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Living as Strangers

  I.      Introduction

Be in the world, not of the world.

This phrase isn’t in the bible, but it is a concept expressed by a great many verses.  In John 17:14-15, the night Jesus was betrayed, Jesus prays to the Father for all believers,

I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.  My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

But what does this look like in our lives today?  How do we put this into practice?

II.      We Are Strangers, 1 Peter 2:11-12

I’m going to talk about my travels for a bit.  I have been blessed in a job that gave me the opportunity so see much of God’s creation.  My first overseas trip was to Florence, Italy.  I marveled at the Duomo, walked streets that were 2000 years old, the same streets ancient Romans walked in the days of Jesus.  I saw amazing examples of Renaissance art.

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But I am not Italian.  I was a visitor.

In 1997, I moved to Singapore the day before Chinese New Year.  It’s like moving to downtown Houston on Christmas Eve and wondering where all the people were.  I visited a Christian church that was 99.9% Chinese, and somehow the people in the church noticed me.  I gave my life to Christ there.  I saw a beautiful modern city with streets that were safe to walk in and explored the complicated history of the influence of the Malaysian people and British imperialism.

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But I am not Chinese.  I was a visitor.

Three years ago, I spent almost a year in Scotland.  I played golf on a links course where some of the oldest golf clubs reside.  I ate haggis, nips, and tatties, and I enjoyed it.  I saw musicians on street corners playing bagpipes.  I almost bought a kilt.  After nearly a year, I could almost understand what they were saying.

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But I am not Scottish.  I was a visitor.

If you’ve lived your whole life in Texas, then you’ve probably see the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Butterfly Museum and perhaps you’ve made the drive up towards Brenham in the spring to see the bluebonnets like no place else in the world.  Perhaps you’ve stood on Galveston Beach and wondered how far the ocean stretched, or driven to San Antonio and marveled at the hundreds of miles of flat prairies as far as you can see.

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I consider myself a Texan.  I consider myself an American.  I consider myself an inhabitant of this big blue marble that travels around a small yellow sun.

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And yet, I am still a visitor.  This is not my home.

We should be good guests, enjoy this world, appreciate its beauty, and admire God’s handiwork.  But like good visitors, we take nothing from this trip with us.  We will eventually leave it all behind.

There’s nothing wrong, and everything right, with appreciating everything God has provided for our stay.  But if we have a limited, personal, selfish view of Christianity, we only look at the here and now.  Will being a good Christian help me in my relationships?  Will it bring me better health, a better job, success and prosperity?  Will I feel better?

But if our focus is on this world and how Christianity provides a more fulfilling life, then we do not appreciate that we are visitors.  We try to be permanent guests, we fear death instead of recognizing that our eternal life has already begun and eventually we move to a far, far better place.  1 Corinthians 15:19 says it this way:

If our hope in Christ is good for this life only and no more, then we deserve more pity than anyone else in all the world.

How then shall we live?  Our scripture today is 1 Peter 2 beginning in verse 11,

I appeal to you, my friends, as strangers and refugees in this world!  Do not give in to bodily passions, which are always at war against the soul.  Your conduct among the heathen should be so good that when they accuse you of being evildoers, they will have to recognize your good deeds and so praise God on the Day of his coming.

God has a purpose for our lives if we recognize we are visitors.  We are ambassadors of Christ.  This world offers beauty and wonder, but if we grab it and hold on to this world at all costs, we are to be pitied.  These worldly possessions are always at war against the soul which is destined for a far better destination.  We live for that day, and our behavior should be exemplary.  The pagan world will see our lives and mock us now, but God has a purpose.

If you are in a position where people mock you, don’t give up hope.  Be aware that God using you to demonstrate His love.

 

III.      Submission, Not Rebellion, 1 Peter 2:13-17

How, then, shall we live?  We lead lives of quiet submission.  We lead our lives in the freedom that Christ provides, but also in obedience to His teaching so the world sees Christ in us.  Let’s continue to 1 Peter 2:13-17 –

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.  For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.  Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.  Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

 

Submission.  I don’t know about you, but submission goes against my grain.  I want things my way, I want to go the way I want to go, and I don’t want anybody telling me what to do.  Peter’s admonition, though is that we should submit ourselves.

What is submission?  What does it mean to submit to another?  Peter uses the Greek word hypotassō, and it’s a military term meaning “to arrange in a military fashion under the command of a leader.”  When it’s used in a non-military way, it means “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.”  I think we give the word “submission” a bad rap because we think it means something worse.

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Submission is Opposite of Submission is Too much submission is
Acceptance Arrogance Wimpy
Willing Resistance Cowardly
Humble Pride Spinelessness
Respect Conceit Slavery

Submission is a voluntary action, not a surrendering or giving up, but a giving in and providing support to others.  True Christian submission is an awesome display of the power of Christ living in us.

Peter is living as a subject of the Roman Empire. The Romans at this time were not especially kind to Christians; Christians who confessed Christ as their Lord were often punished or killed for treason for not obeying the Roman Emperor. The Romans were suspicious of early Christians, suspecting them of insurrection and planning to overthrow the empire. After all, they had their own king.  So in a brutal repressive society, how do you reconcile that with the Christian teachings of freedom in Christ? Did this freedom allow rebellion?  Peter points to the Lord Jesus Christ to see how we are to live.

Let’s start with verse 13,

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority.”

I know I rebel in a hundred little ways, I have a natural tendency toward passive aggressiveness.  But here are ten simple words that we all might want to rebel against, but what does Peter call us to do? Submit ourselves. Why?  Not for our sake, but to further the Lord’s work.

Not because those in authority can crush us, but because it is the Lord’s will (and we’ll get to more of this in a moment). To who do we submit ourselves? To every human authority.  God calls us to voluntarily and cheerfully submit to our legal authorities.  We are to obey the law and to be good citizens.  And we do this, not because the government is a huge bureaucracy that can throw us into jail, but because we are to be obedient to Christ.

While our governmental authority seems to be headed off a cliff away from God’s will, in reality, God creates governments to accomplish His will, whether that government is aware of it or not.  Government over us keeps us out of anarchy. In Romans 13:1-7, Paul tells us:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Peter teaches us to submit to the government because the government is teaching us right from wrong.  Submission to authority, cheerfully and willingly.  Be good subjects of the Roman Empire. That doesn’t mean we can’t use legal, peaceful means of bringing change in our government. Certainly as good Christian witnesses we should seek to change those government laws that violate God’s laws; our Christian duty is to be agents of change in this world, but we are to do it within the framework of existing governmental laws.

Are there any exceptions to this rule? Absolutely. We must be careful to set aside our personal desires and goals; those goals are subject to government.  But God’s goals supersedes those of government.  Peter was faced with this exact circumstance in Acts 4:18-20. The Jewish leaders were disturbed that Peter and John were spreading the message of Christ and ordered them to stop, but Peter chose to obey God instead of man:

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

So we are called to follow authority and show respect, but not at the expense of following God’s will.

1 Peter 2:15,

For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.

Like it or not, a government agent is an angel of wrath, to enforce right and wrong.  When we submit to authority, Peter tells us that silence foolish people.  When we’re argumentative and rebellious, we are poor examples of Christ.

Verse 16,

Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.

Jesus came to set His followers free, but this is not a freedom to do evil. In order to be free of sin, we voluntarily become slaves of God. Using our freedom to conceal evil actions is hypocritical.  The world only grudgingly gives respect to Christians, and quickly condemns us when our hypocrisy shows.  Expressing our freedom from sin means we obey every legal authority and not our own selfish, rebellious heart. We are to lead holy lives, set apart lives, and law abiding lives.

Verse 17,

Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.

I find these distinctions interesting.  We are to show “proper” respect to everyone, but proper respect isn’t equal respect.  The word used here is timaō and it means to estimate the value or recognize the worth of that person.  We show respect to “everyone” because after all, everyone is created in God’s image.  They have intrinsic value as people.slide19

To our brotherhood of believers, though, we show more than respect. We show love, the same kind of love Christ showed for us. The word used is agapaō, or agape love, and it means to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly, to be well pleased, to be content with. Christ showed agape love to us to model, and we are to show this agape love to our brothers and sisters.  Submission in the church, and submission even within this bible class leads to the purest kind of love, where we are genuinely concerned about each other and set aside our own vain attitudes.  We are not in competition with each other about who can be the best Christian. Or the worst Christian, for that matter.slide20

And to God, we show “fear.”  Not a scared kind of fear, the word used is phobeō and means to be awestruck, to treat with reverential obedience.  Our God created the heavens and the earth and if He so wished He could smite us so hard we’d be smitten.  We are thankful for the grace He shows us through Jesus that we don’t get the punishment we deserve; Jesus has already taken our place.slide21

slide22And to the king and to people in authority, we are to show honor. The word “timao” is used here again; it means to recognize the value of the person, to respect and honor.  Note that it says we are to fear the Lord but give honor to the king. Jesus made the same distinction in Matthew 22:21 when the Pharisees asked Him if it was right to pay taxes.  Jesus replied,

Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.

We give our authorities respect and obedience, but to God we give reverence and worship.

 

IV.      Extreme Submission, 1 Peter 2:18-20

Next, in verse 18, Peter addresses a particularly difficult subject, slavery.

Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.

Where’s that freedom Christ promised? Many early believers were slaves. Educated slaves, sometimes, but still slaves. They served as teachers, doctors, administrators, musicians, craftsmen. Over the centuries, Christian influence about our equal worth as God’s children eventually led to the abolition of slavery, but opposition to the slavery during the time of the Roman Empire would be seen as an insurrection and would certainly bring the wrath of Rome, crushing the early Christian movement.

Peter’s not justifying slavery here in any circumstances.  What he is saying is that, regardless of our circumstances we are to be obedient to those who have authority over us.  If a Christian is in slavery, the Christian is to submit, to obey their master.  We have an innate repulsion to this idea, that slavery is wrong and we should oppose it. And while that is true, slavery shows us an extreme example of how we are to behave as Christians. We are to submit and show respect. Not grudgingly and with an attitude, but respectfully and willingly.  We can extend this instruction to our workplace, to our bosses who are in authority over us.  We are to obey our bosses, be a good example of Christ living within us.  The natural tendency of the unsaved person is to gripe, to badmouth, to fight back.  As a spirit-filled Christian, we learn to submit and let God fight our battles for us.

Verse 19 tells us suffering in slavery or suffering in our job in obedience to Christ brings favor with God.

For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.

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The word is “charis” and can be translated commendable, finds favor, a reward, good will, but also means grace. As a slave to God, we submit unconditionally, we love unconditionally, we obey unconditionally. How can we do otherwise?  How can we set rules for when and how God shows us grace? We can’t of course; as we learn to submit unconditionally, we learn how God’s grace is provided to us.  Jesus submitted unconditionally; through His submission, God brought salvation to all humanity.  Jesus certainly had the power to resist, to punish the men responsible, but instead Jesus submitted to authority and at the same time showed us how to forgive those who oppress us.

 

Verse 20 also gives us another reason to submit.

But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.

If we do wrong and we’re punished, well, we deserve it.  If I go out to the parking lot and spray paint a bunch of cars and get caught, will anybody respect me for the way I bravely take my punishment?  No, they will say I deserved it.  But if I am innocent and I’m punished, by freely submitting to those in authority, God will find favor in me.  If we spend all day at work surfing ESPN for the latest fantasy football stats and our boss comes in and chews us up, well, we deserved it.  But if we are innocent in these things and our boss treats us harshly, we are to endure it patiently.  We show respect because this brings glory to God.  This is a true test of our faith.  Being a good example when things are going well is easy.  God’s not impressed.  Being a good example when under stress or persecution?  God will find favor in us.

 

  V.      Our Example is Christ, 1 Peter 2:21-25

We are called to do this as Christians. Verse 21 says,

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

Christ suffered unjustly for us. When we think about our suffering, think about the suffering of Jesus.  The Romans punished Jesus, flogged Him, and crucified Him to die a slow death on the cross.  What did Jesus do to deserve it?  When our boss tells us to work late, compare that to the suffering of Jesus.  Why do we grumble over minor afflictions when Jesus submitted willingly to crucifixion?  What are the things that irritate you the most?  Coworkers?  Money?  That’s your suffering, yet compare it to the suffering of Jesus.  Who suffered more, you or Jesus?  Who complains more?  Yet verse 21 tells us to follow in His steps. Here’s how Jesus set an example for us when He suffered in verse 22:

He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.

Jesus suffered and died without a grumble, without a complaint and without a sin.  Because Jesus was innocent, He can take our blame for us.  If Jesus was a sinner, the punishment He received would be His own.  But Jesus is sinless and can offer to take our punishment for us.  Because He can do that, He is our savior.  When we suffer, when we are punished unjustly, Jesus is also our role model, our example. No deceit in our mouth, we hold our tongue and do not condemn.

Verse 23,

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

As the son of God, Jesus could threaten to destroy His oppressors.  He could have said, “I’ll get you my pretty and your little dog, too.”  Instead, Jesus left us an example.   He committed himself to trusting God to judge. Jesus showed us that a person can be in the will of God, be loved by God, and still suffer unfairly.  Don’t fall for that “feel good” brand of Christianity that says trust in God and you will never suffer.  It’s not biblical; it doesn’t reflect the life that Jesus gave for us.  Instead, unjust suffering at work, at home, in pain or poor health, in loss of a loved one, unjust suffering gives us an opportunity to showcase the Holy Spirit within us.  No threats, no insults, no retaliation, no harsh words.  We trust God will right all wrongs at the Day of Judgment.  By the time Peter wrote this book, Peter had been preaching the gospel for 30 years and the Holy Spirit has made him into a true man of God.  Where once Peter took up a sword to defend Jesus, now Peter preaches submission to authorities.  This is how we lead as Christians; we lead by submission.

The last two verses, Peter reminds us why Jesus is our example.  It’s because Jesus is more than just an example. Jesus is the savior we all need. In verse 24, Peter reminds us what Jesus did for us and why Jesus could do what none of us can.  Jesus is more than “just a good man.”

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

Jesus did not die as a martyr.  Jesus died as a savior.  He took the punishment for the sins we commit.  Christ was wounded so we might be healed.  Christ died so that we might live.  Our sinful lives died with the crucifixion of Christ; we are no longer slaves to sin, but willing and righteous slaves to God.  One day we will have glorified bodies, but right now, even some of God’s most favored servants suffer physically.  By the wounds of Jesus, we will be healed of this physical suffering.

And in verse 25, Peter says,

For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Every lost sinner is ignorant, lost, foolish, wandering, in danger, and unable to help ourselves.  We have wandered into the wilderness without a Shepherd to protect us.  Before we accept Christ, we have a mistaken belief that we can save ourselves, that we are all we need, yet we spend our entire lives trying to figure out why that hole in our soul won’t fill up with toys, entertainment, knowledge, service.  It’s only when we recognize that we cannot do it on our own and accept Jesus that we truly begin to live in Him. Jesus is our good shepherd; Jesus watches over us and protects us, and nobody can snatch us out of His all-powerful, ever-loving arms.

Augustine of Hippo in 387AD said it this way –

Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.

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VI.      Conclusion

Be a good visitor to this big blue marble.  Show the love that Christ showed to you, not because you deserved it, but because you didn’t deserve it. And through our good behavior, silence the foolish talk of the world.  For we know Christ lives through us and in us and we can do all things through Christ our savior.

To God be the glory.

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