This is a picture of chapels hewn into the rock by the early Christians in Asia Minor (modern Turkey), part of the same area that Peter’s audience lived.
Being a pilgrim requires a certain level of detachment from surrounding culture and its influence. The challenge for us is to be engaged with secular culture for the sake of the Gospel while remaining detached from “the world”.
James in his intensely practical letter says that being “friends with the world is to be the enemy of God” (James 4:4). John tells us to “…not love the world or the things in the world.If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world-the lust of the flesh, the lust of eyes, and the pride of life-is not of the Father but is of the world (1 John 2:15-16). The sobering part of this imperative is the word for ‘love’ that John uses. It is from the Greek word agape, which is precisely the love we are to give to God and our brothers and sisters in Christ. Thus, the point of these two writers is that being friendly with the world and loving the world is tantamount to not loving God and far worse, being the enemy of God.
I think there is some confusion about what being worldly really means. John’s definition above is helpful and I write about it in other articles (“The Real Enemies of the Christian” series) at faithwriters.com. Simply put, the ‘world’ (kosmos) is all that opposes the kingdom of God because it is under the dominion of sin and the demonic. This is why James speaks so forcefully and unequivocally that being friends with the world is to be the enemy of God.This echoes what Jesus said about the impossibility of serving two masters; it will either be God or the Devil/world. And to all the so-called free-spirits who that think they are masters of their own destinies, understand there is no third option. It is a concrete either/or and never a both/and. Let’s see what Peter has to say about all this when he advises his audience of pilgrims how to live during their exile.
Lets look at chap. 1:17 first and make some connections with other verses that set the stage for this idea of having no intercourse with the world. Peter uses the term παροικία which means ‘resident aliens’ in 1:17 and is translated by the phrase “throughout the time of your stay here”. This designation adds to the idea of ‘pilgrims’ in the NKJV or “exiles” in the ESV (παρεπίδημος) found in chap. 1:1.These words are used together in chap. 2:11. The point here is that their status as non-permanent non-residents “scattered” about in this region (diaspora, chap. 1:1) is the occasion for a certain kind of conduct and the counsel Peter gives is based on this fact. Peter’s language here hearkens back to the same kind of ‘scattering’ we find in the Old Testament when the
Jews lost their homeland to invading forces and were “carried away” into captivity. It is clear Peter’s audience was being persecuted.
Now, let’s try to imagine what it must have been like for these people in Asia Minor. Living for Christ was heavily penalized. They are being persecuted by former friends and associates, by their own relatives and by pagan religious leaders. It would be like you suddenly being rejected, ridiculed, held in suspicion, your livelihood threatened and punished in multiple ways by friends, family and society-at-large for simply professing faith in Christ. It would be very easy to start thinking that being a Christian is to be a low-class member of the community , an aberration, like having a sickness so others avoid you at all costs. It could make you feel inferior even if by societies standards you were thought of as ‘successful’. I think this is why Peter reminds them of their royal lineage as citizens of another country in chapters 1 and 2.
For example, Peter uses the term ‘elect’ in verse 2 to describe these people. By virtue of this divine election, they belong to God and, therefore, their circumstances are not accidental nor do they reflect any kind of divine abandonment. They are part of a divine plan and divine decision that was established before the world was even created. This entire letter expands and illustrates this point. They are, therefore, not to think of themselves as rejected nor victims of out-of-control circumstances, but rather as citizens of another “world” because they are not citizens of this one (the kosmos); they are pilgrims and foreigners and shall always be such no matter what their location.Therefore, for a Christian to be and to feel alienated in the midst of worldly culture should be of no surprise. The mistake for us all is when we try to assuage this sense of alienation by joining in with the surrounding ‘worldliness” (kosmos) that, remember, is opposed to the kingdom of God.
We can illustrate this point by referring to the Ephesians letter. Παροικίa (resident aliens) is used by Paul in Eph. 2:19 to declare that Gentile Christians are not strangers and foreigners with regard to God but rather fellow citizens with the saints and members of His household; it is an image of family and belonging. So, taking Peter and Paul together, we can say that Christians are spatially and temporally located in the ‘world’ and are therefore strangers, foreigners and sojourners while, at the same time, members of God’s family, His sons and daughters belonging to a different kingdom. So, people who reject God remain strangers and foreigners to His kingdom while remaining “at home” in the world whereas Christians are at home with God and become strangers and foreigners to the world. Thus, for James at least, being ‘friends with the world” when your allegiance is to God is tantamount to treason.
More to come…….