Separate but Shining (I Peter 2:11-12)
Passage: 1 Peter 2:11–2:12
New Life in the Same Old Place
Separate but Shining
I Peter 2:11, 12
March 29th, 2009
Way of Grace Church
I. Separation and Indulgence
Though it is viewed differently in different Amish communities, there is in many places a period of time, called rumspringa, during which Amish youth are allowed to leave their families and explore the outside world; what they would call life among the "English".
During this time, which begins when they turn 16, many Amish youth start to drive and adopt modern dress. They listen to music, watch movies, and play video games. But most disturbing, many of them plunge headlong into a life of excess with sex, drugs, drinking, and partying.
Having lived all their lives in a world within a world, in a life set apart from so many modern features, many Amish teenagers are apparently eager to fully taste what they might call their new found "freedom".
It's been said that some Amish do this as a means of allowing the youth to get this kind of adolescent foolishness out of their system; allowing them to come to their own conclusions about the goodness of the Amish lifestyle.
I mention it to you this morning because I found it an interesting lens through which to view the ideas of separation and indulgence.
This morning the Apostle Peter also wants his readers to think about these two things. And God wants us to do the same. So turn with me to I Peter 2, verses 11 and 12.
II. The Passage: "Keep Your Conduct...Honorable" (2:11, 12)
Now before I read, let me set this passage up a little bit. As we launch into verse 11 of chapter 2, I believe we are starting a new section of Peter's letter. What we've been given in 1:1 through 2:10 is an incredible picture of what God has done for us, is doing, and will do through Jesus and His Cross.
We might think about that first section in terms of its focus on our identity in Christ in light of our salvation in Christ. In that first section, Peter did begin to call his readers to action in light of these things, but here in 2:11, and really continuing on throughout the rest of the letter, Peter will provide these Christians with instructions about living as God's people, about new life in the same old place.
Listen to how he begins here in 2:11 and 12:
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
So what we have here is kind of an introduction to a lot of what is to come in the next three chapters. What Peter will do in the coming verses and chapters is describe in details what it means to "abstain", and what it means to "keep your conduct...honorable".
But we need to dig deeper into these two verses so that we can strengthen our foundation for understanding what's coming up.
Not how Peter's heart is so clear evident in the opening words of v. 11. He addresses them as "beloved". That's not a word we use very often. We might say, "Those whom I love dearly". He goes on "urge" them to follow his instructions. We might translate his opening like this: "Those whom I love dearly, I strongly appeal to you..."
What if you someone looked you in the eyes and said that in all sincerity? Would you listen to what they had to say? Sure you would! So let's listen to God's word here.
So as we continue, we discover there are three key phrases that we need to understand if we want to understand these two verses. Let's look at these one by one.
A. "Sojourners and Exiles" (v. 11a)
Did you notice that the beginning of verse 11 actually connects us back to chapter 1, verse 1? If you lack to the beginning of this letter you can see, and you may remember, that Peter addresses his readers as "elect exiles".
That's the same term he uses here. That's one indication, one clue that he is probably beginning a new section here. So everything that's come before this seems to be explanation of why and in what sense we are spiritual exiles. And everything from this point on will be an explanation of how to live as exiles.
Peter actually gave a similar, but more general come back in verse 17 of chapter 1: And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile...
But there's another word here in v.11 that is linked with the term "exile". It is the terms "sojourner". Some Bibles translate these terms as "aliens and strangers", or "sojourners and pilgrims", or "foreigners and aliens", or some combination of these terms.
This phrase is actually used by Abraham in Genesis 23:4 when he tells the Hittites in Canaan, "I am a sojourner and foreigner among you."
A "sojourner" is someone who live in a place that is not their true home. Steven used this word in Acts 7 when he was describing when Moses killed the Egyptian: "When Moses heard this, he fled to Midian, where he settled as a foreigner (a sojourner) and had two sons." (7:29)
The term "exile" is a close synonym that includes the sense of temporary residency in this place that is not your home. The word "alien" also is a good translation of this term, as in the term we hear a lot, "illegal alien".
But in what sense were these readers "sojourners and exiles"? You don't find here any indication that the Christians in the churches to whom Peter wrote were somehow political refugees or transplants from other nations. No, in fact, this verse itself confirms that Peter is using these terms in a spiritual sense.
Notice that he is urging them to "abstain from the passions of the flesh" because they are "sojourners and aliens". Now if his instructions here were connected to the fact that they were literally foreigners in a strange land, then he might tell them something like learn the local language or respect local customs. But because they are spiritual "sojourners" and spiritual "exiles", Peter's appeal is spiritually focused.
Peter's point is not that the earth is not their true home, but heaven is. That's not the point of the terms "sojourners and exiles". The point is that the "world", that term the Bible uses for the "world system shaped by human sin", the world is not our home. Man's kingdom is not our home. God's kingdom is our home.
You might have been born into this world system. You might have walked for many years as a citizen of the world. But if you have faith in Jesus, then you have been born again. Therefore, you have become an alien in the very place you were born. You've become an exile without even leaving your house.
Have you ever been in a place where you knew you didn't fit in? Maybe it was in High School. Maybe it was in a fancy restaurant. Maybe it was in a foreign country. Do you feel at home in the world, or maybe we should say ‘among' the world? Or do you sense that you are, in fact, a "sojourner and exile"?
B. "Passions of the Flesh" (v. 11b)
Maybe a clear way to answer that question is by thinking about what Peter means when he writes, "abstain from the passions of the flesh". Remember, Peter seems to be saying that passions like these define those who are a part of this world, just like a particular accent or a particular kind of currency would define someone who lives in a certain country.
Peter is saying, "If you really belong to God's kingdom, then stay true to the values of your King." Well, Peter doesn't want his audience to lose their distinctiveness. He wants them to "abstain" from, "to keep away" from, to "avoid" the passions of the flesh that are such a defining part of the world.
But what are these passions of the flesh. Seeing the words "passion" and "flesh" here, some might conclude that Peter is talking about sexual lust. But the word passion here is a general word that means "to desire", or "to long for". This is why Peter describes the phrase as the passions of the flesh.
Earlier, in chapter 1, Peter wrote: As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance... (1:14)
Maybe most helpful is when Peter uses this word in chapter 4. There he talks about living "no longer for human passions but for the will of God." (4:2)
So these "passions of the flesh", these "passions of [our non-Christian] ignorance", these "human passions", are defined by the contrast we see in 4:2. "Passions of the flesh" are about what people want. "The will of God" is about what God wants. When we want what God wants, that is the will of God. When we do not desire what God desires, we live according to the "passions of the flesh".
So "passions of the flesh" are not simply about sexual lust. They can be that. But these passions are about living a life defined by desires that want to satisfied apart from God. It could be a desire for pleasure, a desire for comfort, a desire for acceptance, a desire for security, a desire safety. Whatever we are longing for, the "passions of the flesh" are about satisfying those desires with the world's solutions.
Peter is telling them to avoid such solutions. Stay away from them!
Look at how he goes on to describe these "passions": Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
You may remember that he talked about the "salvation of [their] souls" in 1:9, and the fact that the truth had "purified [their] souls" in 1:22. The soul is our life that God is now renewing through faith in Christ. Jesus used this same word when he said: For whoever wants to save his life [his soul] will lose it, but whoever loses his life [his soul] for me and for the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:35)
So Peter is saying here that the "passions of the flesh", those human desires that look to human solutions and not to God, those desires are constantly fighting against our souls. The world is constantly trying to pull us back; constantly trying to defeat us. To indulge in such passions, to give in to our desires and not God's, is not something we should ever minimize. It is terrorist attack on our soul. Do you feel that battle taking place? Do you feel the attack?
C. Among the Gentiles (v. 12a)
Now when you get to verse 12, it may seem that Peter is starting a new thought. He writes:
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
But Peter is not going in a different direction here. He is simply continuing the thought he started in verse 11, only here, he is building on it by talking about implications.
In verse 11 he talked about abstaining, about not giving into human desires. Here he says instead, "keep your conduct...honorable". When we live according to God's desires, and not human desires, that is an honorable life.
But what does he mean when he says "among the Gentiles"? Well the Greek word here is ethnos, from which we get the English word ethnic. It simply means "nations". But when Jews talked about the "nations", they were speaking of all those other tribes and peoples who were not Jewish; they were talking about Gentiles.
But as we saw last week, Peter has identified his predominantly Gentile readers with the true Israel of God, the true people of God. Therefore the term "Gentile" here means something like "unbeliever" or pagan; those who are not part of God's people.
It is these people, as we in verse 12, that have apparently been speaking against these followers of Christ. These verbal attacks and slander are part of the "various trials" these Christians have been enduring, as we saw in chapter 1, verse 6.
So the attack their souls are feeling because of the "passions of the flesh", is being physically experienced as these unbelievers, those who are living according to "human passions", they are reacting against these spiritual refugees.
But look at how Peter finished verse 12.
III. Radically Changed by an ‘Alien' Power (v. 12b)
Again, Peter encourages them to:
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
Notice the situation Peter is describing here. When these people who do not know Christ, these neighbors and maybe even family members who do not believe, when they slander you because you are living for Jesus, because you are taking a different path, your honorable conduct, your abstinence in regard to world-satisfied desires, your "good deeds", as Peter puts it here, will be used by God to change them.
Peter seems to have the words of Jesus in mind here. Remember what Jesus said: In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
But Peter is clear here that these "good deeds" are demonstrated in the midst of hostility. Peter's not talking about helping an old lady across the street when he talks about "good deeds". No, these "good deeds" are the character of Christ that others see in us when we are squeezed by suffering.
Listen to how Peter elaborates on this in the next chapter:
13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
What's are the "good deeds" in that passage? They are the words about Christ spoken to our opponents. They are the way in which we speak those words, with "gentleness and respect", and they are the good conscience that confirms our integrity in the midst of attack.
Peter is saying here, God is saying here, when you live for the will of God and not human passions, when you try to do what is honorable as an alien in a foreign land, God wants to use that to change people from those who slander to those who glorify; from those who wage war against you to those who worship with you. He wants them to have a faith that "may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." (1:7)
When we think of human beings who are radically changed by an alien power, we might think of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" or some other sci-fi story where creatures from outer space abduct or influence earthlings to accomplish some sinister plan.
But when Peter thinks about an ‘alien' power, he is thinking about the power of Jesus Christ, a power that is completely alien, completely foreign to this world system, to the way the world does things. It's the power that turns the other cheek. The power that goes the extra mile. The power that rejoices in persecution. The power to live for the good of others. The power to find pleasure in God, not in the vices of the world. The power to sacrifice. The power to be content. The power to forgive. The power to love.
And when that power is at work in the lives of "strangers and aliens" like us, God can use it to radically change, not only those who are against us, but any who are observing our lives.
John Foxe's book about martyrs mentions several accounts of Christians who lived not long after Peter, Christians who died because of their faith. Listen to what he tells us about this ‘alien' power at work:
"Germanicus, a young man, but a true Christian, being delivered to the wild beasts on account of his faith, behaved with such astonishing courage that several pagans became converts to a faith which inspired such fortitude."
Foxe also tells us about Alban, a young man in Great Britain in the 3rd century who responded to the message of Christ. When the disciple who shared with him was being sought by the authorities, Alban hid the man and offered himself in the man's place. But his deception was found out and he too was condemned to die. Foxe writes that "upon this occasion, the executioner suddenly became a convert to Christianity, and entreated permission to die for Alban, or with him." And that's exactly what happened.
Do you believe that people around you can be radically changed when you are living a life of abstinence and honor because of Jesus?
What's strange is that many times when followers of Christ attempt to live as exiles or aliens, when they attempt to live differently from the world, they either disappear from the world, or become disconnected in some way, or decide to decry the world, to throw stones with a judgmental heart.
Sometimes we make the same mistake, just in the other direction. We want to reach out to others with the hope of Christ, and we try to become more like them in order to reach them. But the result is that we begin to look like locals and not aliens. We compromise and lose the power of a distinct life.
Through Peter, God is calling to be separate but shining; to be distinct but declaring his hope; to be removed but reflecting his love; to be alien but appealing...incredibly appealing because of Jesus Christ.
Paul declared in II Corinthians 2: But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. (2:14-16)
Separation and indulgence. I think the indulgence of Amish youth during Rumspringa is seen by the "Gentiles" as an understandable response to being raised in a repressive society. Amish children grow up in a culture that is explicitly separate. It is a society built around this idea of being "sojourners and exiles", but built in very particular way. No electricity. No automobiles. No telephones. No bright colors on clothes. No clothes with buttons. Minimized contact with the outside world.
This distinctiveness is so strange to the modern world that people come and take pictures of the Amish and commercialize their separation with all sorts of knick-knacks.
But when the most recognizable marks of our separation are defined by things like clothing and electricity, we are missing what Peter is saying. And like the Amish, we will then have very little influence on this world that Jesus came to influence.
But when you are, in general, a part of everyday life in this world...in your workplace, in your neighborhood, in your school, at the game, at the store...when your separation is characterized by not indulging, not living according to human desires, that becomes hard for people to dismiss.
God wants us to stand out as aliens, not because of a Christian t-shirt or a sticker on our careor because we're opinionated or because we don't want to work on Sundays or because of our conservative politics or because of the music we listen to. He wants us to stand out as aliens because Jesus' life is seen through ours; because we pray, "your kingdom come, your will be done"; because when we're squeezed by the difficulties of life, we bleed grace, hope, respect, humility, and love.
Separate...but shining; shining the light of Christ's love. Only when we walk by faith with Jesus, because of His cross, can we die daily to what we want, and become people who live by that ‘alien' power that can change hearts.
Those whom I dearly love, I strongly appeal to you, be separate...but shining.