Aliens and Strangers - 1 Peter 2.11-17
I don't drink coffee I take tea, my dear
I like my toast done on one side
And you can hear it in my accent when I talk
I'm an Englishman in New York
Whoa, I'm an alien
I'm a legal alien
I'm an Englishman in New York
That's what Sting sang 29 years ago (just to make you feel old!)
As an Englishman in NY he felt like an alien.
(In fact I think I'm right in saying he was a Geordie in New York, but I guess that didn't rhyme?!)
I wonder if you've ever felt like that?
Like you stand out as a foreigner?
Or I wonder if anyone's ever said to you,
"You're not from round here, are you?"
Well tonight Peter says to us, if you're a Christian,
…even if no-one has ever actually said that to you,
…that's what people should be thinking,
…and that's what you should be thinking as well.
Turn with me to the very beginning of this letter, 1 Peter 1v1a…
"Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God's elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,"
And now at the start of our passage in 2v11a he says…
"Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul."
Peter wrote this letter about 2000 years ago, to Christians who were living in different parts of what we know today as Northern Turkey.
And over the last few weeks, in chapter 1 and the start of chapter 2, we've seen him reminding them that they're different,
…they're not like the world around them,
…because they've been chosen by God.
Through God's great mercy, 1v3,
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
…they've been given a new life,"
…with new hope.
They have faith in God, so now they have an eternal home waiting for them in heaven.
Last week we saw, at the beginning of chapter 2, he told them that becoming Christians mean that their status had changed.
You're like living stones, in God's house, Peter said v4,
You're like holy priests, offering your lives as a sacrifice to God.
"a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God…"
You've changed! He says.
Chosen by God and special.
And exactly the same is true of you…if you're a Christian here tonight.
God has been at work in you and has made you different from the world around you.
In fact, you're so different, now that you've become a Christian, that you're like "aliens and strangers in the world."
The problem is, that most of us, don't like to be different.
We are different.
Becoming a Christian brings such radical change that Jesus said it's like being 'born again.'
But we don't like being different, so often we're tempted to do one of two things.
Some of us are tempted to be SEPARATE.
We don't like being different from the world around us, so we try to get out of the world as much as possible.
We cut off ties and friendships that we used to have, and we just spend time with Christians, reading Christian books, listening to Christian music and coming to Church.
Others of us are tempted to be SECRET.
We don't like being different from our friends and our family who aren't Christian either,
…but instead of cutting ourselves off from them, we make sure that when we're around them, we just don't talk about Christian things too much.
We don't mention that side of our lives too much, we hide it and just try to blend in.
But in our passage tonight Peter says that doing either of those two things is wrong.
If you're a Christian, he says,
…then you shouldn't be SEPARATE from the world,
…and nor should you keep your faith a SECRET.
Instead, he says, Christians should
1) STAND OUT, (by living good lives), v11-12
That's the first thing that we see in vv 11-12,
…Christians should STAND OUT.
Look at vv 11-12…
"Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us."
Christians living in a non-Christian world, are like aliens and strangers in the world, who should STAND OUT, Peter says, by living good lives.
And standing is good, he says,
…both for us,
…and for the people around us.
Look at v11 again…
"Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul."
If you live in a non-Christian world, which they did in Northern Turkey back then,
…and which we certainly do in Britain today.
Well then you need to be aware that it is warring against your soul.
We don't often think of it like that do we?
There may be some things, extreme things, that we recognise as being 'anti-Christian',
…things that actively lead us into temptation, or promote what we know is wrong.
But most of the time the things of this world seem fairly harmless, or neutral, when it comes to our relationship with God, don't they?
Well, let's take an example.
Think of Strictly Come Dancing.
Maybe you're a fan, but even if you're not I guess you've seen a bit or heard of it.
It's a family show, isn't it?
It's on early enough for kids to watch it.
But just think about some of the underlying values it promotes.
First of all, it's a competition. There's nothing wrong with that.
But the contestants are voted off by either the judges' decision or public opinion.
So at some level, at least, it tells us that it's what other people think of us is what's important.
And even though it's supposed to be a family show,
…some of the costumes they wear are clearly designed to be sexually provocative, aren't they?
And underlying it all,
…every year it seems that the media hopes that some of the couples will be having affairs.
Now please don't misunderstand me, I'm not trying to single out Strictly Come Dancing,
…I could have chosen almost any programme on TV and made similar observations.
Nor am I suggesting that we should throw away our TVs, not at all.
We've already seen, that Christians aren't supposed to be separate from the world,
…we're "in the world," v11, and, "live…lives among the pagans" v12,
…and that's right.
But we do need to recognise that whatever our non-Christian world says,
…or promotes, or values,
…by definition, will be non-Christian.
It won't be encouraging us to worship God, it will be encouraging our sinful desire to worship other things,
…and therefore, Peter says, it wars against our souls.
Try this experiment.
Every day, on your way to work, or when you're out for a walk,
…find a piece of gravel and put it in your pocket!
On day one you probably won't even notice it.
By the end of the first week,
…you'll notice the 7 bits of gravel in your pocket, but it probably won't bother you.
But if you keep putting just one little bit of gravel in your pocket every day,
…soon enough that will start weighing you down.
And it's the same with the world.
Every day we see adverts, read papers, have conversations, check websites, watch TV shows,
From the world's non-Christian point of view.
…and whilst they may only seem little, and insignificant, over time they add up,
…and they feed our sinful desires.
So, Peter says, Christians should STAND OUT.
First of all by recognising what sinful desires those adverts and shows and websites and conversations, are promoting,
…secondly, if necessary, cutting them out or cutting them back,
…to help us live pure lives.
Secondly he says Christians should stand out by living good lives,
…because it's good for the people around us, look at v12…
In Philippians 2 the apostle Paul says this…
"Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life."
Christians lives are supposed to 'shine like stars' in a non-Christian world.
What happens when you go out to the shed and turn on the light?
Some things are drawn to that light aren't they?
…they are attracted by what they see.
And that should be true for us as well.
People should see Christians living in this world and be drawn in.
They see lives filled with peace and joy and contentment and hope,
…and they want to find out more.
I hope you've had that experience in your life.
The second thing that happens when you turn on the light in the shed,
Is that other creatures hate the light and you'll just catch a glimpse of them as they scurry away.
And that's true for us as well.
Sometime when people see Christians standing out by living good lives,
…they see our good deeds, v12, but they don't like it.
In John 3 Jesus said this,
"Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed."
That's what happened to Daniel in our OT reading,
…he was good and upright in every way, and his colleagues hated him for it.
Here's what a philosopher called Scott Peck says…
"There really are people and institutions made up of people, who respond with hatred in the presence of goodness and would destroy the good insofar as it is in their power to do so. They do this not with conscious malice but blindly, lacking awareness of their own evil
Evil people hate the light because it reveals themselves to themselves. They hate goodness because it reveals their badness; they hate love because it reveals their laziness. They will destroy the light, the goodness, the love in order to avoid the pain of such self-awareness."
Some people hate seeing Christians stand out by living good lives.
The people Peter wrote his letter to knew had experienced that.
Look at 4v4…
"They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you."
And yet, Peter says, even though some people may react like that when Christians stand out by living good lives,
…we should continue.
Because when Jesus returns they will understand and give glory to God.
So you might get picked on and ridiculed by the other boys on the bus,
…if you stand out and refuse to watch porn with them on their ipads on the way to school.
When the girls at work hear you saying that you're not going to sleep with your boyfriend until you get married,
…they might make fun of you for standing out, and cut you out of their conversations.
Or when they are having a go at the boss and you refuse to join in…
Or when it comes up in conversation that you chose not to watch that programme because of the nudity,
When you keep wearing the same dress or your clothes look tired, because you'd rather give your money away than spend it on your wardrobe…
When in your life you worship God, and not the things of this world,
…you will stand out,
…and you may get some stick for that.
But when God appears…
When Jesus comes back,
…every knee will bow.
And their mouths will be silenced,
…and your obedience will bring glory to God.
So if you're a Christian living in a non-Christian world,
…Peter says, STAND OUT,
Stand out by living a good life,
…it's good for you and it's good for the people around you.
Well, you may say, that's all well and good, but what does it mean?
What does it look like for Christians to STAND OUT in our world?
And so Peter goes on to give us an example.
In fact he's going to show us this one example for the rest of our passage tonight,
…and for the next two passages we're going to look at.
Standing out as a Christian, by living good lives, means that we should SUBMIT to all authority.
Look at v13a…
"Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human authority"
"Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters,"
"Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives,"
Well I'm happy to say that I'm going to leave the thorny issue of slavery and marriage for Chris to sort out over the next few weeks(!)
But let's finish our time tonight by looking at vv 13-17 and Peter's call for Christians to…
2) SUBMIT, for the Lord's sake, vv 13-17
(That's my second point, -"-)
Look at vv 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."
Now, at first, all of this might seem counter-intuitive.
Peter just said that Christians are "aliens and strangers in the world."
Christians worship God.
Our homes are in heaven where an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, is kept for us.
So why should we submit to earthly authorities?
And he doesn't just say that Christians should submit to some authorities, he says Christians should submit to every authority,
…to kings and governors (in their case)
…and to government and the police and the local authorities, and our bosses at work and our teachers at school and our parents at home (in ours)
Well, he tells at the beginning of v13,
"Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority,"
Submit yourselves to every authority instituted among men…for the Lord's sake.
And then he explains what that means in vv 15 and 16.
First then, v15…
"For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people."
Christians should be the best citizens of any country…
Teachers should love having Christians kids in their class…
Landlords should love having Christian tenants in their properties…
Bosses should love having Christians in their workforce…
Managers should love having Christians on their shifts…
And captains should love having Christians on their teams…
They still might not like us, at times, because our good lives might challenge their own behaviour,
…but if we submit to their leadership we will make it hard for them to speak badly against us.
"Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God's slaves."
If you are a Christian, then you are free.
You're not of this world anymore, you've been forgiven through Jesus and your home is in heaven.
But that doesn't mean that you can ignore authority and do what you want.
Because you are a servant of God.
You might say, well now that I'm a Christian,
…God is my authority, and I only need to obey his word,
…and his word doesn't say anything about only driving at 70 mph on the motorway,
…so I'm free, to drive however fast I feel like(!)
And Peter says, no, you need to submit.
Yes, God is your authority, and you are his servant,
…but it is God who put in place all other authorities too.
So we honour God and worship God by submitting to every authority instituted among men.
Now, we've only begun to look at this, and over the next few weeks we'll look at it in more detail,
…but can you see what a difference that makes?
If you are a Christian then you need to obey all authorities,
…not just when you agree with them, and not just so that they don't punish us,
…but for the sake of the Lord.
If you're a Christian then you should obey the police and the traffic laws and the government and your boss and your teachers and your parents,
…because you serve God.
Not because they have independent authority over you,
…but because they have God given authority over you.
In other words, you obey them to obey God.
Now that might seem like bad news to you, but it's actually wonderful news,
…and here's why.
When we obey our earthly authorities, because we serve our heavenly authority,
…we are worshipped God.
So, when you choose to drive at 70mph on the motorway and no more,
…because you want to obey the earthly authorities out of love for your heavenly authority,
When you choose to honour you bosses request, even if it's unreasonable,
…and honour his authority out of love for your heavenly authority,
When you obey your parents even you think they're being unreasonable,
…and respect their authority because you love your heavenly authority,
…then you are worshipping God!
If you are a Christian here tonight, then you are an alien and a stranger in this world.
You are wonderfully different from the world around you.
But don't SEPARATE yourself from it, and don't hide your faith as a SECRET.
STAND OUT, Peter says, by living good lives,
And SUBMIT to all authorities, for the Lord's sake.