Being an Exile without Even Leaving Your House
Passage: 1 Peter 1:1–1:2
New Life in the Same Old Place
Being an Exile Without Even Leaving Your House
I Peter 1:1, 2
January 11th, 2009
Way of Grace Church
This morning, as we begin a new year, we embark on a new journey together in God's word. Turn with me this morning to the book of I Peter; the first letter of Peter. Every other month, over the course of the coming months, we will be returning to this book, trying to hear what God wants to say to us through its words.
II. The Passage: "To Those Who are Elect Exiles" (1:1, 2)
Let's begin this journey by looking together at the first two verses this morning. I Peter 1:1, 2. Listen to how Peter begins this letter.
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
Now even though these are just the first two verses, there is a lot here. But let's begin by taking it one piece at a time.
A. The Writer
Look at the first phase: Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. Right away we know the identity of the letter's author: Peter.
But there's more here. Look at how he described himself: "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ"; one sent out by Jesus Christ. Now at this point we could spend a while looking back at what the Gospels and Acts tell us about Peter. Maybe that's why Peter has identified in this way, to remind readers of his history with Jesus.
Now, while it can be helpful to look at what we know about Peter, I think the emphasis here is not on Peter's history, but rather, Peter's authority. But his authority is inextricably linked to his history, isn't it. It is recorded that Jesus gave him authority as an apostle, authority to preach and teach and minister in the name of Jesus.
The words of this book are not just opinions from some random person who lived a long time ago. These words that we're considering are words from an authoritative source, from an apostle of Jesus. And in faith, we believe that they are in fact the very words of God.
So Peter established his identity right from the outset, and in doing so, established his authority to write to the instructions and encouragements contained in this letter.
B. The Readers
But if this is what the writer of this letter tells us about himself, what does he tell us about the recipients of his letter? Look back at the next phrase: ...To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion...
Now what exactly does that mean? Well there are two words in that phrase that we need to nail down. They are the words "exiles" and "dispersion". Listen to how several other Bible translations deal with this same phrase:
...to the strangers scattered (KJV)... To the pilgrims of the Dispersion (NKJV)...To God's chosen people who live as refugees scattered (TEV)... to God's chosen people who are living as foreigners (NLT)... To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered (NIV)... to those who reside as aliens, scattered (NAS)...
Did you notice some of the different terms used there? For the word "exiles", there were several alternative terms used: strangers, pilgrims, refugees, foreigners, and aliens.
But all of those terms are solidly synonymous, aren't they? What do all of them imply? They all refer to people who are living in a strange land, far away from their actual home.
But what about the term "dispersion", the Greek word, "diaspora"? Well, taking it together with the term "exiles" or "aliens", the term at first seem to be referring to Jewish people who are living and have for some time lived scattered among the non-Jewish countries of the Greek world. Remember, Jews were exiled twice from their own land before Peter's time, once by the Assyrians in 722 BC, and then by the Babylonians in 586 BC.
So if we took both terms in this sense, Peter is writing to a group known as "Jews of the Dispersion". So for example, Daniel and Esther would be considered Jews of the Dispersion.
And in fact, letters to Jews of the Dispersion were quite common. The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem would quite often write letters to other Jews living throughout the Greek and Roman world. So maybe Peter is simply writing a Christian version of this same kind of letter.
The only problem with this idea is what the rest of the letter tells us about the identity of these readers.
Listen to how one commentator lays out the evidence:
Yet in the face of [this Jewish sounding introduction], there is a near consensus that 1 Peter was in fact directed to a predominantly Gentile Christian audience. Peter reminds his readers of "the impulses that once drove you in your ignorance" (1:14), and of "the empty way of life that was your heritage" (1:18). They are "believers in God" not by virtue of their ancestral religion but only through Jesus Christ, who was raised from the dead "so that your faith and hope might be in God"-implying that previously it was not (1:21). Later in the epistle we are told plainly: "There was time enough in the past to have done what the Gentiles wanted, as you went along with them in acts of immorality and lust, drunken orgies, feasts, revelries, and lawless acts of idolatry. Therefore they are surprised when you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation. Blasphemers, they will answer to the One who stands ready to judge the living and the dead" (4:3-5).
As those verses make clear, the recipients of I Peter were not predominantly Jewish. They were predominantly not Jewish.
So how then are we to understand the key terms we looked at earlier, the terms "exiles" and "dispersion". In what sense are these Gentile Christians "strangers" or "aliens" or "pilgrims" or sojourners"?
Well outside the confines of this letter, in which the term "exile" is used one other time, the only other occurrence of this Greek word is in Hebrews 11. Listen to what it tells us about living in a strange land, far away from one's actual home.
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country-a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16)
I believe that like this passage in Hebrews, Peter is speaking to Gentile Christians, and probably some Jewish Christians and he addressing them as "exiles" or "aliens", not because they live in a foreign country, but because they live in a foreign world.
Though they, though we, were born in this world, we are no longer of this world, no longer a part of this system. If we belong to Jesus Christ by faith, we are, all of us are, spiritual "exiles".
And these Christians were dispersed or scattered over a large geographical area encompassing 300,000 square miles. These were the regions of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. These were Roman provinces in what is today north and northeast Turkey. Of course, they were just some of the pockets of Christians that were scattered throughout the Roman Empire, even from this early date.
C. The Chosen
But there is in verse 1 a term that we have not discussed. And if we want to really understand the identity of Peter's audience, if we really want to understand who we are because of our faith, we have to keep this other term closely connected with the word "exile".
You see there that Peter refers to them as "elect exiles", or we could say "chosen exiles". You see, they are strangers in the world, precisely because they have been chosen.
But how are we to understand this terms "elect" or "chosen"?
Were they chosen because of some apostle's blessing or some church decree? Does Peter describe them as elect because they stood head and shoulders above other church in Asia Minor?
No, verse 2 makes it clear what Peter means when he addresses these Christians as "chosen". Verse 2 actually contains three phrases that all connect back to and qualify this very word, "elect".
1. Those Foreknown
Look at verse 2. First of all, it is clear that they, and any who belong to Christ, are elect, not according to any human action, but according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.
It is a clear and indisputable fact from Scripture that God knows everything and everyone that was, is, and will be. From eternity past, he knew all those who would reside in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. From eternity past, He knew all of us as well.
And through this divine knowledge of what was to come before any of it ever took place, through such sight, God chose men and women, boys and girls to be His; to be His people.
Now we have to ask, "What does Peter hope to communicate to his readers by reminding them they have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God"?
Well, if we simply consider how we are affected by such a truth I think it's clear that the mercy of God and the power of God are meant to inspire humility, praise, and comfort in those who recognize that God has chosen them for Himself.
2. Those Sanctified
But Peter goes on in verse 2 to declare that his readers were chosen according to the foreknowledge of God in the sanctification of the Spirit.
I think what Peter wants to emphasize here is that God's choosing is not simply some divine decree that took place in eternity past that affects our destiny in regard to eternity future.
Those are both true, but the Holy Spirit, because these Christians were chosen by God, the Holy Spirit has "sanctified" or "set them apart" in the present because of God's divine foreknowledge.
You see, Peter's recipients are in fact exiles or aliens in this world precisely because the Spirit of God has changed and is changing them from natives to foreigners. Those who were once conformed, are now being transformed by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit within them.
But look at how Peter goes on to explain God's work in the lives of his readers.
3. Those Cleansed
Look at the next phrase in verse 2: these Christians in northern Asia Miner have been chosen according to God's foreknowledge, in the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:
The fact that we are "exiles" because we are first "elect", that truth begins to make more sense when we remember that any who have trusted in Jesus Christ as their only hope have been chosen for obedience to Jesus Christ.
Through the power of the Spirit, the Spirit that sets us apart, we are called to obey Jesus and not the wisdom of this world. And thus we become aliens on the very planet in which we were born. Because we love to do what Jesus loves, we become strangers in a place that is extremely familiar to all of us.
But even when we fail to obey, even when we stumble, we rest in the fact that we have been chosen for sprinkling with his blood, the blood of Jesus Christ. What does that mean? Well, this is an Old Testament image that reminds us we are forgiven because of Jesus' death for us on the cross. His blood, the sacrifice of his life, makes it possible for us to be forgiven and reconciled to God.
And so if you are Christian, you have been called, you have been chosen by God, to follow Jesus through the forgiveness of the cross.
III. Your Life as an Alien
So what have we seen? We've seen that Peter wants to very quickly establish, not simply his identity, but even more so, the true spiritual identity of those to whom he is writing.
And as we'll go on to see in the coming months, in these first two verses, he sets his course for the entire rest of this book. The overriding, overarching, big picture theme of I Peter is spelled out right here. And, it's the very issue that we have to wrestle with if we, like the first readers of this letter, if we are followers of Jesus.
Here's the issue Peter puts and is going to put before his readers, the question that we need to leave with this morning: "Do you understand that, if you are a follower of Christ, you are an elect exile? That you are an appointed alien? A selected stranger? A hand-picked pilgrim?"
What does it mean for your life, for my life, if we are elect in the eyes of God, but exiles in the eyes of the world? How do we live for Jesus in a world committed and constructed to living for itself? How do we navigate the waters of new life in the same old waters? How are we to live a new life in the same old place?
Brothers and sisters, this morning, God is calling us to live in light of these two inseparable truths. If we are in Jesus, we are elect, but we are also exiles.
Let me share with you three truths about "elect exiles", truths that Peter will go on to spell out in the coming chapters. These are a "sneak preview" of sorts. Consider how these truths are true in your life.
First, elect exiles are called to live like home at the local level.
If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then your place of origin has changed, hasn't it? You are no longer defined by your birth in this or that town or country. You are now defined by your birth from above.
And like so many exiles who live among us, we have to figure out a way to live like home at the local level. Instead of being conformed to the culture, we want to hold on to our heavenly heritage.
Immigrant parents feel this tension so acutely when it comes to their children. They want to pass on their culture and customs to their children, but they struggle as they see their son or daughter becoming more and more assimilated into the surrounding society. In many cases, their heritage is lost.
Brothers and sisters, we must grow in and live out the customs of our kingdom, yes, at the local level, yes, in a way that understands this spiritually-foreign culture around us; but like the exile whose accent or clothing betray that they are "not from around here", it has to become clear at some point that we are strangers in a strange land.
Second, elect exiles will constantly feel the ‘rub' of spiritual culture shock.
For those who are resident aliens in a new land, those who have not forgotten their home, there will be a friction that exists in this other place.
Do you feel like an exile? Do you feel like you are a stranger in a strange land? An alien in a hostile world?
For Peter's original audience, the struggle was not something that manifested itself passively, but actively. These people were being persecuted because they were different. Their spiritual distinctiveness was not lost on the society in which they lived.
And not only did they wrestle with why they were suffering, but they also wrestled with responding to the ‘rub'. Should they conform or confront, and were those the only two options?
Do you feel that ‘rub' as a follower of Christ? Unless we have totally conformed to the surrounding culture, most of us feel that ‘rub' every day and just don't know it. And that's one of our biggest problems. We don't recognize the ‘rub', and thus we think we're doing something wrong. Or we recognize the rub and just get tired of it.
Christian, the tension with this world will always be there because we are elect exiles, we are appointed aliens until the time that our present home is renewed and remade into our forever home; until that time when the place where we were born physically becomes one with the place where we were born spiritually.
Finally, third, elect exiles must never forget why they are different.
For political exiles, the ‘rub' is evident in struggles with the language, or with the customs, or with the values.
But in what sense are Christians exiles or strangers in this world, and thus, in what sense should we feel like strangers?
The issue here is not that we feel like spiritual exiles because we are tired of battling physical illness or because we aren't keeping up with the latest trends or because we feel like we're in the political minority or because we just don't like conforming or fail to conform to what most people call "normal". Those are reasons that anyone could feel alienated, regardless of their faith.
No, the reason we do or do not feel like spiritual strangers is directly related to whether we do or do not live in the reality that we are elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.
The reason we are different has less to do with where, and more to do with who. Yes, our "citizenship is in heaven' as Paul affirms in Philippians 3, but that only points us to the fact that the kingdom of heaven has a King who is Lord of all.
It's always a temptation to live differently simply for the sake of being different; because we begin to relish the difference and use our differences as a badge of honor that we on the right path. Our identity begins to be shaped by the goal of being different.
But our differences should come as a consequence of the goal of living for Jesus Christ, our true King. We must never forget who we are now because of Him.
As we'll see, Peter will keep us bringing us back to Jesus Christ. And if we are to live in the reality of being elect exiles, we need Christ, don't we? It's hard to live this new life in the same old place.
We need to live in the abundance of what God has given us and wants to give us because of all that Jesus gave for us. We need to live in the ever-expanding experience of the very things Peter prays for his readers in the closing words of our passage:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
That is my prayer for us this morning. May we grow in that recognition of and experience of God's favor as those who have been chosen by Him, and may we rest in His peace as we live in the reality of being exiles, aliens in a hostile world.
May grace and peace be multiplied to us.