“Aliens and Strangers”           1 Peter 2:11-12                                       June 5, 2011

 

SCRIPTURE INTRO:  We’re studying 1 Peter this summer.

The theme of this letter is Christian suffering. 

   How as a Christian, you can live in such a way that the troubles, pains,

   and sorrows that inevitably come, don’t crush you, but make you better.

 

Peter introduces that right away in his letter.  The theme verses are 6 and 7:

   “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

 

There it is:  Suffering, grief, trials—refined by fire—praise, glory and honor.

 

Up to this point in the letter, Peter helps Christians deal with suffering

   by reminding us of our relation to God. 

Reminds us that we are God’s chosen people,

   that we have a place in the church of God,

   that we have a calling as a kingdom of priests.

 

Now, his attention shifts, and he helps Christians deal with suffering

   by reminding us of our relation to the world.

How should we relate to the society around us, to the governments of the world,

   and in particular, how should we respond to the world’s rejection.

 

Remember, Peter was writing to Christians who were suffering persecution.

   He tells them:  First, know who you are in Christ, your relationship with God.

   Second, know who you are in the world, your stance toward the world.

 

He says that you have to see yourself not as belonging here—

   but as an alien and stranger.


 

INTRO:  One of my best seminary friends is a man named Paul Billy Arnold.

Several of you know him.  He’s preached here before.

   Even though his name doesn’t sound Indian, he is a native of Bangalore, India.

 

From the first time I met him, one of the things that endeared him to me

   was how much he talked about going back to India.

It wasn’t that he was homesick.  He thoroughly enjoyed his time in America.

   In fact, even though he had never traveled outside India in his life,

   he fit in here immediately.  He got the jokes, he got the politics.

There were some Southern seminarians who introduced him to SEC football

   the first fall he was there and he became a huge fan. 

   He could have stayed in the US if he had wanted to. 

   He could have easily gotten a pastoral position in any number of churches. 

 

But, from the very beginning he made it clear he wasn’t staying. 

   He talked about India.  And how he loved his country.  And his plans to go back. 

   His heart and his future was in his homeland. 

And everything he did—his studies, his degrees, his new friendships, connections—

   were done with a view toward India, and the work God had for him there.

 

In this passage Peter calls Christians “aliens and strangers.”

   He’s already called them this twice before in the letter. 

These two Greek works, translated aliens and strangers, are more properly defined:

   “One who lives in a place without citizenship.”

   “One who comes from a foreign country into a city or land to reside there for a

   time along the natives.”  Reason sometimes translated “pilgrims.”

 

So the idea is not permanent aliens. 

   People who come to another country and never leave but never become citizens.

And it’s not the sort of foreigner who knows he’s returning so he keeps to himself.

   Only speaks his own language, lives in an enclave of other foreigners.

Instead it’s a foreigner who lives among the natives.  He gets it.

   He speaks their language.  He’s part of their community.

But he knows and he’s planning to return to his homeland.

   That’s what made me think of Paul Billy when I read this. 

What does it mean that Christians are aliens and strangers,

   sojourners and pilgrims in world?  

 

Peter wasn’t the first to speak this way about believers.

Remember Jacob’s confession before Pharaoh:  “The days of my pilgrimage . . .”

   He was saying, this world is not my home.  He got that from Abraham.

David called himself an alien and stranger even though he owned property,

   and had a family and a position in the world.  He was a king, for goodness sake.

   But in Psalm 39 he speaks of himself this way by way of expressing the

   brevity of life and that there is nothing permanent to hold on to in this life.

So this is an old theme in the Bible to describe the life of faith.

 

Peter takes this status of believers and develops it.

   Since we are pilgrims passing through.  Since we have another home country

   that we are looking forward to and getting ready for, that ought to change the

   way we live.  It ought to change us morally and ethically.

As believers we must take our ethics, our way of life, not from this world,

   but from our true homeland. 

 

That’s Peter’s point:  To live as a stranger and alien means that your life

   is going to be different morally from the lives of people who are shaped

   by the culture and values of this world. 

Our lives are to be lived in consistency with that other world,

   that heavenly country, which is our true home and to which we are heading. 

And there is such a difference between these two worlds,

   that they produce very different lives among those who belong to them.

 

Peter could have gotten to the same lesson in other ways.  He could have said

   that the Christian life is a response to the grace of God.  Live as a saved person.

He could have said again, as earlier, Be holy as God is holy. 

   Instead he used this.  Think about your true homeland.  Where you are returning. 

If that sense of your true home is clear and powerful, it will produce a living

   expectation that will make you want to live the life that is already lived there. 

 

Two points.  Remember you are an alien and stranger . . .

   1.  In the fight against your sinful desires.

   2.  In the witness of your good deeds.

MP#1  Remember you are an alien and stranger in the fight against your sinful desires.

“Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.”

 

Through the ages, Christians have made several mistakes

   about what it means to be an alien and stranger in the world.

One mistake that crops up from time to time is that it means you should make

   some kind of visible difference between yourself and the world. 

   For example, having a particular hair do, or wearing unusual clothing. 

 

There’s a man who sometimes passes through Cullman wearing a robe and a

   beard like Jesus.  Maybe you’ve seen him. 

I’ve never talked to him, so I don’t know exactly why he dresses like he does. 

   But I’d be willing to bet he would say something like this: 

   My way of dressing is a witness to the world that I’m a follower of Christ.

   I’m different, I’m a stranger.

And he certainly does look strange.  It gets your attention.

   You can’t help admiring his conviction and his guts in doing that.

But there’s nothing like that in the New Testament.

   Peter and all the other apostles dressed like the people of their day.

 

Peter says that the first way Christians are set apart as aliens and strangers

   is that there is a fight, a war going on inside of them. 

   It’s a fight against sinful desires that wage war against your soul.

 

Every single one of you who is a Christian here this morning

   knows what Peter is talking about.  If you don’t, then you aren’t a Christian.

   It’s as simple as that.  To be a Christian is to be a person who knows the fight.

Spiritual warfare.  The bitter struggle that goes on in every Christian’s life

   between your sanctified heart, your new self, your restored conscience—

   and the desire to sin that remains in your soul.

 

You want to be holy man or woman, don’t you?  Of course you do.

   A person full of nothing but love for God and your fellow man. 

   You want to be a credit to Christ. You want to adorn the Gospel with your life.

You know what is good.  You know what God wants.

   But far too often the things you want to do, you don’t do.

   And the things you do not want to do, those are the things you do.

Peter doesn’t say much at all in this verse.  He just says you should fight.

   There are these desires that rise up within you—

   they attack your faith, your purity, your holiness, your faithfulness.

Peter just says:  Fight them. 

   This is very often the way it is in the Bible.  It just tells us to fight.

   It doesn’t explain the command.

   It doesn’t give specific instructions or tactics.

   It just orders us into the field. 

 

That very simplicity teaches us that what God wants us to do is usually obvious—

   God wants us to say No to this and Yes to that.  And we know it.

   We are simply to do what is pleasing to God.

And we are also taught by this simple instruction Peter gives that what is really

   involved here, the real issue, is not methods for resisting temptation but

   a resolve to do right and be obedient and loyal to Jesus Christ.

 

It’s not that the Bible doesn’t give us strategy and tactics to resist sinful desires.

   It does.  Two implied this verse.  But even so, the fight comes down to this:

   Will I or will I not do what I fully know to be the will of God or

   will I do what my sinful desires incline me to do?

What are some strategies and tactics?  Peter hints at two.

 

1.  First, the battle starts at the level of your desires.  With what you dream about.  The Bible often says that that whenever possible, avoid the occasions of temptation.

   Remember what the father tells his son in Proverbs about the wayward wife—

   “Don’t go near the door of her house.”  Her words will trap you.

“Flee youthful lusts,” says James.  There is that great example of Joseph

   doing that very thing when Potiphar’s wife propositioned him.

   He didn’t stand around and discuss it with her—he ran out of the house.

 

Charles Spurgeon once said that the answer to many temptation

   is a good pair of legs and the king’s highway. 

But as many of you know, as good as this advice is, it only pushes the issue back

   a step.  Because a deeper problem is that we want to be tempted.

   We want to get as near to sin as we can, telling ourselves that we’ll be ok.

That’s why Peter’s words here are so profound. 

   Even before fleeing temptation, it has to start by resisting the very desire.

   If you are entertaining desires that damage soul, strategies won’t help much.

   Dreams, desires, fantasies—they can weaken your soul.  Fight them.

3.  Here’s Peter’s other contribution.  Remember you are an alien and stranger.

This world is not your home.  You are soon leaving this place and going to your

   true home, that better country, that happy land where pain and sorrow is no more.

   Where the lion lays down with lamb, and sower overtakes the reaper.

Peter says use the reality of your brief time here to fight the good fight.

   Just three years of seminary and then I’m going back home.

 

I had a sober reminder of this a few days ago.  I was talking to a friend and he

   told me that a man I knew had died just last week.  I was very surprised,

   because this man was my age, and once a colleague of mine, a PCA minister.

I asked what happened and he said that two months ago he was diagnosed

   with pancreatic cancer and it took him very swiftly.

 

It shook me, and when my friend left, I went back to my study and began to think

   about this man who had died so young.  He was once a very gifted minister.

   He was intelligent, artistic, he was a tremendous teacher, he was very serious

   and had a sharp wit, but people were drawn to him.

For a number of years he was a campus minister and college kids loved him.

   Year after year he had the largest college ministry in our denomination.

 

Then he left that and planted a church.  And the Lord blessed that. 

   It flourished, and he became a model and mentor to other church planters.

Then he became infatuated with a married woman in his congregation.

   And in spite of the pleadings of his many old friends in the ministry,

   he divorced his wife, and left the ministry, and after a year or two of rigmarole,

   the woman divorced her husband.  They got married.  Four months later he was

   diagnosed with cancer.  Two months later he passed away.

I was thinking about him and this passage was just ringing in my mind.

 

I wondered, what if God had spoken to him in a vision before all this?

My son, you’re an alien and stranger, and in just three short years pilgrimage over. 

   You’re going to climb the last hill and cross the last river, and there before you

   will be the new Jerusalem.  And the holy angels will be shout at your arrival.

   And the great cloud of witnesses will look over the walls and cheer.

And Jesus Christ himself will come out of the gate and look you in the face—

   and welcome you with a kiss, and you’ll enter the halls of feasting.

Son, just three years and you’re going home. 

 

If he had that vision, what would he have done? 

I believe he would have continued to fight.

   I believe he would have continued to fight his sinful desires.

   I believe he would have continued to fight to love his wife.

   I believe he would have continued to fight to be faithful to his calling.

Even if he was bloodied and exhausted he would have said—

   Just three short years and I’m home. 

 

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I have no doubt the brother is with the Lord.

   He finished badly, but our salvation rests on God’s grace, Christ’s perfection.

I don’t understand how heaven can be a place of peace and joy, and at the same

   time we have to look Jesus in the eye and give an account for things done in body.

   That’s another sermon.

 

Here’s Peter’s point—Remember, this world is not your home.

   You’re on your way to the heavenly country.  Remember that every day.

   Remember that when you get tired and sinful desires offer rest and ease.

   Remember that when you are suffering—and fight the good fight.

 


 

MP#2  Remember you are an alien and stranger in the witness of your good deeds.

 

As I said a moment ago, through the ages, Christians have made several mistakes

   about what it means to be an alien and stranger in the world.

Some Christians have said it means withdrawal from world.

   Most famous example monasticism.  Let’s pull away into a separate community.

   Think of the cloistered nuns down at the shrine in Hanceville. 

   They never leave.  Spend whole time praying and doing devotions.

Once again, that’s admirable.  I wish I prayed a tenth as much as they do.

 

But Peter says in the very next verse that he fully expects us, Christian aliens

   and strangers, to live our lives in full view of the unbelieving world.

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they may accuse you of doing wrong,

   they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

That means you’re going to be rubbing shoulders with and working with pagans.

 

They are going to see your life, see your good deeds.

   Your acts and words of kindness, your generosity, your patience.

   They are going to see the way you treat your spouse, see way treat enemies.

   By those good deeds, you show them what a citizen of heaven looks like.

And even if they don’t like you for being a Christian, those good deeds

   will be a witness to them that will one day compel them to glorify God. 

 

When I was called to Christ Covenant and really started preaching regularly for the

   first time, I ran into a dilemma early on.  My dilemma was this:

I believed that preaching should only motivate people by grace, not guilt, not fear,

   not shame, not obligation or duty, not rewards. 

It should always and only be about what Christ has done for us and our loving

   response to his grace.  Love and delight responding to grace. 

At the time, I read John Piper’s book Desiring God and some other books of his,

   and he emphasized this same approach. 

Only right obedience, love in response to grace.  So that has to be the only motive. 

 

The problem for me was, that the more I read the Bible, and the more I tried to

   put what I was reading into sermons, the more I saw other motivations.

I saw the Bible motivating Christians by fear, not unholy terror, but godly fear.

   Fear of giving an account of your life, talents God has given you.

   Fear of the consequences of sin here.

Paul says that some members in the Corinthians church got sick and some died

   because of sins committed against each other.

When Jesus healed the paralyzed man at Bethesda, remember he found him a few

   days later and Jesus’ spoke to him very curtly:  You are well again,

   Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you. 

Motivating by shame.  Do this so you will not be ashamed before angels.

 

Motivating by rewards.  Paul himself often speaking of his future rewards.

   Jesus saying that if you use money right, welcomed into eternal dwelling.

Motivating by a sense of duty.  Fight.  Be a good soldier. 

   Children obey your parents in the Lord—for this is right. 

 

That perplexed me until someone older and wiser explained it to me.

He said that in the Bible and in the Christian life are a hierarchy of motivations. 

   At the very top of the pyramid, the very pinnacle, the great motive

   that our preaching should most emphasize and our lives most aim for,

   is love and gratitude in response to the grace of God.

Jesus has done it all for me, I’m God’s child forever, I’m forgiven, I’m loved—

   therefore, I’m going to love God.  I’m going to love other people.

 

But there are other motivations in the Bible, even for Christians,

   and these have their place.  And more to the point for preachers,

   when they are in the text, you need to preach them.

And some motivations work better for some Christians than others.

   And if one works for you, helps you lead a godly life, use it.

 

Well, this is yet another motivation.

If you live a good life, it’s going to have an effect on the hearts of other people.

   Even people who don’t believe, even people who don’t like you because

   you are a Christian, will be compelled by your witness to give glory to God

   on the day he visits us.

 

There are two opinions by the commentators about what this means.

Might be referring to the Day of Judgment.  On that day, even the worst enemies

   of Christians will be forced to confess that the lives of Christians they knew

   were right and true.  In doing this, God will be glorified.

But “the day he visits us” might instead be referring, not to the Second Coming,

   but to the day of the Lord drawing near for salvation.

 

In other words, as you do good, living as a stranger and alien among pagans,

   your deeds are going to bear witness.  First, they are going to see the loveliness

   of your life.  That is going to make them have a more favorable opinion of the

   Christian faith.  And finally, by God grace, they become believers themselves. 

Of course, there is no reason why Peter can’t mean both.

   This statement is general enough to permit either interpretation. 

 

So here is a biblical motive.  Think about the effect your life has on unbelievers.

   Do you live in a way that makes them sit up and take notice?

   Whether in your marriage and family, your neighborhood, work, school, play.

There is to be a marked difference that non-Christians can notice.

   Who is this strange person?  It’s like she’s from another country or something.

   And they will wonder, where does this come from.

 

I’ve told you this story before, but please indulge me.

My parents have a home in a little gated community in Delray Beach, Florida.

   All the units are duplexes, and my parents neighbors are two women, lesbians.

They live chaotic lives—lots of drama, cursing, and drug use.

   Once sitting on back patio with mother, she sniffed, I smell marijuana. 

When Adrienne, Eliza, and Will went down there for spring break in April,

   mother called me and said:  I want you to know that I told the girls that my

   grandchildren are coming, no marijuana, no loud rock music, no fighting.

What did they say?  They said:  Yes, Bertha. 

 

In spite of conflicts, in spite of the fact that they know my father is a minister.

   And a pastor at a church that has been picketed by militant homosexuals who

   have accused it of preaching hate.  In spite of that, my parents have lived such

   good lives among the pagans that God has been glorified

 

A years ago they heard that the mother of one of these women had died.

   So mother went over and said:  I’m sorry about loss.  Bringing supper tonight.

   They looked at her and said, Why?  Because I’m your neighbor.

   That’s what neighbors do when there is a death and people are grieving.

So that evening, mother brought them a meal—here is pork roast, rolls, salad, tea.

   These women were visibly moved and one began to weep and said—

   No one has ever done anything like this for us.  Bertha, can I hug you?

 

CS Lewis said:  “What we practice, not (save at rare intervals) what we preach,

  is usually our great contribution to the conversion of others.”

Do you think about this?  How you are a stranger and alien in your heavenly deeds?

   Think about it.  How best can you have that effect on your neighbor, coworker.

   How can you cause him to notice the love, kindness, integrity in your life.

Thinking in those terms gets you moving in ministry to others

   when often nothing else will. 

There are many good reasons to live a faithful, obedient, sacrificial Christian life,

   and this is one, a very important one.  In times of suffering, lifts your sights.

 

CONC: 

 

I am a stranger here, within a foreign land;

My home is far away, upon a golden strand.

Ambassador to be of realms beyond the sea—

I’m here on business for my king.

 

Is that your stance toward the world? 

   If so, it will carry you through hard times,

   give you strength for the fight, and make you want to live before all men

   like a citizen of your true home.