Tag Archives: strangers

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.

What my sons’ mugshots taught me about citizenship

13 Jun

How about those two cute little mugshots?  They are my two oldest sons in September 2000, when they were 3 and 2 years old.  Our family of four had just moved to Kingston, Jamaica, and we had to apply for immigration status as legal aliens.  That meant we had to get photos taken and use those photos for immigration cards which we carried with us.  Even the boys at 3 and 2 years old had to have legal alien status.

Something curious happened, though, when the photographer took our photos.  What you see above is round 2.  In the first round of photos, he took the photos, developed them, and surprise, they showed nothing by eyeballs and hair.  Two eyeballs on a plain background with no body!  What?  The photographer had not adjusted the camera settings to account for our light skin tone!  That was one of the first times we felt a tinge of what strangers and aliens feel.  After a good laugh and a few setting changes to the camera, the photographer retook the photos and all was well.

We often felt like strangers in Kingston, and we were official aliens in Jamaica.

All week long we’ve been talking about strangers and aliens.  (You can review the previous posts here and here.)  That might sound odd, depending on how you are thinking about the word “aliens.”  Creatures from outer space?  No.  Peter is using the word “aliens” like we do when we use the phrase, “illegal aliens.”  In our society, an alien is a person from one country that is trying to set up a new life in another country, just like we did in Jamaica.

So why would Peter use that concept to describe Christians?  In our study of 1st Peter 1:17-21 and 2:11-12, Peter tells the Christians in the Roman Empire around 65 AD that they are aliens and strangers in the world.

It’s like the words of the old spiritual: “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.”  All Christians, Peter says, are living in a foreign land.  We have another true home country.  We are from another place.

But what other country is he talking about? First of all, many of the Christians Peter was writing to were actual strangers and aliens.  Some had fled for their lives, leaving their home country, and became refugees in another country, in order to escape persecution.  They could easily have felt like strangers in their new country.  Second, as Christians, followers of Jesus were a unique, tiny minority in the Roman Empire.  Christianity was relatively new, only about 30 years old, and very few people understood it or accepted it.  So Christians were perceived as strange in regard to their beliefs.  In both areas the physical and the spiritual realms, those Christians were strangers and aliens.

Likewise, though we Christians today might not be strangers and aliens in our earthly country of citizenship, we are strangers and aliens in a very real spiritual sense.  We are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.

We believe that, we claim it, but if we are honest it can be very hard for many of us to grasp how our citizenship in God’s Kingdom should impact our lives.

Why?  Because we get so entranced by what we see, touch, and feel.  It is super easy to get focused on what affects us.  It is all too easy to think, “I am an American.”  We were born here, we live here, we are comfortable here.  It is all we know.  Alien?  Stranger?  It sure doesn’t feel like it.  It is hard to see ourselves as citizens of the Kingdom of God, because it is invisible.  It is much easier to identify as an American.  So what Peter has to say is difficult and radical: you’re actually an alien, from another place.   That American birth certificate, passport, voting card, social security number, ID card, and driver’s license?  None of it depicts your true identity, or your true home.

Remember that concept of new birth in Christ, being born again, that Peter talked about in verse 3?  When you choose to believe and follow Jesus, you are born again into his country.

I didn’t choose to be a citizen of the USA.  I was born here, in Virginia.  My birth certificate proves I am a citizen of the USA.  When I travel abroad, I carry my US passport, and when I return to an airport in the USA, at the immigration checkpoint the officer glances at my passport and says, “Welcome home!”

What I need to dwell on more is that I did choose to be a citizen on the Kingdom of Heaven, through new birth.  Christians, disciples of Jesus, have been born into a new place, and thus we are citizens of the Kingdom of God, and that citizenship is the true one.

How do citizens of an earthly country see themselves also as citizens of the Kingdom of God?  Can we hold dual citizenship?

What Peter is saying is that we Christians do have a dual citizenship.  But our citizenship in an earthly nation is temporary.  That whole nation is temporary.

Tom Hanks’ movie, The Terminal, illustrates this well.  Hanks plays a man who is from a small country.  The man is traveling outside his country, and on the way home, while in a foreign airport, he is shocked to learn about a revolution in his country.  In a very short time, that country is dissolved and a new one forms.  The airline will not let him back without proper identification.  What country did he belong to?

Some of us might have a change of citizenship like that while we are on this earth.  And for all of us, no matter if they drape an American flag on our casket, when we die, our citizenship in the USA is over.

Citizenship in heaven, however, is forever.

So Peter is saying that we Christians must choose to live now during our earthly lives, by the principles of the Kingdom of God, which is forever. How do we do that?  Check in tomorrow and we’ll begin to look at what Peter says Christians should do to live as strangers and aliens in the world.