CDPCKL · How To Live As Foreigners: Everyone and Everyone (1 Peter 3:8-17)

How To Live As Foreigners: Everyone and Everyone (1 Peter 3:8-17)

In the bible there is a story about a young man who was anointed king by a prophet from God.

That means the prophet poured olive oil on the young man’s head — a kind of baptism! — that symbolized God’s choice of that young man to be king. It also symbolized how God’s Spirit had been poured out upon that young man, to strengthen him and guide him.

And right away this young man became a hero. He was not king yet, but he joined the king’s army and became a famous warrior. Everyone loved him. And the king was so grateful that he took off his crown and put it on the young man’s head, there was a peaceful transition of power, and everyone lived happily ever after…


No. And I think many of you have figured out by now that I am telling the story of David. Yes, he was anointed king by the prophet Samuel. Yes, he joined King Saul’s army and became a great hero. But King Saul, instead of recognizing the baptism that God had given David, rejected it, and rejected the word of the prophet. He became jealous. He accused David of trying to steal the kingdom, and tried to kill him.

And so David had to run for his life. He became a refugee. He was God’s chosen one…and he was a refugee. And he suffered for many years, moving from place to place, just trying to survive.

At one point, he went to hide in a foreign country, but someone recognized him as the famous warrior from Israel, and they warned their king that David was probably there as a spy or an assassin. So when they arrested him, he pretended to be out of his mind: scratching marks on the walls and drooling into his beard. And the foreign king took one look at him and said, “Why bring him to me? Am I running so short of madmen that you have to bring this guy here to carry on like this in front of me?”

So they let David go, and he escaped into the mountains. And there God began to gather a small community of refugees around him, like a small alternative nation where people rejected by the wicked kingdom of Saul could come and find safety.

And so during that time David wrote Psalm 34 about these experiences. This is the psalm that we have been reading together in our worship today: during our Call to Worship, as part of our Prayer of Confession, and as our Promise of Forgiveness.

And when we read Psalm 34 carefully, we see that it is a song written for God’s refugees. Psalm 34 is David’s song explaining how he can be God’s chosen one and also a refugee at the same time.

And he needed to explain this because, for most of us, if we were told a story about a young man who is anointed king by God’s prophet, and filled with power by God’s Spirit, we would assume that he is going to experience nothing but success all his life! And so, for most of us, if we heard that this young man was actually being hunted by his own king and dishonoured by foreign kings, we would start to think, “Hmmmm…was his anointing real? Does he really have God’s Spirit? Or was he just lying about all that — and now God is punishing him for his sin?”

And that is how many people thought in David’s time also.

But the truth is actually the opposite. Yes, David was God’s baptized king. Yes, David was filled with God’s Spirit. Yes, David had the power to kill King Saul and take his kingdom. After all, King Saul was already an evil king, rejected by God! But it is because David was baptized and filled with God’s Spirit that he restrained himself. Instead of using God’s power to become a revolutionary, he used God’s power to become a refugee. Instead of ending Saul’s life himself, David trusted his God to give him the kingdom at the right time in the right way.

In the eyes of the world, David’s refugee status meant that he was rejected by God. But in God’s reality, David’s refugee status was actually the proof that his baptism was real, that God’s Spirit lived within him.

So David wrote Psalm 34 as a song of praise, a song of faith, a song that explains how someone can be God’s baptized child and also a refugee at the same time.

This is the history Peter has in mind as he continues his letter to the Christians of Roman Asia today. From the very beginning of this letter he has been calling them “God’s chosen…exiles”, God’s chosen refugees. Like David, these Christians have been baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit. And, like David, even though they have done nothing wrong, these Christians are being accused of wanting to take over the world’s kingdoms. There is a growing sense in the Roman empire that Christianity is an anti-social religion, that Christians are actually enemies of mankind who are out to destroy society.

Now: why are people beginning to accuse Christians of being anti-social?

Because Roman society — like every human society — is strongly segregated, carefully divided by social status, by economic status, by sexual status, and by ethnic differences. This is how the Roman authorities maintain control: by keeping everyone in their proper categories. And any religion or movement that tries to change those categories is, by definition, a threat to society, a threat to proper order.

And Christianity, by its very nature, is a religion that has been questioning the Roman status quo in each one of these categories: social status, economic status, sexual status, and ethnicity. Because Christianity, from its foundation, is a religion that teaches that all human beings have been created in God’s image.

So, if you have been with us for the last few weeks, you know that Peter has been teaching his friends how to respond in a godly way to each one of these accusations:

Christians are being accused of trying to erase social status, because they keep saying that all human beings are equal. To the Romans, this sounds like Christians are trying to incite a rebellion against the government. So Peter said: prove them wrong! Everyone, show proper human respect to every government official — not just to the good ones, but also to the harsh ones.

Christians are being accused of trying to erase economic status, because they keep saying that all human beings are equal. To the Romans, this sounds like Christians are trying to incite a slaves’ rebellion. So Peter said: prove them wrong! Christian slaves, show proper human respect to your masters — not just to the good ones, but also to the harsh ones.

Christians are being accused of trying to erase sexual status, because they keep saying that all human beings are equal. To the Romans, this sounds like Christians are trying to incite a wives’ rebellion, while also taking away men’s rights to respond. So Peter said: prove them wrong! Christian wives, show proper human respect to your husbands — not just to the good ones, but also to the harsh ones. Christian husbands, show proper human respect to your wives — not just to the good ones, but also to the harsh ones.

And so now, today, we come to the final accusation in the final category: that Christians are trying to erase ethnic differences, that Christians are refusing to respect proper ethnic boundaries, starting to mix and mingle and marry across racial and cultural lines that just should not be crossed.

Now, why were Romans so opposed to this idea?

Well…they weren’t, really. Earlier in this sermon series we noticed that the Roman empire was a colonial empire. And colonial empires are in the business of erasing ethnic categories. They are in the business of moving into a new area, changing around all the social boundaries in order to create instability, and then putting their own social boundaries in place in order to bring their own kind of stability and control to the area.

It is a bit like walking up to someone and pushing them so they lose their balance. Then, just before they fall, you put out your hand so they can catch on — but then you just hold them in that half-fallen position. Now they depend on you to keep from falling. And you only let them stand up if they agree to adopt your values, your culture — your ethnicity.

So Roman society was actually in the business of erasing old ethnic categories and recombining them into a new Roman ”ethnicity” that was united by Roman values. Romans were not opposed to the idea of mixing, mingling, and marrying across racial or cultural lines as long as this strengthened the Roman nation.

What Romans are opposed to is competition. And Christianity is competition. Because Christianity is also in the business of erasing old ethnic categories and recombining people into a new Christian “ethnicity” that is united by the Christian value of “equal value for all people”.

To the Romans, this sounds like Christians are trying to set up their own nation as a rival to the Roman empire. To the Romans, it looks like Christianity means to gather all the rejected downtrodden people from all the different nations of the empire, and weld them together into one revolutionary fighting force, dedicated to taking over Roman society.

So Peter says: prove them wrong! [8] Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.

These Christians of Roman Asia need to prove that this idea — that all human beings are created equal — is not just propaganda designed to attract discontented people and incite them to rebellion. No: the Christian concept of equality is foundational to the faith. And it is real.

So, Peter is saying, make it real!

Way back in his introduction, Peter told his friends to practice a covenant love for one another. Covenant love is love based on a commitment instead of feelings: a vow that I will do what is best for the other person even if I am not experiencing a special affection for them in that moment. Feelings come and go; but the promises of God last forever — and so should ours, if we are truly God’s children.

Back in his introduction, Peter outlined the first two steps of this process:

First, through baptism, Christians are born again into a new family. Through the sprinkled blood of Christ, they come to share the same spiritual DNA.

Second, he said, like new-born babies, Christians need to feed that DNA by craving pure spiritual milk. Like little children, Christians need to keep looking to their Heavenly Father’s example of covenant love, so that by this they will grow up in their salvation.

Today, Peter is outlining step three: what it looks like when Christians grow up in their salvation.

See, even though covenant love is based on a commitment instead of feelings, this does not mean that feelings do not eventually play a role. True covenant love must begin with a binding vow, like baptism! — it must begin with new birth — but it must also eventually result in self-conscious affection.

Just like babies, every Christian begins their spiritual life by experiencing God’s love without really knowing what it is: we just know the source of goodness, and we keep coming back to it. And we love our Father in return…without really understanding what we are doing.

But, just like babies, as we grow up, as we become more aware of who our Father, our affection for him becomes more self-conscious. A new-born baby has no idea how to please her father, and — honestly — has no desire to: she is not capable of this level of thought. But a young child does have some ideas about how to please her Father, and — even more importantly — she has a growing desire to do so.

Covenant love begins with new birth. We experience this without really knowing what is going on. But as we grow up, and begin to understand the nature of the DNA we share with God and with one another, we begin to understand that our Father wants us to please him by cultivating a genuine affection for one another. We begin by doing what is best for the other person whether we really like them or not — like a little boy who shares his toys because his father tells him to. But as we grow up in our salvation, we begin to do what is best for the other person because we really appreciate the other person!

When we are newborn Christians, we are taught that each person in our family has a value all of their own, but we really don’t know what this means until we begin to experience and value for ourselves the diversity of gifts built in to God’s people.

So, Peter is saying, now that you are growing up in your salvation, be like-minded. Basically: be soul-mates, having one heart and one mind. Be sympathetic, he says, and this word — sympathes — literally means “feel each other’s pain”. Love one another: philadelphoi. In other words: invest in one another’s lives like Roman brothers invest in one another’s lives; make long term plans for the improvement of those around you, knowing that your investment will benefit our family for all eternity. Be compassionate! and here a word that is trying to describe that feeling you get in your gut when you go into your children’s room at night and see them sleeping so peacefully.

And be humble. Be humble-minded. As you discover more and more just how valuable your brothers and sisters are, how much goodness they have to give you…accept that love. Accept that kindness. Try to return that kindness by using your own gifts to serve them — of course! But fix it in your mind that, really, you do not have much to offer the family. Accept your role as the youngest in the family, the baby in the family — because, compared to Jesus, we are all the babies of the family.

Peter’s desire here is for his friends in Roman Asia to silence the ignorant accusations of Roman society. Christians are not playing a political game here with political slogans. Their diversity is not a false, temporary diversity, a false unity built around some revolutionary propaganda, maintained by strict controls. They are not trying to push society off-balance so they can take advantage: that is what unity in the Roman empire is all about! Christian unity is the unity of a shared birth, a shared DNA. Christian equality produces people who love to bring order and peace into the world, not chaos.

Even so, accusations will come. After all, Christians worship a man who was crucified because he was a revolutionary. In effect, to the Romans, Christians are people who worship a dead terrorist. Except — even worse — they claim that he is alive and well and busy building a kingdom of his own…!

Clearly, Christianity is an anti-social religion. Clearly, Christians are actually enemies of mankind who are out to destroy society.

How are Christians to respond to such accusations?

Well, Peter says: prove them wrong! [9] Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

Wait: so Peter is saying that Christians are called to answer accusations with blessing?

Where does he get that crazy idea?

Well, apparently he gets this idea from Psalm 34, because that is what Peter quotes from next.

And this is important, because — if you recall — David wrote Psalm 34 while he was in the mountains hiding from everyone. His own king — his own people — had rejected him, and the kings of the other nations wanted to have nothing to do with him. God was gathering a small community of refugees and rejects around him: men who were in distress or in debt or discontented, and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him at first, and then: 600 — and many of those turned out to be strong warriors.

Interestingly enough, many of those men were actually from other nations, foreigners who came and accepted David as their king.

And several times during those years David was tempted to reach out and and use his fighting strength to silence King Saul’s accusations. Instead, he restrained himself. And he wrote Psalm 34 to explain why. He says: Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.

Okay, David: what does the fear of the Lord look like?

It looks like this:

[10] “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. [11] They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it” — even peace with those who are pursuing you and accusing you.

What Peter is pointing out here is that even David went through the same process of new birth and growth that Christians do. He was anointed, baptized, chosen by God. He received the Spirit. He began to taste and see that Lord is good. And as he grew up into his salvation, he began to understand that, as God’s chosen son, he must begin to reflect his Father’s character, he must begin to act with the confidence of a son who knows that his Father never breaks his promises.

And what are his Father’s promises?

[12] For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.

For David, the fear of the Lord means faith in God’s promise to take care of him and always hear his prayers. It also means faith in God’s promise that he will judge those who do evil: men like King Saul, men like the other kings of the nations that are hunting him.

David understands that it is his calling, as a son of God, to restrain himself and leave room for God’s judgement. In fact, David understands that it is his calling not merely to restrain himself, but even to bless those who are falsely accusing him, in hope that King Saul might even repent and escape God’s judgement.

By humbly accepting his place as a refugee, and by praying for God’s blessing upon his enemies, David is proving that he is truly a son of God, that he truly shares God’s DNA.

This example from David’s life is why Peter calls Christians to repay evil with blessing so that you may inherit a blessing.

Now, to be clear, Peter is not saying that Christians must earn their inheritance of blessing by blessing their enemies: an inheritance, by definition, is not earned; it is a gift to the children of the household.

What Peter is saying is this: you are one of the children of God’s household. You have been given new birth into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, even while you are busy growing up in your salvation.

Now that you are growing up, act upon what you know to be true: let God’s Spirit — let God’s DNA — work within you to keep your tongue from evil, to seek peace and pursue it, to repay evil with blessing, to prove to yourself — and the watching world! — that you truly are a child of God.

Living in the fear of the Lord — living with a proper fear of our Almighty Father — means living in faith that the eyes of the Lord are on his children. And if the Almighty Creator of the universe is for us, who can be against us?

That is why Peter goes on to ask this question: [13] Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?

And the answer is: no one! No one is going to harm you! No one has the power to harm you! Because you live in a reality where the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil!

Now, do Christians suffer? Yes. Obviously, yes. That is the main topic of Peter’s letter But — verse 14 — even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.

Christians may experience severe suffering in this body. It may feel like harm — and it is harm, to this body. But it is not true harm. It is not eternal harm. Your neighbors think they are destroying your reputation, destroying your career, destroying your future — but the truth is they are actually destroying their own future, and they are not doing any lasting damage to you at all.

See, just like David, these Christians of Roman Asia have been baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit. And, like David, even though they have done nothing wrong, these Christians are being insulted and accused and forced out to the fringes of their society. And just like happened to David, the nations are looking on and saying, “Hey, you Christians, pay attention to the pattern here: as soon as you got baptized your lives started falling apart! Your families started rejecting you. Your business partners stopped doing business with you. Clearly, the gods are angry at you, and they are cursing you! Your suffering is evidence that your god’s spirit has abandoned you. So come back to the true faith before it is too late!”

Peter is pointing back to David’s experience as a refugee, he is pointing back to Psalm 34, he is telling these Christians of Roman Asia that in the eyes of the world, their refugee status means they have been rejected by their god. But in God’s eyes, their refugee status is actually the proof that their baptism is real. Their self-restraint, their refusal to take revenge on those who accuse them is actually the proof that God’s Spirit truly lives within them. Can Christians be insulted, beaten, even killed? Yes. Can they be truly harmed? No. And Judgement Day is going to prove that Peter is right.


So the Christians of ancient Roman Asia are being called anti-social. They have been accused of being anti-government, anti-economy, and anti-marriage.

Peter has spend the last while teaching his friends how to respond to the first three accusations, because the truth is Christians are not anti-government, anti-economy, or anti-marriage. Christians are pro-government, pro-economy, and pro-marriage. Christians are pro- every good structure that God put in place in the Garden of Eden, and guess what? The garden had a government, it had an economy, and it had a marriage. We are for these things, not against them. We are for proper order, not chaos. Are we looking forward to a world where the government, the economy, and marriage will be perfectly restored? Yes. But Peter has carefully instructed us to do our best to support and slowly improve even the broken earthly shadows of these structures, believing that by doing so we are pointing to the truth: that there is a God who created these structures, a God who is going to make all things new.

But the Christians of Roman Asia are also accused of being anti-racism. Is this accusation true?

Yes. It is. Christians are anti-racism. Christians cannot be pro-racism, because there were no “races” in the garden, there was only one family of mankind.

But in the garden there was a God-created structure of inside and outside.

Inside the garden was peace and plenty in the presence of God. Outside the garden was an uncultivated wilderness, waiting for mankind to fill the earth and work the ground and bring orderly life out of the soil. And Adam himself was designed to participate in that process of deciding what belongs inside the garden and what belongs outside.

Mankind lost the garden, but we never lost our God-given instinct for that structure. As the descendants of Adam we are creatures designed by God to categorize our world, to decide what belongs inside and what belongs outside, and that is what we spend our lives doing. Modern biological scientists have commented on this: they have noticed that one of the things that makes human beings unique — compared to all the other animals in the world — is that we are a species of sorters and selectors.

The problem is that, outside the garden, outside God’s presence, Adam’s sons quickly turned to categorizing one another for their own benefit rather than for God’s glory. And one of the easiest ways to decide who belongs and who does not belong is based on appearance and behaviour. If you look like me and you act like me, you are with me. If you don’t look like me, and if you do not act the way I want you to act, then I kick you out. And so, quite naturally, as time goes on, each tribe of people looks more and more like themselves and less and less like the people they have rejected, and pretty soon we have what we call races or ethnicities: distinct cultures that are associated with certain physical distinctives. And this has contributed to thousands of years of hostility and violence.

Now, this means is that Christians are against racism — we are against even the concept of ”race” because we know that our diversity of appearances and characteristics is actually superficial. But Christians are for the structure of ”inside and outside” that God put in place in the garden. We understand that these categories are part of the fundamental order of creation.

It’s just that we disagree with the world about how we should decide who belongs and who does not belong.

The nations judge one another by external appearance and by cultural behaviour. But Peter has been telling us from the very beginning of his letter that this is not how Christians decide who belongs and who does not. From the very beginning of his letter Peter has been saying that everyone who has been baptized in the sprinkled blood of Christ — everyone who has been born again through God’s Word and God’s Spirit — belongs to God. And so:

We must accept one another — love one another! — be united to one another as one family of God regardless of race or ethnicity or cultural background.

But what about those on the outside of God’s presence? How should we act toward them?

Well, here, again, Christians are called to disagree with the way the world does things.

The nations decide who is ”inside” based on external appearance and cultural behaviour, and then they defend those false ethnic boundaries with rejection, hatred, even violence: they treat those on the “outside” as if they are less human than those on the “inside”. But for the last few weeks Peter has been telling us that Christians must be different. If we really believe that God created mankind in his image, if we really believe that all human beings are equally valuable in God’s sight, then we must treat those on the “outside” of God’s family with the same respect we offer those on the “inside”.

As Peter said back in Chapter 2, we are called to love the family of believers, but, still, we are to show proper respect to everyone — not just to those who are good but also to those who are harsh.

Okay then. But what does “proper respect” mean?

Well, today, Peter has been telling us that showing “proper respect to everyone” means not attacking those who attack us. This means not rejecting those who reject us. This means trusting God with the hammer of judgement. God created every human being — even our enemies. So it is God who must decide what to do with his own creations. It is God who must decide if one enemy might repent, while another one goes down into judgement. It is simply our job, as God’s children, to leave room for our Father to work.

And we do this in two practical ways: first, by restraining ourselves, and second: by blessing those who curse us.

Early on in his letter, Peter showed how Christians are in a situation a lot like the ancient people of Israel, when they were following Moses across the desert toward their homeland: we are a pilgrim people, a refugee people, travelling through the midst of other nations, in contact with them but also set apart as God’s holy people.

Here, by quoting Psalm 34, Peter is showing how Christians are in a situation a lot like David’s when he was in the mountains. If you recall, at that time, God was gathering a small international community of refugees and rejects around his chosen king.

Well, the same thing is happening now. Jesus is our David: he is God’s chosen king, rejected and despised by the kings of the world. And we are the international community of refugees and rejects that God is gathering together. We are a small alternative nation where people rejected by the kingdoms of the world can come and find refuge. We are set apart and holy. We are protected, safe in the mountains of the Lord.

But at the same time, our borders are open. We do keep track of who is “inside” and “outside”, but we live and act in the hope that some of those who are still outside might come and join us on the inside.

If David had decided to use his fame as a warrior to assassinate Saul and crown himself king, he would have started a terrible civil war. But by accepting the humiliation of being driven out into the wilderness, into the fringes of society, David became a beacon of hope for everyone who was looking for a different kind of king, a different kind of kingdom. By seeking peace and pursuing it, David kept his borders open to accept new refugees, even those who were once his enemies, even foreigners who — by ethnicity — were the traditional enemies of his own nation of Israel.

To this we have also been called. We are the children of God. His eyes are upon us, and he always hears our prayers. Which means that — like Jesus, our king and older brother — we could gather our power and start a war that would consume the earth. But we do not, because our king has left us an example, that we should follow in his steps: he allowed himself to be driven to the fringes of society; he accepted the humiliation of being crucified outside the walls of God’s city so that he could become the Saviour of all those who live in humiliation outside the walls. Even while he was dying he blessed those who were cursing him: he prayed, “Father, forgive them.” Through his self-restraint, through his blessing, we were brought inside and accepted. And so now, through our self-restraint, through our commitment to repay evil with blessing, we keep the borders of our Saviour’s kingdom open to all those whom God will call. Instead of starting a civil war among the nations of mankind, we keep our mouths from cursing, we keep our hands from striking, we bless and we stand ready to welcome everyone who comes.

But, seriously now: how are we going to do this? How are we going to have the courage to do these things: to love one another even across our incredible differences, and to show proper respect even to people who hate us? This is a lot for our Father to ask of us, isn’t it?

Yes. It is. The Holy Spirit within us is working against thousands of years of ingrained racial hatred, thousands of years of training that tells us to strike back when we are struck.

So I am going to close here with Peter’s two closing applications: “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” [15] But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.

First: “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” Remember: our enemies cannot actually harm us. They live in fear of judgement. They live in fear of finding themselves on the ”outside”. And they think that the best way to make sure they are on the “inside” is by threatening others, degrading others. But we cannot be theatened or degraded — not really! — because we have a Father who has bound himself to us with an unbreakable covenant of love.

And that is why Peter says, second: [15] But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. There is only one Lord of Judgement Day, and he is our brother. Is he going to condemn us, his little brothers and sisters? No! Of course not! But is he going to take terrible revenge on all those who hate his little brothers and sisters? Yes, he is.

It is this knowledge that gives us the courage to love one another deeply, from the heart, and even speak words of blessing upon those who want to destroy us. So let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Peter has been telling us that to be at home in God’s new spiritual nation means being a refugee among the nations of the world. He has been telling us that we are actually a living temple being built together at the very center of God’s kingdom — which means that, in the eyes of the kingdoms of the world, we are going to live scattered on the fringes, without a government, without a military, without any appearance of power. We do not need the appearance of power because we have the thing itself.

May God grant that we never forget this truth.


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