“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” (1 Peter 2:11).
Peter was speaking to Christians who were literally “strangers and pilgrims” in the lands in which they lived. The expression he uses in 1 Peter 1:1 is that they were the “elect exiles of the Dispersion.” This could mean that they were converts of the Greek speaking Jewish people living outside their homeland or it could be figurative of Christians and our relationship to the world.
As Christians we are in the world but not of the world. Our citizenship is in heaven, (Philippians 3:20), that is, we are citizens of the heavenly kingdom – the kingdom that is not of this world (John 18:36). When we speak of the world as here we are not talking about the material creation, but the order or system of things as men have arranged them according to their wisdom and wishes.
We should be like Abraham of old, who when God told him to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you,” went without questioning and disputing God’s command. We are told in the book of Hebrews (11:8) that he “went out, not knowing where he was going.” He went at God’s word because “…he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”
Again, of Abraham, Sarah and other of the patriarchs it is said…
“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.” (Hebrews 11:13-14).
Even though Abraham lived in the land God had promised to give to him and his descendants, he still lived as a stranger and an exile. He and the other faithful ones of old realized that God had something better than earthly real estate for them… “he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:15-16).
Abraham’s descendants would only possess the land when they had become a nation strong enough to conquer and defend it. God warned them of the danger of becoming too comfortable in this good land He was giving them.
“And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Deuteronomy 6:10-12).
The danger of living as citizens of this world – and loving it – is that we will become comfortable and complacent. When we think that we have everything we need in this world there is no desire for anything better. There is little, if any thought given to what God has in store for us. We need to realize that whatever we have in this world and whatever we desire is “passing away” along with the world-order that men have created. (1 John 2:15-17).
It is not the place of the Christian to become entangled with the affairs of this world. There are some who are so concerned and partisan in politics that they become almost beside themselves if anyone disagrees with them. Sometimes they say and do things that are totally unbecoming to a Christian. Should we be more concerned with what happens in this world than with the kingdom of heaven to which the Christian properly belongs?
How does God want His people to live in this world? If we are sojourners and exiles in this world, do we owe anything to it? Why not just withdraw from the present world and start exclusive enclaves totally separate from the world?
Would the responsibility of Christians be that much different today from that of the Jews who went into exile in Babylon? The prophet Jeremiah addresses them as to what God expected of them when they were in a foreign land.
“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7).
As the spiritual descendants of Abraham through Jesus Christ, we are to be a blessing to every nation wherever we live and have the ability to do good. We are to do good even to those who hate us.
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” (Romans 12:14).
While we may be “just-a-passing through” this vale of tears and sorrows, we are to be active in the Lord’s work. We are to be to the world as light, radiating the glory of God to the whole creation. We are to be as salt, acting as a preservative agent in a corrupt society. We may not belong to this world, but we have a lifetime of work to do while we are here.