I have a profound memory of the first time that I took a trip to a foreign county. You’ll laugh at this as truly “foreign” … it was England. My family never travelled far on vacations. We went to the beach a lot (in New Jersey, of course!), to Baltimore to see my sister, and on a few occasions to visit more distant relatives in Niagara Falls — going a mile or two into Canada one time! And I got to Florida with the college baseball team and on this thing called a “honeymoon.” But that was it.
So, getting out of the airport in London was a big deal, especially being thrown into a rental car and sitting on the opposite side and driving on what is, yes, the WRONG side of the road. About a half-mile out of the airport on a narrow street, I very slightly clipped a parked vehicle, with the mirrors kissing. All the signs were strange, and it was confusing to know where to turn and how to navigate roundabouts. GPS systems had not yet been conceived, let alone invented.
Everything about the experience, including finding out that my first name is a dirty word in British (and thereby using my acceptable middle name of “Alan”), screamed to me that I was the odd one out and was walking as a total stranger in a foreign context.
In terms of our spiritual lives and eternal perspectives, that is how we should feel in the culture around us. That is how the readers of Peter’s letter were feeling — totally out of place and out of step. When in such a situation, the choices are to either give in and get with it by accepting and adapting to the larger reality, or to rather accept and even embrace the idea that you are different and in fact citizens of a different place altogether.
Peter encouraged his readers to essentially embrace choice B …
1:17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
It is our nature as creatures to seek out our own comfort and security; this has always been true and is what lies at the heart of the evolutionary, naturalist view of man. Survival. Strength. Aggression. Accumulation. This is the way of life handed down from the ancestors, to trust in silver or gold — whatever are the exchange items of identified value — the “perishable things” of this material world. Hoping only in this leads, invariably, to an “empty way of life.”
The alternative is to place value in non-perishables — in God generally, and specifically in the blood of Christ who was the chosen sacrificial lamb set aside even before creation, sin, or anything else. Peter is saying to invest in the meta-story and overarching reality of it all, and to not get invested rather in that which has ultimately nothing but transitory value.
A message throughout Scripture is to live in such a way that we are content with giving merely necessary energy and value to the basic necessities of life, and to rather give greatest concentration in all ways to those things that are connected to God’s eternal kingdom.
We should feel like strangers in this material world. We should understand and embrace that our citizenship is in another categorically different kingdom. Our movement through this world is with a temporary passport, but our legal papers are with God’s kingdom and are stamped with the blood of Christ.
I’m not much for American folk music, but there is a tune that often plays through the jukebox of my mind when I read 1 Peter. Pioneers in this Appalachian region in the late 1700s wrote and sang a song that speaks to the transitory nature of living in a world of hardships. It is a plaintiff tune and text that captures the message of this passage and of Peter’s exhortation to God’s “chosen strangers.”
I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger
A-trav’lin’ through this world of woe,
But there’s no sickness, toil or danger
In that bright world to which I go.
I’m goin’ there to see my father;
I’m goin’ there, no more to roam.
I’m just a-goin’ over Jordan,
I’m just a-goin’ over home.