earthly country, I am a citizen of God’s Kingdom.” Second, we need to leave behind the empty way of life and live according the principles of the country to which we are actually citizens, God’s […]

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