“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world” 1 Peter 1:1

In the opening verse of his first letter, the apostle Peter uses a very striking word to describe Christians in their relationship with the world. The word Peter uses (translated in the NIV with the phrase ‘strangers in the world’) is the Greek word paredeimos, literally ‘resident alien’. This description may seem strange to us but it had great significance for first century readers and thus it is important that we understand it correctly.

First the word paredeimos included the idea of being a foreigner or a stranger, a person who belonged to another country but who at present was living in a foreign land. It was a word used to describe those who had been exiled from their own homeland, either by force or by choice in the face of certain circumstances. One might think of the terms ‘foreign national’ or even ‘refugee’ to capture this idea today.  Peter thus reminds Christians that though they live in the world, their true citizenship is in heaven and that they have this great privilege purely on the basis of God’s electing grace (see e.g. 1 Peter 1:1-5). This great truth was to be a great encouragement to them (and us!) even in the midst of the trials that inevitably come within this fallen world (see 1 Peter 1:6-9).

Second, the word paredeimos reminded the believers that they were nevertheless residents of the land where they were currently dwelling. As such they were inevitably caught up within the daily events of that temporary homeland and were thus responsible to behave in ways which made a positive contribution to that temporary homeland. It is in the light of this real responsibility that Peter urged his readers to “live such good lives among the pagans that they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of His visitation” (1 Peter 2:11,12). Rather than cutting themselves off from the society within which they lived, Christians were called to be those who continued to do good, according to the opportunities that they had. It is with this in mind that Peter reminds his readers that Christians have an obligation to honour even a pagan government, always of course putting God first in their actions and thus never acting in ways which went against God’s holy standards (1 Peter 2:13-15). Although Peter does not refer to specific examples from Israel’s history, one thinks of people like Joseph or Daniel who were willing to serve pagan nations at the highest political level but who nevertheless were absolutely faithful to the Lord, even at personal cost.

As we turn our thinking to application in our own day, it is clear that this description of the Christian life as the life of a ‘resident alien’ is a very helpful one. It reminds us that this world is not our final home and that the standards of this world are not the rule by which we live. We belong to God and are called to live distinctive lives for Him as a witness to others. At the same time, we cannot and indeed must not avoid our responsibility to participate in and to serve the society within which we live. Thus, for example, when it comes to political process within a democratic society, Christians ought to fulfil their democratic obligations but to do so in ways that are carefully thought through and evaluated in the light of God’s truth. Whether it is in the matter of paying taxes or voting in local or national elections Christians have a very important role to play and we really should take that responsibility seriously. Of course when it comes to the matter of voting, democracy gives us the freedom of choice in who we vote for, and wisdom dictates that we should take the trouble to find out what the various parties actually stand for rather than to vote simply on sentimental grounds. Often the choice will be for the ‘lesser of two evils’ and then it is vital that we are well informed about the issues and that we learn to discern which issues on a political manifesto are the most important and should thus carry the greatest weight in shaping our democratic choices. None of this is easy and thus for some it is easier to just opt out. But that surely is not the path for the thinking Christian to take. Let us remember that those who shape the policies within our country will determine the environment within which we live and serve the Lord. Let us make choices that even though they may not result in Christian legislation within a secular state at least preserve those great freedoms within which the gospel can flourish – freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion and freedom from corrupt, tyrannical and oppressive rule.

Written by Mervyn Eloff. Original article can be found here.