Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Living as Exiles in Babylon: Christians in Culture

As we look at 1st Peter chapter 2 and 3, we consider the background of this epistle. Peter wrote his letter to Jewish Christians in the dispersion throughout Asia Minor, in the Roman Empire. Jewish Christians were the recipients, but Peter also speaks clearly to the gentile Christians throughout Asia Minor as well. And Peter writes to these people, exiles, foreigners, people who are scattered, and he instructs them on how to live as exiles in a foreign land. But we will see that its more complicated than just Jews in exile, but more so, Christians in a fallen world.

Peter addresses many questions for us, that we even have today: How do we live in a society that doesn’t honor God? How do we live in our little Babylon, honoring God, but also obeying the laws and precepts of American society?

Watch this video from the The Bible Project titled “Exile.”

1st Peter chapter one begins with a greeting, then goes into a beautiful depiction of the salvation message, split equally between grace through faith in Christ, and then a strong message of holiness and purity in the world. This section about holiness, which the NIV titles “Be holy” concludes by saying “put aside all sin, and grow up in your salvation.” So the context for our scripture today is this exhortation to be holy as God is holy. That leads into our portion, which seems to be the “how” of holiness. It starts “As you come to him, the living Stone…” How do we be holy? Continuously coming to Christ.

“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” -1st Peter 2:4-5

From the Reformation Study Bible: “living stone. Christ is this stone (1 Cor. 10:4). The image of “rock” and “stone” is common in the Old Testament (Ps. 118:22; Is. 8:14; 28:16) and is applied by Jesus to Himself (Matt. 21:42). “Living” indicates that Christ is the source and giver of life (John 1:4; 1 Cor. 15:45). Jesus often uses imagery drawn from stonemasonry, a trade He was intimately acquainted with. Carpenters in antiquity worked with stones as well as wood.”

Question: It says Jesus was rejected by humans but chosen by God. How in your life have you experienced a rejection from humanity? Have you noticed ways in your life that God shows he considers you chosen and precious?

Question: We’re spiritual stones, being built into a house of God. What spiritual sacrifices do you offer to God? (morning detail, 6 am snow shoveling? Big or small, doesn’t matter)

We are exiles in the world, and yet we are so precious and chosen, and being built as a holy priesthood in a lost world.

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” -1st Peter 2:9-10

Question: What was it like before you knew Christ as Lord? “Once you were not a people.”

It was very dark for me. I was a badly addicted soul. Several times in early twenties I was near suicide. I didn’t know what life was really about. And I called out to God that night and I felt only emptiness. Life without God is very dark, at least for me it was.

Question: What’s it like now to live with Christ in the light?

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 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.” -1st Peter 2:11-12

The sinful desires of this life wage war against our very souls. Which tells me that I’m in danger. We find ourselves as foreigners and exiles in a kingdom that is not our own. We wrestle with the sins of Babylon, and try to throw them off ourselves. And that’s what God calls us to. Abstain from sinful desires God says to us. Abstain by prayer and the Spirit’s victory in us.

For me, I’ve had to really wrestle, to kind of see past the indoctrination our society has put in me. If I don’t resist, I’m prone to become selfish, materialistic, always accumulating more possessions, loving my Starbucks and my high tech gear, and my luxurious accommodations more than I love God. The idol of self is the primary false god of modern society, in my view.

God gives us a radically different way: Live such pure lives among the people here that even if they accuse us of evil, they will see the good we do, and give glory to God.

Question: Have you ever worried that you might have one foot in the world, and one foot in the faith? How can we overcome and give all to God?

“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.” -1st Peter 2:13-16

Peter didn’t write to the diaspora exiles saying, “Work to overthrow the Roman empire.” Or “Gather yourselves to initiate revolts.” Instead Peter writes saying submit yourself, for the sake of God, to all human authorities.

The irony of these statements, especially verse 14, is that Peter writes that governors and leaders are “sent by God to punish those who do wrong, and commend those who do right” and it’s interesting because of how the authorities in Jerusalem persecuted the church. And soon the church would be under heavy persecution from Nero. Yet despite all that, Peter says submit to all human authorities. “Live as free people” it says “but don’t use your freedom as a cover-up for evil.” How many of us have seen Christians who live worldly lives and when you try to encourage them to change, they say, “Well your just being legalistic.”

I’ve encountered that many times. We can certainly abuse our freedom in Christ by using it as a vale for sin, and every time we sin we say, “Well I’m free in Christ.” That is not a proper use of God’s freedom, because God’s freedom calls us to be free from sin, and slaves to Christ.

Question: How do you see the contrast of freedom in Christ and slavery to God play out in your life?

Freedom in Christ I see as freedom from the shackles of sin. Sin is addictive, and Christ sets me free from it. But paradoxically, I’m also a slave to God, one who is called to take part in good works to his service. But I enjoy those works of service, and the shackles of sin offered no such eternal rewards as service to God does.

“Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God.” -1st Peter 2:18-19

Some of the diaspora Jews and believers would be slaves in the Roman empire. Did Peter write to them saying, “Overthrow your masters, kill them in their sleep?” No he didn’t.

Does this mean that the Bible condones and approves of slavery? Of course not! This scripture simply points out a reality of the ancient world. He is instructing slaves to obey God, and through submission to authority win others to the cross of Christ. And if one suffers under the yoke of slavery, they are glorifying God.

Of course God knew that slavery would one day be abolished, by Christians like William Wilberforce. But in the context of 2000 years ago, it was simply a reality of ancient society. Remember, Peter didn’t write to Christians telling them to overthrow governments, instead Christians were called to walk in the tension of ultimate worship of God, and submission to human authorities.

“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” -1st Peter 2:23-25

In verse 23-25 we see a picture of Christ’s perfect form of submission. People hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate. He suffered, but made no threats. And instead he trusted Himself to God. And not only that, Jesus put our sins on himself in his body on the cross. So that we could die to sin, and live for righteousness sake. We were once empty, lost, confused people without a true place. But now we have come back to the shepherd, and walk in his flock. So while we walk in the world, we are exiles, caught in the tension between submission to God, and submission to the various Babylon’s in which we live.

Question: How have you failed to submit to government, authorities, and employers? How have you succeeded?

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, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. -1st Peter 3:1-2

7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. -1st Peter 3:7

Here we see the concept of submission, which has moved from government, to masters, to the example of Christ’s submission, and now comes to wives and husbands. God gave us the great gift of marriage, between man and woman, exclusively, and he gave us guidelines which are quite clear: mutual submission. That doesn’t mean we meet halfway, that doesn’t mean we put up which each other’s nonsense, it means we submit to each other.

Wives are told that if they have unbelieving husbands, that the purity of their lives will win their spouses over for Christ.

Husbands are told to be considerate of their wives, and treat them with respect. Don’t look down on your wife, don’t treat her like an object, don’t be harsh with her, but be respectful. And respectful in a manner such as this: the realization that you and your wife are heirs of the gift of eternal life. Heirs. Now let me ask you this: What are heirs? They are receiving an inheritance. Now in the context of the body of Christ, heirs are considered what in authority? Equal. Equal heirs of eternal life. Isn’t that interesting? Of course it also refers to the woman as the “weaker partner.” And it also gives the reference that Sarah submitted to Abraham and called him her lord, but we should balance that with a general sense of equality (Galatians 3:28).

So what’s the overall message we can take from these scriptures in 1st Peter chapters 2 and 3? First of all, we know we are chosen, from out of the world, from darkness, and we’ve been brought into the light. And we’re a temple of God. In fact, it says we were predestined for this. We recognize that Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of this temple we’re a part of.

Second, we recognize that each of us are like bricks in this house being built up. We’re each different pieces of this puzzle which fits together to form the body of Christ.

Then we are told that we’re foreigners and exiles from the world. We’re a gathering of refugees out of the world, who live in this tension between being citizens of heaven, while still being in this fallen world. We’re told to live such pure lives among Babylon that the Babylonians are amazed and it helps win them to Christ.

Then we’re given this exhaustive list of submissions that we’re supposed to live in. We’re to be submitted to government authorities. We’re to be submitted to our masters, to our leaders. And we’re to be submitted to our wives and to our husbands.

Bullet Points:

-Chosen as part of God’s temple.

-Live pure lives in exile.

-Submit to God, to government, to masters, and to your spouses.

Application Questions:
Question: Do you really see yourself as part of a new kingdom? Or do you still live like an average American chasing the dream of money, family, and good insurance policies?

Question: What parts of your life do you need to unhook from this fallen world to live out a more authentic Christian walk?

Question: Do you practice submission to government authority? Do you practice submission in your marriage relationships? Do you practice submission to those you work for? How can we live it out more fully, the act of Christ-like submission?

Bible Gateway. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2019, from
Bromiley, G. W. (2001). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems.
Mackie, T., & Collins, J. (n.d.). The Jewish Exile. Retrieved January 28, 2019, from
Sproul, R. C., & Mathison, K. A. (2008). The Reformation Study Bible. Orlando, FL: Ligonier Ministries.