Aliens and Strangers

Maybe it’s just me, but I see a lot people in this world whose lives don’t have the comfort and convenience I am used too. If it gets chilly in my office I need only walk a few feet to turn the heat up. More importantly, no one is going to arrest me for sharing my faith. A few months ago a family in our congregation returned to their home country of Liberia. They face immense challenges. Things we take for granted like power and internet don’t come easy where they live. Getting clean water is a real challenge.  In response to such things I am moved by the letter of 1 Peter. The author brings hope to those without comfort and pushes the rest of us to be faithful with God’s blessings.

The letter is addressed to resident aliens and strangers living in Roman provinces. These provinces were located where modern Turkey is today. This large region was culturally diverse. Due in part to its rural nature most of it did not Romanize like other areas with large cities. In fact no cities are mentioned in the letter. While it is easy to understand the author using the metaphor of strangers in his letter, it is good for us to understand his addressees were probably literal resident aliens and strangers in the provinces. This language, taken literally, has social implications; “strangers” refers to a class of people viewed lower than local citizens. They were excluded from voting, landholding and civic offices. They were limited in their legal recourses, intermarriages and commerce. It was possible they might be forced to serve in the military or receive harsh punishments for crimes. Despite this they were required to pay all the same taxes as full citizens. The native population was also suspicious and antagonistic toward them. Being a Christian made it more difficult. Christianity was not an official religion at the time and people were suspicious of it. What was meant to provide salvation and church family may have created even more conflict with locals.

In spite of the challenges these Christian strangers faced, the author reminds them of the hope they have through Jesus.

“According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” v.3b

These Circum-Mediterranean Christians were born into a new life.  The Greek, anagennao (born again) only appears twice in the NT and both occur in chapter one of 1 Peter. It illustrates how different they are from what they once were. When God transforms your life it is like being reborn as a new creature.  It’s no wonder they feel alienated as believers. Despite how alienated they may feel from those around them, they are united into a new relationship with God and other believers. One of the benefits of their new life is a living hope. This gift of hope is confidence that God will work things out for the good of his people. Similar to how the Kingdom of God broke into the world, hope breaks into the daily lives of Christians. It is meant to change the outlook of these resident strangers in the provinces of Asia. Every Christian has an imperishable inheritance guarded by God through our faith. The trials and suffering the strangers experience in life breaks against the living hope they enjoy. Hope drives their faithfulness to God. It shapes how their daily experience.

It is certainly something Christians should remember today. For those of us blessed with many comforts and luxuries we must remember that it is all worthless compared to the living hope we possess. It should spur us to faithfulness. Everything we have should be devoted to God. We may not be geographical strangers, or exiles, or Liberian missionaries, but all Christians are new born children living as spiritual strangers and foreigners in the world.

Elliott, John Hall. The Anchor Bible. Vol. v. 37B, 1 Peter: a New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New York: Doubleday, ©2001.