Exiles and strangers

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When Peter opens his first letter with the words, “o those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.”[1] It could be seen as just a literal and physical description of those Jewish believers who had been dispersed and scattered from their homeland.

However, when you get to 1 Peter 2:11 and read his exhortation to them as “strangers as exiles” and an instruction to abstain from temptations but rather to see “the flesh” or sinful human nature as an enemy, you realise that something else is going on.

Just a few verses earlier, Peter has also addressed them as

“… a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession”

The church are God’s people, ingrafted into Israel and therefore the recipients of the Covenant.  We are meant to be God’s people, living in his presence, distinct from the World around.  This means that we take on the character and status of exiles, or nomadic sojourners.

It’s not that this isn’t God’s creation, that the physical world is bad and that we don’t belong here. The song that says “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through” has a helpful sentiment in reminding us that our current situation is temporary, but I don’t think gets it quite right. Our alienation is not from life now which is good and from God.

Rather, we should experience some sense of alienation and distance from the systems, ideologies and cultures of the world around us as they stand in hostility to God’s plan and purpose.  We should not feel at home with the values of the society around us.  We are not home yet.

Further, we are not home yet because we look forward to the day of Christ’s resurrection and physical return. The problem with our current situation is not that our experience is too physical as though we look forward to a disembodied, spirit world experience in the afterlife.  Rather, the problem is that our experience is not physical enough. We look forward to being clothed with immortality, new and better bodies. We look forward to being in a new and better creation free from corruption and decay.  It will be more solid, the colours bolder, the sounds stronger, the tastes richer.  We will look back on life now as though we lived in what CS Lewis referred to as “shadowlands.”  Now we know Christ’s presence spiritually through the Comforter, then we will be physically in his presence and see him face to face.

The status of exiles and strangers should

  1. Connect us to God’s people in the past as we remember that this was Israel’s experience
  2. Remind us to look to Christ’s example for us and obedience on our behalf as he became the exiled one.
  3. Prompt us to identify with many others, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ who experience exile, rejection and alienation today.
  4. Point us to future hope.  We enjoy God and the results of the Gospel now but the best is yet to come.

[1] 1 Peter 1:1.

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