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God's Chosen People in Exile

On Sunday evening, Reverend James MacIver continued with the second of his studies in the series on 1 Peter, this time entitled, God’s Chosen People in Exile.

In the previous study, we saw how God’s people were chosen according to His foreknowledge, and through the sanctification of the Holy Spirit. This study considers them as exiles of the dispersion, or people of the diaspora – one elect people, nonetheless, despite their dispersal throughout the five regions mentioned by Peter, (which roughly equate to modern Turkey).

Mr MacIver pointed out the inadequacy of the translation, ‘exile’, suggesting that ‘sojourner’, or ‘pilgrim’ might better convey the original meaning. They are not merely scattered, but have no homeland in this world, through which they are merely passing.

Peter is talking in a chiefly spiritual sense, of course. Those who have committed their lives to Christ are suffering for their obedience to Him. They are always going to be on a journey as long as they remain in the world, but Peter is here reassuring them that this will all pass away when they see Heaven.

In this study, two points were emphasised, the first being that God’s people are on a journey homewards.

Pilgrimage is a concept which is built into the Old Testament. Abraham and Jacob are both described as sojourners – the latter undertakes a 40-year journey through the wilderness. Throughout those pilgrimages, however, we see that God protects, tests, guides, feeds and chastises: He is with His people, helping them to grow. Consequently, the pattern of the Old Testament has become a paradigm for the Christian life – John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ being the most famous illustration of that, outwith the Bible itself.

In essence, therefore, what Peter has written here in his letter is a guide for travellers. Throughout the book, he is reminding God’s people to think about who they are, and where they ultimately belong. He also requires them to contemplate what it is that should occupy them on their journey homeward.

This occupation was the second point in the study – that God’s people have a mission as they journey through the world.

The setting for this mission is a world in rebellion against, and open defiance of, God. In 1 Peter 5:13, a seemingly oblique reference is made to ‘Babylon’. It is likely that Peter is talking here about the church in Rome – a city which was the very pinnacle of godlessness and paganism.  What the apostle is doing is encouraging God’s people by reminding them that even there, even in the heart of the most immoral civilisation, they have brothers and sisters in Christ.

Our world today is much the same, with opposition to the cause of Christ manifest on all sides, and even enshrined in law. It would be understandable for the Christian, faced with this, to withdraw to a secluded life. This is not, the answer, however, if the people of God are to be missional. They must learn to lead an alternative lifestyle, in which they demonstrate that it is possible to be in the world, yet not of the world – to live among others, yet not be conformed to their ways, if these are unbiblical.

A further scriptural basis for this approach is to be found in John 17:6, where Christ is praying for the people God gave Him ‘out of the world’. He says that they must remain in the world for a time, but requests that the Lord will keep them – ie keep them safe – while they are there. This entreaty will have little meaning, however, for those who do not witness for Him.

Part of that witness also relates to the way in which Christians interact with one another. They will be less than convincing ambassadors for Christ if they do not demonstrate first love for one another, as instructed by the apostle in 1 Peter 1:22.

Mr MacIver concluded by posing questions to two groups:

-      for professing Christians: leaving aside your verbal confession, does your life show forth that you are a pilgrim with your hope set on Heaven? Would your lifestyle alone demonstrate that you are a Christian, or are you so like the people of the world that you cannot be distinguished from them?

Christians should, in reality, be living a lifestyle that provokes the conscience of others to re-examine their own lives.

-      for those as yet unsaved: do you feel at home in this world? Are you happy with your life as it is? Read Matthew 7: 13 – 14, and remember how easy it is to pass, unthinkingly, along the broad way to destruction. What is your preference – a comfortable life, followed by a dreadful eternity; or to follow the narrow road and be with Jesus Christ and His people in eternity forever?

Numbers 10: 29 – 32 reads, “We are setting out for the place of which the Lord said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us, and we will do good to you, for the Lord has promised good to Israel.”

That is our pledge as Christians to the unsaved, Mr MacIver said. We are not pointing to ourselves , but to God, who has spoken in good conscience to His people. Why would you not want to join them on this journey homewards where, finally, they will be in Zion with the Lord?