This is the last in our series, The Big Picture. In these sermons we’ve been thinking about big picture ideas meant to help us navigate in a chaotic culture.
We started with John 17—we’re in the old but we’re not of it. And yet God sends us into the world in service and mission.
And then Rom 13 on loving our neighbor. This commandment hits us at the micro level—the person I’m on a Zoom call with at work right now. But it also provides us with guidance at the macro level. It’s a call to be inconvenienced for the sake of others. And it guides us in our political engagement. We vote and maybe even get involved in politics so that our neighbors can thrive. Our neighbor here is the whole array of people I can impact—immigrants, the poor, blacks and whites and Hispanics and Asians and Indians and all races in our culture, it includes the unborn. Loving my neighbor touches on the kinds of laws and policies a society has. These impact how my neighbor will flourish.
The third sermon was from Ephesians 6 and the armor of God. One of the burdens here was to grasp the reality of the devil. The devil and his demons aren’t medieval inventions to scare us into obedience. They are real and actively opposing us all day, every day. The book of Job reminds us that the devil does only what God allows. God and the devil aren’t in some boxing match where the outcome is uncertain. But nonetheless, as we navigate the winds and waves of our culture, we need to remember that there’s more than simply people out there making decisions. There’s another layer of this world. An unseen layer. The devil and his demons are our real enemies. We fight with the armor God provides—faith, his Word, righteousness, truth.
This fourth sermon is from 1 Peter 2:11–17. In this passage Peter calls us “SOJOURNERS AND EXILES.” And then he calls us to live according to that understanding.
Most of us don’t easily think of ourselves that way. For some of us, we were born in the state where we’re now living.
But that’s not true for all of us. Some of us were born in other countries. With a language and dress and food and traditions and music very different from this part of NC.
Maybe you find that Americans and their sense of time are completely messed up. For you time is about people and relationships. The meeting starts when everyone gets there and a meal together is an event. You don’t get Americans who arrive exactly at 7:31 for a 7:30 meeting and tend to leave at 9:20 to get their kids in bed by 10.
To you Americans are loud, self-important, rude, and…have a weird obsession with peanut-butter.
The longest I’ve lived out of the country was a month in Russia in my 20s. I was part of Youth-With-A-Mission and in Sochi, Russia as part of a short-term mission trip. This was years before Sochi was spruced up for the Olympics, right after the collapse of the Soviet Union. At that time it was a dirty, poor, and struggling city. We went into schools and orphanages and churches to preach Christ.
It was a challenge to be confronted almost every minute of the day with the truth that this isn’t my home and these aren’t my people. Of course, spiritually, some of them were my people. Because of the language barrier, we still weren’t able to fellowship freely, though.
In the words of Peter I was a “sojourner and exile” for a time in Sochi, Russia. It was beautiful country, being on the Black Sea with the Caucasus Mountains nearby. But it wasn’t home and didn’t feel like home.
Peter’s point, though, is that Christians are all “sojourners and exiles.” We might be as American as baseball and applie pie, but as Christians this isn’t my home and the culture around us isn’t our people.
To live and think well we need to grasp this key aspect of our Christian identity.
Peter opens our passage with a strong statement about our identity as Christians: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and aliens…”
This pair of words captures two ideas. “Sojourner” captures the idea of “foreigner,” someone from somewhere else.
You’re not a tourist, but where you are isn’t home. In Acts 7 Stephen speaks of the Israelites being “sojourners” in Egypt (7:6) and Moses being a “sojourner” in Midian (7:29). Israelites were there for centuries and Moses for forty years in Midian. But these places weren’t home.
“Exile” accents the fact you’re living there. Many translations use “aliens.” It means you’re “residing temporarily,” not permanently. It’s less about where you’re from, more about how long you’re here.
Peter combines both of these terms to say to us, “This world isn’t your home and you’re not staying here long.”
The other side of this is that an “exile” lacks “citizenship or legal rights” (Michaels, 1 Peter, WBC, 116).
This world might not be our true home, but we’re not aimless drifters unattached and who don’t belong anywhere. It’s just that we don’t belong here. And we won’t be here long.
We do have a people:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Pet 2:9–10)
To the world and in the world we’re “sojourners and exiles,” but we’re also part of an eternal people. The people of God. A people who have “received mercy.”
Well, we aren’t here long, and we’re headed somewhere—and soon. Peter doesn’t develop that but leaves us a hint about it. He reminds us at the end of 1 Peter 2:12 that there’s a “day of visitation” coming.
A day when God will bring a definitive end to this age. He will visit the world in a climactic way. In judgment but also salvation. He will redeem the world. He will save his people. Christ is coming again.
History itself isn’t destined to last very long. Part of the reason we won’t be here long is that this world is headed for judgment. And that judgment is coming soon.
In Peter’s letter he uses the phrase, “a little while” (1 Peter 1:6; 5:10). We’re here only “a little while” and then the end is to come.
It’s not just because of our death that we’re not here long. It’s also because God is bringing a new heaven and new earth. This heaven and earth won’t be here long.
What Peter highlights in our verses is the different lifestyle that we live as God’s people. “Sojourners and exiles” just passing through a place don’t tend to adopt the traditions and behaviors and lifestyle of the place where they are. They live differently. And sometimes the native culture around them resents that.
Peter says we’re not to take on the way of life of those around us. And that starts inside of us.
The first thing we do is “abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against the soul.”
Our bodies, our minds, our emotions, all these are part of “the passions of the flesh.” All these have cravings that try and pull us away from holiness and obedience.
Peter says these are even “waging war against the soul.” They tempt us to follow our sinful desires instead of the path of obedience. And the result is a “war against the soul.”
“Desires of the flesh.” Euguene Peterson wrote The Message a few years ago to make the Bible more accessible to people. I don’t recommend it as your day-to-day Bible, but here’s how he translates Galatians 5:19–21 about “the deeds of the flesh.” These capture pretty well what Peter means by “desires of the flesh”:
It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.
Eugene Peterson, The Message, Gal 5:19–21
Peter’s call is to fight. To fight against these desires. To turn away from what the world offers.
But we do this “AS SOJOURNERS AND EXILES,” as those who know:
Living this way, a way counter-cultural, doesn’t always earn the respect of the culture around us. Sometimes it does. But often it gets misunderstood. Peter says sometimes they’ll “speak against you as evildoers.”
Early Christians were often the recipients of slander and accusations for simply living out a basic Christian lifestyle:
And today it’s no different. If you take a moral, principle stand on matters of gender, sexuality, and marriage, people aren’t impressed with your integrity. They label you a bigot or narrow-minded or accuse you of hate speech.
But on “the day of visitation” our reputations will change instantly. God himself will be there and it will be clear to all that we’re on his side. And then they’ll “glorify God” even for our good deeds.
It’s not really clear whether they’re converted or not. The point is really that the true goodness of Christian good deeds will become clear. And then they’ll glorify God because of it.
So, you might be living in America now but from New Zealand or Nigeria or Uganda or the Congo or Mexico or Macau (Ma-cow). At times it doesn’t feel like home.
But know that’s true for all of us. All of us are waiting to go home.
Now we get to the second main command in the passage, 1 Peter 2:13. The basic command is to submit to the authorities in our lives, especially civil authorities.
But what’s clear is that we’re doing this as “SOJOURNERS & EXILES.” We’re not typical citizens submitting in the typical way. We’re doing it in a very distinct way. There’s even something subversive here. Something a little revolutionary.
First let’s get the basic command, 1 Peter 2:13–14.
It’s a pretty categorical submission. Obeying laws, paying taxes, doing what they ask us to do. The general posture of Christians to civil authority is submission.
It’s to the emperor and any governors he puts in place. The word isn’t “emperor” but the Greek word for “king.” But at this time, the only person recognized as king by Peter in Rome and his readers throughout the empire was the emperor. That’s why the ESV uses “emperor.”
Submission is to all levels of government—high and mighty “emperors” but also “governors” he puts in place.
Submission to the big and far away emperor is sometimes easier than the “governors” he puts in place over local regions. Lots of times these governors impact our lives more. And we might know their weaknesses more fully. Either way, we’re called to submit to both.
We honour every “human creature” and acknowledge the supreme authority of the king and of governors sent by him. This is amazing when we reflect that the supreme king of the Roman empire was the neurotic Nero and that a governor sent by another Caesar was Pontius Pilate!
Edmund P. Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter
In general, it’s a benefit to us when we obey them. One of the chief purposes of civil government is given here: “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:14).
So, if we’re “doing good” in the culture, it should be the case that we’ll benefit.
Sometimes a civil government might recognize our innocence more than people speaking evil against us. Remember the trials of Jesus. Pontius Pilate was ready to declare Jesus innocent of the charges but the Jewish leaders wouldn’t have it.
Paul was declared innocent by Roman authorities on several occasions, but the Jewish leaders wouldn’t stop oppressing him.
We can’t count on civil governments to declare us righteous, but sometimes it happens.
But now we also need to see the more subversive and even revolutionary side of what Peter says. Peter is no blind follower of human power structures.
A Roman emperor at this time would have thought of himself as something between a normal man and a god. He might accept that he didn’t belong alongside Jupiter in some Roman temple, but he also knew he didn’t belong next to the common citizens of Rome. He was something different.
Peter says, No, Not at all. But there’s a craftiness and subtlety in how Peter makes his point:
The ESV translates 1 Peter 2:13, “Submit to every human institution.” More accurately it’s “submit…to every human creation” — It can even be, “every human creature.”
Peter is saying one of two things, both radical. Either “the authority you’re submitting to is the creation of a human” or “the authority you’re submitting to is a human creature.” Either way the accent is on how utterly human this authority is.
Scholar Travis Williams calls this “an act of subtle yet calculated resistance.”
For Caesar, this would be humbling and even offensive. Peter is saying that in the emperor there’s no deity at work here, but merely something man-made.
But then there’s the motive. We do it “for the Lord’s sake/because of the Lord” (1 Peter 2:13). Not, “because of the emperor’s greatness.” The point here is to “relativize” our submission to the emperor. “By this statement [Peter] reveals exactly where the Christians’ true authority lies. It is God’s authority, not the emperor’s, which motivates submission.”
Then we submit “as people who are free” (1 Peter 2:16). This isn’t about our human situation. We might be slaves with no practical freedsoms at all. But Peter says at a deeper level we’re “free.” Earthly chains and prison cells don’t define freedom. God defines freedom. If we’re free in Christ, we’re free indeed.
Then we submit “as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16). We’re free indeed, but our freedom includes us being “servants of God.” Whatever our life circumstances, we’re still slaves—“slaves of God.”
Peter’s qualification of human authorities in 1 Peter 2:17, the conclusion of this paragraph.
Here he tells us what is owed to various people. Notice the pattern:
The middle commands represent the Christian’s highest allegiances: To “the brotherhood” and to “God.” We give the church a special love and God a comprehensive “fear.”
“Fear” is reserved exclusively for God alone. We might honor a king, but we need not fear him. “Fear him who can kill the body and the soul,” said Jesus (Matt 10:28).
We give to “the emperor” what we give to “everyone,” namely, honor. Further, we don’t give “fear” to the king but only fear “the Lord.”
Peter puts our relationship to the king in a more wholistic context, set alongside all our relationships. We have obligations to everyone, to the church, to the Lord, and to the king. The king doesn’t get our exclusive allegiance. We give him the honor he is due as a chosen vessel of God—but we don’t give him more than that.
Live as sojourners and exiles:
Giving a right respect to earthly authorities:
For some of you who struggle with loneliness: Remember, you have a home. You have a people.
For all of us: Knowing this allows us to live a life of sacrifice for Christ.
Like Paul: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). He could do that because he knew where his true home was and who his true people were.
Prayer and Closing Song (“For the Cause”).
 See Peter Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, NICNT, 97.
 J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter, WBC, 125.
 Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter, BST, 110.
 Travis B Williams, “The Divinity and Humanity of Caesar in 1 Peter 2,3: Early Christian Resistance to the Emperor and His Cult,” Zeitschrift Für Die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft Und Die Kunde Der Älteren Kirche 105.1 (2014): 147.
 Williams, “The Divinity and Humanity of Caesar,” 145.
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