In ancient Rome, sculpting was a popular profession. The culture flourished with statues, as nearly every public and private building had numerous gods represented. The market was flooded with sculptors, so quality was sometimes lacking. Less qualified craftsmen would cover their errors with wax, and frequently the customer could not see the flaw. To compensate for this practice, authentic sculptors would mark their statues with the words sine cera--"without wax." Today we frequently use the same term to close letters. "Sincerely"
Many celebrities, politicians, sports stars appear to live authentic lives in front of TV cameras and in the eyes of the public, but when we closely observe their lives we will be shocked by their unreal and double standard lives. For example, infamous personalities, like John Edwards, Tiger Woods and Jesse James who projected impeccable lives while secretly having affairs. All three men have lived in deception and cheated their wives who loved them.
If we are not careful we too can join the list of infamous cheats. As Christians we are called to live authentic lives. Many churches have become showcases for saints rather than hospitals for sinners. It is time we started giving God and others a life that is sine cera. What is authentic? Being authentic means conforming to fact and therefore worthy of belief and trust. An authentic Christian is pure in his or her nature like the twenty-four carat gold that we can trust. The apostle Peter, the first church planter wrote two letters to Christians of his time explaining how they can live authentic Christian lives in a society where much fakeness and counterfeit existed and also what makes a healthy Church.
Before we dig deep into I Peter let’s address what a Christian is and what a healthy Church is? A Christian is not some one who attends a Church regularly. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to McDonalds makes you a hamburger. Saying prayers doesn’t make you a Christian because people in many religions pray or praying in the name of Jesus doesn’t make you a Christian, because the Lord said, on the judgment day many would come and say Lord did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and in your name perform many miracles? But the Lord would say to them, I never knew you depart from me you who practice evil. (Matt 7:22-23).
A Christian is some one who has been forgiven of his sin and has peace with God through Jesus Christ. A Christian is some one who follows the most important command which is “to love the Lord his God with all of his heart and with all of his soul and with all of his mind and with all of his strength and he loves his neighbor as himself.” (Mk 12:30). All Christians no matter where you are from have been adopted into the family of God, that is the Church universal (Eph 1:5) but you still need to pursue to become an active member in a local church. Mark Dever in “what is a Healthy Church” compares the local church to a healthy family,” This is no dysfunctional family, with family members estranged from one another. It’s a fellowship. When God called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ Our Lord (I Cor 1:9) he also called you into “fellowship” with the whole family.”
A Healthy Church as Mark Dever notes is “A congregation that increasingly reflects God’s character as his character has been revealed in his word.” It is a great thing to belong to the universal Church, but for our spiritual nurture and growth it is important to become a member of a local Church. Find a bible believing Church and become a member of that Church.
In our study of I Peter a bit of background information is necessary to understand, appreciate and apply the content of the letter. So, what do we know about, the author, the theme and the context in which it was written? As the title suggests it was written by none other than the apostle Peter. Peter seems to have been a natural leader, commanding the respect of his peers by sheer force of personality. In every listing of Jesus’ disciples, Peter’s name is invariably first. In the early Church his influence was enormous and acknowledged by all. By virtue of his position, he was easily the most powerful figure in the Christian community. This letter was written around 60 A.D. Peter’s first letter is one of the seven general letters and is addressed to the five Roman provinces of Asia Minor.
The occasion for writing was persecution in the area, and was addressed to Christians who were suffering for being Christians. The letter tries to encourage and equip the readers for the difficult times ahead. The dominant theme is hope: not the wistful optimism that in the end things will turn out all right, which so often passes for hope. The hope found in Peter is the strong hope that rests not on man but on God, the living and the loving God who is known by his mighty acts. This letter must have given the early recipients hope against all hope.
You and I may never fully understand the depth of this letter unless we go through similar persecution or put ourselves in the shoes of those who are suffering for the sake of their faith. One report suggests as of 2010, as estimated by Open Doors UK, an estimated 100 million Christians face persecution, particularly in the Muslim world, North Korea and the hands of Hindu extremism and Islamic terrorism in India, with a rising tendency. If we think we will be spared from persecution because we are living in the USA, we are mistaken. In I Tim 3:12, we read, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” The first letter of Peter helps us how to cope with when we are persecuted. Let’s begin our study.
I. ALIENS? STRANGERS? OR BOTH?
Any good letter has three sections, the opening, the body and the closing. The First Epistle according to Peter is a letter, so this too contains an opening, the body of content and closing remarks. After asserting his position as the apostle of Jesus Christ Peter reminds the believers of their position. I Pet 1:1, “Peter an apostle of Jesus Christ to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Capadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen.” He reaffirms their position again in I Pet 2:11, “Beloved I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.”
When we read the Bible; at times we skip or gloss over certain words or passages. The Words Aliens and Strangers are some of them. The words aliens, stranger or foreigner occur over 150 times in the Bible. Peter employs these words twice in his first letter. Why did Peter call them aliens and strangers?
Let’s pause and look at the words “aliens and strangers and their intended purpose and meaning. In the Bible the word alien was used to distinguish the natives from the people of other lands and also show separation between the Jews and the non Jews. Peter addressed believers as aliens and strangers to remind them of the troubles of their forefathers in foreign lands. While they endure hardships they were to make the most of their time in that place by engaging the culture instead of isolating from it. But above all he wanted them to know that they were not permanent citizens of this world but belonged another world an eternal one.
Soong Chan Rah in his Book “Many Colors” explains the in-depth meaning of these words. “The words Aliens and Strangers may have a similar connotation but the words do not have the exact same meaning. Stranger means complete separation from the World.
A stranger should have nothing to do with the world, may be even should exhibit hostility toward it. Strangers have no stake or concern with what is going on in the world, rejecting its systems. Aliens however, would not necessarily imply being a complete stranger. In fact, one way of interpreting alien would be as an immigrant. An immigrant or resident alien interacts differently with society than does a stranger to that society. A stranger may seek to completely disengage from the culture, while the immigrant would seek ways to engage with that society. A stranger would take on the posture of Christ against culture while an immigrant may not assume such a hostile position.
How do these words apply to us today? Are we Aliens? Strangers? Or Both? The answer is both, in certain aspects we are aliens and in other aspects we are strangers. Let me explain. From the patriarch Abraham till today the heroes of faith in Christ have always lived as if they were aliens in this world. They have considered themselves as temporary residents or sojourners who are just passing through this world heading to a far more permanent place called heaven. Accordingly they lived simple and unattached lives on earth. It is said of them that they were strangers, and exiles on the earth…they are seeking a country of their own…they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God for He has prepared a city for them.”(Hebrew 11:13-16)
When we are called to follow Christ we are called to an alien status. We are to live as if we don’t belong here. What a freeing thought that is? It frees us from all the unnecessary burdens we carry and all the entanglements we get ourselves into. It doesn’t mean we should not work or do anything for living and entertainment? In fact we are called to seek the welfare of the city and pray (and work) for its prosperity where in which we will find our own prosperity. We are to be integrated in the society and not to be isolated from it.
Being an alien doesn’t mean that you are so heavenly minded that you are of no earthly use. On the contrary as we wait for our heavenly city we have a job to do to make the earth a much better place to live. The world needs Christians living out authentic lives
We are not only aliens but also strangers. In the early Church people behaved rather strangely, in order to stay away from sin they would totally cut themselves away from the world and live in forests and deserts. The word stranger here doesn’t mean weird and wacky (acting crazy) it means detached or separated. What are we to be separated from? Not from the people and not definitely from the world, but from sin! While we still live in the world we consciously make efforts to detach ourselves from sin. In Hebrew 12:1, we read, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that finders and the sin that so easily entangles,..”
When it comes to our contribution to the world around us we are to live like aliens and when it comes to sin we are to live like strangers. The early puritans were great examples in maintaining this status of aliens and strangers. As aliens they exhibited great work ethics as strangers they maintained high moral standards. As Peter exhorts us, let’s resolve today to live like aliens contributing to the welfare and the betterment of the society and as strangers maintaining high standards of moral integrity. Amen