1 Peter 1: 1Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,
As he crossed the finish line in 2nd place at the 2016 Rio Olympics marathon, Feyisa Lilesa raised his crossed arms above his head. Lilesa’s gesture showed solidarity with protestors back home in Ethiopia where his ethnic people group, the Oromo, were suffering under a brutal government clampdown – thousands jailed and many losing their lives. Lilesa brought international attention to the plight of his people, however, he paid a price having to go into exile in the U.S. as he feared for his life if he returned home. Things changed drastically in 2018 when the sitting Prime Minister resigned, and Abiy Ahmed became the first Oromo to become Prime Minister of Ethiopia. Not many months later Lilesa, the exiled athlete, was able to return home to a hero’s welcome and where he was honored by the new Prime Minister.
This concept of being an exile or alien or stranger comes up often in the Bible. In the New Testament the Greek word used is parepidemos meaning “an alien alongside”, “a resident foreigner”, “a pilgrim”, “a stranger”. In today’s scripture Peter sends his letter to: “God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout…” The writer of the book of Hebrews in Chapter 11 verse 13, when describing people of faith, says: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.”
As Christians we are to walk a critical line. On one hand we must be very much present on this earth so that we can be Christ’s hands and feet and mouth (Romans 10: 14-15). Yet we need to continue to remind ourselves that this is not our home – we are exiles. This world is but a temporary blip on our radar. The Apostle Paul summarized this dilemma when he wrote to the Philippian church. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. (Philippians 1: 21-24).
What does it look like to be a stranger? I don’t believe this means we should go out of our way to ostracize ourselves from the world, wearing distinctly different clothes, and holing ourselves away in a holy huddle, but I do believe that if we truly follow the word of God, and the leading of the Holy Spirit we will look different to the world. Paul instructed the Roman church: “2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). By not conforming to this world, by being strangers here, we can be a light. “16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) However, being a bold exile will also cost you. When Paul wrote to Timothy about his persecutions, he made this global statement to all believers: “12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Timothy 3:12)
How about you? Are you ok with being a stranger, an alien on this earth? If you are being challenged with this, pray earnestly to God to show you who you really are and to show you your true citizenship. You have been elected, selected to be a stranger.