Hey Christians, you should be different! You should be strangers and aliens, and it should show. It should be obvious.
A couple days ago I talked about my boys’ mugshots when we were immigrating to Jamaica. We lived in Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, for a year from 2000-2001, and there were so many moments when we felt like strangers and aliens. I’ll pick one moment in honor of the World Cup starting yesterday. The USA men’s soccer team was coming to Kingston in 2001 to play a World Cup qualifying match against the Jamaican team. The guy who served as our money-changer had connections, and invited Michelle and me to join him at the game! I was so excited, but also nervous. This is crime-ridden Kingston we’re talking about. Not to mention that Jamaicans are incredibly passionate about soccer. Would we face any backlash?
I wondered if I should wear my US National Team jersey and wave an American flag, or maybe that would be a bad idea? I decided against the jersey and flag, but Michelle and I wore a bit of red, white and blue. Before we got anywhere close to the stadium, just driving through the city, people everywhere were wearing Jamaican colors, yellow, green and black. Most of them weren’t even going to the game. Then when we arrived at the stadium, it was a sea of Jamaican supporters. In a crowd of about 20,000, we saw 1 or 2 other American supporters. I really felt like a stranger. It was obvious. There was no mistaking who the Americans were.
That’s how Christians should be. Easily visible. But not in the way you think. As Peter shows us in 1st Peter 1:17-21 and 2:11-12 there are some really surprising ways that Christians should make it known that we are different.
As we have been saying all week, Peter teaches that the first thing we should do is say or believe that, “As a Christian, I am not ultimately a citizen 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 country, the Kingdom of Heaven. Peter continues this line of thought in 2:11, “As aliens and strangers in the world, abstain from sinful desires.”
Why? “Live such good lives among the pagans”, Peter adds in 2:12, “that though they accuse you of doing wrong…” Wait! Stop there. Doing wrong sounds contradictory to “abstaining from sinful desires.” What were the Christians doing wrong? What were the people in their culture accusing the Christians of doing?
One historian describes what was going on when Peter wrote this. “In the middle of the first century, Christians were a distinct minority and often were the object of slander and subsequent persecution. For example, because of their refusal to participate in emperor worship, they faced false accusations that often resulted in suffering and death. To suppress the rumor that he himself had put the city to the torch, Nero blamed the Christians for the burning of Rome. He made Christians scapegoats by slandering and persecuting them.”
When the Roman Emperor said “You must worship me as Lord,” the Christians responded with, “Jesus is Lord.” And that didn’t go over very well. Those Christians were citizens of a greater king and a greater kingdom, and that meant they were strangers in Roman Empire. They were different.
Christians live a different way, and sometimes that way forces us to choose between living the way of God’s Kingdom or living by the way of our earthly society. If we choose the way of the Kingdom, we can face social and economic difficulties, stemming from shunning, slander, and lack of opportunity which can really affect checkbooks. Christians should look different! The way of life in the Kingdom of Jesus is different than the way of life on earth. We will stand out.
We watched a movie last night where the main character and his boss worked for the CIA and they were trying to get information from a Saudi banker. So they got him really drunk, left the restaurant and took his keys to go get his car. The Saudi guy is protesting that he is fine, he can drive. Clearly, though, he is in no condition to be driving. Then the CIA boss pulls the main character aside and says, “Let’s put the Saudi in his car, and let him start driving home. Then we’ll call the police and report a drunk driver. The police will catch him, he’ll go to jail, we can step in, and he’ll owe us.” The main character can’t believe it. His boss is about to put the Saudi guy’s life in danger, as well as anyone else on the road, for as long as it takes the police to track him down. It is wrong! So he stands up to his boss.
How about you? Christians live differently. We live based on the principles of our true nation, the way of the Kingdom of Jesus. That could very well mean that we will feel like strangers here. But that is as it should be. Because we are strangers here. We live differently!
Live such good lives among them, Peter says, that they will see your good deeds. This is why Faith Church has been so passionate about being involved in our community. Whether it is serving meals through the Summer Lunch Club or packing shoeboxes with helpful items for children in need around the world, I am so proud of how Faith Church gives and gives! I could list ten other ways we as a church are trying to follow the way of the Kingdom of Jesus.
But I want to conclude by focusing individually. What will it look like for you, Christian, to live as a stranger here in reverent fear?
How are you living in your neighborhood? In your work? In the places in the community where you associate with people who are not followers of Jesus.
In school? On sports teams? Volunteering?
Are the people around you saying of you “Wow, they are living such good lives!”
And by “good lives” Paul is not talking about the American good life of wealth and entertainment, but allowing the Holy Spirit to so transform you from the inside out that his fruit is flowing out of you. The Spirit’s gentleness, kindness, love, patience, etc., should be very evident in our lives.
So pray for the people around you. Love them. Serve them sacrificially.
Talk with your neighbors. Listen to them. Take an interest in them. Even if they don’t reciprocate! Look for the outcast and love them. Make a special effort to include those who are not included, the lonely, the new person, the person from a different ethnicity.
If asked by your friends at school to help them cheat on a test, graciously say “no thank you,” even if it means they might be upset at you or make fun of you.
When part of a group at work or school or in a mom’s group that is shunning someone who is awkward or shy or poor or quiet, don’t go along with the group, but instead strive to include the outcast.
I experienced this recently at my daughter’s elementary school Fun Fair a few weeks ago. My daughter ditched me quickly to hang out with friends, except when she wanted money to buy food. So I hung out with friends from church for a while. Then when they were talking with some other friends, I went to get french fries. On the way to the french fry stand, I spotted a bunch of soccer parents. This would be the equivalent of the adult cool crowd. They’ve all been friends for a number of years as their daughters have been on the team longer than mine. And many live in a neighborhood together. I felt within me those feelings I felt many years ago in high school, wanting to be accepted, to be part of the crowd.
Then I spotted another guy standing all by himself. Another dad. I’ve talked with him numerous times because his daughter and mine were in the same class together a few years ago. He is a different ethnicity than me. Talking with him wouldn’t help me get more in with the in crowd.
As a follower of Jesus, I am stranger here, a citizen of Jesus’ Kingdom. And we do things differently. So I went over and spent the next 20 minutes or so having a great conversation with that dad.
We Christians live different. You might be made fun of. You might take flak. Know that you are living by the way of your true home. You are a stranger here, an alien, and your true home is the Kingdom of Heaven. People will notice. By living such good lives among them, people will notice. You will be laying a foundation of preaching the gospel by doing good, by living good, that you will earn the right to preach the good news of Jesus in words.
 Kistemaker, Simon J., and William Hendriksen. Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude. Vol. 16. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001. Print. New Testament Commentary.