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Strangers And Pilgrims
Part One: Homiletics
"Here We Are But Straying Pilgrims" is one of my favorite songs. I once heard that song sung in a crescendo/decrescendo fashion; it sounded as though a happy band of Christians, at first singing in the distance, marched past and continued the glad, songful march toward the horizon of heaven itself. I desperately want to make that pilgrimage, and travel with as many family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers and brethren as possible. In the here and the now, though, we are not only pilgrims but strangers, too.
"Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation" (2 Peter 2:11-12).
Abraham was a stranger and a pilgrim in the literal sense of the words. Doubtless, the accent and pronunciation of Abraham and his fellow travelers readily identified them as aliens (Matthew 26:73; Acts 2:7; Judges 12:5-6). The speech of Christians also either identifies them as part of the world or apart from the world (John 17:15-16; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17). Intermingling with the heathen once corrupted the Jews' language and caused many of them to speak the language of Ashdod (Nehemiah 13:23-24). Christians must be careful lest they too (figuratively) speak the language of Ashdod (i.e., worldly language). Sometimes our speech betrays us!
As nomadic people, sojourners in a land not theirs, the patriarchs often were unable to live in peaceful co-existence amidst settled peoples. Today, Christians, sojourning in the lost world sometimes run afoul and are likewise unable to peacefully co-exist with their neighbors, though we ought to try (1 Timothy 2:2; Hebrews 12:14). This is especially true if we "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them" (Ephesians 5:11)!
The social customs of native people often differ widely from the social norms of foreigners; the do's and don'ts, moral codes and ethics frequently conflict between unlike peoples. Certainly social customs greatly differ between the world today and truly Christian pilgrims (i.e., marriage and divorce, alcohol, modesty, abortion). Practicing Christians are foreigners in this sin-sick and dying world; social friction, therefore, is inevitable (2 Timothy 3:12).
Aliens are also sometimes at a legal disadvantage while abiding in a host country since the laws of any land primarily serve the citizens of that nation. Emigrants may be discriminated against under laws not designed with their protection in mind, or foreigners may simply be unfamiliar with applicable laws and consequently be found in non-compliance. The early church was outlawed, first by the Jews (Acts 4-5) and later by the Roman Empire. Today, our government legalizes many things that are contrary to God's law (i.e., alcohol, prostitution, divorce, nudity, pornography, vulgarity, etc.). Additionally, the legal system itself is beginning to turn on religion with a rising new area of American law aimed at churches (i.e., tort law suits for exercising church discipline and malpractice suits). The Lord's church, like the patriarchs of old, is increasingly in danger of becoming legally disadvantaged in this wicked world.
The children of God about whom one can read in Bible history were also adversely affected when they intermarried with the native peoples among whom they found themselves. Frequently, the worship of God was exchanged for idolatry and morals were grossly corrupted. Today, marriage to non-Christians--or even weak or unfaithful Christians--can spiritually ruin God's people.
One of the greatest distractions to pilgrims is the temptation to abandon the pilgrimage, settle down and integrate into the host society. Whereas Abraham remained separate from the heathen people, Lot settled "toward" Sodom--and later was found "in" Sodom! Christians are also tempted daily to abandon their spiritual pilgrimage and become homesteaders. This world has nothing to offer which can begin to compare with the joyous heavenly hereafter with God for eternity (Matthew 19:28,29; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18; 5:1-8; Revelation 21:10-21).
Part Two: Exposition 1 Peter 2:11-12
The words "dearly beloved" are terms of endearment employed by the apostle toward the brethren who were the recipients of his inspired epistle. The phrase "I beseech you" represents a pleading, tender admonishment. Next, Peter referred to his Christian readers as "strangers"--sojourners, aliens, foreigners in a strange land, dwelling near or beside another.
Christians often become as aliens to friends and family members who remain lost--outside Jesus Christ; a spiritual gulf exists between practicing Christians and all others. Christian "citizenship is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20 ASV; Hebrews 11:9-10,13). A foreigner thinks of his homeland though he may be far away from it; Christians ought to never lose sight of Heaven--always seeing it clearly in the mind's eye and ever marching toward it.
The apostle Peter called the addressees of First Peter "pilgrims," too. A pilgrim is a person who remains in a place a short time while traveling through as on a journey, especially a journey to visit a holy place. Therefore, the Christian pilgrim avoids alliances with the world that would impede his spiritual journey to the holiest of all places; neither wealth, possessions, marriage, job nor anything else is entertained with equal or more interest than heavenly and eternal pursuits by conscientious Christians. The pilgrim takes as little baggage as possible with him! Alert Christians relentlessly bound for the promised land and carefully skirt around the lusts of he world (1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4).
To "abstain" here means to hold back from and to continue to hold back from something. "Fleshly lusts" are equivalent to all evil desires (Galatians 5:16-24; 1 Peter 4:3,4) and that from which successful pilgrims hold back. This is so crucial to a successful pilgrimage that the New Testament repeatedly records exhortations concerning "youthful lusts" (2 Timothy 2:22), "former lusts" (1 Peter 1:14), "worldly lusts" (Titus 2:12) and "crucified lusts" (Galatians 5:24).
The idea of "war" is an active, constant aggression; this word depicts a protracted campaign--not a single battle. The "soul," of course, is the immortal part of man and the object of the devil's never-ending assaults.
The word "conversation" refers to the Christians behavior or conduct; favorably influencing other souls is dependent upon keeping one's own soul. "Honest" is the deportment which Christians are exhorted to exhibit; the lost are to be allured through a beautiful, attractive lifestyle rather than by illicit lusts or worldly inducements.
The world, however, is prone to coarsely evaluate the children of God and "speak against us as evildoers." Literally, we are perceived as "bad actors," dramatically out of step with the ungodly, lost world. Christianity was a brilliant light in the sin-darkened Roman ruled world of the first century. Jesus Christ himself was maligned as an evildoer (1 Peter 2:21-23) and his faithful followers will fare no better (Matthew 10:23-25).
In the first century, Christians were erroneously imagined to be evil doers variously: (1) politically, as enemies of government (Acts 17:7-8), (2) religiously, as atheists for their opposition to idolatry (Acts 17:16-32; 19:24-41), (3) commercially, for undermining the manufacture of idols and interfering with the commerce of curious arts (Acts 19:19, 24-41), and (4) ethically, because they opposed the widespread corruption of he day (Ephesians 5:11; Galatians 5:19-21). Consequently, Christians were blamed for every malicious deed and calamity which transpired (e.g., robberies, all kinds of villainy, arson, murder as well as floods, famine, earthquakes and disease).
"Good works," however, readily visible in the lives of Christians, dispelled the evil attributed to Christians; honest auditors of Christian living (beautiful deeds versus crimes) exonerated Christianity. Thereby, Christian living possesses a strong missionary appeal (1 Peter 3:1). Actions really do speak louder than words!
The word "behold" means to scrutinize minutely, examine carefully or closely inspect. The world will vigorously test one's claim to be a Christian, and God intends that evaluation should reveal "light" -- not "darkness" (Matthew 5:16).
The phrase "day of visitation" refers to a day of examination by God. In this verse, emphasis is on God's desire that all souls prepare for this event and save themselves (2 Peter 3:9).
It is imperative that Christians, as strangers and pilgrims, do not unnecessarily burden themselves with worldly distractions so that their pilgrimage will not be hindered; it is in the Christian's own spiritual self interest to abstain from fleshly lusts. Secondly, godly lives can influence others to obey the Gospel of Christ.