Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia
This is the very beginning of Peter’s letters in the New Testament – a great man, my personal favourite apostle, and one of the 3 closest disciples to Jesus. Amongst the 12, there were perhaps most documentation of his deeds – when During the ministry of Jesus, and after. However, it is remarkable how limited his handwritten legacy was – the likes of John and Paul (who wasn’t even one of the 12), are credited to a lot more writings in the New Testament than Peter, whose legacy is limited to 2 letters, 8 chapters, and 166 verses. The Bible’s greatest letter-writer is, perhaps, Paul – who has enough letters in the Bible for a clear style and structure to be observed; but Peter – that is, if we can claim a style from just 2 chapters – had a distinctly different style. We will look at the beginning of his written legacy today – 1 Peter 1:1. In his greetings Peter had used a very indirect way of addressing the people to whom he had written for. In this study we will focus on that term, strangers in the world.
Strangers of the world – In most versions this phrase isn’t as clearly interpreted as the NIV. Some versions rendered the term as ‘aliens’, others as ‘strangers’, yet others as ‘exiles’ – and most versions do not state that they were strangers to the world. Most just relate the idea that they were living as foreigners. Due to the general ambiguity of this phrase, there have been scholars who suggest that this phrase refers to the Jews who are living amongst the Gentiles, others suggest that this refers to the followers of Christ, Jews and Gentiles alike, who are living as foreigners amongst the native people of today’s Turkey or thereabouts. The NIV Bible and a few other versions interpreted the phrase very explicitly for us, and it is this idea that I will be adopting in this study, because while certainly a large number of believers were living in foreign soil at that time, and while most certainly Jews were living amongst the Gentiles in an increasingly Romanized society, it is only if you talk about being strangers of this world as they belonged to the Kingdom of God that it truly applies with no exceptions to every believer.
There are a few notable points of being strangers in the world that we can see from this verse and the next. Firstly, they are God’s elect, chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father himself, secondly, these strangers in the world were chosen through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and thirdly, they were chosen to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood. Effectively, this meant that all the strangers in this world were chosen by, through, and because of the Holy Trinity. It is the work of the Holy Trinity – and that’s massive. Later on, Peter elaborates on the identity of these strangers in the world – if they do not belong to this world, then what are they? Where do they come from? But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light [1 Peter 2:9|Article].
Have you ever heard of the saying, when in Rome, do as the Romans do? There are some Christian roots to a saying like that – in fact, it was attributed to Saint Ambrose from the 1st Century AD. It is perhaps a very practical and useful advice to a great many exiles and aliens of the land. But even as you perform this to blend into society, do remember that while this can be done at a worldly level, it cannot be done at a spiritual level. When you move from a land to another, learn to adapt to the laws and cultures. But when we are temporarily residents of this world when our eternal place is in the Kingdom of the Lord, this is an entirely different story. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will [Romans 12:2].
Do you recognise yourself as a stranger of the world? In other words, an alien and an exile? We are not of this world, but we belong to God. Regardless of race, language, background, we have the same God, who’s the God of all and richly blesses all who call on Him [Rom 10:12]. Are you first a Christian before you are an American? Are you first a follower of Jesus before you are a student? You don’t have to be. But I suspect, our lives will be transformed, if we are able to be first a Christian – if we’re able to first acknowledge our identity as a Christian, as a people of God, as strangers in this world – before all our other worldly identities.